Thursday, December 28, 2006

Quality Time on Interstate 10

I couldn't sleep. All around, others were having the same problem. Groups of young men kept walking by, coming down the freeway from the west. There were several cars parked on the freeway, closer to St. Bernard Ave., put there by their owners before the storm. Where the owners were now, who knows. As the groups of guys walked by, they would open a car door to see if they could get it started. There was one car, though, that refused to be mishandled. Everytime, the alarm would go off. I could see the car, surrounded by people, because the interior light would come on, then the alarm would go off, then the guys would move on down the road. Then the next group would walk up and try. It was almost comical.

As the night wore on, more people arrived, although this slowed after the recuers pulled their boats from the water and went to a different part of town. One group of 3 came up to friend/family already on the road. They were happy to find each other. Then one of the men, after looking around, said, "Look, there's even white folks up here!" Oh well, this in New Orleans, and I did only see 3 other whites.

Dawn came slowly. I took Sebastian for a short "business" walk, then came back to talk to Bill. The guys were still asleep. More folks were waking up and figuring out how to do simple things, like use the bathroom. No modesty allowed here.

To our surprise, a Police van came driving by. When they saw the crowd, they actually sped up to go around us, even though several of us were up and waving! We knew they would be back though, cause the freeway to the west was closed just beyond St. Bernard. We hadn't talk to the people around us for nothing!

Bill and I were determined to stop the van when it came back. When we saw it coming, we positioned ourselves in the middle of the lane and started waving our arms. Bill was especially agressive about it, walking toward them as they came. Now, my guy is 5'11", and weighs 235. He has a full flowing white beard, and was wearing a brightly colored Hawaiian print shirt. You couldn't miss him unless your eyes were closed! The van just kept coming! Bill kept doing the "stop the van dance". I was screaming at him that they were going to run him over. But, he is a persistant son of a gun, and just kept dancing! Well, the van finally stopped. BUT, I am convinced that if Bill had been black, they would have run over him and kept going!!!!

Bill went to the drivers side, and I took the guy in the passengers seat. We would compare notes later. The guy I talked to was a City of New Orleans police sergeant. White. Bill talked to a NOYPD patrolman. Black. They both said basically the same thing. No busses, no food, no water, no FEMA, no help anywhere. There were tears in the sergeant's eyes as he spoke. We were on our own. So, I asked my guy, How do we get to the Crescent City Connect, the bridge over the Mississippi River to Algiers? He explained how to start walking east, go the wrong way on the entrance ramp to I-10, then walk on the eastbound side of I-10. Once we were there, we would be able to see where to go. He asked where we wanted to go, and I said, "The bridge, then Gonzales." His response was one we would hear repeatedly during the day, "Do you know how far that is?!?" I told him, "Yes, but it doesn't matter. If I'm going to get sunburned, it is going to be getting somewhere, not sitting on my butt in the middle of the freeway." He smiled, and wished me the best.

Others came up and started talking to them, but Bill and I had heard enough. We told the guys what we had learned, then we gathered all our stuff up. The mother of the 3 little boys wanted to know what was going on, so we told her, as others listened. We also told her what we were doing. Her response, "Do you know how far that is?"

We took off walking. 5 people with 4 backpacks, a laptop computer in a case with a short handle, 2 rolling suitcases, and a old miniature schnauzer with heart problems. The 3 guys were in flip flops, while their shoes dried out a bit. All of us in shorts and shirts, dirty and stained from wading out through the toxic gumbo in the New Orleans soup bowl.

Once others realized we were headed out, one of the guys said, really loudly, "Look, the white folks are leaving, we better go too." At first I wasn't sure I had heard him right, but then I looked around at my crew, who were all grinning at the comment, and knew my ears were working just fine.

After a few minutes, I looked back to see a long line of folks following us. Each ladened down with what few of their earthly belongings they were able to haul out of the rising waters. We felt a bit like the Pied Pipers of New Orleans. But unlike the original in Germany, we were not sure where our journey would end.

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