Fred (to the porch): “Hey guys, y’all ready for the storm?”
Ned: “We got cigarettes and beer. We okay.”
Ted: “I’m just gonna get drunk, pass out, wake up tomorrow, and it’ll be over.”
Ned (to Ted): “Kinda like your first marriage, huh?”
What can you say about a hurricane to hit New Orleans that simply didn’t? You can’t say that we weren’t adequately alarmed or were under-prepared as a city; jeez, we did everything but erect a dome over our heads and lay in the MREs. A state of emergency was declared, the National Guard was stationed, shelters were opened for the homeless. It was a full moon on Thursday and the tides were rising—time to break out the staple gun and trash bags!
The rumors of impending doom started around Wednesday, and by Friday, we were all in a tizzy. I got caught up in the spirit and shopped on Thursday and Friday as if for a siege; the parking lots of Rouse’s, Winn-Dixie, and Whole Foods looked like used car lots, and the stores were as crowded as they are at Thanksgiving time.
The folks shopping at Rouse’s had big bags of dog food, bottled water, Abita Amber, diapers, Jameson, and an army of deli-prepared foods. The lady in front of me had pre-baked bread, sliced turkey, cheese, Styrofoam plates, gallons of Arizona, and a family-size jar of Blue Plate Mayonnaise. Pandemonium reigned, with cash registers ringing in the buckaroos, two-liter cold drinks, ice, charcoal briquettes, movies renting at the kiosk.
At Winn-Dixie, Budweiser was the king of beers, batteries, sliced bread, canned Dinty Moore, Kraft Mac and Cheese, cigarettes, and chips, with checkers checking IDs for booze sales; cases of water, cat litter, and soft drinks jammed into overflowing carts. One man’s cart had dozens and dozens of canned vegetables, spaghetti, sauce, and canned imitation Parmesan cheese (plus two half-gallons of cheap bourbon). Cars circled the parking area like buzzards looking for spaces and places, shopping carts littered the lot like abandoned life jackets, and there was the smell of fear in the air. Men gunned their motors, women looked apprehensive, and kids cried out for attention.
Whole Foods had a run on kombucha, soy products, and La Croix flavored sparkling water. Spring water by the cases was stocked and sold, pizza dough, ciabatta bread, rennet-free cheese, mock chicken, and black-bean burgers quickly evaporated. The millennials stripped shelves and stood in line as if waiting for lifeboats. The entire hot bar was packaged and taken out, sushi swam into kids’ shopping baskets, IPAs shouldered by man buns, and tattooed ladies bagged trail mix from the bulk section. I saw a man getting two cases of their $2.99 merlot; it was a non-GMO donnybrook of epic proportions.
We closed the shop early. There hadn’t been a customer in two days—Jonestown in the retail arena. We moved plants inside, stacked sandbags, left extra food for the feral cats, and set the alarm on “prison break” mode. We charged our cell phones, took down wind chimes, duct-taped trash cans, froze odd containers of water, and filled buckets for cooking and flushing. Caught unprepared, we improvised flash and candle lights, cooked enough for an army, parked the car on higher ground, and watched The Weather Channel like storm ghouls—it looks like it’s headed right up our assets; to hell with the rent, let’s just hope we all get out of this alive.
The mayor comes on the Teevee and tells everyone to get off the streets. In turn, 12 city officials from the levee board, Corps of Engineers, police, and state troopers assure us that we are prepared, as a city, to ride this one out: “Been prepared since before this thing had a name.” Sewerage and Water Board officials boast of our repaired pumps and drainage. I’m mesmerized by a woman mirroring the dialogue in sign language and wonder if she’s really signing or faking. All channels are riveted on the catastrophe to come, which will turn out to be a hurrah that never came. Schools are let out early, festivals are canceled, dinner reservations are revoked, and the Tremé Center closes the swimming pool. Hizzonah imposes a curfew that is almost immediately rescinded due to the public’s lack of interest and participation.
We wait on the porch with our neighbor Judy. We’re prepared; we have liquids, solids, hammer, nails, and the Sunday newspapers that were printed early because of the impending storm. Nothing happens. Seven, eight, nine o’clock, not a breeze in the eaves; that early afternoon squall was not a harbinger of things to come. The streets are quiet with my neighbor Gallivan (and his dogs) over at his girlfriend’s house to ride it out, and others on our street are hunkered down. There’s a quiet hurricane party across the street and hardly any traffic to speak of.
By this time, I’m half lit, and back in television-land, even Margaret Orr has left the building, leaving the second string to mop up. I pop another PBR and switch to the Great British Baking Show. I feel incomplete, left at the altar; I understand the anguish of the deflated soufflé at the competition, my glace has lost its shine, and my mille-feuille has mostly fallen.
In the morning, naturally, it’s a beautiful day, and life goes on as if nothing happened, which is exactly the case. Except, I take myself aside and remind myself, in no uncertain terms, that I need to be grateful that we dodged that bullet while others have not been so lucky. There are fires out west and earthquakes and other hurricanes that have really f**ked with people’s lives, and here I am getting out of bed looking forward to my coffee and New York Times. Blessed be that we were spared; now let’s see how we can help others less fortunate.