Monday, January 30, 2006

If you've seen one California sunset . . .

. . . you've seen them all. Well, not quite.

Day two in San Diego found us on the beach along the aptly named Sunset Cliffs where we watched another spectacular end to a day.

As the sun dropped into the Pacific Ocean, surfer dudes crawled out of the inky water like migrating sea turtles returning to their spawning ground to lay eggs under the moonlight.

Above the cliffs sits Ocean Beach, a self-contained San Diego neighborhood favored by slackers of all types and ages. The main strip is lined with coffee shops, bars, restaurants and low-end antique stores, and sort of reminded me of Magazine Street in New Orleans.

The only blemish along the drag is a Starbuck's store which drew harsh protests from locals before it moved in.

At Hodad's, a food joint of some renown, Rex ordered the double bacon cheeseburger and I followed suit.

I wasn't prepared for what arrived 10 minutes later - the most gigantic burger I've ever laid eyes on. It stood at least six inches off the plate and was oozing cheese and bursting with what looked to be half a pound of bacon. Port of Call in New Orleans only wishes it could match this!

We ended the night drinking German beer at Sunshine Company Saloon.

Rex says we could watch a spectacular sunset from a different spot in San Diego every day for a month. That's easy to believe.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Sandy Eggo

Well, I'm not in Oz anymore.

Spent my first full day of vacation in San Diego on Sunday getting the big-picture view of the city from Rex.

It didn't take long for me to figure out why this urban area with a population of more than 2 million has been a magnet to so many people over the last decade.

The weather is spectacular even in the winter - upper 60s during the day and low 50s at night with mid to low humidity around the clock.

The scenery is beautiful. The city wraps around a curving bay and is crisscrossed by shallow canyons and rows of hills - imagine a less densely populated San Francisco.

There's a giant park (Balboa) near downtown with great Art Deco, Spanish-colonial-inspired buildings that were constructed for an exposition in 1936 but, today, house numerous museums.

We ended the day at Pacific Beach watching the sun set over the ocean.

We're traveling south to Tijuana on Wednesday - my first trip to Mexico! Other planned excursions will take us to Blacks Beach, a world-famous nude beach, and along the Sunrise Highway in the mountains of eastern San Diego County.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Let's play the number game, again!

Metro New Orleans

Before Katrina: 1,319,589
Now: 929,554 (-30 %)

Before: 5.8%
Now: 17.5%

Open business
Before: 81,000
Now: 62,436 (20,368 opened partially)

FEMA trailers
Requested: 64,791
Occupied: 19,300

Public libraries
Before: 54
Now: 30

Before: 20
Now: 12

Hospital beds
Before: 4,000
Now: 1,700

Psych beds (in New Orleans only)
Before: N/A
Now: 4

Before: 265
Now: 100

Hotel rooms
Before: 38,338
Now: 27,000 (many occupied by displaced residents)

Sunday, January 15, 2006

NLGJA, alive and . . . well?

I joined fellow National Lesbian and Gay Journalist Association members Friday evening at Napoleon's Itch martini lounge on Bourbon Street for the Louisiana chapter's second annual post-holiday gathering.

Needless to say, the crowd didn't come close to matching the 30 or so who gathered last year.

Our chapter, which was barely over a year old when Katrina hit, is struggling to continue. Many of our members remain displaced in other states. Some lost their jobs here and had to find new ones elsewhere. Others who are back home just are too busy to devote much of any time to extracurricular activities.

The national organization's leadership is doing everything it can to help keep the chapter alive. They've waived dues for our members for at least a year. They've created a fund to help members who need financial assistance returning to work. And they've temporarily suspended the minimum number of members required to keep the chapter alive.

I suppose most organizations such as ours are struggling with the same issues right now.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Want that salmon po-boy dressed?

"Is that my sausage po-boy he's making?" cried Glenn, a New Orleans native who returned to the city this weekend for the first time since Katrina. "Oh my God! He IS making my sausage po-boy."

"Cheese?" the cooked asked.

"Of course! Double cheese, with extra lettuce and tomatoes," Glenn demanded. I've never seen anyone get quite so excited about buying a sandwich at the Nelli Deli, a Bourbon Street corner grocery where I stopped for take-out dinner tonight.

But Glenn and his friend Derrick were in town for the first time since days after the hurricane when they were evacuated from the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. They've been living in suburban Seattle since, and they're planning to stay in Washington.

There was no question they would return to the northwest after riding through the dead zone from the airport, Glenn said. "It's horrible. It's so depressing" he told me while we waited for our po-boys at the deli counter.

Before the storm, Derrick worked as a kitchen assistant in a local high-end restaurant where the chef had allowed him to try his hand at cooking from time to time. After arriving in Washington, he found a kitchen job in a Seattle suburb but the manager wasn't interested in fostering his cooking ambitions. They also had trouble understanding his accent. "It's different up there," he said.

He lost the job after a few weeks.

There are better opportunities in Seattle proper, but Derrick doesn't have a car and he hasn't yet mastered the city's transit system.

Still, he says his life there is better than it ever was in New Orleans or what it could be now here.

