Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Day 9 - First night back in New Orleans

I took a much needed day off work yesterday (Monday) and stayed with my twin sister and her family. Slept for about 8 hours the last two nights. Starting to feel human again.

Spent most of the day buying clothes and other supplies and starting to organize all of the personal things I've got to deal with - filing insurance claims, checking in with my bank, etc.
It was the best day I've had in over a week. Only cried three or four times (compared to 15 or 20 times in previous days).

For the first time, felt connected to the world around me. But by 5 p.m. depression started to set in again and was feeling detachment again.

Here's the details of my night in the city Saturday:

I was leaving the J-School around 6:30 p.m. and got a call from one of the biggest hotel developers in the city, saying he was on his way from B.R. to N.O. to deliver a generator to one of his still-occupied hotels and wanted me to come with him.

I didn't even think about it (which probably was a mistake or at the very least crazy).
I raced to N.O. and finally met him and the truck carrying the generator on the west bank on Hwy. 90 near Boutte.

We had planned on parking my rental car (which didn't have the extra insurance) and riding in with the truck, but there was no room for us in the cab. So we took my car into the city - literally a war zone.

There was sporadic electricity on all along the west bank until Algiers. It was around 9 p.m.
Seeing the city from the bridge was quite strange. The sky was full of clouds, and the pitch black skyline of the city was clearly visible against the twinkling night sky.

We went through three police check points before reaching the bridge.

We exited onto Camp St. and drove down to one of Patrick's hotels, on the backside of the building that burned last week next to Mother's Restaurant. The hotel seemed fine.

Then we checked in at Patrick's hotel at the corner of St. Charles and Poydras. It was pretty busy. Still open, barely, and hosting a number of foreign reporters.

You could feel the tension and fear in the city. The only people I saw were very heavily armed and menacing looking soldiers on patrol in trucks.

We arrived at the Astor Crowne Hotel on Canal at Bourbon St. around 9:30 p.m.

Wanted to park my car in the Canal St. neutral ground - along the street car lines - but the street lanes were still flooded and I would have had to wade through the water to get back to the hotel. So I parked in a parking garage behind the hotel on Iberville St., very nervously, on the second level.

Entered the hotel to find the handful of remaining managers sitting on the second floor balcony overlooking Canal. Spent the next two and a half hours doing the most amazing interview of my career - hearing how they struggled to keep 2,000 guests safe and healthy, and then getting them out in bunched over the last four days. These men are among the amazing heroes who have emerged from this catastrophe. Their lives have been in danger every day and night.

Found our rooms next to the fifth floor pool deck. The hotel reeked of smoke - from fires still glowing in the distance all around us - sewerage mainly from the hotel's public toilets and mildew. Everything was damp. The room was stifling hot.

I quickly retreated to the pool deck and began thinking of all the ways I could either die or become trapped before leaving Sunday morning - the hotel could catch on fire and I'd have no way out, I could be shot by one of the heavily armed, my car could get stolen, my car could have multiple flat tires in the morning from all of the glass and debris that I drove over, I could get attacked by one of the remaining people in the hotel, the hotel could be looted (the back of hotel wasn't secure), I could get carjacked driving out of the city by myself.

I spent the next two and a half hours enduring the worst panic attack of my life while pacing circles around the nearly empty pool (hotel occupants were using the hotel water to flush toilets in the room. yes, I had to do it too).

I couldn't take the stress anymore so I woke Patrick up and pleaded with him to convince me that I would get out okay in the morning.

He did.

With my nerves calmer, I returned to the pool with my glow stick (only light source) and note pad and began writing my story. (it finally ran in today's edition about half its original size, so I've posted it above.)

Finally felt like sleep around 4:30 a.m. and went back to room. Woke up around 5:50 a.m. and went to pool. Watched the sun rise over the roof line of the French Quarter next to St. Louis Cathedral steeple.

It was a beautiful sight - the first time I've watched the sunrise in the city - and so contrary to everything around me.

Went back into my room to pack up my things and was able to see around the room for first time. On the other bed was a hotel bible.

During my panic attack I had prayed, hard. Most of you who know me know that I'm a spiritual person, but nothing close to a bible-thumper. Growing up Catholic, I couldn't find any particular scripture passage if my life depended on it.

I instinctively picked up the bible and opened it to a random page. My eyes instantly fell on Isaiah 60. Remember, just moments earlier I had watched the sun rise.
" Arise, shine; for the light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon you. For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and darkness cover the people: but the Lord shall arise upon you, and his glory shall be seen upon you."
I fell apart.

I knew I would be safe, that I would leave the city unharmed.

I drove back to B.R. and spend the rest of the day writing my story. Was pretty shaken for the rest of the day. But the day off seemed to have regenerated me.

Not sure what I'll be writing today.

Rescheduled my flight last night for my planned trip to Chicago for the NLGJA convention in a few weeks. Still don't know whether I'll make it, but I think it would be a good respite from all of this here.

Thanks to all of your for your compassion, help and love. It really means the world to me.

No comments: