Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Day 69: The Big Difficult

Bayou Sauvage NWR to New Orleans. 20 miles/1230.2 total

Tuesday, January 19. 2010

Here I am at the garbage-strewn intersection of U.S. 11 and U.S. 90, heading down 90 toward New Orleans, whose far eastern edge I should reach in a couple of miles, and then more or less into the center of the city, to the intersection of Broad Street and Conti.

Finding a place to leave the motor home was a bit challenging today. The area down around the cutesy touristy section didn't seem a likely place because of narrow streets and metered and residential parking restrictions, so I got up onto Broad Street, north of downtown, and found an empty parking lot in front of an abandoned store of some kind, where they have a flea market a couple of times a month. As always, it's an act of faith leaving that thing behind for the day.

So I'll get about halfway through New Orleans. Tomorrow is a day off for sightseeing, and the next day I'll walk the rest of the way through the city. This is symbolically an important day, since it represents the completion of the first leg of the entire journey--from Michigan to New Orleans and then west to Los Angeles. It's probably about the one-third point.

Let me start out by saying a couple of things about Hurricane Katrina. In August 2005 it devastated the city and its suburbs, killing people, displacing them, and causing property damage. The levees failed, for one thing, and for another, it was a goddamned hurricane, in an area of the Gulf coast that is prone to hurricanes, and much of which is only being kept dry in the first place by artificial means. And it could happen again next summer or the summer after that. In the words of Dick Gregory from an old substance abuse public service spot, "When nature comes to collect her debt, you can't go to the door and say, 'Mama's not home.'" If you want to visit a blog about Katrina, go to the address listed in the comment by "judyb" following yesterday's post. And thanks for all the info, judyb.

Early on, it's the wildlife refuge on the north of 90 and a series of auto junkyards and small houses and shacks on the south. This road is also called Chef Menteur Highway. There are several explanations for this name. The one I like best is that it means "chief liar" in French, a translation from the Choctaw "oulage mingo," and was given by the Indians to the French colonial governor, named Louis Billouart, Chevalier de Kerlerec, because he reneged on a treaty. Kerlerec was in charge of Louisiana during what we call the French and Indian War, after which France lost the territory to Spain. He was recalled to France in 1763 and thrown into prison for a few years, but was eventually exonerated.

There's no sign welcoming me to New Orleans, but according to the map I'm carrying I have entered after crossing Recovery Drive. I pass the Diamond Jubilee Casino, a small brick building a half mile or so inside the city limits. I go in to bet five dollars, but come back out after a few minutes, down $1.10. It was a rinky-dink place with nothing but poker machines. I'd rather play slots, where you don't know how high the odds against you are, than to play video poker, where you do.

I am in what is called Eastern New Orleans or New Orleans East. This is part of the Ninth Ward that was severely damaged by flooding from Katrina, although there's another part, the Lower Ninth Ward, that got hit even worse. There's a NASA facility off to my left, probably a tracking station. The first residential area I come to is evidently filled with Vietnamese people. Almost all the stores have Vietnamese names. This place probably has some clever name like Little Saigon.

The south side of Chef Menteur must be zoned industrial/abandoned motel/junkyard. With the exception of the Vietnamese places, which look quite sharp and well-financed, the rest of the area, except for some factories, is pretty dingy, and probably wasn't much better before Katrina. I would liken it to entering New York City from the south end of Staten Island, down by Perth Amboy. I pass a factory that smells like burnt toast. Then the prevailing smell becomes that of burnt plastic. Then sewage.

After I cross Read Street things are decidedly more residential. Relatively new brick houses, hip roofed, with decorative terra cotta tiles along the roof edges. On down the highway I go, getting ever closer to the Intracoastal Waterway Canal, which separates New Orleans East from the central part of the city. And that is the problem I face today, and the reason why my walk only takes me halfway through the city instead of most of the way. The bridge on U.S. 90 is closed for construction, and it's one of only two bridges that a pedestrian can use. So I must go north to Lake Ponchartrain and take the Leon Simon Bridge across, then south again to Chef Menteur, adding almost four miles.

I pass the convent of the Sisters of the Holy Family. There's a marker in the median of the highway. It says Henriette DeLille, 1812-1862, founded the order in 1842. It is an African American order, with a number of facilities in the city.

On the street map I'm carrying it looks as if there's a street called Almonaster that crosses the
canal just under the I-10 bridge, only a bit south of Chef Menteur Highway. If that were so, I could save quite a bit of time. Like a short route to the Indies. But I'm skeptical, so I ask a guy at a convenience store. But he's not from around here (not even from this side of the planet), and can't help, although he sincerely wants to. So I walk on down to Downman Street and ask a guy in front of a car dealership. He doesn't think Almonaster goes across, but he's not sure, and doesn't believe that Almonaster runs parallel to Chef Menteur until I show him on the map. Then I ask a third guy who's just standing on the street, but he doesn't speak English. I think he might be from South America. At last I decide to walk a few blocks to the south and see if I can find this part of Almonaster that the map shows as a very thin black line going across the water. No dice. It dead ends, as far as I can tell, and I can't afford to take any more time walking around behind warehouses. So I've just taken yet another detour from my original detour.

Now I'm on Jourdan Street, heading north through the warehouses along the canal, past the Luzianne coffee and tea place, which gives off a delicious roasted coffee aroma, definitely the best industrial smell of the day so far.

