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New Orleans

We went to New Orleans the first weekend in August. Katrina hit three weeks later. We went to Slidell for a swamp tour, then on a whim, drove on through Bay St. Louis and Gulfport on our way to Biloxi along I-10 and US-90. So when we see the scenes of New Orleans flooding and destruction along US-90 in Gulfport and Biloxi, we can pick out familiar landmarks. We were there three weeks ago, and contrasting the horrific scenes on TV to the memories of the happier times we experienced is chilling and eerie.

I can only imagine what it's like for the people who live there, dazed and unable to escape. I think of the people we saw walking around New Orleans and working in the casinos. I can clearly picture our bed and breakfast hosts and their orange tabby cat, tour guides, restaurant staff who waited on us, clerks in the wine store, street car drivers, street performers in the French Quarter, and coffee shop baristas. Are they alive? Are they okay? And what kind of hell must they be suffering through?

All up and down St. Charles Avenue, we saw thousands of Mardi Gras beads hanging from power lines, tree branches, and street signs. They are gone, I'm sure, buried in debris and under water. We heard looters were roving up and down St. Charles Avenue, breaking into the million dollar historic homes we admired walking from Audubon Park, all the way past Napolean Avenue to our B&B on Constantinople.

Some of the scenes from television and newsfeeds that chill us:

Canal Street. We took the St. Charles Avenue streetcar to Canal Street. It's a divided street, a boulevard. A streetcar line runs in the middle, between the two rows of lampposts. I remember crossing the street here.

I-10 Lake Pontchartrain Causeway. We drove over this several times on our way to the swamp tour in Slidell and Biloxi. The major artery to New Orleans from the east, several sections of this bridge are no more. The other two highways from the east are US-11 and US-90, but I haven't heard anything about their causeways across Pontchartrain.

US-90 in Biloxi, Mississippi. Nothing but the trusses remain across Biloxi Bay.

Treasure Bay Casino. We drove past Treasure Bay and thought about going into this one in our search for a good buffet. We drove on by, but remarked at the unique design. Before the hurricane, Jim Cantore of the Weather Channel gave several reports from the beach with Treasure Cove in the background. I thought the masts would be the first to go, but they survived; instead, it was the dock moorings and the body of the barge itself that gave way.

Grand Casino 1 | 2 | 3. This is the casino we decided on. Billboards along US-90 declared it's buffet the best in Biloxi, so we went. The yellow building is the Grand Casino hotel. In the first picture, the structure with the blue roof in the middle of US-90 is not the casino - it's the Kids Quest building. The casino itself was carried down the beach. You can see it in the second and third pictures.

And the band played on. It took a couple days to come around, but this ole cowboy has stopped playing guitar and talking up Social Security to take the disaster seriously.

:: Bryan Travis :: 08/31/2005 @ 16:06 :: [link] ::

The Chronicles of Maya, Part 6: Dreamland

All Chronicles of Maya entries:

Three weeks ago on this night, we came home and Maya wasn't in the backyard. I walked around our yard and the neighbor's yard with a flashlight, shining it under bushes and up in the trees, pausing to listen for her meow. No glimpse of white fur, nothing to hear but insect songs.

I asked the neighbors to be on the lookout. I explained Maya was different, dodgy, aloof, not especially socialized to humans. She has the heart of a feral cat, but was raised a housecat, so probably lacks the survival skills outdoor kittens learn from their mothers. I favored the term "defensively challenged" to describe her. Maya spent three weeks outside where a food bowl always offered food, except at night to keep strays from eating it. She managed to lose two pounds. She seemed happier outside than locked in a bedroom, and she was eating, but what she ate was lots of nutritionally weak grass and about half the Hill's Science Diet she ate living indoors. One can only imagine how she fared in the wild having to forage and hunt for all of her food.

The neighbors were sure she'd come back, but I had this sense about her. I knew better. If Maya got past the fenced-in backyard, we'd never see her again. "Never again" is a pretty long time to people, but to a cat, three weeks is moreorless the same.

