Challenger Logo by Alan White   A Science Fiction Fanzine   Winter 2005-6

The author is the Hugo-winning fan artist from New Orleans, Laura is Laura Resnick, and
the heartbreak is universal.

 

E-LETTER TO LAURA
From: "Peggy Ranson" <
pranson@timespicayune.com>

Reply-To: <pranson@timespicayune.com>

Date: Mon, 31 Oct 2005 10:55:49 -0600

Laura,

I've got a little down time at work so I'm going to start this mega email to you now. The paper put it pretty succinctly today by saying "...we're going thru a collective grief process mourning the loss of the city as we knew it." and that pretty much sums it up.

It just *feels* different. Besides the obvious destruction and debris you look at the vegetation and all of it in the flooded areas is dead or dying. All our beautiful oaks look like they're having a bad hair day. Huge gaps in their canopies. They look like the scary forest in a horror movie. little foliage and twisted gnarly limbs -- of the limbs that are left. You see all the spray painted codes left on homes. If there's a zero that's a good thing as any numbers mean bodies found. If the remains were animal they say "cat" or "dog" and how many. I was a bit disconcerted when on my way to work just 2 blocks from my house they had spray painted "2 looters shot." I didn't realize that was happening in my neighborhood.

I'll start at the beginning. When I left work that Friday nite someone mentioned that Katrina looked like it may be a threat. We were all going, naaaahhh. Cat 1 and going south. Still, I topped off the gas tank and went to the store. It wasn't even crowded. Woke up on Saturday morning and was horrified to see what was happening. I started calling local hotels hoping to get a room that would take pets. Thank God that didn't happen in hind sight. I called and left a message with my brother in Memphis that I *may* be coming his way with 2 cats. Spent the rest of the day washing clothes and cleaning out the fridge -- the fridge, NOT the freezer. Big mistake, again hind sight.By Saturday evening I went to bed thinking it was going to change course and go to Florida.

Sunday morning my brother's phone call woke me up. Get your butt up here NOW. I had organized all my papers early in the summer cos having hurricanes so early in the season made me think this season might be different. So I started dumping by drawers into trash bags. I would deal with all of it later. I dumped all the cleaned clothes into suitcases and emptied all my underwear into one. Cleaned out a litter box and loaded it with papers and finally loaded the cats into carriers. I packed water and fruit and set out. Whine-O, my FIV (aids) cat started crying from the get go. I took the back way to get onto the Causeway, passing people rioting at gas stations. After that I saw no one on the street. It was pretty eerie. When I got onto Causeway there was no one. YES! I thot. Smooth sailing. I passed over the interstate to see all those poor suckers stuck in traffic. I hit the Causeway at the lake to begin the crossing over and hit the worst nightmare in traffic I have ever seen. It took me 4 hours to go 22 miles. Stubbie, my other cat wasn't happy but he chilled out. Whine-O started having diarrhea, hunched over panting and drooling, crying everytime I hit the brakes, which was every other second when you're not even going 5mph. He stayed that way for the next 14 hours. It didn't help that his poop was stinky and that he was wallowing in it, but what could I do? He kept dumping his water bowl. Neither cat would drink. At least I was going slow enough to be able to safely pour new water in. I didn't think Whine-O would make it.

I eventually made it to I-55 to Memphis. The contra flow was working and such a sight to see! in all directions on both sides of the interstate was the most massive exodus of cars I have ever seen. Bumper to bumper as far as the eye could see. I had totally shut down emotionally until I hit this point. It was then that I realized I was in the middle of a HUGE event. How big, though, had not happened yet. Behind you could see the farthest most feeder bands of the hurricane already starting to come through. Cars were breaking down everywhere. people were in caravans of family cars. People were charging their cars over the dividing grounds thinking the traffic was going faster or smoother on the other side (not so I might add). It was when we were coming into Brookhaven Mississippi, where the traffic bottlenecked once again becos the contra flow was ending, that I finally just broke down in tears. In the small communities they had overpasses where all those country folks had gathered with banners and signs. The gist of these signs were "We love you New Orleans. May God keep you safe." It was the biggest thing these people had ever seen. Thank God we were only going 5mph cos I just broke down and cried -- along with Whine-O.

