“It’s back. It’s totally back.” Like Katrina never happened, the French Quarter hops with hurricane hubs and Cajun cuisine while beads are tossed by women in lace from balconies. We meet Chad, the crawfish boiler at Yo’ Mama, who drives us to Cooter Brown’s, a local beer joint away from the debauchery of the French Quarter. He reveals his account of Katrina: the 14-hour evacuation to Mississippi, returning to rubble, gratitude for the kindness of compassionates and rebuilding in the aftermath.
We frolic amidst neon signs, eat our way across the Quarter, tap the ever-flowing booze and take full advantage of that legal-to-drink-on-the-street law. It’s time to check out after a night of piano renditions of Robert Earl’s “Gringo Honeymoon” and Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” at Pat O’Brien’s. On our way out, we bump into gregarious Karla, immediately suggesting we visit the Ninth Ward before heading out of town.
“We were going to head over there but have been repeatedly warned that it’s too dangerous,” Bridget informs.
Karla chuckles, “Just by folks that are afraid of black people.”
Past the Quarter, shabbiness creeps in on the faces of pink, blue, green houses; crossing over the bridge our trepidation is palpable. We drive a street where houses used to be crammed so close together you could’ve heard Chad making dinner next door. They’re now expanses of overgrown grass sprinkled with empty foundations. Intermittent structures resembling homes are missing roofs, walls of brick are caved in and trees protrude from bedrooms. The air is thick with shrieks of the past’s horror and a montage of Karla’s recollections flash through my mind. “No trash pick up for a year... A nightfall curfew enforced by soldiers brought back from Iraq still programmed to shoot at will... And imagine being escorted to your home, ordered not to touch anything and the next time you return it more closely resembles piles of wood on cement than a home.”
Even five years after the storm, the booms of devastation render us silent. A man rolls down the window next to us seeing my pensive look and gleams a smile, “Life ain’t that bad!”
I blink back tears I have been fighting all day so not to scare the poor man and embrace the gratitude that electrocutes me . Hopeful, I reply, “It sure ain’t.”