Sunday, May 28, 2006

They just don't get it!

There are three types of people outside of Louisiana: those who want to hear all of our stories about Katrina; those who don't want to hear any of them; and those who think they already know them without hearing a word.

I encountered a guy from the third category the other day at my new gym here in San Diego.

My conversation with the retired engineer started cordially, with discussion of well-publicized engineering failures of the last decade. But things soured as we turned to Katrina, the levee failures and the future of New Orleans and the rest of south Louisiana.

He blamed the poorly constructed levees on Mayor Nagin and Gov. Blanco. I had to explain that the levees are designed and constructed by the federal government.

He blamed all of the deaths from the storm and flood on locals. I had to explain that the federal government failed to deliver any meaningful help to the city for three days after the storm hit.

He said people shouldn't be allowed to repopulate New Orleans because of predictions of increasingly active hurricane seasons. I asked if the same standard would be applied to California's coastal cities because of seismic activity.

He completely dismissed the value of Louisiana: "It's not as though we get anything from Louisiana. The state hasn't been relevant to the nation's economy for years." I explained that Louisiana still is a major source of energy (fourth-largest oil-producing state and fifth-largest gas-producing state); home to two of the nation's biggest ports; the second-largest commercial seafood producing state; and a continuing major contributor to the nation's musical, culinary and literary heritage.

But his worst was yet to come.

He asked me where I stayed during my evacuation (in a spare room at the home of my sister and her husband in Baton Rouge), and whether my company compensate me for living expenses (it did.)

"So you made out pretty well then," he said, cocking his head slightly and squinting his eyes as though he had just uncovered my dirty little secret to use the ruse of the hurricane to line my pockets. He didn't say it, but I knew what was going through his mind: I was just another one of those Katrina deadbeats ripping off U.S. taxpayers.

The conversation might have been more shocking if it weren't for the fact that I've encountered idential viewpoints practically everywhere I've traveled outside of the South since Katrina.

This is part of the challenge still facing Louisiana.

Those of us who are part of the hurricane diaspora can help beat down lies and misconceptions about our native state by continuing to tell our stories even to those who are blinded by bigotry.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Back to normal?

I noticed a disturbing uptick in crime in New Orleans during my last few weeks in the city, and apparently it wasn't my imagination. A friend from my old Bywater neighborhood made note of the same troubling trend in an email this week.

Mind you, this same friend who chastised me for leaving New Orleans is now looking for a new city to call home.

On a lighter note, my friend had this to say about one of his neighbors:

"The Voodoo queen down the block from my house is having her annual crime ritual. I asked her about last year's hurricane ritual and what the hell happened. She said that she didn't include levees in the ceremony."

Who needs expensive engineering studies? Now we know.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Back to Tijuana

The Paseo de los Héroes is lined with a series of large traffic circles each featuring a statue of a historic figure. (Click on pictures to see them larger.)

Abe Lincoln seems a bit out of context here, but not so for Cuauhtémoc, the last Aztec emperor and a venerated figure in Mexican history.

We hopped onto one of the countless private buses that race along TJ's streets for a ride about two miles south of the border to the center of the city's upper-middle-class neighborhood.

Back at the border, the late afternoon line crossing into the U.S. took nearly an hour and a half to navigate.

Drivers weren't in any better shape.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Desert Roses

The cacti were in full bloom this weekend in the Colorado Desert about an hour and a half east of San Diego. While temperatures struggled to rise past 75 degrees in the city, they hit a scorching 106 in the desert - not bad for late spring.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Are those baby lobsters?

I got a big taste of home today at the San Diego LSU Alumni chapter's 18th Annual Crawfish Boil along Silver Strand State Beach, located across the bay from downtown San Diego.

Click on pictures to see them bigger.

It's one of about 60 crawfish boils held by LSU Alumni chapters, but it's by far the largest. Today's event was a sellout, with about 2,500 people each paying $45 to attend.

Not surprisingly, I met a good number of people with Louisiana roots. Sharing our table were natives of Lake Charles, Houma and Chauvine.

About 12,500 pounds of live crawfish (or about 6.5 tons) were trucked in from the Bayou State.

The mud bugs were boiled on-site in a giant cooker mounted on the back of a long trailer.

There was free beer for the first three hours of the boil and entertainment from a Zydeco band. Booths selling LSU stuff, purple and gold Mardi Gras beads and bowls of chicken gumbo gave the event a Cajun festival feel .

The cooked crawfish were boxed into 50-pound portions, and each table of 10 people received a box.

In theory, everyone was supposed to get 5 pounds of crawfish. But we lucked out. Half of our table didn't show, so five of us got to split an entire box of the critters.