Most of the traffic got off in Jackson, Mississippi. The sun was going down and I had been on the road a little over 9 hours. I was starting to panic at this point. I'm a lousy driver at night, I couldn't feel my legs, I needed gas, could I find a room anywhere??? In Canton, Mississippi I couldn't put off getting gas any longer. My legs almost went out from under me they were so bad. I don't do cell phones so I bought a phone card to call my brother knowing he'd be worried. Welcome to the cell phone age. Not a pay phone to be found. nor a room. Louisiana cars were everywhere in the same boat as me. This totally creepy couple came up to me and asked if I needed a place to stay. I was so exhausted I asked if they knew where a motel was. Ohhhhh nooooooooo, you won't find any thing *here*. We'd like for you to come stay with us. Man, Laura, the hackles went up on my neck and the alarm bells were screaming. I started muttering about my poopy cats and they said that was ok, too. It was then that I made up my mind to push on for Memphis. I had no desire to end up in someone's stew pot or being force fed the bible all night long.

I made Memphis in record time from Jackson. What was normally a 6 hour trip took 14. There was almost no traffic which wasn't good for me. My hands were cramped from the steering wheel cos I'm such a wuss about night driving on the interstate. I did find cars to tail tho, most of the way. I pulled into Memphis at 1 o'clock Monday morning. They were waiting for me. We got the cats out asap and cleaned poor Whine-O up, whose nose was a livid purple from the beating it took everytime I braked the car and his ass was covered in liquid shit. After emptying the car and downing a glass of wine I fell into bed. And woke up to a nightmare.

The rest of the evacuation was the same as all my other compadres in Memphis and elsewhere -- 24/7 cnn. Crying, in shock, desperate to find out about our homes. Finding as many friends and co-workers as possible. Weeping for the poor betrayed pets left behind and the horrors of those people left behind with no help, no shelter, no food, no water, and almost as bad, no dignity. The anger!!!!!! I'm gonna tell you right now that when Mayor Nagin lost it in that interview I had never been as proud of him as then. Forget the blame game. We had less than 48 hours warning. He got a MILLION people out. Fully half those who stayed DID have cars. They could have left. Then the levees broke. and everything changed. We thot we had dodged the bullet. It was the worst thing that could have happened to this city. I have friends who did stay and their stories are so dramatic, so terrifying. Those would take a book.

Back in Memphis we're trying to figure out FEMA (jeez), wondering if we should apply for unemployment, finding the newspaper on NOLA.com. Going to the Red Cross and eventully, after about the first 2 weeks rage and grief, regaining a sense of humor. We decided we were the nicest po white trash on welfare & food stamps the world has ever seen. I spent 5 weeks in my brother's house in Memphis. AND the newspaper continued to pay us the entire time. (What they went thru is another story and they'll probably get a Pulitzer out of this. I'll see if I can att. the video of their fleeing the city in the delivery trucks. Pretty dramatic.) I was everyone's very own personal Katrina refugee. But I knew I was going to start smelling after a few weeks...

The Memphis days are a blur. I was certainly in a much more comfortable situation than most. I grew up there and caught up with old friends. I was paid. The weather was good except for the Tuesday following Katrina which roared thru Memphis still at tropical storm strength. I slept thru it. It wasn't till I took a deep breath and decided to go home cos Nagin said I could that it started all over again.

This time I loaded as much in the way of water and groceries that I could. I bought an ice chest and tons of cleaning supplies with visions of toxic mold in my head. The cats, however had loved their new home and made it very clear they weren't going without a fight. My brother managed to get a little dramamine into Whine-O but Stubbie got in touch with his feral self and went wild on us. Lots of blood later they were back in their carriers. The car was maxed out. I could barely see out. In the first 15 minutes on the road Whine-O pooped again. ***sigh*** this time, at least, is wasn't diarrhea. THEN, he projectile vomited across the dash board. ewwwwwwwww. I had to pull over to clean up that one. Eventually the dramamine kicked in on him and he went comatose. Stubbie went insane. for the next 6 hours he did everything he could to get out of that cage. I was never so glad to get home. I stopped for nothing but gas.

