Commentary: Hurricane watch
September 4, 2012
ASPEN – I miss a lot of things about living in New Orleans and coastal Louisiana – my friends, the food, the unparalleled live music scene. I also miss the tropical storms and hurricanes – the tension that rises during preparations in the days leading up to them; the alcohol-fueled pre-party in the hours before they hit; the camaraderie and teamwork involved in picking up the pieces in the aftermath.
And so last week’s pass-through of Hurricane Isaac brought back a lot of memories, good and bad, of storms past. How friends came together to work toward a common goal, splitting the cost of plywood and running to the store in a last-minute effort to buy candles, batteries, gasoline, ice, food and beer. How couples, even married ones, split up after their homes were flooded and destroyed, and they were forced to bounce around the state or the country living under strenuous conditions. How people did what it took to survive on a daily basis without electricity and air conditioning (in 100-degree heat) amid the most awful smells imaginable.
Hurricane parties are a blast. All of my friends in the Crescent City were having one Tuesday night, and I felt I was missing out. And so I followed the storm on The Weather Channel and drank a few beers and connected with the activity, following Jim Cantore and Stephanie Abrams for most of the night until I passed out on the couch. They looked a little silly, as weathermen and weatherwomen sometimes do, clinging to light posts and fire hydrants in the French Quarter during a 50-mph wind and trying too hard to find street flooding when there wasn’t any.
As it turned out, this slow-moving Category 1 was a significant weather event and ended up being more serious than anyone predicted. Most of my friends lost power in their houses for four or five days, and one couple I’ve known a long time, who live across the Mississippi River from the French Quarter in Algiers Point, suffered some bad luck when water leaked through the roof and their ceiling caved in. That pales in comparison with the experience of some folks outside New Orleans, in places like Plaquemines Parish, who had to be rescued when the storm surge pushed water into their neighborhoods and topped their roofs. Perhaps these people are residing in areas that are unsafe for habitation, but that’s not for me to judge.
Back to the hurricane parties. I like them because of the tension, the feeling of impending doom, as if the world were about to end. You and your buddies gather as much booze and food as possible, set up the candles, turn on the music and wait. The first rain band comes through, and everyone gets excited. The tunes get louder, the drinks stronger. Women sometimes become friskier than they would on a normal day. Guys forgive one another for previous transgressions of friendship. People fall asleep, wake up, drink and dance, make out, do things people do at an all-night party. When it’s over, and you’re safe and dry, there’s a feeling of accomplishment. To me, it’s all very Catholic.
Hurricanes and tropical storms are deadly forces that often bring hardship, but I wouldn’t trade the experiences of riding them out for $100,000. Maybe $1 million, though.