David Lee, are you talking to me?

11 01 2011

I will try to make a very long story short here, but I’m afraid I will have to begin this story in 1978 for you to grasp the depth of the miraculousness of it all.  So, here goes …

At the tender age of 6 I became a rocker.  I was a tom boy and not overly interested in girly things, but steadily forced into dresses and pig tails by my mom.  I was interested in finding myself at a very early age and uninterested in popularity or any of that mess.  I wanted to be tough, even though I was tiny.

I was raised in a very strict, Italian, Catholic home.  I had a stay-at-home mother and hard working father.  Anyway, I’m supposed to make this short so I’ll cut the details and get to one of the main household rules I liked to break … That was touching the parents’ stereo.  It was one of those old school big chests that had a record player and an ever-so-modern 8 track player.  Though children were not allowed to touch it, whenever the parents were away my two older siblings paid me no mind as they were teenagers doing their own thing so I would sneak to that amazing chest and put the giant headphones on, turning the knobs until I discovered something I thought sounded cool.  And then it happened … I was forever changed … by this sound:  It was like nothing I’d ever heard before.  It was raw, tough, heavy and completely different than what anyone I knew anywhere was listening to.  It rocked! I was instantly changed forever … and forever after I was a rocker chick! Full throttle ahead I began saving my allowance until I could purchase my first Van Halen record.  In other words, loose change from my grandfather to buy candy on a daily basis was saved as I fasted from my candy fix for about one year until my parents finally agreed to take me to the Sound Shop in the mall to buy Van Halen I.  Low and behold, Van Halen II had already been released and I didn’t even realize that I would have to decide between two albums.

By this time I was 7, and had not seen the band but only listened to them on the radio whenever I could.  When I laid my eyes on the lifesize, cardboard display of David Lee Roth splitting in spandex pants seductively over the Van Halen section I lost it … I really lost it … I jumped up and grabbed hold of it and had to have it, even if it cost my every last dime … literally.  My parents had to peel me off of it, begging the clerks to sell it to them to no avail.  I was in tantrum mode, but still left with Van Halen I in my possession.

Flash forward to 1984, to a 6th grade girl wearing holy jeans and Van Halen T-shirts to school daily and singing praises of their latest album.  A girl who had “I love David Lee Roth”  and  sketches of the Van Halen symbol sketched on every book cover.  A girl in love … with an untouchable rock icon.  Yes, that girl was me, of course.  Scrawny, late blooming, overlooked rocker chick Susan. I guess I really didn’t even notice that I was the ugly duckling, because I was still in that frame of mind that I wanted to be tough and completely un-girly! My world revolved around Van Halen mostly and other rock bands that were coming out at the time …  Bands that Van Halen opened the door for with their unique rock style. (Later, these would be known as hair bands)

It wasn’t until high school that I realized I was still late to blooming and unwanted.  Yeah, when all my guy friends I used to rock out with in Junior High no longer wanted to be seen with me because they were busy with the girly girls who had boobs and such.   Van Halen had crumbled after their biggest selling album, 1984, and my life seemed to be painfully crumbling too… I was holding on to dreams … dreams that I believed would never come true.  Dreams of being desirable to guys, and still dreaming even deeper of being desirable to rock stars.  But still, my life long dream was to someday be able to meet David Lee Roth … perhaps even cling to him the way I did that cardboard cut out of him at the record store so many years before…

I graduated in 1990 and still hadn’t blossomed.  Still fought for the attention of guys unsuccessfully and still prayed for Van Halen to reunite with David Lee Roth.  It seemed that none of my dreams would ever come true, but that summer things changed dramatically.  After an 18 year battle with a complicated illness (that’s a whole other blog I’ll write someday) I got the medical attention I needed and was on the path to healing.  With that healing came my late puberty.  With my late puberty came the swan from the ugly duckling … and with that swanlike existence came all the attention from the opposite sex I could’ve ever wanted.

It was a brand new world to me.  I didn’t know how to handle it.  Fortunately, early in my days of glory I settled down with a great guy for many years.  He too was a swan from ugly duckling, so we made a perfect match. But, sadly, all good things must come to an end and we broke up because he needed to “find himself” and I was left alone in a sea of sharks, who all wanted to take a bite of me the moment I was cast back out to sea.  And bite they did.  They shredded me up.  One bad relationship begot another, or so it seemed, and heartache relentlessly plagued me for years.  I had come to the realization that if it wasn’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all.  And once again, I found myself dreaming of what would never be … my rock stars whom were always my secret lovers and best friends for all of my years, who never let me down … even though the days of hair band glory were long forgotten.

And then came the millennium.  Which really pleased me because the 90’s were a gloomy and dark time for me, so I had a lot of hope that the new century would bless me … and so it did … in ways I never believed it would.

Hair bands were coming back into popularity for some strange reason, and I was on top of my game.  I wasn’t the ugly duckling who wasn’t old enough to go to their concerts, I was the perfect age at the perfect time to see everyone I ever loved live and usually in perfect settings such as small venues because they weren’t top dollar bands any more as far as the industry was concerned, but to me they were some of the most awesome musicians ever.  But, that wasn’t the most amazing part … you see the most amazing part was time and time again these rock icons who were monumentous in my life history were choosing me to go backstage and party with them.  Little ol’ Susan among tons of busty, Playboy bunny types surrounding me … they would point me out and invite me over and over.  I was never happier in all of my years.  So many times I would go home and wish that I could travel back in time to tell that crying teenage girl or that broken hearted young lady; “Someday, Susan, your dreams will come true…”

And then it happened … headline news … David Lee Roth was coming to my area.  I was frantic just reading it.  After this long spell of meeting rockers, would he be on my list? The ultimate rocker? The love of my life? Would I truly get to meet him? I was doubtful. He was like a King, like a God, the greatest front man of all time … a total legend.  Nah, I wouldn’t get to meet him because he would be surrounded by an entourage and be totally untouchable … but still, I had to go see him as I had only waited my whole life to be in his presence … seriously, my whole life!!!!

The day of the show, my best friend (of over 20 years!), Melanie, and I booked a room to stay overnight at the casino Dave was to perform at.  We spent the day laying out at the pool as she consistently tried to calm me, knowing that I was extremely and overly excited about the pending show.  Many drinks and hours of relaxation to no avail, I was still anxious in a childlike state reminiscent of that day I went to the Sound Shop 25 years prior! Moments before we left to the show, I went into the bathroom privately and kneeled on the floor and literally I prayed to God to watch over me because I knew that my life has sent me in a direction in which I would meet such celebrities and I would need a guardian angel to keep me in check if I had the opportunity to meet David Lee Roth!!!  Melanie was truly concerned for my well being as she was well aware of my immeasurable infatuation with Dave.