When you go across the Bonne Carre you know you're coming home. I started checking for hurricane damage. Since that's all swamp I can't really say I saw too much except for some roof damage on some camps. The traffic wasn't as heavy as I thot it would be either. As you come into Kenner you start seeing the "blue roofs", the tarps they put on homes roofs that have damage. okkkkkk, still doesn't seem too bad. Then Metairie. I see the landmark office bldg., The Galleria, with most of its windows blown out like the downtown Hyatt. You see the 17th street canal but that's where the interstate splits so you couldn't really see anything. Round the next bend and you see the downtown skyline dominated by the Superdome. Wow............ just wow. And then it sinks in that the traffic heading OUT OF TOWN is bumper to bumper 8(

I took the St. Charles exit cos I wanted to get a feel for the damage. Huge trees down and limbs everywhere. Almost all power lines down. Street lamps snapped like twigs. Some side streets utterly impassable. The streetcar tracks can not even be seen for the debris. Hummers everywhere with the national guard. Foot patrols in the neighborhood. Siding, shingles, collapsed porches, blown off roofs yet to be blue tarped, the occasional collapsed home, and this is the least damaged part of the city.

Magazine Street was pretty much the same but becos it didn't have as many massive oaks there was less of that kind of damage. Just the looting. I pull up to my house and the first thing I notice is really heavy broken glass around. It wasn't window glass so a mystery. I opened the house prepared to heave cos the fridge had been off for 5 weeks with rotting meat inside. Glory be there was no odor!!! It re-froze. Horrible ooze under it but no odor. That was the big hurdle so I immediately began to unload the car saving the cats for last. My neighbors across the street were on their porch. They're leaving. They said if I had come in 3 weeks earlier I would have lost it. What I was seeing was "cleaned up". As the days go on I realize I'm the only one *living* in my house on my block. Everyone else is coming in for the day and leaving at night and not too many of those, either. I spent the next few days driving around. It was a fucking ghost town. Except for the military, the black hawk & chinook choppers, the humvees.

I'm going to insert some emails here made to Guy and other friends:

 

it won't be the New Orleans we remember. But those of us uptown will do our best. It'sa real ghost town and kinda scary. The good news is my little hispanic "contractor" came today at the same time as the guys to clean the fridge did. On top of that (everyone was hispanic btw) The Salvation Army came by with hot meals of beef stew, water & Nestle Krunch bars. We all grabbed them even me who has food. Why? cos it was so NICE of them to do it.

 

Elaine, the biggest problem is CARPET BAGGERS!!!!! the peeps coming back are begging for work and the work is being farmed out to outsiders! these peeps need work and the outsiders are bringing their own workers who are being housed and fed, very comfortably I might add, at government expense. I was thrilled to give the local guys the work today. But if there's no work they won't move back. We are losing at least 25 to 40% of our population!

 

Our own little yard guy called today to say he was coming and I told him I would prepay him for 2 months if he needed it. Jeez, these little guys were in shelters and they worried about US!!!!?????? You cannot beleive the generosity of spirit this city has for it's own. Sure there is some negative bs on the net and we're old news now. This is when we all need the help the most!

 

Mary Sirkis came by yesterday and we've been looking out for each other from day one. She went to Memphis also. We were hugging in the street and this little old lady came by in her car and said "Welcome back." I cannot tell you how surreal it is.

 

Nancy, Mary and I made a promise to go out to dinner this weekend. I called an expensive restuarant to make reservations for Saturday night and left a message on their answer phone. (I heard via nola.com that they were open) They called back THRILLED that I wanted a reservation and thrilled to hear that I heard they were open via nola.com. (Laura, there were maybe a grand total of 5/6 restaurants open for limited hours at this time. Most didn't let it be known they were open becos their menus were - and still are - so limited.)

