Quittin’ Time in the Motel of Reconstruction New Orleans

The comfortable bed that awaited us in New Orleans, a million miles from Metairie.

Lounging in the pool one evening, a young man strikes up a conversation. He doesn’t say it outright, but its pretty clear–a guy with buzz-cut hair does not “spend some time in Iraq and Afghanistan” on a study abroad scholarship. Boy, does he hate the heat here in Metairie.

We’re all here on the tongue-in-cheek agreement; psuedo-neighbors in the hurricane-destroyed shell of what looks like it was, once, a fabulous hotel. Yeah, we’re all here for the $200-a-week deal. It’s cheap because, frankly, it’s still being fixed up. It’s a temporary home to contractors who, ironically, leave every morning to fix things up in New Orleans.

Jamie and I distance ourselves from these guys. We’re moving to the kinds of places these guys are commuting. A place far from Metairie, where us elitist liberal types with college degrees and soft hands roll our eyes at the horror of living in Metairie. But, in reality, we’re bound to these guys by more than I think we want to admit. Clearly, if we had opportunities in our hometowns — the plates say Texas, Missouri, Alabama and more — we wouldn’t be here, would we? Our final destination may vary, but we’re all riding the same plane.

You can see it in the motel. It is, at points, absolutely stunning–wrought iron banisters adorn every balcony. The doors, though damaged, have wide wooden frames with beautiful wood lattice. The pool was just refinished, a sparkling reprieve from oppressive heat. Maybe the fountain will be next–lovely plants stand next to an empty pool and a destroyed, concrete statue. When it was built, this place probably commanded a good sum–pure luxurious deep-south accommodation. Some enterprising old man and his sons clearly looked at it, had visions for what could be. This ‘ol hotel, no doubt abandoned following the storms, with some hard work and dedication, could stand at her former glory. Maybe more!

Our in-room microwave blew the circuit breaker. Twice. The electrician couldn’t tell it if was the old wiring or the old microwave.

I wasn’t born and raised here, but dammit, we have been here, the New Orleans and surrounding area, a LOT. We were here in 2002, sipping bright green grain alcohol drinks. Jamie was here in 2005, when the city’s denizens were limited to crazies, volunteers, and those wearing BDUs. We were here when the French Quarter served as less of a tourist trap and more of a beachhead in the war against nature.

This whole area was razed to the ground. Can you imagine your childhood home and virtually everything connected to it–favorite shops, hangouts, neighbors’ homes–just being…destroyed? What does it take to come back from that? CAN you come back from that?

The Packers just drafted a young man from Gretna, just across the river from New Orleans. He fell to the 2nd draft, because scouts questioned his love for football. I read this on the NFL network, so the fact that he cites ongoing bouts of depression from losing his home in Katrina as part of the reason for his lack of effort falls at the bottom of the article. Doesn’t take football seriously, you say? Hey, NFL scouts, do a quick Wikipedia search on existential crisis.

And now, here Jamie and I are–the outsiders moving in, grabbing up the sweetest properties. There’s millions–probably billions–of dollars flowing back into this city, just to turn its empty lots into homes. That’s why Mr. Buzzcut drove down here from Michigan, I assume. Get a little piece of that money before figuring out what to do next.

None of us are here in this courtyard because things have gone how we expected. Like this hotel, we’re all just trying to find a way to fund our own little reconstructions.

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