not so easy in the big easy

You know, I was thinking about posting some photos of the devastation in New Orleans, but what's the point? Anyone with an internet connection or a television set has undoubtedly seen the absolute carnage in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida.

The reason why it's so difficult for me to watch the images on the internet and television is because I used to live in Biloxi, Mississippi and Pensacola, Florida...and spent many a weekend in New Orleans. Some of the best times of my life were spent on the Gulf Coast, and the people I met who lived there were among the most fascinating and hospitable people I've ever had the pleasure to befriend.

Now, I've been through 2 hurricanes, Erin and Opal, both in 1995. Erin was a Category-1 hurricane, which means it was like the worst thunderstorm I've ever witnessed, doubled in power, and dragged out for a few hours. At the time, I was active duty Air Force, stationed in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, but living in downtown Pensacola in the historic North Hill district.

Halfway through Hurricane Erin, my power went out, and I knew it would be out for at least a week (it was out for 16 days). My neighbors consisted of a bunch bohemian surfers and artists next door, and the Escambia County prosecutor who lived upstairs from me. Rachel (the prosecutor) brought her guns, her pet python, and all her wine down to my apartment to ride out the storm. We were well-armed, and I actually felt pretty safe. While my roommate slept away the hurricane, Rachel, her friend Becky, and I rode out the storm in an interior hallway, listening to the radio, drinking wine, and playing Mad Libs (the more wine we drank, the dirtier they became).

When the eye came through, I climbed up onto the roof through a hatch that had torn loose in the upstairs hallway. I'll never forget the stillness of the air, the blue sky above, and the angry-looking clouds that were swirling around the horizon. To this Ohio-bred boy, it was remarkable.

Soon, the winds returned, and we again battened down the hatches and finished the bottles of wine we had opened. After the storm, Rachel took one of her guns, secured the others, and we went out to investigate. Downtown Pensacola was TRASHED. My street was completely impassable due to the multiple magnolia trees that had fallen across the roadway, and the waterfront had been pounded by the surf and storm surge.

When we got back, my neighbors were in the process of building a huge bonfire in the middle of the street with some of the branches that had fallen in our yards. One of my next-door neighbors, Smokey, was a chef at the Sun Ray Taco Shop down on the boardwalk. He instructed everyone to clean out their freezers...'cause we were gonna have a barbecue to end all barbecues.

And...we did. Steak. Chicken. Pork chops. Sausage links. Alaska salmon (from Rachel, of course). I sat there, looking at all my neighbors, their young, excited faces illuminated by the bonfire, just thinking how lucky I was to live in such a cool place. Later on, I borrowed a generator from my squadron, and the next day, everyone gave me their picnic coolers, and I piled them into my Volvo. Since the air force base had power and gasoline, I'd fill my tank, let my neighbors siphon some out when I got back, and also filled their coolers with ice at the Officer's club (I had to sneak in, but my Volvo didn't attract any attention in the parking lot). In return, they let me shower at their place (they still had gas, my apartment was all-electric and had no hot water).

New Orleans is pretty much a third-world country right now...but you can help. Click here to find out how.

More later...it's late, and I'm emotionally drained right now, wishing there was more I could do to help.

© 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 by Chad Fox. All rights reserved.