Cone of I’m-never-getting-back-in-this-car-again, Ike, so back off.

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Every time this blasted Cone shows up I am in need of 8 Ibuprofen, a bag of Oreos, and $150 in gas money. It has been called the Cone of Uncertainty and the Cone of Probability, The Cone of Error, The Cone of Terror, The Cone of Confusion, The Cone of Contradiction, The Cone of Complete Cluelessness, and, my favorite: El Cono del Muerte.I don’t even think I can evacuate to the Grampies this time because they happen to fall inside the Cone of Insanity, too.

I woke up today feeling tired and desperate bright and hopeful to return to NOLA tomorrow upon the dorm’s reopening at noon. Here is what lay in my inbox, a present from the devil:

Welcoming Students and Watching the Gulf

As we continue to prepare for the reopening of campus, we are still monitoring Hurricane Ike, which we have been doing since Tuesday. Originally, Ike’s track was predicted to travel along the east coast of Florida and up the Atlantic seaboard. However, in the last day this track has changed to indicate that Ike may enter the Gulf. If it does, landfall is projected toward the end of next week. 


While this current projection is not news we want to hear, it is too soon to determine whether the storm poses a threat to Louisiana or the Gulf Coast. Meanwhile, the university’s leadership group is receiving multiple daily updates from our weather service and is ready to respond quickly if necessary.

I need to go to school. This no-school thing is responsible for 40 blog posts a day, so YOU need me to go to school, too. Please join me in worrying about—I mean—praying for Ike.

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One month party

Tuesday was the one-month mark for me in New Orleans. I threw myself a celebratory nap and then ate some Oreo Cakesters and crossed my fingers that I would be able to go back this week.

 
Not so.
No power.
Still Sunday.
Daggers!
There are, like, 200 buildings here. Two of the only four damaged buildings on campus are schools of Social Work and Public Health. Those are the kinds of odds I live inside.

Yesterday the Grampies (that’s plural for Grandparents) left for North Carolina to check on the house-for-sale and hurry back before Hanna, Ike, Josephine and Unnamed threatened Flordia again, so I had to relocate. This put me on the road to Jackson, MS at 4:30—FOUR THIRTY—in the morning. It was a gloomy ride. Honestly, I haven’t seen the sun in days and I was passing busloads of Mississippians who were being escorted back to their coastal homes.

I was totally jealous.

The thought of not being home for another 5 days, along with a lack of Starbucks on Mississippi highway 49, along with being awake in another country’s time zone, along with not being able to get out from under the clouds of Gustav for the life of me, I almost cried. Almost. But it being so early and all, I slipped into a coma instead and pulled over for an hour and a half at Cups, and espresso shop.

I am now safely in Jackson, coma free, and staying with Sprinky’s sister’s nanny family. Strange? I know, but they offered and I said yes. I wanted to see Tulane’s shelter at Jackson State and also check up on Christy.  She just moved here last month and is still figuring things out. Together, we have located an Indian restaurant, a cute coffee/smoothie shop and a bike trail. Saturday we’ll be going to the circus. I do what I can.

Thanks to all the friends and fam who offered to host—Lawlers, Pam, Dian, Elaine’s friend’s sister.  It’s heartwarming that people love to love.

 
I should be home on Sunday.
Notice I’ve started calling NOLA home? My crazy grandma (the famous one) pointed that out to me.  Home. It has a nice ring to it.

PS- Baby Lil turned 5 months this week!

And the newbies learned to run.

Today is my first day of school. I slept in, had a cup of coffee and then some steak and eggs from café evacuay @ gramps and grams. Next I’ll go to the market, and then to the beach. Obviously I love this school business…

But not as much as I would have liked to have actually been in school today.

Chin up! Orleans parish is supposed to start letting people back in on Wednesday and Thursday through some crazy tier system, Tulane reopens on Sunday, and school—fingers crossed—starts on Monday. So far the campus has only reported downed trees and few a blown windows. Easy shmeasy. Although, 80,000 are without power all over the city…

Either way, no more complaining about the tiny apartment or mean streetcar drivers. I just feel happy to come home. For a minute it was like watching my potential life here fall apart in slow motion. I have a profound respect for my neighbors who were doing this for the second time and hung onto eachother in hotels all across the south—if you have a chance to listen to Chris Bynum’s interview from the Times-Picayne on NPR, it’s great. She was interviewed from a hotel in Arkansas where New Orleanians and other hotel guests pitched in pounds of evacuated seafood from everyone’s freezer, then cooked and shared a collective meal together on picnic tables out back. The same thing happened in Nashville with Tulane’s leadership team: “This evening the entire Nashville team will gather together and we have invited all the New Orleanians staying in our hotel to join us. At a time like this, it is comforting to be with neighbors and those who have shared this experience.”

