nb: Yes, this is the obligatory K+5 post. Deal with it.
5 years ago today, at this moment, I was watching CNN on 2 hours of sleep after a 17 hour evacuate drive to Houston. I got in at 5 am, and couldn’t sleep past 7 — I couldn’t stop listening to the news or hearing what was happening. I watched in horror as the 17th Street canal breached.
My whole life, in every movie, at this moment – the critical moment – something came in and saved the day! We watched it on the TV, and surely these enormous sandbags dropped by helicopter would close the breach and all would be well again.
I think I grew up in that moment. In that moment that I felt betrayed, devastated, and in shock. It wasn’t just betrayal by the Corps, who we know now built faulty levees. It wasn’t just betrayal of the federal government response (or lack thereof) in the coming weeks. It wasn’t only the devastation of seeing photo after photo, and video feeds of people stranded, radio interviews of my fellow citizens searching for their loved ones. It’s not just the shock of watching a flawed local administration founder over how to manage this scale of disaster.
I felt betrayed because every other time in my life I had seen something horrible like this, it had a happy ending. The Germans lost, and Hitler killed himself in the most shameful way possible. Slavery was ended. Keanu Reeves found a way to make the bus stop before it killed all the people on it. But in New Orleans, nothing happened. No super hero saved the day. And in that moment, I watched horrified with the entire nation as my city filled with water and my people were left for dead on rooftops. It was so senseless. This is not how it’s supposed to go.
Four years ago, I honestly don’t remember what I was doing. I was still working at my pre-K job, which I was grateful to have. I had just bought a house, so I was probably painting or tearing out termite damage or tiling the kitchen. The whole year after Katrina is pretty much a blur. I attribute this to low-level PTSD and a whole lot of alcohol.
Three years ago, I had just left my safe job at the CAC to start a dream job at Broadway South. I believed we could remake this city. I was enamored with the idea of creating a theatre destination in a city that had never had real theatre. After five weeks, my boss was an evil lunatic and I knew better than to go anywhere with him.
One year ago, we had finished the YLC Gala and closed the most successful season of YLC Wednesday at the Square to date. Things had begun to be hopeful. The city was changing. FEMA and federal recovery money had changed from its trickle to a real flow. Every major thoroughfare of New Orleans seemed to be under construction. Ray Nagin was still mayor and had gone the way of so many other Louisiana politicians — if you didn’t laugh about him, you’d have to cry.
And now, today. My dad told me right after Katrina, as he was leaving the city, that it takes ten years for a city to fully recover from this kind of disaster. My stepmother had lived through that in Mexico City after the earthquake of 1983. My dad has lived 76 years on the earth, so I think he knows some stuff.
I look back on the last five years, and am filled with hope. Because we are only halfway there. In the first half, I became a homeowner. I found an amazingly fulfilling job. New Orleans got a new mayor, with a new team that seems to being doing something. The Saints won the Superbowl. And now, I have a new job, at Greater New Orleans, Inc. and I genuinely believe that we can change the economic landscape of this city and bring her to her full potential. With a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. And help.
But even with the blasted Oil Disaster, and economic crisis, and all the cards stacked against us: I am hopeful. None of this is worse than Katrina. And look at where we have come since Katrina?
Five years ago today, I grew up. I learned there is no super hero. I learned that I had been lied to all these years about some deus ex machina that comes to save the day. Over the last five years, I realized: the only person who saves the day is me. We. And we are saving New Orleans, one day at a time.