Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Welcome to Baghdad, USA

Four overnight power outages in two weeks. One morning without water. A day and a half without cable television and high-speed Internet service. Periodic whiffs of natural gas around the neighborhood.

We used to joke that life in New Orleans was like living in the Third World, a reference to our corrupt and greed-driven political system.
It's not a joke anymore.

It's bad enough to have to drive 15 minutes in the middle of an urban area to find an open grocery store. It's bad enough to get mail delivered once or twice a week, if you're lucky. It's bad enough to eat dinner by 8 p.m. because most restaurants close by 9 p.m. It's bad enough to encounter shoulder-high piles of debris practically everywhere you go. It's bad enough not knowing when, or if, the garbage truck will pass.
But the utility problems take the frustration of living in a disaster zone to an entirely different level. Each time some service goes out, it feels like a sharp kick in the gut. Remember we're nearly three months past Hurricane Katrina's disasterous romp through the city.

Granted, the services haven't stayed off for very long. The power always comes back on within a few hours after sunrise, when it's safe for utility workers to venture into the still black dead zones of the city to flip breakers that sporadically trip along the limited number of feeder lines connecting repopulated neighborhoods to functioning substations. The water was back on within a few hours of going dry. And with any luck, I'll have the International History Channel glowing from from my living room screen tonight.

Still, if I had wanted to live in Baghdad I would have enlisted in the Army.

Pic: Me and Nero standing between a pair of abandoned, storm-damaged warehouses a block and a half from the house.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Drive-thru Health Care

It's been nearly three months since I received inoculations for tetanus, diphtheria and hepatitis A and B in the days following Hurricane Katrina's landfall.

I got the shots because they were recommended for anyone traveling into the city while flood waters and debris posed safety threats.

I knew it was time for the second B shot, but I wasn't sure where to go to get it.

Turns out I didn't have to go far.

Driving along the edge of the French Quarter today I stumbled across a vacant lot at the corner of North Rampart and Esplanade streets that was filled with half a dozen tents. A large sign across the front of the property identified the site as a primary care clinic set up by the U.S. Public Health Service.

Five minutes later, I was sitting under one of the tents having my temperature and blood pressure checked. Then I was off to a second tent where a volunteer nurse from Iowa injected the second of the three B vaccine treatments into my right shoulder.

It was the her second volunteer trip to New Orleans since mid-September.

At other tents, people were getting flu shots, having their cholesterol checked and consulting with doctors about drugs and prescriptions.

The clinic was only at the French Quarter site for one day and was scheduled to relocate to the Convention Center on Monday.

I have until early March before I'll need the final shots for hepatitis A and B.
Given the short supply of doctors and operating hospitals in the city, makeshift clinics such as the one I visited have become essential.

Amazingly, I was in and out of the clinic with my shot in 10 minutes.

If only normal health care services operated with that kind of efficiency. I'll take a 10 minute wait under a tent over 50 minutes in a doctor's office any day.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Self-imposed Chaos

It's a funny thing, life after the worst catastrophe in modern national history.

It makes you think . . . about everything. About your job, your friends, your relationships, your past, your future, your home, your finances, your past times, your theology, your politics, your passions, your fears. Have I left out anything?

Katrina stripped away the veneer of my life; the comfortable habits and motions that had lost their meaning and depth.

Removed, I was left with the naked truth. Unhappy at work. Unhappy at home. More than ready to take some big steps forwards.

So I disrupted what Katrina had left unscathed. The details are too long for here, but I'll boil it down. I turned down a job offer in Arizona and, instead, accepted an offer to move jobs at The Times-Picayune (the daily newspaper in New Orleans) to join our front line for covering the hurricane recovery story. On the homefront, I'll be moving on - literally - in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, a brilliant new light from southern California is shining in my life. Just in time for winter, a nice fire to warm the heart.

A few people in the immediate weeks after the storm warned me against making any life-altering changes in the wake of such trauma.

But my gut soon told me differently, and my gut has never failed me.

So life in New Orleans is hard but good; it's frustrating but fulfilling; it's exhausting but energizing.

It's a city of contradictions. Funny, sounds like the old New Orleans. Maybe things aren't so different here afterall.

Posts on old blog

For the last two and a half months I've been chronicling my life in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

I'll be posting here going forward, but my old posts will remain on the old site at KeithD.Blogster.com/

UPDATE: I've recreated all of my previous Katrina posts on this blog and back dated them so that they appear in proper chronological order.