 

this to Guy:

>> I've been back for 2 weeks. TV does NOT prepare you for it. I've taken in some peeps from work who lost everything. Midcity, Lakeview, Bayou St. John, Lakefront (there is no more Sid-Mar's , Brunings or any of those restaurants, They were flattened and flooded. There's nothing there-literally) all were flooded and in most cases to the roofs. Gentilly and the Ninth Ward - drove all thru there. Only thing they can do is bulldoze it and start over. It's beyond recovery. I suppose the same is true of New Orleans east and most of Arabi and St. Bernard. All the vegetation in those areas are dying for the most part. Oaks throughout the city have lost a good deal of their canopies and will be a few years in growing back. City Park and Audubon Park are not the shady soothing places they used to be. I can't remember which oak it is, water oak or live oak, but they will not survive at all. most have been marked with red Xs for removal before they can fall and do more damage. We lost the one remaining survivor of the Dueling Oaks in City Park so that's just a memory as so many other things in this city are.

>>

>> Guy it takes your breath away. We have the Quarter, Garden District, and Uptown. Parts of Carrollton, parts of Midcity that sustained some wind damage but are otherwise ok. So many of my co-workers have lost EVERYTHING. Literally everything but their lives & in some cases their cars. The insurance companies are complete asses. One State Farm adjuster has already been shot and killed here. The frustration is really starting to mount up. Just unbelieveable.........

 

As to my notes: more damage to the house found then when I wrote these emails. My water pipes have burst underground due to the city pressure coming back on. It's gonna be thousands to fix and I'm praying it doesn't hurt the foundation. You just hear the constant swooshing of water thru the pipes.. 8( The chlorine smell from the water gets stronger everyday. The mysterious glass I saw was from my utility meter - it exploded.

The newspaper let go/fired anyone who did not return when asked or neglected to contact their supervisor within the designated 24 hours. I saw people leaving the building in tears. There were no exceptions and if the paper's advertising doesn't improve by Thanksgiving there will be lay offs.

They may have downplayed the violence that happened here but happen it did. Charmaine Neville was raped on the roof of her shelter. Later stole a bus and took as many away from that shelter as she could. A N.O. Saint who lived in the east personally saw a man shot in the head for his car. and those special ops forces were brought in just to deal with the gangs. They had one order - exterminate. And they did. 2 gangs had joined forces and were so well organized they had walkie talkies and a complete blue print of the areas they were going to hit. The special forces got to them first and not one person who knows about this regrets it or feels sorry for them.

 

Well, that's about it from me. Once you cross St. Charles Avenue heading to the Lake it just gets worse and worse. It's my daily route to work now and even 63 days later (today is halloween) it's in chaos with debris. 63 days. Tho they do say it's probably the safest city in America now crime-wise. Up by me it almost looks clean and there's traffic. Of course there are those semi tractor trailer trucks parked on the neutral grounds along with the occasional abandoned boat and the traffic lights still don't work, but hey! You can't have everything...

Being a drama queen I had always felt I would go thru something like this - you know, the "end times" scenario. Growing up with the *bomb* and all that. But it's not as Mad Max as you would think. In fact it's pretty mundane. It still boils down to your job, car, house, pets, getting gas, having water and electric, and groceries. Getting garbage bags and cleaning your street. Hoping for a mail delivery sometime soon. (mail, hah!) and steady garbage pickup, another Hah!. 2 people on our block have put their homes up for sale and are leaving for good. That story is being repeated everywhere. The people who want to come back and repair their homes have no place to stay. What little livable property is around is priced so high no one can afford it.

Everytime I think I'm done writing I think of something else I forgot to mention. But the story is just so damn big. It's just plain biblical. What can I say? Wait for the movie.

 

Peg

 

Peggy was working as an ad illustrator when she volunteered to work with the 1988 New Orleans worldcon. This piece was her first fan art.

 

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