You Don’t Have to Ask

I haven’t mentioned it here, but Saturday was a big election day throughout Louisiana. In fact, we turned our association’s offices on Lakeshore Drive over to the electoral process. The “Baptist Center” became the voting place for nine precincts in the Gentilly area of New Orleans. Freddie Arnold hung around much of the day Saturday, to be on hand in case he was needed. He said the voting was light. I voted at my usual polling place–John Curtis Christian School’s elementary school library–here in River Ridge.

All of the 13 amendments on the ballot passed big, which was unusual. Several had to do with restoring the coastal wetlands and another with merging all the area levee boards into two, one for each side of the Mississippi River. We were assured that the federal government was watching to make certain the citizens were as concerned with flood protection as they were being told. The vote for levee consolidation was 81 percent in favor. Pretty strong.

The folks in back of the levee consolidation movement didn’t celebrate long. They promptly announced they’re now turning their attention to consolidating another bizarre local contraption–the seven tax assessors who reign over their tiny fiefdoms throughout Orleans Parish and who need to be merged into one central office, like is the case throughout the rest of creation.

Commander’s Palace restaurant opened for brunch Sunday for the first time since Katrina. The ancient building where they are located in the Garden District was severely damaged in the hurricane, then when they started making repairs, workers found major structural problems that had not been evident. It has taken this long to restore the facility. Like getting the Saints back in the Superdome, this is a symbol that the city treasures.

Macy’s in Kenner’s Esplanade Mall is not returning. That end of the mall is dark and empty and needs filling badly. We’ve talked previously here about the boarded-up historic Fairmont Hotel downtown, another sad sad thing.

But Memorial Hospital is back. The site where many patients died in the week following Katrina, this huge medical center, known for ages as Southern Baptist Hospital, was bought recently by Ochsner Foundation along with a couple of medical facilities. Ochsner is now the largest health care provider in the metro area. The headline in Monday’s paper reads “It’s official: ‘Baptist’ is back.”

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Four Churches on Sunday

7:30 am. The monthly brotherhood breakfast at Kenner’s First Baptist Church provided some insights on life in metro New Orleans these days.

On the first Sunday of each month, some forty men and boys gather for their monthly allotment of cholesterol (thick bacon, sausage, eggs, sausage gravy, grits, huge biscuits–you get the idea) and the kind of fellowship only a men’s gathering provides: laughter, teasing, back-slapping, loving, affirming. Three men spoke in the meeting; only one was scheduled.

Johnny, the leader, said, “You’ve heard the old line about ‘I’m from the government; I’m here to help you.’ Today, one of our men is going to give his testimony along that line.” He introduced Scott who had lost his business to Katrina.

Before Scott got started, Barry stood up. “If he’s going to tell about getting a Small Business Administration loan, I can give you some sad stories along that line. Applying for an SBA loan was absolutely the hardest thing I have ever done. It took 9 months, and there must have been a hundred steps involved. Finally, they sent us the money, then took it back. They sent it again and then took it back. We’ve got it now and I expect them to ask for it back any day now.” Your government in action.

Scott told of the frame-shop business he and his wife had purchased in 1999 from another church member. “This was our livelihood,” he said. During their Katrina evacuation into Belleville, Illinois–“some people call it Mayberry”–he went on line and found an aerial post-hurricane shot of the West Esplanade location of their shop. “There was this giant hole in the roof where you could see all the way through. That’s not good.” They had lost everything.

“The question was what to do now.” Some people suggested bankruptcy. “We didn’t want to do that.” Someone suggested he file for unemployment. “We did, and got $90 a week. That’s for a family of four. You know about how much good that did.” His parents in Boston called and said his room was still available; he could come back home. “I said, ‘Mom, Dad, I’m married now with two children.” Laughter.

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