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Friday Night in Smalltown City

So Friday morning as I was walking to the barbershop, I was thinking about Hurricane Irene. It may sound callous, but my thoughts were something like this: If Irene strikes an urban area, it won’t take long before some jackfool starts sounding off about how his community “handled it” better than New Orleans. But the comparison probably won’t be apt — unless your flood-control infrastructure fails so that 80% of your city is flooded for weeks on end. That’s what happened in New Orleans, after all. Try that on for size and see if your social fabric doesn’t unravel. Yet after every major urban disaster in America these last six years, some swaggering dork makes the comparison, usually with a dose of racial contempt thrown in for good measure.

Such were my thoughts, petty and self-centered as they were. I was aggravated, and I felt like sounding off about it. So I was in a particularly responsive mood when I got contacted by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation a few hours later. Would I like to talk on live TV about Irene and Katrina? I sure as hell would.

That evening, I was slightly preoccupied with preparations for Rising Tide 6. (More on that later.) But I cut out of there around 6:30. The CBC had dispatched a driver to chauffeur me to a studio down in the Quarter. The driver’s name was Gregory. I got to talking with him about how it was that I would be called upon by the CBC. I explained how, in the months and years after Katrina, I’d talked to news media from all over the world because of this blog. Canadian radio had taken a special interest because Helen‘s husband was Canadian.

Just to be clear, Gregory isn’t Canadian. He’s a limo driver from St. John the Baptist parish. I just about fell out the car when he said. “I think I know that guy.” Sure enough, his girlfriend used to live next door to Paul and Helen’s Mid-City home. He used to call him “Dr. Pig” — because of Rosie.

And I thought to myself, not for the first time, and not for the last, what a small town New Orleans is.

We arrived at our destination, Talking Head Video. Just a couple doors down from the WWL studio (where I’d been talking up Rising Tide early Monday morning) I guess it’s the only for-hire facility in town with a satellite uplink. A guy with a headset and an accent (German?) greeted me and invited me to sit on a couch. “We’ve got someone before you, you can watch us on the TV.” I was sitting just feet from the open door of the tiny studio space, but I didn’t think to peer inside. The TV was tuned to MSNBC, showing coverage of Hurricane Irene. After about 15 minutes, they said, “We’re going live,” and closed the door to the studio. That’s when the anchor on MSNBC said, “And now we’re going live to New Orleans to talk to former mayor Ray Nagin.”

I just about crapped in my pants.

A few minutes later, he was done in the studio, and next thing I’m shaking hands with the man and we’re having a cordial little conversation. I don’t think he recognized me; I’m clean-shaven now, I have different glasses, my name was not mentioned.

You might think he wouldn’t know me anyhow, but this is smalltown city. People do pay attention to what you say here, and they do remember.

Nagin Listens to Editor B

But who’d’ve thought Irene would bring us back together?

I was still in something of a daze when I appeared on Connect with Mark Kelley. My appearance was incredibly brief, and I didn’t get a chance to mention my aggravations. Which is probably all for the best.

Gregory chauffeured me to the Rising Tide pre-party at Tracey’s. I started all my conversations the same way for the rest of the evening: “You’ll never guess who I just shook hands with.”

Photo credit: Nagin Listens to Editor B by Derek Bridges

Published inKatrinaNew Orleans


  1. Garvey Garvey

    With all due respect to your internalizing criticisms of New Orleans’ response to Katrina, your city has a legendarily corrupt and mismanaged govt infrastructure, at all levels. The piss poor local response (e.g., submerged, never used school buses that were supposed to be part of the evac plan) is deserving of criticism. Don’t take that so personally. You, B, are part of the solution and shouldn’t be lumped in with the corrupt local institutions who failed your city. (Nothing in this post implies that culpability is purely local, btw.)

  2. Fun story, Bart. I assumed C. Ray had recognized you for height related reasons that glasses and facial hair don’t disguise so well.

    Make it the start of a short film: “C. Ray, Myself and Irene”

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