Sunday, August 17, 2008

Workin' & Playin' in New Orleans

Since Craig began working for the Department of Corrections over 18 years ago, I never fully understood what went on behind those "closed doors."  People continually ask me, "What does he do?"  My answers are always descriptions that I'd mark "weak in content" if someone responded that way in an essay.  But I learned a few things about prisons over the years--just "expect the unexpected."  

I've learned that prisons don't have conferences in normal vacation spots like Anaheim, New York City, Orlando, or Honolulu.  Rather, Craig has been sent to places that I never would have dreamed of visiting, but out of curiosity, I seem to pack my bags each year and tag along.   The past few years we've ended up in Cincinnati, Ohio; Madison, Wisconsin; Hot Springs, Arkansas; and this year (of all places) New Orleans.  (Next year . . . Jackson, Mississippi!)

Anyway, we just returned from a week in New Orleans.  (I actually had spent a few days there about ten years ago where Jill Porter, Lexa Larsen, and Nancy Dexter dragged me out of the hotel room long enough to check out the French Quarters, eat shrimp, and hear wanna-be Jazz musicians on every corner of the city.  In my naive world at that time I hadn't even heard of "Hooters.")  So I was certain that with Craig at workshops all day I would be spending every minute inside my hotel room with bolted doors to keep out the men with python snakes, the prostitutes, and the legally drunk tourists!  

But something happened since my previous visits:  Hurricane Katrina.  The New Orleans we just visited seemed like a ghost town where abandoned businesses and homes seemed to be the norm.  I called it a "beautifully sad place."  Some spots of New Orleans area were just what I had once pictured in my mind with "Gone with the Wind-style" plantation homes, endless miles of untouched bayou, and the amazing Mississippi River. 

But most of the city and the surrounding suburbs revealed the magnitude of Hurricane Katrina.  Businesses, hospitals, car dealerships, and amusement parks like Six Flags were left as though they had been built only to be abandoned.  More homes seemed vacated rather than occupied, and even golf courses were nothing more than three-year old fields of grass just waiting to be cut. In my mind I kept thinking, "This is three years after the hurricane!"

I headed to New Orleans to get a "last-minute-of-summertime-before-school-starts vacation," and I ended up experiencing a real-live history lesson of an almost-forgotten place.