Aw. I love this little city and this ridiculously expensive school, and I love that there will still be restaurants when I go back to relive my little pecan waffle fix.

I read this article by Michael Lewis, a NY Times writer who stayed in New Orleans throughout the storm. I thought it was an interesting take on cable news coverage and Ray Nagin’s “mother of all storms” speech:

The Waiting | 10:27 a.m.
One day someone is going to study the difference between our culture’s ability to process and respond to earthquakes (which strike without warning and so are of little use to cable news networks )and hurricanes (which might as well have been created with MSNBC in mind). The buildup, the uncertainty, the waiting — the narrative structure of hurricanes lends itself to melodrama. Click from the New Orleans local news — fairly sober analysis of the city’s chances, which the local weathermen concur are pretty good — to the cable news — where all bad news is actually good news, as it excites cable news viewers — and you get the feeling they are talking about different storms. New Orleans is safer from Gustav than it is from Geraldo…

… But now every little rustle in the trees has new meaning. Waiting for hurricane winds must be a little bit like waiting for an invading army; for that matter, evading hurricanes must be a bit like evading an invading army. The skills being acquired by New Orleanians these days will come in handy if, say, Guatemala ever launches a surprise attack. They’ll think they can sneak up on us but … poof … we’ll all be gone. We’ll be the world’s leading evacuators; anyone who dares invade us will find only an empty city. They won’t know what to do next.

Generating Fear | 10:49 p.m. Eastern time
The reaction to Gustav shows you what people learned from Katrina. The poor learned to flee; the rich learned to buy power generators and even more ammo for their automatic weapons and the politicians learned to express more sympathy and concern than they could possibly feel.

And the newbies learned to run when people start running ☺

Tulane Prez & Tornado chasing

Tulane President Scott Cowen is being interviewed live on NPR’s Talk of the Nation today at 2:30pm central time.

Yesterday we were able to do a live chat with the Prez in Nashville, and he did a great job of spreading the calmness around while CNN riled us all up. At this point, Tulane is officially closed until next Monday, September 8th and CNN is officially useless.

Here is a copy of the LIVE CHAT TRANSCRIPT – AUGUST 31, 2008. It’s an interesting read.

As far as the students in Jackson, they all seem to be doing great and are being sheltered in the Jackson State gymnasium with meals and snacks provided through the dining facilities. Jackson State has also opened recreational facilities and university center amenities to Tulane students. Aw, Jackson.
As for the rest of the city… things are looking up!
Talked to a friend who is hunkered down in the Bywater in her house near the Industrial Canal with a bunch of people. (Bywater folks: It’s Stacey G.) Her notes:- The Industrial Canal is overtopping – they see it on TV like the rest of us – but she says there is no water in the streets of the Bywater except rainwater. Some of the wind gusts are stronger than they’d expected: “Some people are going to have wind damage.” Power’s out in the area, as is Internet.

– NO LOOTING. NO CIVIL UNREST. “The area is being really well-patrolled.” At the Bywater house they are BBQing on the back porch of the house and NOPD and National Guard are dropping by for food; the authorities say that they haven’t picked up a single person in the area.”

Me? I’m tornado chasing.We keep getting squall bands and tornado warnings every 15 minutes. A few hours ago, with two tornado warnings in Destin- one to the east and one to the west- my grandparents said, “Grab your camera. Let’s go to the beach!” We wanted to see the beach swells and try to catch pictures of waterspouts. How did I get lucky enough to have storm-chasing grandparents? It’s my dream evacuation, for sure.

Storm chaser Brooke:

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We stopped at the grocery on the way home for fried chicken and were attacked in the parking lot by fast-moving abandoned carts, not tornados. But the fried chicken was delish.

Home away from Home away from Home

I had to give myself a mandatory 12-hour break from the Weather Channel and CNN so I could sleep last night. According to my dad, those channels play up weather problems to bring in more advertising revenue and it really won’t be all that bad, anyway. I told him he would be that guy standing on top his house waving and yelling out “Rescue Me! Somebody help! I didn’t know! I thought it was an advertising ploy!”

I’m sure he was just trying to make me feel better.

The school texted us last night at 11:30 to tell us to get out if we weren’t already. Today they are having an online news conference at Noon in Nashville and a live chat with school leaders at 3:30. To be sure, I have a list of questions for Mr. Tulane President. Mail? Financial Aid? My first and last check from the ol’ Bookstore? Transfers? Stop-outs? Host schools?

