Last Sunday was a dreary day, a kind of last hurrah for winter in the south that always seems to arrive in the first weeks of March. The rain washed out my plans to tinker in my yard so I ended up at Costco along with a huge crowd that included some of my neighbors. I suppose that we all decided to go in spite of the weather, or maybe because of it.
I played a game of noting what everyone had in their carts. It’s always a ton of fun to see what items people select from the vast inventory of televisions and popcorn, clothing and canned goods. The winner always seems to be one of those big batches of toilet paper, the reason that I was there, but there are also many boxes of cereal and cartons of eggs lolling inside the grocery baskets of almost everyone.
Some people appear to be preparing for Armageddon with many years’ supplies of everything from vitamins to dog food. They literally need rolling pallets to carry all of their selections and I find myself wondering where they will be able to store all of the makeup and motor oil. I imagine rows of shelves along the walls of their garages with labels indicating when each item of inventory expires. I like to picture their families and the reasons that compel them to choose certain things.
I limited myself to purchasing only the basics, toilet paper, paper towels, two chickens, a pot roast and some pork chops. I have to control my impulses or I will walk out with more than will fit in my car and even worse, more than I will ever use. With no children in the house a flat of apples tends to be an overabundance that will lead to rotting fruit at the bottom of my produce drawer. Still I am often tempted to purchase enough facial tissues to last through several flu seasons simply because the price is so fetchingly low.
I almost always enjoy lunch while I am there. After all, I can’t resist the idea of getting a huge polish sausage on a bun with endless refills of Pepsi for only a dollar fifty. Besides, sitting at a table munching on my feast allows me a bit more people watching time and it is definitely a show. I find myself wondering who all these folks are and from whence they come. They are a diverse bunch who seem to represent every possible strata of American society. Somehow the buyers at Costco have managed to carry all of the items that they seek, including motorcycles and tires. I laugh a bit when I think of how much joy a place like this would have brought my mom. The two of us might have sat for hours just soaking in all of the entertainment that comes from viewing such a large a slice of life.
Once I got home the downpour had increased and it was obvious that there wasn’t going to be a break in the weather. I sat in my favorite chair and read one of my several latest books. I tend to be in the middle of three or four at a time which may sound a bit strange but I write it off to the effects of my attention deficit disorder. The one that seemed appropriate for a rainy day was a volume that I found on my last trip to New Orleans entitled 1 Dead in Attic. It is a compilation of articles written by a reporter from The Times Picayune written in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. Each essay is short and quick to read so I can enjoy one or multiples depending on how much time I have to devote. The author, Chris Rose, shares his love of New Orleans and the stories of despair and revival that kept him and his fellow citizens from going insane in a time that was almost beyond the capacity of words to describe. His sense of humor and humanity captures the appalling images as well as the can do spirit of people who refused to declare their home town dead on arrival. It is a joyful dirge and intimate portrait of a city in total disarray that somehow found the where with all to overcome the most unimaginable tragedy. It will make you laugh and cry at one and the same time which is an oddly appropriate way of thinking about New Orleans.
I thought of the first time that I returned to New Orleans after Katrina. The city was still devastatingly somber. The crowds that had so often filled the streets were decidedly small. There were diehards attempting to keep the spirit of revelry alive but they were definitely struggling. We had breakfast at Brennan’s and there was still an odd aroma of mildew in the air. We didn’t need reservations because hardly anyone was there. The waitress who served us literally cried when we told her that we were from Houston. She and her family had found refuge in our city after hers had been so destroyed. She thanked us for our hospitality and told us that this was literally the very first day that the famous restaurant had been open since the storm. I almost lost my composure as she fell all over us trying to express her happiness that things were beginning to return to normal.
I remember how we drove around on the highways trying not to look like buzzards as we gazed at entire neighborhoods that had been reduced to rubble. It was like a scene out of a dystopian movie and it broke my heart. As I read Chris Rose’s descriptions of what he encountered only days after the hurricane it was difficult to imagine that I had first seen the city after it had actually made great progress in coming back to life.
I have always loved to watch rain from my windows. It comforts me. Sadly many of the people who came here from New Orleans after that horrific storm confided that for quite some time the sound of rain was terrifying. I remember having to console children and teachers who literally came undone whenever the weather became frightful. Some of them cried and related tales of things that they had seen that would never really fade from their memories. In reading 1 Dead in the Attic I have truly begun to understand just how much their lives were forever changed.
Its been twelve years since that unbelievable natural disaster. New Orleans was rocking on my last visit and yet it had still somehow changed. The people who stayed and those who came later have continued the traditions and still harbor the unexplainable feelings of devotion that they have for this very special place but now there is always an element of fear and caution in the back of their minds. Only recently they were once again reminded of just how fragile their home is when tornadoes ripped through an area of town that had barely been reclaimed from the ravages of Katrina. It takes a special kind of personality and resilience to live in New Orleans but Mr. Rose explains quite well why there will always be those who are willing to endure hell and high water just to experience the magic.
All in all I have to admit that people watching at Costco and reading vignettes from a well written book made for a very fine Sunday afternoon. It’s good to have a change of pace now and again. Sunshine is always nice but there is much to be said for the comfort of a gentle rain and a view of the ever present parade of humanity.