Katrina gouges potholes in Memory Lane | VailDaily.com

Katrina gouges potholes in Memory Lane

Steve Katz
Special to the Daily
Vail, CO Colorado
Bill Haber/APAn abandoned house in the Gentilly neighborhood of New Orleans is shown since Hurricane Katrina flooded the area almost two years ago.

Note: Mary Sue and Steve Katz are part-time Vail residents whose home in New Orleans was severely damaged and flooded by Hurricane Katrina. They have been traveling back and forth between Vail and New Orleans since the storm, and writing about their experiences.

NEW ORLEANS ” It has been two years since Katrina huffed and puffed and blew the city down. It has remained down for most of those two years, but I spent most of July in New Orleans and for the first time there are signs of initial progress.

Recently, a friend of mine picked me up for supper on Sunday night. We drove to eight restaurants before we found one open.

When we were seated, my friend looked at me and said, “This is embarrassing, but I’m kind of glad you got to see what we’re going through.”

Granted it was a Sunday night, granted that there is a serious lack of labor, but eight restaurants?

New Orleans is a city that is understaffed. The upper economic and social strata pretty well stay in place. The lower strata is returning as FEMA entitlements run out, but the core of a society, it’s middle class, is glaringly wounded, and it affects areas of life that have been long taken for granted ” restaurants, store hours, service calls and so on.

Tulane University has set a shining example, leading the resurrection of New Orleans. Tulane is the city’s largest employer as well as the area’s bastion of higher learning.

Tulane ” in its chancellor Scott Cowan ” has demonstrated the kind of leadership that was unfortunately missing at municipal, state and national levels. Tulane was repairing, fixing and improving two weeks after the storm. They were tapping the alumni coffers in New York, Chicago and elsewhere.

Every time I spoke to friends in those cities, Cowan had just been there and knocking on doors. I cite Tulane just to show what a proactive program can yield.

Meanwhile, streetlights are still down in many neighborhoods. Transformers that fell off poles two years ago remain on the ground. They remain as litter, even though service has been restored.

Streets are falling apart. The weight of cars and trucks are one thing ” the weight of millions of tons of water pressuring the roads for weeks has never been experienced in mankind’s history. Potholes are huge, numerous and huge.

Fixing potholes, restoring landscaping and planning so as not to encounter this event ever again is an exercise in urban renewal that has no precedent in nature nor magnitude.

But there are so many other wounds that, though time may heal them, still hurt. Everyone has their own Memory Lane and along that mystical thoroughfare events, adventures and years are land-marked with both tangible and intangible memories.

“Things” are part of the roadbase of memory lane. Things like 200- and 300-year-old churches where baptisms, weddings and funeral masses were held; restaurants like Camellia Grill, Katie’s, Fitzgerald’s and Bruning’s; bars where you embarrassed yourself 30 years ago but nonetheless want to recall with your children, nieces or nephews. These places are gone.

Does the SuperDome remind you of New England upsetting St. Louis on the last play of the Super Bowl, Pete Maravich’s sloppy socks for the New Orleans Jazz, or North Carolina’s Final Four win over the fabulous freshman five of Michigan? Or do you think of riots, filth, gangs and the atrocities after the hurricane.

The destruction of memory lane is reminiscent of how wars disrespect art, architecture and culture. Beautiful buildings destroyed by bombs, Van Goghs and Renoirs, burned without thought ” what happened in New Orleans was not of this magnitude but our ‘Memory Lanes’ have big potholes.

The other scorecard Katrina holds had not yet been filled out. It has affected the older citizens. They have lost homes, incomes and independence, and have had a more difficult time recovering.

What has not been tallied and really can never be accurately calculated is the five, seven, even 10 years the storm and its aftermath have shaved off of lives. The city has lost health care facilities. A bustling charity hospital serving the city and its needy is gone. There are still less than 400 hospital beds in the city.

And the ‘FEMA Parks,’ which are so reminiscent of “Grapes of Wrath,” where life more closely resembles Africa than the United States, is a glaring example of the delay in the city’s recovery.

All this being said, life is almost normal uptown near Tulane, and this is important.

After two years, the return to normalcy has begun.

Support Local Journalism