Why should I care? This is the same cat who repeatedly and persistently pissed on expensive, hard-to-clean furniture like sofa cushions and mattresses. This is the same cat I supposedly hated, and who returned the sentiment in abundance. But I miss her. I miss that damned cat.

Daily my mind wanders to Maya and her fate. How far from the house did she go? Did she return for food when we were vacationing in New Orleans, only to find an empty bowl, then moved on, never to return? Was she lost, unable to find her way home, or was it her intention to bolt? Is she still alive? If so, what's she doing now? Did another family adopt her? If she's not alive, how did she die? Was it quick and merciful, or did she suffer? Did the coyotes get her, or did she die of dehydration and starvation?

Here's the strangest thing: I dream about her, this cat I loved to hate. Maya's been gone for 21 days, and on no less than 5 of them, I've dreamed about her. She's always alive in my dreams. In one, we found her wasted away to the size of a kitten, her fur turned brown, and we nursed her back to health. In another, she simply crawled back under the fence one night and was fine. In yet another, we went looking for her at night with flashlights and found her trapped in a chainlink fence enclosure.

Death has claimed friends and relatives, but I don't dream of them. Pondering their fate is unnecessary because I know they're dead. Maya's fate is a mystery, and it haunts me even in sleep. I can't imagine what parents of kidnapped children must endure. The not-knowing must be perpetual agony, a never-ending deluge of nightmares.

During the first week she was gone, before we went to New Orleans, I went looking for her during late afternoon and at night with a flashlight. We left food out for her, but quit doing that when the uneaten food began to stink and attracted ants. For two weeks I propped open the fence gates for her and refilled her water bowl. After three weeks I wrote this post and wrote her off.

So this is it, the end of Maya and her chronicles.

:: Bryan Travis :: 08/19/2005 @ 23:51 :: [link] ::

Angry Moms

I think George Bush is afraid of Cindy Sheehan. Sheehan is a woman who lost her son Casey Sheehan in Iraq War II and has camped outside Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas for the duration of his 5 week vacation. She wants to meet with Bush and basically tell him she does not appreciate him using her son's death to justify why the U.S. must forge ahead in Iraq, and to withdraw before another mother loses a child.

Bush et al at first refused to acknowledge her. Then she amassed a following. So Bush sent some PR envoys to speak with her, but Sheehan was not satisfied. She's steadily ascended to fame as Bush continues to refuse her an audience. So Bush met with his advisors and issued Sheehan a message by proxy via reporters and advisors: "I grieve."

Reporters regale at catching Bush sporting his rich collection of dumb looks and clumsiness, presenting us with pictures that capture the wit of the press corps, a subtle humor probably lost on the commander in chief, but still, Bush is no dummy. He's afraid of Sheehan, and I don't blame him. He's the smugly justified one with the blood on his hands of over 1,800 dead U.S. soldiers, somewhere around 25,000 dead Iraqis, and untold human suffering. She's the angry mom who refuses to be placated by a folded flag and signed letter from Donald Rumsfeld acknowledging her son's brave sacrifice against the enemies of freedom.

Beware the awesome force of a mother when her child is in harm's way. Should her child die, then whoa boy, she's been robbed of her sense of purpose in this world, and when she comes after you, run.

As long as Cindy Sheehan remains true to her cause and keeps her cool, she'll be the darling of public opinion, and Bush will be left in a no win situation. If he has sufficient cajones, sensitivity, and decency, he'll face her and be dressed down by this mourning mom. If he sticks to his political smarts and saves faces, Bush will avoid Cindy Sheehan and take the blow to his public image in stride. He'll end his Crawford Ranch vacation by flying in a helicopter to meet Air Force One instead of passing Sheehan's camp in the presidential motorcade. And at all costs, he'll avoid a face-to-face meeting.

:: Bryan Travis :: 08/12/2005 @ 16:18 :: [link] ::