At last I'm on the Leon Simon Bridge, which is anything but pedestrian-friendly. To the left of the skimpy shoulder it has an elevated concrete strip about eighteen inches wide on which I can walk, even though that means the guard rail only comes up to my waist. Motorists speed by, desperate to get out of the city and home. In less than a mile I'm on the other side, and glad of it. Finally I turn left onto Press Street to go back south to Chef Menteur. I'm on the campus of Southern University at New Orleans, which looks as if its student body is predominantly black. Apparently most of its buildings and the adjacent areas were damaged by Katrina, and there's a great deal of construction going on here now.

South of the university is Ponchartrain Park, which the internet says was the first African American subdivision in the country. One wonders about a claim like that. What about Inkster, for example? A large sign says "Established 1955, Reborn 2009." Of course the buzz words around here are rebirth and recovery. Unless I miss my guess, many of these houses were used up messed up and boarded up long before Katrina.

Down at the corner of Press and Chef Menteur the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary sits behind black iron fences and gates, resplendent and prosperous-looking in the same ecclesiastical red brick that most of the big downtown Baptist churches in the south are made of.
Across the street is the God is Good Car Wash. Underneath its name on the sign it says "All the Time," which I assume refers to the hours during which God is good, not the hours the car wash is open. Toward the end of the seminary grounds Chef Menteur Highway turns into Gentilly Boulevard.

At Eastern Street I enter a neighborhood of larger, older houses. This looks like a pretty stable middle class area. They're having elections in the city soon. Lots of signs.

The next institution of higher learning I come to is Dillard University, founded in 1869 as one of the post-war colleges for blacks, along with Howard, Fisk, Hampton, and a number of others throughout the south. Like the seminary, it's well-gated and walled off from the outside, but its buildings are mostly white. The oak trees around here are old and wide and imposing, their roots claiming portions of sidewalk and street.

It's become completely overcast and the temperature has fallen ten or fifteen degrees since mid-afternoon. Gentilly finally connects with Broad Street and I turn right. Only a few blocks to go. At 5:30 there's only a little light left. At Toulouse Street I catch sight of the motor home. All is well.


Anonymous said...

The high probability of hurricane damage in New Orleans goes with the territory as you point out--if New Orleans were a person their insurance would be discontinued. Its also why there was talk about not rebuilding or minimal rebuilding after Katrina. The city is several feet under sea level and exposed--but the city will probably always come back one way or another--too much culture to be blown away.
--In reading about your difficulty negotiating point A to point B I was reminded of that line in an Albee play--"sometimes a person has to go a very long ditance out of his way to come back a short distance correctly"--a good line for your times---Art

S said...

Having spent some time with James Ellroy yesterday and discovered Housman, a bit of Reveille might be appropriate. To those who ask "Why ?"

Up, lad, up, 'tis late for lying:
Hear the drums of morning play;
Hark, the empty highways crying
"Who'll beyond the hills away?"

Towns and countries woo together,
Forelands beacon, belfries call;
Never lad that trod on leather
Lived to feast his heart with all.

Up, lad: thews that lie and cumber
Sunlit pallets never thrive;
Morns abed and daylight slumber
Were not meant for man alive.

Clay lies still, but blood's a rover;
Breath's a ware that will not keep.
Up, lad: when the journey's over
There'll be time enough to sleep.

judyb said...

New Orleans East was hard hit by Katrina. The newer houses you saw had been rebuilt since the storm. The "houses were used up messed up and boarded up long before Katrina" actually were not. They were destroyed by the storm.

New Orleans was not terribly affected by Katrina, but by the failure of the levee system built by the Army Corps of Engineers. New Orleans East was flooded as a result of the storm surge that was pushed into the Industrial Canal (MRGO). It stayed flooded for over a week.

The NASA facility that you saw is used to manufacture the External Fuel Tank of the Space Shuttle.

Peter Teeuwissen said...

S: Inspiring. I'll have to remember "up lad up" tomorrow morning. Maybe that's why I like cemeteries so much; they're where people have finally found the time to sleep.

judyb: Thanks again for the info. I knew about the levees, which I mentioned, and I defer to your knowledge of the local events. However, I've been through enough cities to know that absolutely everything can't be blamed on a storm, and that was my point.

Eddie Francis said...

It's always interesting to read the observations of those from outside of New Orleans. Good stuff. FYI, I'm the PR director at Southern Univ. at New Orleans. Yes, we're a university founded in 1956 (opened in 1959) primarily for Black students. Enjoy the journey! ;)

Peter Teeuwissen said...

Great to have you reading the blog. Thanks.

judyb said...

Nasty day in NOLA, Peter. Stay warm and dry. I found your blog thru my google searches, one which included "Slidell", where I reside.

Best of luck in your travels.

judyb said...

one more thing: you seem to be interested in history and I wanted to let you see what you may have passed up in your travels to NOLA via Hwy 11: Fort Pike, active during the late 1800's.


Billie Bob said...

A coincidence: We were reading the Blog. The I-Pod was blasting out of the stereo. Slidell came up in the blog just as Lucinda was crooning:

I don't want you anymore
cause you took my joy
i don't want you anymore
you took my joy

you took my joy
i want it back
you took my joy
i want it back...

i'm gonna go to slidell and look for my joy
go to slidell and look for my joy
maybe in slidell I'll find my joy
maybe in slidell I'll find my joy...