And so, there we were, third row from David Lee Roth … singing his heart out and twisting my heart with his every scream, his every acrobatic move, his every breath … tears streaming down my cheeks as I thought I would never be so blessed as to be so near to this man I had longed to see for 25 long years!!!  Well, I guess Dave could see my beaming adoration because he pointed at me and motioned for me to approach the stage.  I was frozen and people around me had to thrust me toward him for me to realize that YES… Dave was, in fact, motioning to ME! I thought my heart would beat out my chest.  I stood at the edge of the stage as he sang a couple of songs to me, gazing into my adoring eyes.  Time stood still, I was a six year old, a sexually confused teen and an adoring woman all at once!  Dave fed into it, of course, and couldn’t resist teasing me from the stage.

As the show came to a close, he grabbed my face forcefully in his hand … squeezing my cheeks and I thought this was the peek of my existence.  Then, he pointed at me and suddenly security grabbed me and began pulling me away! I was dazed and confused as if I was on some strange drug.  I grabbed Melanie, my last source of reality, and we were yanked behind the stage.

“Dave would like to see you, alone!” The security guard said.
I was speechless.
“She can’t go alone,” Melanie heroically said. (Thank Goodness!)

Moments later … there he was … across the room … smiling … DAVID F***ING LEE ROTH!!!!!!

And I just stood there … frozen … crying … spastic!

He motioned for me to come to him.  I pointed at myself, confused, and asked “ME?”
“Yes, you!” He laughed.

Slowly I walked to him, Melanie in tow.

“So, did you enjoy the show?” He asked.
I burst into tears.
“She loved it,” Melanie laughed.  “Trust me!”
“Can I… Can I hug you?” I muttered as I gazed at my dream come true.
“Absolutely!” He smiled.
I threw my arms around him and the tears began to flow. “I’ve waited my whole life for this moment!” I exclaimed.
He ate it up.  He loved it!

So, we ended up on the illustrious tour bus of David Lee Roth! Inside was all black leather and dim lighting as if we were in a lounge.  I was seating on a leather horse shoe shaped couch when Dave slid up very close beside me and wrapped his larger than life arms around me and began to whisper in my ear about how adorable I was in a voice I had only previously known through music.  A raspy, sexy, melodious, rock God voice much like the spoken part of “Panama” …. (skip to 2:50 on the video below to see what I mean)

Needless to say, his constant praises of me were making me very dizzy and fumbling foolishly over my words as Melanie consistently reminded him that he was fucking with my head and that he had no idea of the effects this entire event was having on me.  It’s very VERY good that she was there with me the whole time.  He persisted to whisper sweet nothings in my ear as Melanie quizzed him about his musical career and such and I was persistently fumbling.  Finally after a few glasses of Merlot and sharing a smoke with him, I gathered my composure and was able to somewhat loosen up … though he remained consistent with the sweet nothings.

Otherwise,  he spoke in rhythm and rhyme with great flamboyance! He was fun, gracious and very entertaining.  One of the funniest parts was;  when we first got on the bus he shook his rear end, squeezed into leather pants, in my face and said “How do you like my ass?” Hysterical, right? But anyway, as I said before … it was indeed very good that my best friend was there as my guardian because I have no idea what could have happened to me in my dazed state of hysteria without her protection!

And after all was said and done, I looked back and thought … once again … of the little girl in the record store clinging to a cardboard Dave, and to the lonely teen who kissed his posters goodnight.  It still makes me smile that the one thing I wanted so badly for all of my years … the one thing I never dreamed possible actually did happen … TO ME!!!

David Lee Roth is an American rock vocalist, songwriter and author among other notable careers.  Though he is best known as the original lead singer for Van Halen, he also has a popular career as a solo artist.  Roth exited Van Halen after their highest grossing album, 1984, topped the charts.  Conflict within the band’s egos led them to go separate ways.  Roth’s solo career offered several platinum and gold albums while Van Halen had continued success with a different sound and a new lead vocalist.  Without Van Halen, the band and brand he helped bring to superstardom, his solo career eventually stalled, and he went on to explore other career alternatives. Sometimes referred to as Diamond Dave, he rejoined Van Halen in 2007 (much to the joy of the band’s fanbase) for a North American tour that became the highest grossing tour in the band’s history. David Lee Roth is referred to in many (rock) media outlets as the greatest heavy metal singer of all time.  His powerful and unique vocals changed the face of rock music much in the same way as his famous band mate, Eddie Van Halen’s guitar playing also changed rock music.

Soon after Van Halen’s debut, Roth became well-known for his flamboyant showmanship. The 1983 Rolling Stone Record Guide Vol 2. described Roth as “the most obnoxious singer in human history, an achievement notable in the face of long tradition and heavy competition.” Although often noted more for physical than for technical vocal prowess, Roth’s bluesy baritone voice and distinctive screams coupled with his humorous and campy lyrics were integral to Van Halen’s sound. Roth is able to take his voice into a multi-pitched wheeze/rasp, almost like a train whistle.

From 1979-1984, Van Halen released five more albums: Van Halen II, Women and Children First, Fair Warning, Diver Down and 1984, each to increasing popular success and critical acclaim. In 1983, Van Halen was paid $1.5 million to play one set at the US Festival making them one of the two highest paid bands in modern history.

On April 1, 1985, Roth and Van Halen parted ways. In late 1985, Roth assembled a backing band with veteran Van Halen producer Ted Templeman handling the production. Roth released his debut full-length solo album, Eat ‘Em and Smile in July, 1986. The album saw Roth return to hard rock music and met with huge commercial and critical success. In January 1988, Roth released Skyscraper, a more experimental offering than the first solo album. Roth then went on a headlining arena tour with the Los Angeles hairband Poison opening for him.  The tour was a huge success and met with positive reviews in many places. In January 1991, Roth released A Little Ain’t Enough, a more mainstream hard rock album. Musical tastes had changed dramatically by the end of 1991 and the accompanying tour promoting this album did not do as well financially as planned. In March 1994, Roth released Your Filthy Little Mouth, an eclectic, lyrically intricate album.  It did not sell well, considered by many to be a commercial failure, failing to achieve gold status. Roth’s career was in decline yet he still managed to support the album with a World Tour lasting over 10 months that took him and his band through North America, Japan, Europe and back through North America again.

Nevertheless, many loyal fans remained, and the Roth/Van Halen split entered pop culture. For example, in the hit 1994 film Airheads, fans loyal to Roth were regarded as cool, whereas a character loyal to Van Halen was suspected as an undercover police officer. Similarly, in 2001, the title character of the film Joe Dirt declared he was a Van Halen fan, not a “Van Hagar” fan.  In June 1996, Roth reunited with Van Halen for a brief time and to great public fanfare. He recorded two new songs for Van Halen’s Best of Vol. 1 album, “Can’t Get This Stuff No More” and “Me Wise Magic.” After an infamous appearance on September 5, 1996, at the MTV Music Awards during which Roth and Eddie Van Halen reportedly threatened each other ultimately resulting in Van Halen choosing their third and least popular vocalist.

In 1997, Roth wrote a well-received memoir, entitled Crazy From the Heat. In 2001, rumors swirled that Roth and the members of Van Halen had recorded several new songs together and were in the process of attempting yet another reunion. Roth later confirmed this, but nothing became of the music. In 2003, Roth released Diamond Dave, an album of (mostly) classic rock cover songs.  It was during the promotional tour for this album that I had the pleasure of seeing him live and meeting him at long last.

