Posted: Monday September 25, 2006 12:57PM; Updated: Monday September 25, 2006 4:57PM
Finishing touches were being put on the Superdome this past weekend.
Live in New York City for any extended length of time, and the concept of going on vacation will take on a whole new merit. While Manhattan is one of the greatest places on earth, it can also be debilitating -- the crowds, the bustle, the relentless weather.
A little more than one year ago, I rented a beach house on the Florida panhandle. My wife and I flew to Atlanta and picked up our extended families, and we caravanned down to the Sunshine State. I probably should've realized something was strange, as the highways and roads were almost empty and howling winds blew our rented SUV around the cement like we were in a toy car. But nothing was going to stop me from my intended vacation, my break from New York, so I loaded the CDs in the changer and pressed on. Once we found the house and started unloading luggage, I flipped on CNN and realized we'd driven through the edges of a hurricane, this one named Katrina, which would continue on across the gulf coast leaving an unprecedented wake of destruction behind it. Like everyone else, I spent most of the next week on the couch, watching as Shepard Smith and Anderson Cooper expressed more outrage than any politicians appeared to be able to muster.
In March of this year, while covering the return of the Hornets for SLAM, I was finally able to visit N'awlins to see it for myself. I saw the Hornets host the Nuggets, but the most compelling things I saw had nothing to do with basketball. Here it was, seven months since Katrina had dropped in, and the city was just starting to get back on its feet, albeit on wobbly legs. I spent most of two days driving around, seeing the same things I saw on television but had trouble wrapping my mind around. A friend's brother, Francis, who lives in New Orleans, served as my guide, and he took me from Metarie to Lakeview to the Ninth Ward. When Katrina hit, Francis and his family, along with a family they're friends with, evacuated New Orleans. Francis' house was mostly untouched. Their friend's house was totally destroyed. We stopped at his friend's home and tiptoed through the wreckage, gawking at just how much damage wind and water can do. We went by the marina and saw moorings where buildings used to stand. I'll never forget seeing the decapitated head of a teddy bear alongside a demolished house in the Ninth Ward. I took along a video camera and captured these images at the time.
I could write about it forever, but until you've seen it you'll never believe it. Have you ever seen a stack of boats, lifted out of the water and piled high into the sky like some kind of sadistic modern art? Have you ever seen a house lifted off its foundation and plopped back down in the middle of a road, smack atop a car? Or how about the scene underneath Interstate 10, where thousands of flooded and stripped cars had accumulated, just sitting around with no better place to go?
When the basketball game ended, I went back to my hotel in the French Quarter. It was a Saturday night, just after 10 p.m., and I asked the folks at the front desk for a nearby dinner recommendation. The woman mentioned a small Italian restaurant miles away. Wasn't there anything within walking distance? No, there wasn't. Everything was already closed for the evening. Yes, it was the middle of the French Quarter, just past 10 p.m. on a Saturday night, and the dining options were severely limited. Not because of damage to the architecture, but mostly because the city was so wiped out by Katrina that there weren't enough people back in New Orleans to work everywhere.
That was then, this is now, and from all accounts, things are improving but still have a ways to go. Sometime tonight after 8:30 p.m. ET, after U2 and Green Day perform and following another milquetoast introduction from Mike Tirico, Joe Theismann and Tony Kornheiser, the NFL will return to New Orleans. The Hornets have yet to return full-time, as that Oklahoma City gravy train is proving hard for owners to ignore. But the NFL will -- and finally give the people of New Orleans something to focus on other than blue FEMA roof tarps and insurance reimbursement checks. I don't know if U2 will take requests tonight, but hopefully Bono and the Edge know Do You Know What It Means (To Miss New Orleans)? The answer, we all know now, is yes.
As a Falcons fan, I want to see the Falcons beat the Saints tonight. But talk about your omens. This morning in New York City, I was riding in a cab and the driver's cellphone rang. The ringtone? When The Saints Go Marching In. I hope the Falcons win, but I've got a feeling that this may be the night in the Bayou that New Orleans has been waiting to experience for a long, long time.