A week ago, as Hurricane Katrina was strengthening in the Gulf of Mexico, I spent some time on the phone with my friend’s 86 year old mom. I tried… I guess I did convince her to leave her New Orleans home.
Before dawn Sunday morning she got into her car and drove to the Louisiana Superdome. This was before all the tumult and grief there. Before long they had her on a bus headed to Alexandria. She never got there. The bus drove 10 hours to Baton Rouge (a one hour trip under normal circumstances) and dropped her off at LSU.
Though we’ve all see the horrific images from New Orleans and the Mississippi and Alabama coasts, Ruth was treated well at LSU. They fed her and there was air conditioning, while the power was on.
We all assume Ruth’s house and all her possessions are gone. The area it’s in was one of the hardest hit, under ten or more feet of water! Her car, in the Superdome parking lot is probably a total loss as well.
A few days ago, my friend bought tickets to bring his mom to Connecticut¹. She will stay with her daughter who lives here in the Naugatuck Valley.
When I heard Ruth was coming to Connecticut, I told the station’s assignment desk and we sent Darren Duarte to do a story. Ruth is telegenic and articulate. The story was very emotional – as you might imagine.
Astoundingly, and much to her delight, Ruth has become a ‘TV star’. First it was the UPS man, delivering a package, asking if she was the woman from television? Then at Macy’s in the Trumbull Mall.
Last night, Ruth and family invited me to dinner at Tony & Lucille’s on Wooster Street in New Haven. Dinner was exceptional. Even Ruth, a lifelong New Orleans resident… a city known for it’s astounding cuisine… was blown away.
More interesting were Ruth’s stories and her amazing attitude. I don’t know about you, but if I had lost everything, I don’t think I could have maintained her composure and positive attitude.
Everything is gone – photos, letters, memorabilia. Furniture and cars, even houses can be replaced (and, thankfully, she has the insurance to do that). But how do you replace a lifetime of possessions with special meaning? There is no insurance for that.
Ruth has no imminent plans to return to New Orleans. She will probably take up living with her daughter and, if all goes well, just stay.
This is part of what will change New Orleans. At the dinner table we discussed whether New Orleans would ever come back?
Can tourists and conventions ever look past the images of gun toting thugs walking down the street or the misery of the people trapped in the Convention Center, Superdome and even on highway overpasses?
Will those with means, like Ruth I suppose, flee the city? It could turn from a primarily poor and black city to a totally poor and black city. An analogy was made to Newark, NJ.
That would be a shame. Though it’s an overused term, New Orleans really was a one of a kind city. It would be nice to see it return to that stature.
¹ – When my friend, whose name I have kept from these entries, called his travel agent to tell his mother’s story and get tickets, the agent said the trip was on her company. Some stories from this tragedy are good. Most of us do operate the way you’d like under difficult circumstances.