To keep people in the loop while we were in New Orleans I posted some updates on facebook. This entry is a reposting of these entries with a few more details and pictures.
Friday, August 29, 2008 - New Orleans:
After a way too early flight via Philadelphia, we've arrived safe and sound in New Orleans on the 3rd anniversary of Katrina and our 10th. It's sunny and about a bazillion degrees outside even before the 90% humidity. You'd never guess that a Hurricane is on it's way. Except for the convoy of army and national guard we passed on the highway.
Our cadillac-driving cab owner told us that they are expecting the evacuation orders tomorrow. Great. But other folks are a little more laissez-faire following any talk of mandatory evacuations with a "we'll just wait and see" or occasionally a "f*ck that shit"
The W Hotel is great. Our room has a balony that overlooks the Court House. To celebrate our anniversary they gave us a free dinner at their restaurant. Good thing since, a handful of the businesses and museums have closed or started boarding up their windows, but there are a lot less people than I remember from 10 years ago.
We walked around taking in the sights of the French Quarter, making a stop at St. Louis Cathedral to pray for no hurricane - but being a non-believer I don't count on it having much of an effect. So we decided to drown our sorrows at the Napoleon House instead.
The French Quarter feels a little less seedy and a bit more well scrubbed than our last visit here - even Bourbon Street seems almost civilized. Bourbon Street is still filling up with sweaty half naked-men celebrating gay mardi gras. We'll stay as long as they do.
But I have started looking into a contingency plan.
Saturday, August 30, 2008 - New Orleans:
Woke up this morning to an official hotel notice slipped under the door of our room. It brings back fond memories of our trip to Tunisia at the start of the Gulf War. The hotel has given us a heads up that a mandatory evacuation is expected sometime in the next 24 hours.
Time for plan b.
I spent 2 hours on the phone last night organizing our contingency plan. Being part of an Expedia package, our tickets are non-refundable or changeable even in a natural disaster, and the insurance I thought we had on our visa has to be applied for before a trip. Grr. Lessons learned. So since our original flight home has us changing planes in Charlotte NC, I purchased new tickets to Charlotte for Sunday.
The only hiccups will be if the flight on Sunday is cancelled or if the hotel has to evacuate us today. Which all seems so surreal since it's 96 degrees with 86 percent humidity and not a cloud in the sky.
However, from our balcony we can see a line-up of emergency vehicles around the Court House and the pink building across from us has closed its shutters, padlocked its doors and lined sandbags up in front of the door.
Rather than countdown to evacuation in the hotel, we took another walk around the French Quarter over to Canal Street. It's really empty now with even more closures, boarded up windows as well as empty bank machines and palm trees tethered down. As much as I wish we didn't have to leave, if we stayed we wouldn't have much to do in the city (with or without a hurricane). People are taking this hurricane seriously.
By the time we got back to the hotel, the evacuation order had been issued. While Adrian headed to the store to buy some food and water for our planned overnight camp out in the airport, I headed upstairs to finish our packing.
The awesome staff who all knew us by our names and had been checking in with us hourly gave us all the info we needed to get out safely. We got the last tourist shuttle to the airport. And we weren't the only ones getting out. The highway was miles of bumper-to-bumper traffic of cars piled high with everything people could take with them. Our shuttle also passed the bus and train station where thousands of poor folks carrying garbage bags and suitcases were lined up for their free evacuation shuttles. And the airport was surrounded by heavily armed police. They were only letting in folks with tickets.
The airport itself was fairly dead. Just as the hotel staff predicted, the airline changed our (new) tickets to Charlotte for free having added a special evacuation flight for 9 pm that night.
Inside the terminal, there were at least 5 emergency personel to every passenger. Many of the passengers were coming back from the big college football game and had coolers of food and beer that they shared with those of us who had none. The mood was more party than emergency except that everyone with a laptop was using the free airport wifi to follow Gustav on the National Hurricane Service homepage.
We boarded the full flight and landed in Charlotte ready for part two of our anniversary trip.
Monday, September 1, 2008 - Charlotte:
After a day in North Carolina, I have only one thing to say.
Charlotte is lame.
It's a ghost town just like evacuated New Orleans. Except there's no hurricane warning. New Orleans at least still had soul. Charlotte? None. We saw about 4 other people on the streets today.
We walked from one end of the city to the other (excluding the vast suburbs) in about 30 minutes. It's all sparkly new skyscrapers with bank names on them. The hotel looks exactly like an office building from the outside and only markedly better on the inside.
Finding something to do has been a challenge. After we spent a couple of hours in one of the few museums and then at a small gallery, one of the fewer other open places, there wasn't much left.
Since we were staying downtown where everything was closed, I scoured chowhound to find a place to eat that was close but open. We still had to take a cab to get there. It was okay; our server at least appeared to be human and not another cookie cutter pageant queen. The tv over the bar was tuned into Gustav reminding us why we were in Charlotte in the first place.
Tuesday, September 2, 2008 - Charlotte:
Glad Gustav didn't kill New Orleans, I really would like to get back there so we can fully experience that city someday.
Charlotte however, well, let's just leave it there. Because if you can't say anything nice, don't say it anything.
We walked the length of the city again, looking for open stuff. Here are some highlights.
- The Afro-American Cultural Centre was closed on Monday. And shocked we wanted to take a tour there on Tuesday.
- The McColl Center for the Art was closed on Monday. And then changing displays on Tuesday (i.e. essentially closed). Although they did allow us to poke around the stuff they were setting up and pointed us to us to another tiny gallery.
- The free tourist trolley was empty of any tourists save us.
- All museums were closed on Monday. Almost all were closed on Sunday and then on Tuesday too.
- The tourist information office was closed all long weekend.
So I spent 3 hours online researching the city and marking up a free hotel map to create our own walking tour which lasted only 30 minutes due to Charlotte's tradition of knocking down anything old.
Thanks to a homeless guy who befriended us and joined us on our walking tour of the city, we found out why Charlotte was as devoid of life as it was.
About 20 years ago, the downtown was rundown and "the hood" (his word not mine). Some banks decided to rejuvenate the city by building their headquarters there. And by rejuvenation they meant kick out all the black people and levelling the city. And yes, they literally levelled the city.
So now it looks like a giant shopping mall, with public art pieces that reference the proud heritage of Charlotte but without any of that proud heritage left standing.
He also confirmed the very quiet but very clear racist undercurrent that we were feeling in the city. Ick ick ick ick.
As we parted ways with "Baltimore", he told us "they can flush the rats down the tunnel, but the rats will swim right back up it. I guess that means he and many others weren't leaving Charlotte just yet.