All Quiet on the Hurricane Front

(Rex Features via AP Images)

Empty streets in New Orleans, Louisiana as Hurricane Isaac hits

No question, riding out even a minor hurricane makes for an agreeably stimulating feeling of bravado, especially if it’s your first and you’re a relatively sedate gent like myself. But then again, these days, there’s an element of bravado involved in living in New Orleans at all. In my experience after going on two years down here, it’s more charming and less obnoxious than the average New Yorker’s berserk pride in urban life’s stresses. But it’s the corsair side of NOLA’s communal identity nonetheless—our Jean Lafitte mode, you could say. 

That’s why Tuesday afternoon was fun. “If I hear ‘Be safe’ one more time, I’m going to scream,” one pal of ours sighed as a bunch of us sat around in one of lower Decatur Street’s scuzzier bars. Our prep done and our supplies stocked, we’d all realized we were bored witless just watching the Weather Channel and monitoring each other’s Facebook status updates at home, so one last pre-hurricane rendezvous had seemed like just the ticket. Then Katie reconsidered: “I mean, it’s okay if someone from here says it,” she decided. “But those emails and FB messages from everybody else, just agh.”

My wife and I had gotten a cartload of similar messages from out-of-town friends ourselves, and I wouldn’t want any of them to think we weren’t grateful for their concern. But it had taken me a while to grasp why they were so alarmed. To the rest of the country, hearing “New Orleans” and “hurricane” in the same sentence instantly conjures up scarifying images of Katrina, Part Deux. Before moving here, I’d have had the identical reaction myself. But as we’d learned, a Category 1 or 2 hurricane is a much milder affair, the reason our local friends—not from bravado, just experience—mostly yawned at the thought of evacuating. 

And there’s nothing like a midlife education. The night before, out to dinner in somewhat less raffish company—David Lummis, the ultra-civilized author of The Coffee Shop Chronicles of New Orleans, and his partner—I’d amused them by sharing my discovery that one’s first New Orleans hurricane felt a lot like any other loss of virginity. You suspect you won’t enjoy it and you hope you’ll be all right in the morning, but your main anxiety is that you won’t embarrass yourself or let anyone catch on that you don’t know what you’re doing. (My kid sister was flabbergasted by such cockeyed priorities, but she lives in California. If I’d substituted “earthquake,” she’d probably have snickered in agreement.) 

By Tuesday, David and Csaba were keeping themselves amused by styling themselves “Marigny 360” and posting parody Anderson Cooper videos from their rooftop as the sky went pewter and the wind started kicking up. But as of now—early Wednesday afternoon—I have no idea whether they’re still at it, because our power went out late last night. 

Considering that we’ve got a couple of thousand books in the house and I don’t like to think of myself as technology-dependent, it’s humiliating to admit how fast life gets dreary without electricity. No TV, no music, no Internet, and even our damned cell phones aren’t working. The absence of connectivity—above all, the inability to keep tabs on how our friends in the neighborhood are faring and just crack jokes about how bored witless we all are—is very glum-making. And since we’ve got no access to news, I’ve got no idea how Isaac is affecting New Orleans at large, let alone the Gulf Coast. For all I know, that could include any amount of bad stuff that will make this post’s light-heartedness grating or worse. 

My other frustration is that I’m supposed to be blogging this week for another publication about the GOP’s Tampa shindig, and now that’s shot to hell unless the power comes on before nightfall (not likely). I did manage to see Tuesday night’s session and knock out most of a post about it—Ann Romney jokes just write themselves, don’t they?—before the lights went kaput. But after I finished it this morning, I realized I had no way of sending it. That hurt. 

Since we’re hurricane newbies, my wife and I had no plans to venture outside until the all clear. But losing that blog post just killed me. They were such good Ann Romney jokes! And the weather didn’t really look too bad, at least if your working premise was that this was a hurricane. Emboldened, I wrapped my laptop in a raincoat—it was and still is much too muggy to wear the raincoat instead—and ventured all the way to the bar right next door to us, some 15 feet of raw, unknown Isaac-ness from our front stoop. Madeit, too. 

No luck, though. The usual barflies were sitting around in the dark, listening to a battery radio. No generator, much less a wi-fi connection—which I should have guessed anyway. This particular joint’s owners may still be debating whether to install a pay phone. 

Back to the house through 15 feet of raw, now mildly known Isaac-ness I shlepped. But I wasn’t ready to throw in the towel, not least as most of them were sopping wet anyway. (Turns out our roof leaks.) A Republican convention, and I wouldn’t get to weigh in at all? Downright heroically, I decided to try Buffa’s—our favorite local dive, four whole crooked blocks of raw, once again unpredictable Isaac-ness away. To my surprise, my wife wasn’t opposed. Bored witless as well by now, she wanted to come along until we agreed that someone should probably stay with the cats.

Adventure! Could my heart stand it? Wrapping up the laptop again, I stoutly set forth (I could probably use a diet). And soon felt slightly foolish, since if I hadn’t known this was a gosh-darn hurricane—we hadn't yet learned about its deflating downgrade to a tropical storm—it would have seemed like just another stormy day. Maybe windier than most, but it wasn’t like flying debris was coming my way down the street. 

Seeing that Buffa’s sign was lit up—proof they had a generator—gladdened my spirits. It’s the kind of place where even the off-duty bartenders come to hang out, and it was predictably mobbed and just as predictably jolly. At least until one imposing bald dude silenced the room by starting to talk really loudly and not too coherently about God only knew what, and I could see from the flicker of anxiety in the barkeeps’ eyes that they couldn’t tell if he was acting out in sport or in earnest. Buffa’s is one heckuva cozy place, but you can't be too careful. 

Then he settled down, everything went back to normal, and I got—ah, victory—online. Sent off my perhaps less-than-immortal blog post about the Republicans in convention assembled, feeling like Richard Harding Davis or something. Wanted to hang out and check up on Facebook about how everyone else was faring, not least because it seemed like bad karma to use Buffa’s wi-fi without buying a drink. But when I caught one bartender’s eye, he just smiled ruefully and hoisted his shoulders at the mob around me, indicating it would be a while. I knew my wife might be getting anxious, so I rewrapped the laptop and headed back through four crooked blocks of now familiar, almost benign Isaac-ness toward home. 

That brings us up to now, folks. Since my laptop’s battery is running down, I’d better wrap this up anyway and get back to Buffa’s for another round of wi-fi. Am I looking forward to it? Of course I am. It’s boring as hell to be inside the house. I think my wife won’t be able to resist coming along this time, and we’re pretty sure the cats will be all right. 

Be safe.

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