On Feb. 2, 2007 The Official Van Halen Web Site released information that David Lee Roth had rejoined the band bringing much joy to long time fans.  In March 2007 five members of Van Halen, the four original members and Sammy Hagar (2nd vocalist) were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  On August 13, 2007, 6 months after the initial reunion tour was postponed, it was finally confirmed by Van Halen with Roth at a press conference that they would schedule it starting in September 2007. At that conference, Eddie Van Halen stated that he and Roth were “like brothers” now. Calling Van Halen a “real band”, both Edward and Roth spoke of the possibility of further worldwide touring and a new album in mind for the future.On June 5, 2008, Van Halen announced the 2007-2008 tour with Roth grossed more than $93 million, a record for the band. Van Halen played to nearly one million people during 74 arena shows throughout the United States and Canada.

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Thinking outside the bun

11 10 2010

Tom cooked a feast of beef ribs, sautéed with veggies in a golden sauce over rice… with a side of southern style corn and asparagus salad.  Served with a refreshing coca-cola.  It was nice.  We don’t eat many dinners together because of our conflicting schedules.  Now, I can’t quite remember how it came about but I think I was referring to the dogs when I said “Flash always gets the ‘shit end of the stick’ when I throw them scraps of food” (because Jackie is just much faster). Anyway, this spawned a conversation about where the saying “Shit end of the stick” comes from.  I know where I got it from (and she’ll beat me if she reads this, but … ) it was something my mom always said and it stuck with me.   So, over our fine dining we tried to derive where the phrase originated.  We both agreed that it probably stems from olden days when there wasn’t really any sewerage or flushing of toilets as we are so spoiled by today and that probably you had to dispose of shit by somehow shoving it down a hole with a stick …  therefore, occasionally you’d goof up and grab the “shit end of the stick”.  Well, needless to say we were wrong, but it made for fun conversation over fine dining, don’t you think?
Well, much to our disappointment, The proper saying is “Short end of the stick” or “Wrong end of the stick”… even though my mom’s version is much more fun … but here’s what I learned:
This expression refers to a walking stick held upside down, which does not help a walker much. It originated in the 1400s as “worse end of the staff” and changed to the current wording only in the late 1800s. Also see “Short end of the stick”.  The inferior part, the worse side of an unequal deal. For example, ‘Helen got the short end of the stick when she was assigned another week of night duty.’ The precise analogy in this term, first recorded in the 1930s, has been lost. Some believe it comes from worse end of the staff, used since the early 1500s, which in the mid-1800s  became, in some instances, short end of the stick.
-From The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms_(1997) by Christine Ammer
And, of course, all this fun talk of food and poop reminded me of yet another time these 2 very different objects were intertwined in my life…
In the early 90’s I was struggling financially, but I loved my job and all of the people I worked with. We had been in business for at least four years together and all employees were there from the grand opening and throughout. We were a tight knit family who had grown to know each other very well over the years. The business was growing and we had to make room for new employees. We hired a new guy in the sales office and a couple of guys for the operations department. I chose the guys for operations and both were very good friends of mine, so they fit right in. The new guy in sales, John, was also new to the area. Though he was a stranger, our family extended a warm welcome and strived to have him fit in as well. John was very different, however. He always seemed kind of shady and we all struggled with accepting him, even though we all gave it an honest effort. He was a heavy set man and dressed rather frumpy. His jokes were bad and he was very weak with customer service. Anyway, as I said, this was a time of financial struggle in my life. One of my biggest struggles was the fact that I absolutely loved to fine dine and couldn’t afford to. I loved to feast for breakfast, lunch and dinner … but unfortunately, I couldn’t afford most of my expensive feasts. So, I trained myself to eat a small breakfast, but have a large lunch. Lunch meant more to me than any other meal. I always went all out for lunch. I would have steak lunches with baked potatoes, steamed veggies, bread and salad or something equally as extravagant daily. I decided I would force myself to eat half of my meal at lunch and then take the other half home for dinner. It was working out well, and I was saving money. I had been practicing this concept for a few months before our new associates had joined the team. I would simply place the other half of my meal, stored in to-go boxes, in the break room fridge to retrieve later before going home from a hard day’s work. Not long after we had the new associates join our staff, I started noticing that my to-go boxes were being ravished. It wasn’t a small ravishing either. I would open a box when I got home to find only the fat from the steak trimmed off and left behind with maybe one sprig of broccoli, 1 salad cruton and teeth marks left on my piece of bread and such. This was happening almost daily. I was infuriated by this. I complained several times around the office, making very clear that I did not appreciate someone consistently stealing my food and that I could not afford it as well as it was a very rude thing to do. I went to my boss about it several times and he said I was overreacting, maybe the thief needed the food more than me. I began leaving notes with my lunches that said things like “Please don’t eat this, I can’t afford to feed you and me”, but the culprit would simply move my note aside and eat my food. I suppose the straw that broke the camel’s back (another great saying) was the day I went to my favorite Mexican restaurant and ordered quesadillas. This was one of my favorite things to eat. They come in the shape of a half circle and are stuffed with chicken, cheese, sour cream and all sorts of goodness. I remember my joy of having a full, beautiful and delicious quesadilla saved for my dinner. I thought about it all day long. I really struggled during lunch not to eat the 2nd quesadilla. It weighed heavy on my mind … oh, the melted cheese swirling in rich sour cream, with savory shreds of perfectly seasoned chicken breast … it called my name all afternoon, but I refrained. When 5 o’clock struck, I rushed to the kitchen to snatch up my to-go box. Then I froze, what if someone had eaten it again? What if I was about to get screwed out of my dream dinner? Slowly I opened the box … and there I found … the quesadilla, almost completely eaten. The bastard had eaten it from the straight edge all the way to the round outer edge, leaving me just about a half inch frame work of nothing but fajita dough with disgusting teeth marks all around it. All the cheesy, creamy and chickeny goodness was gone. After blasting a slew of obscenities and storming out of the kitchen with my useless to go box, I threw it on the passenger seat of my car and drove home on fire with a rage and desire for revenge.
I stewed for about one week. I continued to eat lunches for several days and have the remains stolen from me. But, I quit reacting and just took the pitiful boxes of raped left-overs home with me. The fact that I had quit reacting should’ve been a sure sign to take cover, but that gluttonous bastard didn’t catch a clue from it. The following Friday, instead of feasting on a delicious meal, I went to the drive-thru at Taco bell.  I ordered 2 burritos and 2 sides of pinto beans with cheese and sour cream.  I went home and ate one of each, then I took the two extras and began my project.  Carefully I unwrapped the second burrito and unfolded the flour tortilla, scooping out the center of beef and beany goodness and refilling it with several turds from my cat’s litter box … dotted nicely with pebbles of litter.  I re-folded the tortilla and placed the newly designed burrito in a Styrofoam box from my favorite Mexican restaurant.  I then put a small clump of cat pee infested litter beside it and gently scooped the pinto beans on top, keeping the sweet dallop of sour cream on top.  I placed a decorative piece of parsley between the two fancified items and closed the lid.  I returned to the office and put the surprise to-go box in the fridge.  As the day progressed I was overcome with excitement to check the box, but I refrained.  By 4:30, I could no longer resist.  I went to the box, and sure enough, he had eaten more than half of the burrito.  Without a word, I penned a note and stuck it on top of the box that read “I was really looking forward to eating that cat shit burrito, but once again you stole my food.  I hope you enjoyed eating my cat’s shit, asshole!”  He never ate my lunch again.  Ironically, a couple of months later he was caught stealing from the company.  I guess shit eating John couldn’t get enough of his cake and eating it too. (I know, I’m just full of catch phrases this evening!)
And now, just for fun.  If you’ve never tried this, it’s a must.  We made this cake for a friend of ours who is a real cat lover.  It’s kitty litter cake.  Here’s a picture of the cake we made below with the recipe.  Believe it or not, this cake tastes freakin’ awesome and it’s very easy to make.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 (18.25 ounce) package German chocolate cake mix
  • 1 (18.25 ounce) package white cake mix
  • 2 (3.5 ounce) packages instant vanilla pudding mix
  • 1 (12 ounce) package vanilla sandwich cookies
  • 3 drops green food coloring
  • 1 (12 ounce) package tootsie rolls

