New Orleans post Katrina is well…. not New Orleans pre Katrina and that is as obvious as joblessness in the Great Recession. Interestingly enough, we were slated to be in a wedding in the Garden District of New Orleans the weekend that Katrina blasted the city. It is frightening to think we could have easily been there as this monster storm struck. Years after the hurricane, we finally decided to go to the Big Easy. My parents took a tour of the storm ravaged city and it took them through many city sectors namely the hard hit Lower Ninth Ward. They gave me the information on the company that offered the tours. Let me set the scene here to give you some perspective. Two hurricanes had just bypassed the city a week prior to our arrival, so the city was fairly empty. It was an eerie feeling being there at that particular time. I called the company and made reservations for the last day of our trip.
We arrived at the front of our hotel where a mid-sized tour bus was parked. The bus was empty but the driver, who was a New Orleans native. We waited on the bus until 9 AM but not one soul would be joining us for this pleasure cruise! It was us and the driver and the mean streets of Orleans staring us in the face. This bus was NOT some indiscreet, unmarked, undercover FBI van. It had that greenhorn, wealthy, fannypack-toting tourist aboard look to it. We pulled out of the hotel and headed for Mid City, a very rough patch of city, that sports high-rise Cabrini Green-type housing projects. Jerome, our bus driver, was a nice fellow of about 30 and a wealth of knowledge. As we approached a menacing looking high-rise, Jerome pulled over and exclaimed he had something to do and jumped out of the moving target before we could gulp, “Where are you going J?”
We were sitting ducks in that tourist bus I tell you. We may as well have had fool painted across our foreheads…. with a little fine print tossed in… please rob us! It felt like an hour but Jerome was back and we were off again but a little uneasy in the Big Easy! We sped through most of the city and it was quite an experience. Last but not least, we approached the hardest hit area of the city and the focus of all the CNN coverage, The Lower Ninth Ward. If you have never surrounded yourself with American abject poverty, this is a good place to start. This neighborhood was completely flattened by this mother of all natural disasters. As we rolled into the neighborhood, I immediately felt like a voyeur, a trespasser, someone who was there to get some sort of ghoulish fix. The bus ground to a halt. The door swung open and Jerome greeted a resident or a former resident?
The local resident boarded the vehicle and asked us if we wanted to hop off and take a look around and take photos, etc. We politely declined. One.. we were a bit leery being the ONLY ones on the bus… two… we felt like we were there to just gawk at others misery, and three… we were not ARMED! The man left and we eased off and around the Ninth Ward eventually finding our way back to the hotel. A particularly unnerving experience but extremely educational and eye-opening. We tend to go on sociology trips more so than the typical American tourist fare.