Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Back from Nawlins

I just took an impromptu trip to New Orleans, city of beautiful antebellum homes, lush greenery, amazing food, and lots of mosquitoes. I have 21 mosquito bites on my left leg. Only 3 on my right; my right must somehow taste different.

I went down for work, strangely enough. My foundation is heavily involved in New Orleans reconstruction, and there was a party to honor the woman who has been the key player/liaison. another key player was organizing it, and she needed help. My foundation sent me.

This is the first "work" trip I've ever taken, and it was a glorious feeling to charge my meals and know they would be reimbursed. Of course, you also have to submit an itemized receipt, and there is a limit on what you can spend each day, but still -- this was a nice thing.

Being a Maughan (anyone who knows my dad will know what I'm talking about) I have to describe the food. It was amazing. Each time I looked at a menu, my first impression was that there wasn't anything on there I would want. Each time I ordered something, however, I was impressed beyond belief. There were the beignets, squares of fried dough mounded with powdered sugar. (Be careful when you inhale.) There were the crab claws in garlic butter. The seafood remoulade. The crab salad. The gumbo. Ah, me.

There was also the private jet. Now, I should state that my company did not pay for me to fly down on a private jet; our consultant is working closely with a woman who owns a private jet. This woman was in New York and flying home to new Orleans that same day, so it made sense I should "catch a ride." When Juliet (the consultant) first used that term I had a fleeting image of being picked up in a car, and thought, "But wait, we're not driving to New Orleans." Then she used the term "wheels up at four," and I thought, "Holy crap, this is a jet we're talking about!"
(and I want to point out that I was using the term "holy crap" long before the late Peter Boyle on Everybody Loves Raymond. This is my reputation we're talking about, here.)

Private jets come highly recommended. I have to add my recommendation to those. One thing that it does for you, though, is confirm a long-suspected but rarely voiced sentiment: air travel DOES NOT HAVE TO SUCK.

We arrived at the small airport in good time. We used the clean, fresh-smelling and lovely bathroom. We went into the waiting area and snacked on apples and popcorn (free) and eyed the selection of coffees and teas. No ID presentation, no security line, no body searches, just a friendly greeting. Then they motioned that the plane was ready, and we boarded a tiny bus that shuttled us the, oh, two blocks distance to the plane. We ascended a small flight of stairs and took our seats, each one of which was approximately four feet from another, in any direction. We could have sat on the couch, or even gone into the back room and reclined on the bed, but we were not that tired. Save that for international flights. Our hostess, the owner of the jet, gave us bottles or water or cans of soda, and candy bars or crackers. She offered us as much as we wanted, and pushed more on us after we'd each taken some. (She was a true Southern lady.) And we chatted pleasantly across the length of the United States until we landed, three hours later. My bag--which had been taken by the chauffeur before we went to the airport--reappeared right next to me in front of our car. Amazing.

All right, that's a long paragraph devoted to the trip down, but I don't anticipate flying privately again any time soon. I had to immortalize it. I flew back Jet Blue with a four hour delay, which promptly brought me back to reality.

I got a "destruction tour" of the areas that flooded and are in the proces of rebuilding. It was eerie to watch the water line get higher and higher as we went further into Jefferson Parish and Gentilly. Many lots are empty, and since this place was densely populated you know that each empty spot is a house that has been torn down and cleared away. Many homes were still boarded up, some with spray paint as to when the rescuers arrived (up to two weeks later) and who they were (eg the California National Guard or another unit) and what they found (one said "Five dead cats in back.") Other homes are destroyed and there's a trailer in the driveway; the trailer is where they are living. And then there are some nice, brand-new homes there too, fresly rebuilt.

I did not see the Lower Ninth Ward; we didn't have time. Jefferson and Gentilly are where the canals flooded and people drowned in their attics. Lower Ninth was destroyed by a storm surge that exploded through the levees; survivors said it sounded like a bomb. It wiped everything right off its foundation. I don't know how much has been cleaned up.

The higher-lying areas look pretty good. My friends said that you could tell there was a hurricane; immediately after roofs had been affected and trees were down, but that is relatively easy to clean. I stayed in the French Quarter, and you would never guess there was anything there. I also saw the Superdome, site of so much disastrousness. (not a word, I know.) And I was told the story of Amtrak calling Ray Nagin, informing him ahead of the hurricane that they were removing all their trains, and should he like to load those trains with those people who didn't have another means of escape, he was welcome...and him not responding to any of their calls. "Buffoonery," was how someone described it. Sigh.

But the New Orleans experience was great. I plan to go back some time relatively soon. It might be the site of a new work-in-progress. We'll see. Meanwhile I'll just entertain my memories of beignets.
I'll try to attach some pictures later. I didn't take very many.

1 comment:

GermPharm said...

I was in NO for a pharmacy convention in 2003. There were some shining moments of the trip, but I'm not looking forward to ever going back.

Good work scoring a trip on a private plane. I'm sure the dichotomy of flying on a private plane to view the poorest forgotten slum of America wasn't lost on you.