DIRECTIONS

  1. Prepare cake mixes and bake according to package directions (any size pan).
  2. Prepare pudding according to package directions and chill until ready to assemble.
  3. Crumble sandwich cookies in small batches in a food processor, scraping often. Set aside all but 1/4 cup. To the 1/4 cup add a few drops of green food coloring and mix.
  4. When cakes are cooled to room temperature, crumble them into a large bowl. Toss with 1/2 of the remaining cookie crumbs, and the chilled pudding. You probably won’t need all of the pudding, you want the cake to be just moist, not soggy.
  5. Line kitty litter box with the kitty litter liner. Put cake mixture into box.
  6. Put half of the unwrapped tootsie rolls in a microwave safe dish and heat until softened. Shape the ends so that they are no longer blunt, and curve the tootsie rolls slightly. Bury tootsie rolls randomly in the cake and sprinkle with half of the remaining cookie crumbs. Sprinkle a small amount of the green colored cookie crumbs lightly over the top.
  7. Heat 3 or 4 of the tootsie rolls in the microwave until almost melted. Scrape them on top of the cake and sprinkle lightly with some of the green cookie crumbs. Heat the remaining tootsie rolls until pliable and shape as before. Spread all but one randomly over top of cake mixture. Sprinkle with any remaining cookie crumbs. Hang the remaining tootsie roll over side of litter box and sprinkle with a few green cookie crumbs. Serve with the pooper scooper.




Coming out of the dark

29 08 2010

It’s impossible to condense the Hurricane Katrina experience in a few short blogs let alone the 5 years that have followed.  I have tried, but came to the realization that it would be several more blogs to truly give the full spectrum.  In the first 3 blogs of this series I have given you a taste of my personal experience during the storm and the days that (immediately) followed along with a few bits of other survivor’s stories and some interesting facts about the storm.  This has been my best effort to share it all with those of you who don’t know what it’s like first hand. Each year, I try to write something for you that helps put a face on this reality.  The eye of Hurricane Katrina made landfall in my hometown.  My life was forever changed.  History washed away and starting over in a place that felt comparable to the aftermath of a nuclear explosion.  Each year I take this journey again, but I learn a little more and I reflect a little more and I am reminded of how truly blessed I am to be here today and with little struggle compared to so many.  It is also a huge part of my healing process to do these projects.-Suz 8/29/10

I re-read my closing from the series I wrote last year, and want to share it here with you today:
From “Coming out of the dark” by Suz (post date 8/30/2009):
I have spent this week focusing on facts about Hurricane Katrina in order to raise awareness for a few reasons.  #1 most people were led to believe by the media that Katrina struck New Orleans, LA but that is not all together true.  The media favored New Orleans because it is a famous city, but the media failed the MS Gulf Coast where Katrina truly made landfall and did far more devastation than was done in New Orleans.  The actual eye of the storm landed in the very town where I live, Waveland, MS.  #2 Four years have passed since Katrina made landfall and people are beginning to forget.  We are still struggling to rebuild and I’m sad to report that, for the most part, things here are not much different than they were 4 years ago.  Don’t get me wrong, the debris and garbage have been cleared… but the land is still barren and remains an empty shell of a town (actually a few towns) that once was great.  But, I do not want to be negative here.  I want to generate understanding.  It is not completely illogical that the rebuilding process is moving so slowly.  It is very hard to comprehend complete devastation and where to begin to rebuild an entire city (cities actually).  Not only that, but how do you rebuild a city so that it’s better equipped in the event that is should ever face another disaster like this? It’s not easy.  It takes time.  I admit, I complain constantly about the stagnant recovery and I shouldn’t.  Being a resident and eye witness I should be understanding of the very statement I just made about how hard it really is to rebuild after complete devastation, but living in the stagnation and harboring memories of what once was is not an easy task.  If you want to say I have courage, then say it is for just that… living here among this when so many others have moved away.  But don’t misunderstand me.  I completely understand why so many (more than not) people moved away afterward… they were homeless, they were jobless, they had families to care for and they needed to proceed faster than the conditions would allow.  I was more fortunate in the fact that I wasn’t rendered homeless or jobless and didn’t have a family to care for, so I stayed.  I’m not a hero, I’m just a person.
I’m a person forever changed after this devastation.  But a person changed for the better in ways I cannot begin to describe in a blog or a letter or in any words that even I could understand.  You see, I was blessed with the ability to give to others.  I was able to house others for up to two years after the storm and I was able to feed and care for others in ways that so many could not.  This was humbling for me.  This was awesome for me.  From the moment the storm ended and the years that followed, I was able to help and it was wonderful.  I guess my only mistake in that period was not taking a moment to consider my own feelings of pain because I continuously convinced myself that I didn’t deserve to feel pain since I was so much better off than the average person.  The losses that I suffered were not so much material though.  My friends moved away, almost all of them.  My two best friends, one who lived up the road from me that I spent much time with and one I’d spent my whole life with and shared time with daily.  That was a tremendous loss for me.  The places that I liked to go for fun, the places that I attended school, the landmark of my first kiss, the physical locations of many milestones in my life… gone forever… that was a tremendous loss for me.  But I became so absorbed in helping others in moving forward that I didn’t mourn my losses for quite some time, at least 2 years after the storm.   And helping others healed me and made me a better person.
But another thing that changed my outlook was seeing the good in others.  In these modern times I had come to see people as selfish and uncaring.  I had grown bitter as the media continued to show horrible crimes and selfish actions of people day in and day out.  Each day that passed made it harder for me to believe there was any good left in the world.  Each day it seemed my heart grew colder … until Katrina.  Immediately following that storm, I saw people reaching out to help one and other.  I saw people from all walks of life, standing in long lines waiting for supplies… holding each other as they cried.  Race did not matter.  Age did not matter.  Financial status did not matter.  We were all one … for once.  It was amazing and beautiful.  Even though the circumstances were so hard, we were one.  If was fantastic.  People were helping each other without even asking.  If one saw another struggling, they immediately helped.  It was simply amazing.  It was great.  And then came the others.  Before the government stepped in, the Christians came … from everywhere.  Whether or not you are Christian, you have to respect these people who came as quickly as possible from all over the world to aid us …  Living in tents just like the residents …  Working round the clock to feed and clothe the people of the area and eventually working toward building homes for the homeless.  The kindness and giving that poured in was another thing that truly changed my heart.  As time passed, it wasn’t just Christians but several organizations of people with good hearts who came to help.  Groups of people who were part of no organization at all, but just wanted to help came too.  Groups of people who formed organizations just to be able to help, they came too.  Again, I find myself in a position where I could write a novel just about the change of heart that occurred within me … about the kindness I saw daily … about the good that surrounded us here.  But this is my last blog in the series, so I need to make some other points too.
Many of you have asked about my status today.  As you have read, when Katrina struck I had just purchased a new home and still owned the old one I was in the process of moving out of/renting to a couple.  I had a brand new mortgage that was costing a rather large sum on top of an old mortgage that was supposed to be paid with rent I was obviously no longer to collect (that home was completely destroyed).  After struggling for 2 years as I supported the bills of 2 households (including one that no longer existed) and the financial needs of myself and anywhere from 7-4 additional residents in my home (depending on the time frame) I found myself on the brink of bankruptcy.  I could not receive government aid or any favor due to the fact that on record I appeared to be financially better off than most so I was not eligible for any form of government aid.  My vehicle, though it was paid for, was falling apart.  I was in a bad financial state.  I had to sell my only good home in order to make ends meet and just as I thought I would have to start all over again, like everyone else, God had saved one more blessing just for me.  My employer had a program to rebuild the homes of all employees devastated by the storm.  I had originally refused to be a part of the program due to the fact that I was so much better off than any of my fellow employees, but when my boss learned of my struggle he insisted I join the program and rebuild on my original piece of property.  Today, I am in a new home thanks to that blessing.  Today, I am on my feet again thanks to that blessing.  I didn’t come out ahead, but I broke even … still better off than the average person here.  And, I admit, I still feel somewhat guilty about that but I shudder to think where I would be today without it.

Bridge Restores a lifeline to a battered town (NY Post original date: May 29, 2007)

Sometimes a bridge is more than just a bridge. The new span across the copper-colored St. Louis Bay connects today’s diminished reality to memories of a more generous past, a hopeful link to the return of better days. And it has ended the isolation, physical and mental, of a place that once considered itself a jewel of the Gulf Coast, a sun-baked collection of picturesque old frame houses that Hurricane Katrina smashed, then severed from its brethren to the east. The surge from the storm wiped out the concrete bridge carrying U.S. Highway 90 that had stood for a half-century. The recovery is creeping along. Wind off the bay is still the loudest noise in the empty-seeming downtown, whistling through ruined buildings and banging loose siding. Before the storm Bay St. Louis was a favored seaside retreat for New Orleanians — the historian Stephen E. Ambrose had lived and written here before his death in 2002 — and, coming from the east, a genteel respite from the garishness of Biloxi’s casinos.“It’s major, psychologically,” said Alicein Chambers, who opened the Mockingbird Cafe a year after the storm. “It just feels like we’re moving, we’re making progress, we’re going forward.” Before, “we were all just on this little cut-off island,” she said; now, “we’re happy to be part of the coast again.|
The partly illusory feeling of isolation — the east-west Interstate 10, just 10 miles to the north, has been available throughout — was nonetheless pervasive. The old way of communicating with the neighbors in Pass Christian and Biloxi, first by way of the wooden bridge of the 1920s, then the concrete one of the 1950s, had been wiped out. And a seven-minute dash across the bay had turned into a 45-minute commute.“After the storm, we were an island unto ourselves,” said Brian Rushing, a minister at the First Baptist Church. “We truly have been isolated from the rest of the Gulf Coast community.”Bay St. Louis Mayor, Eddie Favre, is still living in a trailer, and the old City Hall downtown is still empty. He has moved municipal functions to a former utility company building on the highway. Downtown, on a deserted street, an injunction scrawled on a vacant frame house — “Please respect our loss. Do not enter” — seems superfluous, as there is nobody around to read it.
Mayor Favre calls the bridge a tremendous psychological and emotional boost.“For 626 days, we felt that isolation,” he said. “The bridge, in so many ways, whether it was walking or fishing, it was just so much a part of our daily life.”

Taken from “Bridging the gap” By Suz (5/17/2007):

Yesterday it finally felt better. Yesterday it finally felt like home. The Bay bridge was finally opened. I rode through my home town and felt happy for the first time since Katrina. I guess, because for the first time, I was able to see progress on our beach front. The best part of our wonderful town remained a ghost town, separated as if a deserted island without a bridge to cross the water. To get to the other half of the Gulf Coast, you would have to drive around to take the interstate, adding about 30 minutes to your ride and a good $5-$10 in additional gas!! We were severed from what we knew. Having lived here all my life, it just felt so wrong to be severed this way. I seldom even drove to the barren beach front any more that used to be my favorite place to go.

Today, for the first time, I took the bridge home from work. “Sweet Emotion” cranked on my stereo, windows down, and a smile across my face. It was a gorgeous day. The bridge, now constructed so differently, made me feel as though I was traveling to a whole new place. It felt strange … but good!
Some readers’ comments:
Neil- I know exactly how you feel Susan.  When I went over the bridge on Thursday it felt like I was free again! .. These past two years have made me feel like I have been trapped on a blown up island.  Although there is really nothing on the other side of the bridge till Gulfport, it gives a sense of freedom that is hard to quantify, or explain to someone that has not been living in Bay St. Louis since Katrina.  The bridge does give some hope that the coast will come back.
Drew- I LOVE this blog! I will keep going back to people have NO IDEA, but seriously, people have no idea how much milestones in improvement can make such a HUGE difference. Like I remember when they put the two trailers and a deck where the yacht club used to be, and I joined all the locals there for a party and it was so nice to have some semblance of progress. So nice. Hell like the celebration of electricity. Just getting f’n electricity was a reason to be excited and have a party. ;-)Friends have a house on the bluff that survived the storm. I will never forget the first party I attended at their house. To see lights at night that were not run by a generator and a working bathroom was something most people can never understand how gratifying it can be. We grilled and drank and I sat back and quietly listened to all the stories. It was a magical night that is imprinted in my memory forever. The new bridge is so glorious. It is a tribute in a way to making things better. The effort put in by so many that have come to help the Bay rebuild is so heart warming. When I drove around early after the storm. Every time I saw a Georgia Power truck, I would roll down the window and thank them. I was so blown away by their commitment and effort to get the job done not even being from there. It is people like that that reinforce my belief in humanity. They came to a place where they were not even going to have basic human services and comforts, and stayed for months until the job was done.

Do not forget us.
We are the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
Remember our name.
We will make history again…
as the people who fought
to revive
the greatest place we’ve ever known…
Our home!-Suz 8/28/2009

Will South Mississippi be recovered in five more years?
By KAREN NELSON – klnelson@sunherald.com
State Sen. Debbie Dawkins, D-Pass Christian, and Ocean Springs architect Bruce Tolar both said progress has been slowed by a holdup in recovery money. It hasn’t flowed where it was needed, they said. Both said they might consider the Coast recovered closer to 20 years after the storm, not 10.
“Five years feels like we’ve been in quicksand,” Tolar said. “I think we’re just now starting to see things happen that we thought we would see three years ago.”
Scott King, director of policy and research at the Gulf Coast Business Council, predicts in the next few years, as the recession fades, the Coast will see an acceleration in construction, leisure and hospitality jobs that will exceed those of the nation.
“We’ve made progress in the midst of a recession and prohibitive insurance rates,” King said. “The recession will take care of itself, and when the insurance rates start to come down, there will be a real stimulus to the economy.”
He said Katrina forced the Coast to work together and gave some cities a chance to look at how they want to grow. But what the Coast will actually look like is hard to speculate, he said.

AFTERMATH – Hurricane Katrina: Five Years Later
By J.R. WELSH of The Sea Coast Echo Aug 28, 2010
Five years later, Katrina has become a bookmark in the lives of thousands. Stand in line at any store, and you’ll hear it over and over: Time is marked by the prelude “before the storm,” or “after the storm.”
Historic homes were left in rubble, businesses were ruined, dreams were shattered. And in the ensuing five years, crime has risen, people who managed to survive the storm have died from Katrina-induced stress or illness, marriages have come apart at the seams.
Jim Thriffiley, a retired educator who served 30-plus years on the Bay St. Louis City Council, has been quietly keeping tabs on Katrina recovery. While the area has sparkling new government buildings and roads rebuilt with federal money, he thinks the progress glimmers on the surface but hasn’t really improved things for ordinary people. Five years later, he said, Katrina’s largest legacy is a lack of prosperity.

“A lot of the people who are under 45 – maybe 50 to 75 percent of those people – don’t have a permanent job where they can work 40 hours a week,” he said. “I see a lot of people who are discouraged.”
With city revenues falling, the loss of the vacation home economy, and a precipitous decrease in population since the storm, Thriffiley fears the area is returning to the low economic tides that flowed here in 1965, when Hurricane Betsy struck Louisiana.

Homesick in my home town
gazing out the window
I pull the blinds down
I mourn for you
more with each day that passes
I wish I could see you through rose colored glasses
I took you for granted
your beauty, your history, your imagery
vanished
I’m lost without you
though I seem to find my way
your landmarks and milestones have all washed away
I’m homesick and broken hearted
ever since the day we parted-Suz 7-29-10





Home Bittersweet Home

29 08 2010

As most of you know, this is the 3rd part to a series I am writing about Hurricane Katrina in commemoration of the 5 year anniversary this weekend.  I ask you to please join me on this journey by starting at the first blog, “X Marks the spot” here: https://suzrocks.wordpress.com/2010/08/26/x-marks-the-spot/ followed by “The Great Outdoors” here: https://suzrocks.wordpress.com/2010/08/27/the-great-outdoors/

It was impossible to get close to my cottage.  The surrounding houses were scattered about like broken toys, matchsticks, piles of lumber and people’s personal belongings … boats, vehicles, and many massive trees.  It’s hard to describe, but just imagine a city … a neighborhood … picture it in your mind. Picture it as if it were a model that you were able to manipulate.  Now imagine putting it inside a tank of water and swirling the water very quickly and then lifting the model out of the tank to see what’s left… this is the best way I can explain it.  This is what every neighborhood in several cities for miles around looked like … apocalyptic. –Suz 8/25/10

Katrina Relief Worker Leigh Russell tells her story of first arriving on the coast in November of 2005 after joining her church’s mission to help the people here:
I left corporate America for life as a minister’s wife and home school mom and have since been on five mission trips, three overseas and two in the United States. The Hurricane Katrina relief trip was the hardest emotionally.
Driving through Pass Christian, a small Gulf-side community just east of Saint Louis Bay, we could see into residents’ homes because entire walls were torn away. Razor wire was a frequent reminder that the area had just recently been reopened. Some of the buildings still standing were little more than picnic shelters, with the remains of roofs held up by nothing but the wall studs. Sometimes only a slab remained to indicate where a home once stood. There might be a foundation or front steps leading to nothing — doors, walls and the rest of the homes were blown away in the storm. Sometimes we would see families picking through the rubble, searching for belongings or anything that could be salvaged from the mess.

Pass Christian, MS

Similar to the result of an atomic blast. The Penthouse Condominiums in Pass Christian, Mississippi, along with most other properties in the area were completely obliterated by Katrina. 100% of all business properties within the coastal community of Pass Christian had been destroyed. In a published damage assessment of Bay St. Louis and Long Beach, Mississippi, Digital Globe stated that the majority of single family homes were destroyed (foundations/pad remain).

Our journey seemed relentless.  My heart longed to check on my family, but I could barely journey within a 3 mile radius let alone venture out toward their location 8-10 miles away.  We encountered more people with more stories.  Stories of riding out this unfathomable nightmare from a tree top, hanging on for dear life.  Stories of struggling to save pets and swimming for survival including a man who had to swim for about 6 hours with his cat under his arm.  So many stories of survival.  Some stories of inspiration and others of desperation.  We followed a woman who had walked many miles to check on her home, she was heading in the same direction as us.  As we approached, her home was gone.  She was shrieking and panicking.  She was trying to understand if she was actually in the right location or if she’d gotten lost.  We were getting closer to Christian’s house and expecting the worse.  She had left her cats there under the assumption it might be bad but not this bad.  She had yet to forgive herself for this decision.  We were praying for the best.
From the outside, her house looked normal.  We had hope, but when we opened the door it appeared as if the inside of her home were a blender that had been stuffed with a mixture all of her belongings and thick, black mud.  It was surreal.  Furnishings resting on high shelves, clothes hanging from a ceiling fan that’s blades were curling downward and dripping water.  We could see a clear line about 6 inches below the ceiling.  The cats began to meow.  They must’ve floated on different items, compacted in that small open space and rode out the storm.  It was unbelievable.  Christian was hysterical.  Tears streamed down our faces.  The cats were skiddish and wild. –Suz 8/27/10

We’d encountered many survivors, stranded just like us in the aftermath of what really felt like a nuclear war or something I just can’t find the words to describe.  The list included an elderly couple who’d lived behind me for years when I was in the cottage.  They had planned to stay in their vehicle until they could find a solution.  Like me, they couldn’t get to their property in that old neighborhood.
We insisted they join us in our safe home where we had supplies and plenty of room.  We also had a man join us who had to swim for his life for 8 hours.  He was new to the area and had moved out here for a job.  He lived on the beach and did not realize what kind of danger he was in when he chose to stay behind.  He was very shaken and weak.  My new home became a safe haven for a few of us who were stuck in this broken town with no way in or out, nowhere to go, and little supplies but still we were better off than most.  This was the beginning of what felt as if we were placed on a survival mission of sorts.
As the days passed, we all had special duties which mostly included obtaining supplies like ice and food from various locations.  The beginnings of the survival techniques included stealing from damaged stores.  But, for everyone, it was the only option.  Stores were guarded by policeman who allowed the scavenging for survival.  After a couple of days, some crews were able to get out to our area and offer ice and Meals Ready to Eat (known as MRE’s, the same time of meals military teams eat when out on missions…etc…).  It was a long journey, by foot, to reach designated areas.  Our team was equipped with hijacked shopping carts and this was the norm of everyone.  We would take turns getting these items throughout the day and in the evening taking turns preparing the meals and sharing in responsibilities. It was work, but it was part of a life changing experience.  Before meals, we would say grace and give thanks for being alive and able to have such comforts among so many who did not.  –Suz 8/28/10

An areal photograph of Waveland, MS

Taken from “Take a left at the pile of debris that used to be…” by Suz July, 2006
Once this coastal town had a remarkable culture rich with art, music, fine people and a New Orleans flair. Today the face of the city is blank, dry and desolate spattered with rubble and debris. Inland, businesses are slowly sprouting but they are owned by strangers and filled with strangers.
Having no remnants of our history, and replacing history with casinos, hotels, condos and such is painful progress. Don’t get me wrong, progress at all at this point is better than stagnating in rubble and desolation. It’s just hard to stomach a complete facelift on everything.
The local scene confuses me. The bars are flashy and big and sparkling new. They are filled with the heavy odor of cheap cologne, and there are 10 men to every one woman. Part of the coolness of being out and about was the competition. Ladies check out the women just as much as the men. The competition is an art.  The local women were all southern beauties to behold.  That graceful dance is missing in the scene these days.

Katrina changed my life in many ways… the way I felt, the way I looked at things.  I awakened me to who I really am.  A survivor.  A person with emotional and physical strength far beyond I ever imagined was inside of me.  The most defining moment, for me, was the day after Katrina.  I woke up early with a plan to seek out my parents.  I knew it would take at least a day to get to their home, my childhood home, but it was the only thing that mattered to me.  I packed a bag with water and granola bars and Christian and I were psyching ourselves up for the long road ahead.  As we gathered our bicycles and stepped out to the street, it was as if an aura surrounded the Toyota Fourunner as it crept down the road toward us.  I watched in awe as my mother and father parked in front of us and jumped out.  Tears streamed down my mother’s face and my own.  My father, equipped with a chain saw, cut their way to us for miles.  They traveled in their SUV that had been flooded in the tidal surge.  It was a miracle that the vehicle was able to make the journey.  We embraced.  For that glorious moment, it felt as if nothing else in the world mattered.  Later, they made it home safely and the SUV was never able to drive again. –Suz 8/28/10

“Many of you have already seen the videos and news stories from the national media. I can tell you that aerial photography, as graphic as it is, in no way shows the true story from the ground. I struggle to find the words. The faces of friends, and family, the hollow fearful eyes as Mississippi Gulf Coast residents, long experienced with hurricanes, know that this is a life changing event,” Keith Burton/Gulf Coast News (article date September 5, 2005) .  “The national news media has given you the big picture on how the Federal and State governments are responding and the news has been bad on that front with widespread criticism. But people just don’t appreciate the scale of what has happened, and how hard it is just to begin to help.”

Thank you again for joining me in this series.  Please return for the next installment, where I will describe my journey post
Katrina as well as the journey of my home.





The Great Outdoors

27 08 2010

This is the second part to a series about Hurricane Katrina.
Please read the previous blog “X marks the spot” to read the first part of this series.

USA TODAY ranked the story of Hurricane Katrina 4th place in their “25 Headlines that shaped History”

Other nations couldn’t help but acknowledge the devastation.   Some headlines from September, 2005:
China Morning Post: “Dollar Dives Amid Katrina Chaos” — The U.S. dollar dropped to a three-month low point against the euro on Friday, faltering as the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Katrina threatened to cripple growth in the world’s largest economy.
TF1 TV(France): It’s unusual for the United States, the number one economic and military superpower in the world, to ask for international help for a domestic catastrophe. The last time this occurred was after the September 11 attacks.
Die Welt(Germany): America looks aghast at a third world situation on its own soil, splintered and full of violence.
The Australian: “Forgotten Biloxi Belts Out the Blues” –The slow drive towards Biloxi is like glimpsing the post-oil future, a scene out of the post-apocalyptic movie Mad Max.

12 hours had passed almost to the minute before Katrina finally allowed us to step outside our safe haven.  It was 5:00 in the afternoon and the sun broke through the clouds and shone down on what appeared to be the aftermath of nuclear war.  We were stunned and speechless…and thankful when we looked back on the house we were in.  Large trees were scattered like match sticks all around the house, having barely missed it.  Most of the roof was intact and damage was minor.  We looked out to the street and among the scattered debris people began to emerge.  Everyone appeared to be in a zombie like state.  We focused on a couple who’s clothes were tattered and torn and they were bloodied and bruised.  We offered them help and listened to their story of how they’d swam for their lives from a home that was washed away in the surge of water just a few blocks away.  They swam for about 8 hours as they recalled.  I get goose bumps remembering this conversation.  – Suz 8/26/10

From “Quarrelling through Katrina” on msnbc.com:
Hurricane enthusiast George “Sonny” Hoffman found himself in the company of an unlikely group of strangers when he went to Waveland, Miss., to meet Hurricane Katrina. Sonny believed the group was in a world of trouble and appointed himself commander. As he tells it, he began formulating plans and back-up plans. Sonny was alone in his belief that the Texan Motel, a mile and a half from the waterfront, would flood. He predicted the storm surge would reach 20 feet on Highway 90 and 7 feet at the hotel.
“Everyone had the sense of relief that when the sun came up that you know — it was over, you’d made it through the night,” says Colleen, even though the wind was still blowing. It was only then that Katrina brought the deluge.
As Sonny remembers it: “It was Robert who brought it to my attention that the parking lot across the street was filling up with water. It had become a lake, the cars were floating. Their lights were on. Then we notice that there’s a river flowing down Highway 90. It looked like the Colorado River.”
Colleen describes it this way: “I walked out to the street to see if I could see anything. And that’s when the wave (came). … It looked like somebody ought to be surfing on it. It had a white cap. … I would have expected a parade of pink elephants before I would have expected this huge wave coming down Highway 90.”