They both miss New Orleans - the friendliness of people here, the music, the food (in Seattle they paid $13 a pound for fresh shrimp and are limited to salmon for fresh fish), sunshine (Seattle had a record string of rain days recently) and even The Times-Picayune, which Glenn bought at the deli. "Oh my God! Look Derrick. It's The Times-Picayune. I didn't know they were still publishing."

But they're just visitors now. They've moved on, and they're not looking back.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Let's play the number game!

How many of New Orleans' 15,000 businesses have reopened 4 1/2 months after Hurricane Katrina?
1,658 (11 percent)

How many of the city's 2,666 restaurants have reopened?
880 (33 percent)

How much debris has been collected?
5.3 million cubic yards or enough to fill 13,250 Olympic-size swimming pools

How many hospital beds are open in the city?
74 adult beds and 35 pediatric beds

How about psych beds?

Wait a minute. We have to talk about this one. That's two psych beds in a city that very recently suffered the worst natural disaster in national history and is filled with people trying to cope with extreme loss and uncertainty about the future. Scary.

How many building inspection applications are being filed with the city each day?
Between 400 and 500

How many permits are being approved each day?

Hmmmmm. That doesn't add up.

How many meals are being served by the Red Cross from the 44 trucks that roam the city?
24,000 last weekend

How many trailers have been requested from FEMA?

How many are currently occupied?

How many of New Orleans' 462,269 pre-Katrina occupants will return to the city?
144,000 by January 2006
181,000 by September 2006 (one year after the storm)
247,000 by September 2008 (three years after the storm)

Sources: Jan. 10 storm update from the New Orleans Emergency Operations Center (read it here), except for population estimates which are from Rand Corp., GCR & Associates.

Pics: Neutral ground art along St. Claude Street in the Bywater neighborhood. (We call medians neutral grounds in New Orleans. The name goes back to the period after the Louisiana Purchase when the Canal Street median, the space dividing the French section of the city from the American section, was literally considered "neutral ground" between the sometimes feuding populations.)

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Back to step One


For those of you concerned about Nero's fate following the food experiment (see Dec. 31 post below), you'll be glad to know that the little black pug is back to normal - both in terms of size, as is evident in the days-old pic above, and mentality.

Unfortunately, Rex's grand plan didn't seem to have any effect on Nero's compulsive eating habits. Within two days, he was back sucking down his meals in seconds and licking the floor like there's no tomorrow (or no food tomorrow).

Rex's theory was simple. Let the pug eat as much as possible. At some point he'll quit, and the gorging will serve as a lasting reminder that gluttony only leads to discomfort and queasiness.

It only worked for one day.

So what lessons did we learn from all of this? I'm going to have to watch Nero's diet and eating habits for the rest of his life. Rex will never doubt even my most outrageous claims about the pug's compulsive behaviors. And Nero ... he didn't learn a damn thing!

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

No Escape

Rex and I headed east to Pensacola, Fla., for a two-day road trip seeking solace from the humdrum of post-hurricane New Orleans. We thought some walks along the largely-deserted beach would offer a nice break from the garbage piles, empty buildings and abandoned cars still filling much of the Crescent City.

Boy were we wrong.

About 15 months after Hurricane Ivan battered the Florida Panhandle, Pensacola Beach still wears oozing scars from its encounter with the terrible cyclone. The empty beachside condominium building, shown above, sat near our motel. There were dozens more like it up and down the beach.

The biggest surprise was the countless tracts of vacant property that, before Ivan, held an ever increasingly dense pack of shops, hotels and homes. The beautiful sand dunes are all gone, and vehicle access to the island's more pristine western side remains blocked.

It turned out that reminders of Katrina were lurking right under, well actually above, our noses.

The top floor of our motel was populated by Louisiana and Mississippi Gulf Coast evacuees who had lost their homes four months ago. Some of the evacuees had even decorated for the holidays.

The motel manager told us that 30 rooms remain occupied by Katrina victims.

I spoke to another local who blamed the beach's delayed recovery on slow actions by insurance companies.

The whole experience left me feeling even more discouraged about the pace of recovery in New Orleans.

Still, a walk along Pensacola's beautiful beach did remind me that Mother Nature, and us humans for that matter, are capable of remarkable resilience.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

When is a straight bar NOT a straight bar?

Here's more proof that the gay community in New Orleans is bouncing back from the hurricane. We spent Friday night hanging out with a few friends at Phillip's Bar and Restaurant, located on the corner of Maple and Cherokee streets in the Uptown neighborhood.

Though ostensibly straight, Phillip's had developed a loyal Friday night gay clientele before the storm.

By 7:30 p.m., when we were there, the crowd numbered about 70 - mostly guys apparently of the same persuasion as me and Rex. Want proof the crowd was mostly gay? No one seemed to notice the hot, young female babes working the bar except for a married buddy of mine. And we seemed to be the only ones paying attention to the Peach Bowl football game featuring LSU and Miami that was playing on the projection screen television.

Me and buddies at Phillip's Bar and Restaurant in Uptown New Orleans.

By 10 p.m., the gay crowd had thinned substantially, only to be replaced by the type of college crowd one would normally expect to find at a bar and grill within walking distance of the Uptown universities.

Phillip's was nice enough, and everyone - gay and straight - seemed comfortable. But the long martini list, oversized snow flakes hanging from the ceiling and other details made the place a little too foofy for my taste.