They're telling the people they have to go. They're going door to door with rifles now.
They came to our little hovel on Laurel Street Uptown - a dozen heavily-armed members of the California National Guard - they pounded on our door and wanted to know who we were.
We told them we were the newspaper, the Big City Daily. I admit, it doesn't look like the newsrooms you see on TV. I suppose if we wore shirts, we'd look more professional.
The Guard moved on, next door, next block.
They're telling people they have to go.
It won't be easy. The people who stayed here have weathered 10 days of unfathomable stench and fear and if they haven't left yet, it seems unlikely that they're going to be willing now.
In a strange way, life just goes on for the remaining. In the dark and fetid Winn-Dixie on Tchoupitoulas, an old woman I passed in the pet food aisle was wearing a house frock and puffy slippers and she just looked at me as she pushed her cart by and said: "How you doin', baby?"
Like it's just another afternoon making groceries.
I love the way strangers call you baby in this town.
Outside the store, there's an old guy who parks his old groaning car by the front door from sunup to sundown. There are extension cords running from his trunk into the store, which still has power - don't ask me how; I have no idea - and he watches TV in his front seat and drinks juice.
That is what he does, all day, every day.
At this point, I just can't see this guy leaving. I don't imagine he has anyplace else in the world but this.
A young guy walked up and said to him: "I hear you can charge your cell phone here?" and the old guy said "Yes, indeedy," and walked him into the store and showed him a plug that still had juice.
And life goes on. Down on St. Claude Avenue, a tribe of survivors has blossomed at Kajun's Pub where, incredibly, they have cold beer and cigarettes and a stereo playing Elvis and you'd think everything was in standard operating procedure but it is not: The Saturday night karaoke has been indefinitely suspended.
The people here have a touch of Mad Max syndrome; they're using an old blue Cadillac for errands and when parts fall off of it - and many parts have fallen off - they just throw them in the trunk.
Melvin, a bar owner from down the block, had the thing up for sale for $895, but he'll probably take the best offer now.
Melvin's Bar and Kajun's Pub have pooled their inventories to stay in business.
"We've blended our fortunes together," said Renee dePnthieux, a bartender at Melvin's. "We carried everything we could down here, and we'll make the accounting later. What else are you gonna do? In case you haven't heard, Budweiser ain't delivering."
A guy with a long goatee and multiple tattoos was covering a couple of aluminum foil pans of lasagna and carrying them up to the roof to cook them in the sun on the hot slate shingles.
Joann Guidos, the proprietor at Kajun's, called out for a game of bourre and they all dumped their money on a table and sat down and let the cards and liquor flow.
A National Guard truck pulled up and asked if they were ready to leave yet. Two guys standing out on the sidewalk in the company of pit bulls said: "Hell no."
DePonthiux said: "We're the last fort on the edge of the wilderness. My family's been in exile for 300 years; this ain't s---."
I just don't see these people leaving.
Uptown, on what was once a shady street, a tribe is living in a beautiful home owned by a guy named Peanut. There is a seaplane in his driveway, a bass boat in the front yard and generators running the power.
Let's just say they were prepared.
All the men wear pistols in visible holsters. They've got the only manicured lawn in the city. What else is there to do all afternoon, really?
Christine Paternostro is a member of this tribe and she is an out-of-work hair stylist from Supercuts in a city where no one shaves or bathes. Not many prospects for her at this point.
"Everyone will need a haircut when this is over," I offered.
While members of this tribe stood talking on their street, a woman came running out of the house, yelling: "Y'all, come quick. We on WWL! We on WWL!"
Everyone ran in the house and watched a segment about how people are surviving in the city. And these guys are doing just that. (Although I think the airplane in the driveway is a little over the top.)
As I was leaving, the WWL woman said to me: "Are you staying for dinner?"
I was not, but I asked what they were having. "Tuna steaks," she said. "Grilled."
If and when they rebuild this city and we all get to come home, I want to live near people like this. I just can't imagine them ever leaving.
They make me wonder if I ever could.
To contact Chris Rose, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (504) 352-2535.
Thursday, September 08, 2005
The last, hard core hunker down in surreal city
Chris Rose, from the news blog at nola.com: