Thoughts of New Orleans

September 1 2005, 7:40 AM

For me, yesterday was a hard day to get any work done. I should have been working on a draft for a feature story scheduled for our December/January issue, but it just wasn't coming to me. I worked in spurts, constantly trolling the Internet desperate for more photos of a submerged New Orleans. And then when I found them, the images left me paralyzed. At first I was looking for information on the flood levels for a specific parish (here, we call it a county, those notorious Louisiana judges call it a parish.) My best friend lives in Jefferson Parish, near a big hospital. I held out hope for her home until just before lunch today, when my husband emerged from his basement office with satellite photos on his laptop, accompanied by a news story claiming the hospital had moved patients to the safety of its upper floors. It looks like her home is very likely one of the thousands of rooftops we've all seen on the news. Karen, my best friend, is an attorney. She's safe, she's insured, and she's staying with her husband's college buddies in Lafayette, Louisiana. We've been text messaging each other because her cell phone, of course, doesn't work. She says she's sad and paralyzed herself, unsure what the next move is. Now this storm won't break Karen. And in truth, it won't break many of the crazy New Orleans characters, whose charm and hospitality have kept me coming back to their insane and wonderful town for years. It will, however, devastate thousands of New Orleans' poor and much of its working class. There's a feeling inside me that's similar to the way I felt after the Sept. 11th attacks. Of course there is a difference in the devastation that comes at the hands of terrorists and a natural disaster like this. (Although, if the Louisiana Governor is correct, we might see a similar death toll.) In September of 2001, I saw Manhattan, the first city I ever loved completely devastated.

I grew up in New Jersey with a view of the twin towers from the popular hillside where as teenagers Karen and I would sneak beers. I watched the nightmare of New York City on TV, while I was in safe, and comfortable in beautiful, perfect Denver. If you recall, that was a gorgeous, early fall day -- sunny but cool, just like today. It's that same feeling I have for New Orleans. From my first visit I fell in love: The smells, the architecture, the people. Night-blooming Jasmine is a beautiful thing. I was hooked and I've visited almost annually for the last 15 years. And certainly I'm not the only Denverite who's made pilgrimages to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival -- better known among regulars as Jazz Fest. I'd always count the Colorado flags flying among a sea of sunburned revelers partying on those fairgrounds. They showed the fairgrounds on the news last night: The roof of the grandstand pulled off like a sardine can and the horsetrack looked like a pond. New Orleans is a city of old timers that has always welcomed strangers. If, like me, you adopted New Orleans and its many graces for even a long weekend, I urge you to donate to Red Cross relief efforts. They'd do it for Denver and probably send up a shipment of Pat O'Brien's Hurricane mix. Funny, I never really thought of the name of that cocktail until right now. Typical New Orleans -- look evil in the eye and toast it with a cocktail.