With her counterclockwise swirling motion, Hurricane Katrina has thrown out the baby with the bathwater. New Orleaneans are blown across the landscape of America, radiating out from the center of the storm, and leaving a void that is currently filled with the Gulf-swollen Lake Pontchartrain. The city’s population has been replaced by the leavings of a frantic society: fallen trees, roof shingles splayed by high winds, household items too cumbersome to carry, the litter of discarded looting, gun shells, garbage, sewage, sorrows too innumerable to list. It’s a sorry situation, yet as a member of the displaced persons of a once-magical city, I remain deeply moved by the yearnings of all I meet, as they earnestly ask what they can do to help us.
Spencer, Tucker, and I had been keeping an eye on Hurricane Katrina’s progress through the Gulf of Mexico, as she bore down on us in New Orleans. We prepared for possible options: water, and canned food in case we stayed; full gas tank, car food, inventories of possessions we could not live without in case we left. There was boarding and taping up windows, yard cleanup, and laundry for either event. By Saturday night we were still weighing the options, but we felt we could go either way. Sunday morning we knew we had to leave. By 10:30 a.m. we were in our PT Cruiser, driving down Highway 90 toward Mississippi, having spun a blessing around our little shotgun house to keep it safe and dry.
The roads opened before us, with very little congestion. As we were led onto I 59, we became one of four lanes of traffic leaving the area as both sides of the highway sped in a single direction north. As the traffic slowed, we exited onto secondary roads and eventually found ourselves in Kosciusko, Mississippi, on the Natchez Trace to the northeast of Jackson. The spot was secure, although the storm was making its way towards us. In the morning we traveled west through Mississippi and into Arkansas, before it became clear that we needed to stop this frenetic flight. Occasionally we tuned into a radio show that updated us on the progress of the storm, which was thankfully sidestepping the center of New Orleans but devastating our neighbors on the coast. We paused in Hot Springs, Arkansas, a delightful town of bathing and spa renown from the 1920’s and 1930’s. And there we spent two nights, walking up the mountain trails, taking to the waters, and playing Pirate’s Cove for distraction. And talking, talking, dreaming, weighing our current options, and talking some more. During this time the lake levees gave way in New Orleans, and we tuned in, with horror, to the inattention our national government paid to the plight of the people who live lives so different from our own and who so populate New Orleans. These are the people who rely on minimum wage jobs to support their families and don’t have personal transportation or the people who are medically compromised. Many had fled to the Superdome, but even more had tried to tough it out through the storm in their homes. Unlike us, they did not have the option to pack up their car with a few precious, indispensable items and drive to another state. And how these people suffered over the next few days! We realized our home may be filling with water, but we found our hearts pulled even more to the condition of these people.
As we regrouped in Hot Springs, we decided to turn towards the next gig in St. Louis and found refuge with our friends, the Vlastos family. They welcomed us warmly, fed us and entertained us with four children’s antics, and allowed us – encouraged us – to talk about the high drama of our lives. When we checked our email, there were 80 loving, concerned messages from friends and relations around the world, all hoping we were well and offering help in many forms. It was heartwarming to feel such concern from all of you. The messages have doubled and continue to rise, as Django also fields calls from people who want to be in touch. Over the next couple of days we were offered a lovely house in St. Louis to use until the crisis in New Orleans passes, and Tucker has been taken in by a high school just a couple of blocks away. When we were visiting our new home just yesterday, several neighbors came by to offer more help, and we realized that we are their connection to the tragedy in New Orleans. They want to help at any level they can, and we personify the people who have lost all earthly possessions and must begin anew. And while we do not know for sure the damage we have personally sustained (although I’m sure it is substantial) and we are fortunate to have each other alive and well, we are quite aware that the next year will bring unanticipated challenges and unprecedented decisions. Throughout this ordeal, we realize that we must identify how people can help. This is what we came up with.
1. Donate to your American Red Cross, (800) 435.7669, or the Archdiocese of New Orleans, through Catholic Charities, (703) 549.1390, or any other of a number of charities who have their people on the ground, daily making a difference. If you prefer to be more specific, we can help distribute your contributions to musicians we know and friends in need via email. [ visit contact page ]
2. If you have an extra house or apartment, please consider offering it to a displaced family from New Orleans or the Gulf Coast. MoveOn.org has a network established, and the previously mentioned charities can very likely help. Once again, we may be able to connect you with our friends and neighbors in need via my website. If you happen to be a friend or neighbor in need, please touch base with us. Maybe we can help.
3. Please remember Hurricane Katrina next time you vote. A nation as great as ours deserves sharp, sensitive leaders attuned to the needs of EVERY American, and every American deserves the opportunity to take advantage of the benefits a well-run democracy can provide.
4. Our first priority is to stabilize the calendar so we can continue to make a living. More than ever, if you can offer gig opportunities – concerts, art shows, blues lectures in university or school settings, and/or concert tours – please get in touch. Hurricane Katrina has drastically altered my schedule, and I need to get some work generated NOW.
5. Please check back with us and others you know when we are finally allowed to return home to New Orleans, for we will certainly need your energy and support as we attempt to restore our homes and lives.
You know that the Bohrens have a knack for travel and living on the road. We were feeling the rhythm of the road by the time we got to Arkansas, and it was like meeting an old friend. Out here we can manage. Faced with the reconstruction of a city whose physical needs have been ignored through ignorant coastal mismanagement and the redirecting of funds that could have made the aging levee system safer, we will have a much more difficult time embracing the return home.
May peace and love fill all of our hearts.