I can’t believe I left all my winter coats and jackets and shoes, and don’t even get me started on the unopened case of Diet Coke in the fridge, DVDs, Journals, socks, hair products, hats, sheets, etc. … but I had to share the bell-cart with a bazillion other people and it was a battle of picking and choosing.

Nagin just said, though, if anyone is caught looting they’ll go straight to jail. At least SJP won’t get kidnapped. She just better not break curfew, is all I have to say.

Contraflow began this morning out of New Orleans, which was so strange. I had received a map about this contraflow business last week and couldn’t figure it out. Basically all the lanes going into the city are reversed and used to evacuate people, which is great considering gas is gone and ATMs are empty.

Here is some other good information from local blogs and papers that are funny and informative:

Saturday

Saturday

Sunday

In the meantime, I have been staying with my grandparents in Destin (on the Florida panhandle just across the Alabama border) learning about everything hurricane. We started getting storm bands from Gustav last night and swells were supposed to start this morning at about 4. We put up hurricane panels over the windows and blocked the front door from the inside—all things I’ve never done before—and then filled up our gas tanks.

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My grandma and I also went to the beach early this morning to scope everything out. It was so hazy and beautify and eerily quiet…

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(Is that a silver lining?)

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I have to say that my grandparents have been the best evacuation hosts a girl could ask for: great food, great company, great little puppy, and a full tank of gas to boot. Thanks for keeping me safe, sheltered, well-fed and gassed up! If it wasn’t on the verge of a panic/breakdown and it wasn’t totally inappropriate to joke about yet, I’d say we should be evacuated more often. It’s that great here.

Alas.

I am trying to act like a reasonable person (vs. my normal neurotic self) and realize that things happen, and we adjust.

This may be an important piece in the empathy puzzle that will help me understand what people are going through in the future. The levels of irony here are too many to list… three years ago my bags were packed and waiting by the door so I could get into the city and help, and today I am shoving everything into my car to get out- on the anniversary of Katrina itself, which is what brought me here in the first place.

“As they experience acculturation and assimilation to the culture here, these students are experiencing their first storm,” notes Johnson. “Many of our students will become leaders in public health — prevention, planning and emergency response — so this puts what they’re learning in the classroom into a real-life setting.”

-Jefferey Johnson, Associate Dean at the School of Public Health.

I’ll try not to be a baby and have the same attitude and optimism as I did before this was MY home, MY stuff, MY school, MY future, etc… it looks a whole lot different from the inside out.

For now, here I am:

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Orienta-uh-Evacuation

Today I had orientation!

I couldn’t decide between a t-shirt that said, “Be my friend” or a cute jersey-knit dress with a sash tie…

I opted for the jersey dress and took a picture of myself on the way to the bus. Yes, I take a bus. Yes, I had to use the self-timer mode. SJP would have offered to take it but she can’t move her elbows or hands, and she can’t move her eyeballs or talk. So she just watched while I positioned the camera on the counter and waited for the ten-second countdown. School, here I come.

Orientation was fantastic, and I met all the MSW/MPH people.

We also met the faculty and campus police, the librarians, the spiritual resource person, the work-study coordinator and a bazillion other campus organizations, then ate a red-beans-and-rice lunch with our orientation groups and adviser. It was all just perfect until we got a collective text in the middle of the afternoon telling us school was canceled and we had to evacuate by noon tomorrow.

Obviously THIS year, school, for me, is like a dangling carrot. Or, more accurately, a dangling slice of chocolate decadence cake from Whole Foods. It’s always one scoop away…

Ironically, the text came as we were discussing emergency preparedness with the campus officer, so we got all the latest information straight from the source. Apparently, Tulane has its own weather team contracted to provided updates in cases like this, and Louisiana has a state-wide plan to begin emergency evacuations 60 hours from predicted landfall. Thanks to Katrina, they said the days of “Well by-golly, I lived through Betsy and Camille, I’m just gonna ride this one out,” are over. The governor has already declared a pre-state of emergency, and 150 of the 700 busses needed to evacuate New Orleans are already here. If nothing else, they sure learned to evacuate.

Tulane has evacuated twice before—once for Ivan, which veered at the last minute, and once for Katrina. The year Katrina hit, 1500 freshman had moved in at 9am, and by 7pm they had all been evacuated—750 students went home, and the other 700 were bussed to Jackson State.

Most people ran out and bought water and non-perishable food items. I ran to the bookstore and bought Tulane clothes, then to the mall for some MAC eye shadow in case I never see either of them again. We all have our priorities.

I spent the rest of the afternoon re-packing the boxes I just unpacked and moving everything else away from windows and up off the floor (just in case this mandatory vacation turns into a four-and-a-half month effort to get back).

