But I managed it on the most part, and we got packed and down into the lobby and checked out at 9:30. Everyone piled into the minivans and we headed out for a look around New Orleans, outside the tourist areas... of course, we headed right into the Lower 9th Ward and St. Bernard's Parish.
It was actually quite a shock after Biloxi. Sure, Art's house was in a fairly bare neighborhood, in that most of the houses around him hadn't been rebuilt. Given the amount of destruction in that neighborhood it was understandable; but we could see houses just a few blocks away in any direction, and Main Street wasn't that far away. It felt like 60% of the place was solidly rebuilt.
The Lower 9th Ward had, maybe, six houses up, the rest was vast acreage of nothing but concrete pads where the houses had been shoulder to shoulder. Little houses, each with a family and next to nothing was rebuilt and those that were were amid the looming wreckage of houses that had been flooded and left to rot where they'd been left. There were a few standing wreckage pieces that were obviously whole houses that had been pushed by the water from the broken levee, and they were pushed off-kilter from where they had stood.
The place is scary. Haunting. Two and a half years later and nothing is really done. And the grass grows waist high and flowers now fill the 'fields' that used to be a busy, thriving, crowded, shoulder to shoulder neighborhood. That was... weird and odd after the whole week of feeling like we were making a real difference elsewhere.
St. Bernard's Parish was something more of a mix. Lots of the bigger, more expensive houses were being rebuilt and redone and some were really beautiful. But, again, when we got closer and closer to what must have been the Mississippi levee, there were fewer and fewer rebuilt houses and the pads got closer and closer together until we were right from where the water must have been coming and it was all cleared or wrecked or the skeletons of moldering rotted out houses from back when. Then, in the far corner, closest to a ship repair dock was a single pristine house set all by itself.
It was the Brad Pitt Green House. All by itself. Beautiful bamboo accents, two stories tall and elegant and completely out of place amid the hundreds of tiny ranch homes and shotgun homes that were all around it. It was so odd to see it and know that they're thinking of putting down 150 more of them.
In Biloxi, there were a lot of new shotgun homes, tiny things, but built for people to actually live in, longterm, unlike the FEMA trailers. The tiny things were beautiful, brightly painted, elegantly decorated, and could be brought in on wheels and set on solid footings. They added color and life to the Biloxi neighborhoods they graced, as people figured out a better way to live.
It was so odd to see it.
Then we went north and east of the city by the NASA manufacturing facility, and found a house that Kristen's husband had worked on last May. It looked finished in a neighborhood that was completely rebuilt with big, full-leaf trees and everything. A place that had been put back on its feet in every sense of the words. That was very cool to end the morning with. All that devastation still hanging around was hard to swallow.
We stopped at a Winn-Dixie to find some lunch. I bought two pieces of fried chicken and some yogurt and iced tea. It was all excellent, and then we did the run back to the Baton Rouge airport. I slept most of the way, until we slowed down in traffic.
The flooding up in Ohio was filling the Mississippi, and in New Orleans we'd heard that it was six inches away from flood stage. So they'd opened one of the spillways into Lake Ponchartrain, and traffic was slowing down to watch the flood of water going through the spillway into the deep, muddy brown lake. It was a pretty awesome amount of water, all in all. Both the open spillway and the wind-blown lake. There were white-caps on it, and the water was just moving like mad.
The ride to the airport was easy and quick. I slept a lot. John dropped us of to check us in. The guy gave me John's boarding pass but said that he should still show his ID to him when he got in. It was odd after being used to DIA's rigid security practices. But it worked. We got in, we went through security, and I bought a soft praline for my wait. It was a cafe au lait one and tasted wonderful, my last taste of the Gulf area... we boarded and the flight was easy. I slept for part and knit for part of it, and we got back to DIA with some bumps in the air.
The three vans and trucks were there when we got there, and we loaded up and headed back to the church. Everyone got home safely. It was kind of sad to part from everyone. RJ and Jim were at the church for another function, but said hi, and came to meet us. That was very cool of them.
We went home, had soup that Isabel had made, and played Apples to Apples. And we were good and truly home.
I am very glad I went. I'm very glad I tried all the things I tried and did all the things I did. I would have liked to have done more, in some sense of rebuilding more, but I think that everything I'd originally intended to do was done. And that was all to the good. It was good to see the destruction, first hand, for me, as through John's stories it hadn't been quite as real... so it was good to go and see it for myself.
It was lots of fun to hear Isabel's stories about Jet after we got back. He'd done really well while we were gone, and he was a basically happy little guy. He's sung and played with lots of friends, and forgotten his lunch box and bag and pack at school at various times and ways. So he was kind of occupied while we were gone. He only asked for me once... and then did his best to make do with Granny and Grandpa and it worked out pretty well. He wasn't that clingy when we got back and he did say he was very glad that we were back. I was glad of that, too.
I *loved* sleeping in my bed again. If only the cold and my aches and the altitude, combined, didn't make it hard to sleep. So it is. I'll rest while I can and get better tomorrow....