Once Upon a Time in New Orleans

A 23-year-old girl moved whatever she could fit into her Dodge Neon into the “City That Care Forgot.”

Three years later, a slightly older and wiser 26-year-old girl would leave to return to the Midwest.

A scant 13 months after that, another girl would enter the city and try to break its heart.  Her name was Katrina.

In the early morning hours of August 29th, 2005, Katrina roared into the city.  She was angry, violent, and thirsty.  She took her rage out on a city that had already struggled for decades under political corruption, sweltering heat, and a mediocre NFL team.

People lost everything as Katrina cried furious tears that would result in levee breaks, Noah’s Ark-level flooding, and general destruction.

As that Monday rolled on, Katrina would finally tire and begin to weaken as she moved further inland.

But, the damage was done.  She left more than just physical destruction–she tried to break the emotional core of one of the world’s most colorful cities.

But, the city refused to be ignored or thwarted.  The people refused to let a city centuries in the making be taken apart.

I returned six months after Katrina had moved out of the house for Mardi Gras.  What awaited me as I drove westward on I-10 along the coast was devastation I couldn’t put into words.

I could not comprehend how an urban area where millions of people lived/worked could resemble District 12 from “The Hunger Games.”  It was so scary that I pulled into a gas station parking lot and cried.

The residents took it in stride, poking fun at FEMA’s lackluster response and the damage during the holiday.

But, the true miracle wouldn’t happen until later that year.

On September 25th, 2006, the New Orleans Saints opened their home season in the Superdome against the division rival Atlanta Falcons.  It had been a year since football had been played in the building because of the storm peeling the roof back like an onion and other problems.

On the opening drive of the game, Special Teams’ star Steve Gleason blocked a punt from the Falcons.  I was watching from my desk at WIBC-Radio in Indianapolis, as I was working Monday nights by then.

The sold-out crowd roared to its feet, as though the city was telling Katrina to go f**k herself in that moment.

As the 10th anniversary of one of the worst natural disasters in US history arrives, Steve Gleason is living with ALS.  Not dying, but living.  He penned a letter that appeared in the newspaper, his words eloquent and fitting.  He says, “this city breeds and attracts unique, outrageous people.”

I consider myself somewhat unique and outrageous and I believe part of that comes from calling New Orleans home for three short years.  I had an opportunity to see what was out there by making that move and I never regret it for a second.

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