SJP agreed to stay and watch for looters while I’m gone. I am sort of devastated about my first day of school being canceled and really worried about things like having to sit the semester out or transfer to another school if we actually get a direct hit, but I’m trying to be an adult about it and keep things in perspective.

School is scheduled to re-open on Thursday, provided we have a school. In the meantime, I’ll be at Grampy’s agonizing over the 10 pairs of shoes and 12 purses that got left behind.

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Reflexes like a drunk cat

I feel like someone balled me up and tossed me into New Orleans over their shoulder with their eyes closed, and I landed on my feet, but then 10 seconds later fell over and broke both ankles and dislocated my knees and maybe, like, both wrists or something. Then 5 cars ran over me and I fell down a manhole, floated around and flew back to my apartment on a geyser.

The point is, I have an apartment now. Here is the order of events:

1. Arrived at Grad school dorm
2. Tried key to apartment 322A
3. Key didn’t work
4. Moved things into storage closet
5. Manager unlocked door
6. Moved things to 322A
7. Air conditioner froze, then melted, then molded
8. Moved things into temporary apartment 204
9. Waited in temporary apartment for 3 nights
10. Room was ready
11. Room was not ready
12. Went back to temporary apartment for one more night
13. Room was ready
14. Moved into new room
15. Discovered out old room was fine, they had meant to send me to 722A not 322A

Here is my new apartment:

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My original room had a view of the skyline, but that room was accidentally given away when they assigned me to the first wrong room. The new room, and I’m not complaining, I’m just saying, has a view of the hospital. I am not used to being so close to other people who can see me 24/7 and I am constantly forgetting to close the bathroom door. I step out of the shower to see 4 IV drips and a nurse. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve screamed and slammed the door. Yes, it’s totally embarrassing and totally true.

Along the same lines, I had an entire list of stops to make at the uptown campus today and walked around for like 4 hours from the Accounts Receivable, which is in the middle, to the Uptown parking department, which is at one end, to the Registrars, which is on the opposite end, to Financial Aid, which is back to the middle, to the Bookstore (where I got a job!) to Student Employment to the food court. Here is where it gets great.

I bought a coke and some fruit. Yes, I said fruit. It’s a new thing I’m trying. I took the full cup of coke into the bathroom and set it on the toilet paper dispenser while I hooked my bag to that little hook. Then I turned around and accidentally knocked the coke over. It just seeped out from underneath my stall toward the drain in the middle of the bathroom. People walked in, stopped, looked at the drain, looked at my feet, and walked out. You can be sure I did not make any new friends today.

But I did get a job, which is important, and I did get a refill on my coke. I also discovered an Aveda salon in the main commons area outside the food court and was thrilled. Also there was a Fedex.

My hair stayed straight all day and I have started adjusting to the heat- I have even been wearing jeans and shirts with sleeves on them, if you can imagine. I am finding new ways to get the same places, and I have learned how to drive without getting hit by streetcars. The crazy thing is that you can never turn left. Instead, you have to do all these unnecessary u-turns. Navi would just love it here!

Sprinky and I found two great breakfast nooks with fantastic pecan waffles, a French bakery & Café (that one is for you, Elaine), two dessert places, two pizza places and two Mexican places. We were also driving down Tchoupitoulas minding our own business when Sprinky said, Giraffes. I looked up and out of the blue, across the street from residential houses, was a bunch of giraffes eating off the trees. I guess the zoo keeps them there…

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I also went to get my ID on the downtown campus and made for the skybridge, when, thankfully (although I think I would have figured this out on my own eventually) they told me that the skybridges connecting one of the 5 buildings collapsed during Katrina, and not to use it.

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Well. I guess it had.

SJP is doing fine, thank you. She keeps telling me how fanTAStic everything is. I love that in a cardboard friend.

Sprinky, on the other hand, left today at 7am. When she left, it occurred to me for two panicky hours that I was by myself here. What would do if my car broke down or if a semi ran over me or if I stabbed my toe on a parking lot spike or got shingles or ran into the bleachers during a basketball game? Things like that ALWAYS happen to me, and who would I call? It was a scary, lonely feeling.

(Pam- you are my closest relative. That means you’re on standby!)

I was thinking today- even though it seems a tiny bit backwards- that I feel like Belize prepared me for this. I have already jumped head-first into an entirely new place without a friend in sight, have even caught parasites and been in third world hospitals and came out just fine.

Welp. That’s it. Tomorrow I am driving to Destin to visit the grampies. When I get back, I start working in the bookstore, which means 35% off clothes and books!