A lot of out-of-town moms are here in New Orleans this weekend. They came to see their kids graduate from Tulane University. Yesterday morning they were at the New Orleans Center listening to two former U.S. Presidents, Bush and Clinton, deliver a tag-team commencement address. Today they were being escorted to lunch by their loved ones.
Riding on my scooter I saw these families gather outside restaurants, cheerfully talking to strangers as they waited for their tables. The moms were outwardly jovial, but inwardly quizzical, examining their kids more closely than usual. Senior year of college was supposed to be a casual celebration. Instead, it became a crucible.
How much anguish have these hopeful moms endured in the past months? I’d like to sit across the street observing from a distance, listening to the birds caw in the background.
Even from a 100 yards away you can tell that something’s not quite right. For me, it would be the cheerfulness. People smile here because it’s proper. But look past the smiles and you’ll note that there are houses still marked with orange X’s. These are grim reminders that this place, which now hosts presidential dignitaries, was not long ago occupied by armed soldiers. Just past the house with the orange spray-painting lies the corner of St. Charles and Carrollton. If today was a normal day, the entrance to the Camellia Grill would be filled with interesting people, some wearing baseball caps as they clutch their Sunday paper. But today, despite the nice weather and the light breeze, is not a normal day. The Camellia Grill is barren, not quite a ghost town relic, but close. As the wind dies down I can only stare at this place and wonder: is there any sign of hope?
Yes and no; it depends on your perspective.
From a distance there is no hope. Only emptiness, complete stillness. But as you walk closer you start to see little yellow squares on the windows and doors. Up close you witness an offbeat kind of hope: lots of little post-it notes pegged to the glass.
“Hey Marvin, where are you? We want you to show us that trick with the straw again. Love Mike & Jenny from San Diego.”
“Word. We miss you. Laurie, Katy and Ring”
Will the Camellia Grill ever reopen? Will Marvin be back to work there if it does? When will Mike and Jenny come back to New Orleans again to visit? I don’t know and I’m not even sure why it matters anymore.
Recently, I found out my across-the-street neighbors, Kristen and Rimas, sold their house and are moving to Austin. Kristen is not completely happy about leaving but it’s the right thing to do. She’s happy she won’t be in New Orleans for the next hurricane season.
I’ll miss Kristen and Rimas, and all of the other people that came back for awhile but then found it was time to leave. Perhaps I’ll leave too. It’s really hard to say what’s the right thing to do. I want to smile and so I do. But, then, I feel completely insincere sometimes. New Orleans has a long way to go and it will be years before the city is truly functional. A lot of us are in complete denial, which is good. That’s probably the only way you can survive here.
I guess I’ll keep on smiling.