It’s Something Every Day

Today, Thursday, we’re having a long-awaited dedication for the widening of the infamous Huey P. Long Bridge. Built in the 1930s when cars must have been one-third the width they are today, this bridge has put the fear of the Lord into more people than hundreds of the best sermons.

Amazingly, this all began in 1892 with a proposal from the Southern Pacific Railroad that a bridge across the river be built. In 1916, the Public Belt Railroad Commission got the state constitution changed to allow New Orleans to erect such a bridge. In 1928, Governor Huey P. Long pushed through a constitutional amendment allowing bonds to be issued. Construction began in 1932. In 1935, the year Huey Long was murdered in our state capitol building, the bridge was finished and was named for him. It cost $13 million dollars, this in the middle of the Depression when a dollar was ten.

In 1988, they started studying widening the bridge. !989, voters approve $60 million to widen it. 1996, they found what it would really cost to fix this bridge and stopped. 1998, Governor Mike Foster signs a bill setting aside $220 million for the project. 2002, Mayor Marc Morial offers to sell the bridge to the state for at least $300 million. Hearing that the Brooklyn Bridge might be for sale, the state rejects the offer. Today, April 27, 2006, ground-breaking for the widening and reconfiguring.

Don’t hold your breath. It will take five years and will cost–you ready for this?–$600 million. Meanwhile, traffic problems will be the order of the day.

Phil Mickelson, in town to play in the Zurich Classic this weekend, announced last night that whatever winnings he receives from this golf tournament he will donate to some Katrina charity. The winner of the recent Masters tournament in Augusta says he will do this for the next 8 or 10 years, “however long it takes to rebuild this city.” I know who I’m pulling for.

For the first time since the hurricane, nearly 8 months ago, my Newsweek arrived. All third class mail has been shut out from the city’s 701 zip codes until now. So, last night, I flipped through to see what I’ve been missing. Bear in mind, I’ve been a Newsweek subscriber–never “Time”–since the 1960s when that publication offered great rates to seminary students. After I finished, the only thing that lingered from my reading was a correction Newsweek had made.

At the end of the letters section, they print corrections, items that should be read by everyone counting on any magazine to get it right, but which I would suppose are rarely checked by readers. The correction points out that in the March 20 article “Bearing the Scars of Battle,” they incorrectly calculated the chances of our soldiers being wounded in Iraq in comparison with the number wounded in past wars. In all previous U.S. wars, they compared the number wounded with the TOTAL men and women in the service at that time. In the present war, they compared the number wounded with the number serving on the ground in the battle zone. Big, big difference.

I didn’t read the previous article, obviously, but you can see in a heartbeat what a difference that made. If you had 5 million people in uniform, let’s say, in World War II, and had 500,000 wounded, that is a 10 percent rate. In the present war, if you have, say, 125,000 on the ground in Iraq and 25,000 wounded in any way, that is 20 percent. However, if you have a million in uniform all over the world, as we probably do today, that 25,000 becomes 2.5 percent. I made up the numbers just to make the point.

We would all be wise to be skeptical about anyone’s use of statistics. How does that line go, that there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics. (Excuse me, Mom.) Another line comes to mind and we would do well to keep it there: all generalities are false, including this one.

Wednesday night, our nine-year-old twins’ softball season started. Their dad Neil drove them to their signup a couple of weeks ago and came home the coach. Last night, they played a sister team for practice. Both teams of girls are from the same playground and will not be competing against each other this season. I am relieved. I had forgotten about little league parents.

All the kids did last night was play one very long inning, long enough for each team to bat through their lineup, with each child batting until she actually hit the ball. Which took a long time in some cases. It was funny if you love chaos, delightful if you love kids, and boring if you love baseball. At one point, I walked around to the other side of the backstop to be closer to the girls at bat. Some mothers and maybe a dad or two were sitting on bleachers, chatting with each other, keeping an eye on their younger children. A woman, presumably some child’s mother, was upset. She paced back and forth, muttering to anyone who would listen. I heard her once but did not believe my ears.

“They’re cheating.” I was going to let that pass until she said, “The gold team is cheating.” Against my better judgement–and probably the restraining of the Holy Spirit–I walked closer. “Ma’am, you say they’re cheating?”

“Yes.” She said. “The purple team let their girls bat until each one had three strikes. The gold team’s girls are batting until they hit the ball.” I said, “But cheating? You call this cheating? It’s just a practice game. And could it be the coaches had a misunderstanding?”

“No, it’s cheating,” she insisted. I know myself well enough to know this conversation must be terminated quickly. As I walked back to the other side, I could not resist a dig. “I’ve heard of little league mothers, but this is ridiculous.” (Yes, I am aware it’s dads, too.) I felt like telling her that the coach on the gold team is my son and that cheating is the last thing he would ever do, that he is a man of integrity. But better judgment prevailed. I did not want her to light in on him. (Nor to sound like a little league granddad!)

I had forgotten, in all the complexities of post-Katrina life in this city, that some people obsess over the most trivial things. Being a pastor and not a psychologist, and most definitely not a gambler, I would still be willing to bet fifty cents that that woman obsesses over every other thing in her life. I think I’ll pray for her daughter.

I think I know why Katie Couric is leaving the Today Show for the CBS Evening News. This morning, I flipped on the TV in time to hear Katie and Matt Lauer announce that they were about to interview Angeline Jolie about her work in some African country. In introducing her, they said, “People Magazine has named Angeline and Brad Pitt and her children as ‘The Most Beautiful Family in the World.'” That did it for me. I turned it off and went back to the newspaper and my morning coffee.

What happened to sanity in this world? Didn’t it used to be assumed that families started with Mom and Dad marrying? My observation is there is a decency about Katie Couric so I would not be at all surprised if she wanted to throw up, having to conduct such an interview and deliver such accolades with a straight face. On the evening news, she will be delivered from this kind of tripe. Explaining to me at least why she is leaving Today for no raise in pay.

In addition to the Zurich Classic this weekend, it’s also the first of two weekends of the annual Jazzfest, this massive music festival held on the Fairgrounds. The airport will be straining to accommodate everyone, the hotels will be packed, and restaurants–already crowded–will have long waiting lines. But the music will be excellent. I assume. I’ve never been. But I’m not alone.

Frank Giaviano leads the New Orleans office of the Shell Oil Corporation, and since Shell is the primary sponsor of Jazzfest, he will be the frontman for the event. Giaviano is 53 years old and a native of this city, and he’s never been to Jazzfest. I have good company. The difference is I’m still not going.

3 thoughts on “It’s Something Every Day

  1. I have a friend who lives in River Ridge. They were able to return to their house 2 weeks post Katrina with minimal damage. When they start to get frustrated by traffic and long lines they drive through Lake Shore and get things back into perspective.

    PS I hope you are right about Katie.

  2. My Grandfather has told me of the times he was clearing the weeds and cane in order to prepare camp Plauche for World War II. Camp Plauche is now the site of elmwood shopping center and business park. Often he would hear that steam engine in the background chugging and puffing to get over that fairly new Huey P. Long bridge.

  3. Brother Joe,

    I have family that grew up in houses that were built from barracks and buildings salvaged from Camp Plauche. My grandpa Allan moved them to Harahan. My Aunt still lives in one of them. There were 2 things that my grandmother never did in her life. She never drove a vehicle. And, never rode in one over the Huey P. Long.

    If Senator Stevens of Alaska could build a bridge to nowhere for 275 million, couldn’t we at least get 2 to cross the river to somewhere for 600 million?

    We’re going to pray for the little league Mom. Maybe she could use a little help.

    Love to you and Mz. Margaret

    David and Ginger

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