Greensboro memorable, but nothing like The Hurricane

by Sharon Armstrong

Greensboro has been an experience, that’s for sure.

In the space of two months I have been pulled over by the police twice. They were nice, and kind of embarrassed. I was attacked by a potentially rabid squirrel and, let me tell you, when you go to the ER with a savage squirrel story all you get is ridicule and an ungodly amount of anti-rabies inoculations.

I made the doctors laugh though. And my editor. And, when I come to think of it, my mom, my friends and everybody else I know. Not a trace of sympathy.

I met and played with some seriously good musicians who were kind enough to invite me into their homes. I am a bit shaky as to how many times I visited Vance Archer’s house and inflicted my guitar playing on the poor man -‘ much wine was involved -‘ but I do remember how much fun I had. Thank you, and I promise to try to actually learn scales.

And these dark looping nighttime roads!

I have been hopelessly lost more times than I can possibly count. At least a million. Which, it must be said, has totally failed to improve my navigational skills and panic-control techniques.

Where the hell is Wendover? It has to be here somewhere! Keep driving! It will be all right! Honest!

Doesn’t bode well for getting to Chicago in time to visit friends for Christmas, really. And isn’t that what Christmas is all about?

Friends and family. Kith and kin.

The friends I am visiting have been up there since the Hurricane.

Note the capital letter. The Hurricane.

It’s odd, but when New Orleanians refer to the tempest that led to such devastation in the Big Easy, you can actually hear the capitalization. Katrina was an upper-case uppercut. She will always be the Storm. The Big One. The Hurricane. A strange new lexicon born in August 2005.

I thought about moving to Chicago after he Storm. The new New Orleans can tire you out and not in a good way.

People used to find New Orleans a hard place to leave; now it’s hard to stay. She breaks your heart in sudden and unexpected ways. You have to keep your guard up; there is very little room for nostalgia. It is too sad.

You have to adjust to what the locals call the “New Normal”. A normal that means third-world hardships in a first-world country. It’s quiet now when the contractors go home. Silence envelops the empty streets. Those damn blue tarps mock the myth of rebuilding, and New Orleans is no longer the city that care forgot. Not by a long shot.

I have traveled a lot since the Storm. Chicago, Savannah, DC, Dallas, Asheville, New York, back home to Scotland, Greensboro.

Getting work, visiting friends, getting away from New Orleans for a month, a week, a day or two and every time I go back my heart leaps into my throat.

On one hand I am happy to be going home, because I do know what it means to miss New Orleans.

When I hit that first sign that points to I-10, I start to grin. I don’t know how to explain it. It defies all logic and experience.

As I pass over the verdant, green bayou, over that impending water that surrounds the city, and I hit the city limits, every single time I expect things to be better than they were. That there will be some sign that things are going to be all right despite everything.

Uptown looks pretty much the same although the waterline is still visible on the concrete of the overpass. My heart lifts a little.

I bounce over the first potholes, past the ruined houses that line I-10 and keep going down past the brightly colored, intricately carved and irreparably ruined town houses of Esplanade, towards that small serendipitous crescent of land that defied the rising waters. Where the New Orleanians hold fast.

The familiar streets still look like they have been lifted and shaken by some huge, clumsy hand. Vines bear testament to the passage of time as they cover the roofs of burned houses. Signs in empty, gutted shops mockingly offer cut-rate deals and fresh seafood. The streets are lined with garbage. The doors of the houses stand open to the elements. Walls lean at crazy angles. Every now and again you spot someone on their porch, waiting.

My heart beats faster. I turn up the music in my car and I look straight ahead because I just don’t want to see the ruins of New Orleans. The houses, crumbling beneath bright flowering trees, are still marked with those ubiquitous numbered crosshatches. New Orleans bowed down under her shroud of flowers.

How do people put up with this? What gets them through it? Where do they get the courage to stay?

There is a port-a-loo on Rue Mazant that has something to say.

One side reads ‘Bush Shit’, the other: ‘A throne for King George.”