From “Hurricane Katrina: Survivor Stories” on CTVnews:
“We grabbed a lady and pulled her out the window and then we swam with the current. It was terrifying. You should have seen the cars floating around us. We had to push them away when we were trying to swim.”
Schovest lived at Quiet Water Beach apartments in Biloxi, Miss., where authorities estimate 30 people perished.-
Joy Schovest

Just a few months prior to Katrina I had found myself in a very good position in life.  I was poised to begin a new endeavor in property management.  My quaint little cottage just a couple of blocks away from the beautiful Waveland beach front had raised in value dramatically.  I’d remodeled it somewhat and transformed it from an outdated camp style home to an attractive and inviting cottage style home.  I was in a position to move forward, using that home as a propeller toward bigger and better things.  With a good paying job, money in the bank, the humble beginnings of a classic car collection and a valuable home I was able to take a loan against these items and purchase a bigger, better home (under the agreement that my cottage would be rented on a regular basis and the classic cars would be rebuilt and re-sold for profit).  I had moved most of my belongings into my beautiful new home, only about 3 miles from my cottage and was aimed for success.  I got a pretty decent deal on the new home and envisioned it turning more profit and becoming a land lord of sorts.  I had dreams.  The cottage was emptied except the garage full of antiques, collectables, and childhood memories stored in boxes I just hadn’t found the time to move to my new house yet.  The new house was still cluttered with boxes full of valuables, particularly my music memorabilia such as collectable items, autographs and photographs.  It was too much work to sort through it all, so I kept it stored in the recreation room at the new house out of the way until I could find the time.  When thinking of material things, it was a bit ironic that everything I had stored at that cottage and in boxes in the new house happened to be the most important and irreplaceable of all my personal belongings in life … and the only items that were lost in Katrina.  During the storm, in that fateful moment that I stepped down into the recreation room and noticed it flooding it didn’t even dawn on me that I should quickly start gathering my valuables and move them to higher ground.  I guess I was in too much of a state of shock.
I never dreamed I would need to cover my property for flooding.  It didn’t seem fathomable.  The cottage was 13 feet above sea level and had braved many hurricanes in it’s nearly 40 year life span.  The bank didn’t require flood insurance and the insurance company didn’t recommend it.  Of course, it was close to the beach so I wouldn’t have seen it as a safe place to stay simply because of the wind. Besides, I had a new home at least a mile north of the cottage that was deemed hurricane proof by the seller.  And, I have to say, that turned out to be pretty true thankfully.
Christian’s house was not far from the cottage.  After helping a few people we met on the street, we noted that while we still had at least 3 hours of daylight left we should venture to our other properties and survey the damage.  We hopped on our bicycles for what would normally be a 15 minute journey and rode into a 3 hour adventure were we would struggle with obstacles and find ourselves carrying those bikes over our backs while trudging through heavy debris more often than we were able to ride them.  We had no idea what we were in store for…-Suz 8/27/10
Between Biloxi and Ocean SpringsAs I explained in “X marks the spot”, this series will continue for the next few days honoring the 5 Year Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.  Please visit again.  Thank you.
Suz






X marks the spot

26 08 2010

On August 29, 2005  Hurricane Katrina, the worst natural disaster the United States has ever known, made landfall near Waveland, MS … my hometown.  Overshadowed by the flood damage caused by Katrina’s strength breaking the levees in Louisiana, many people don’t realize that ground zero was actually in the state of Mississippi.  At this point, however, that is irrelevant.  For the last 5 years I have been blogging periodically on this topic regarding anything from damage, to recovery, to humanitarians, and many other effects of this life changing event.  Each year, at this time, I post a series of commemorative pieces on myspace.  This year, here on wordpress, I offer you a collage of things I have written about Hurricane Katrina as well as some other items from other sources.  This will be my first series posted on wordpress and I hope that you will join me in this meaningful journey…

What I lost cannot be found
washed away at sea
what I long for cannot be achieved
so I wonder if I should leave
leave behind my home
the home that left me behind
left me in a place that I don’t recognize
-Suz 7/29/10

STATS:
The costliest natural disaster in US history
One of the 5 deadliest hurricanes in US history
The deadliest US hurricane since the 1928 Okeechobe Hurricane
Total property damage $81 Billion +
Upon landfall, Katrina sustained 125mph winds and extended 120 miles from the storm’s center
Katrina maintained strength well into Mississippi, finally losing hurricane strength more than 150 miles inland

Taken from “Hold the Salt Please” by Suz (Original post date September 16, 2008):
“In the wake of all these depressing anniversaries, Katrina & 9/11, I’m feeling a little down.  I must admit, I don’t think of 9/11 as much as I should… though I remember it like yesterday. For days I set glued to the TV in a depressed state as the media continuously replayed the horrific images of the twin towers destruction.  Though, because I don’t actually live near the destruction, after a couple of years this memory was filed on a back shelf in my mind… only to be reminded when the media brought it back to the forefront.  I don’t mean to downplay 9/11, but for me it was best shelved because the depressive and fear-filled effect it had on me was too much of a burden to bear.
Hurricane Katrina, on the other hand, is a horrific event I’m reminded of daily because I live at ground zero.  I live among the stagnating recovery process and dark cloud that continues to loom over my town.  I never got away from it, so I don’t see the progress that some see.  Driving around town this weekend, it felt as though Katrina hit just yesterday.  My stomach ached and my eyes filled with tears.  It seems never ending.  The few friends I have left here are all in the market to relocate now.  Employment is down here and businesses are closing shop left and right.  I have been looking for a job for 5 weeks now to no avail.  I feel like I’ve moved to a miserable place that lacks opportunity or activity, and I’m homesick for a place that is only a distant memory now.”

Taken from “Remembering the Day the Coast Changed” by Melissa M. Scallan (Sun Herald writer):
“Latham, the director of MEMA, and other emergency officials monitored the hurricane advisories and knew Mississippi likely would take a big hit. What they didn’t know was how much of the Coast would be wiped away in an eight-hour span.
Katrina’s beginnings were somewhat different from other storms. It grew from a combination of a tropical wave, a trough and the remnants of Tropical Depression 10 nearly 950 miles east of Barbados. It became Tropical Depression 12 on Aug. 23, 2005, and passed over South Florida as a Category 1 hurricane two days later. The storm weakened only slightly and the eye stayed intact as Katrina moved into the Gulf of Mexico. Low wind shear and warm water fueled the hurricane and by Aug. 28, Katrina took up nearly the entire Gulf and had winds of 175 mph.
Its fury did not discriminate. Katrina killed young and old, rich and poor. The oldest victim was 96-year-old Pearl Frazier of Biloxi. She couldn’t leave the home her late husband had built on Back Bay in the 1970s. The youngest known victim was 2-year-old Matthew Tart of Pass Christian. The 20-foot storm surge overtook the home he lived in on Lorraine Avenue.
The winds were a strong Category 3, but the storm surge topped 30 feet in some places, crushing tens of thousands of houses, churches and businesses and covering many more with water.”

Christian and I sat across the dining table with a transistor radio between us and a deck of cards we tried to focus on playing with. The wind howled outside and we tried to block out scary noises like crashes and bangs.  We were struggling to pick up any radio station and honed in on a a.m. station broadcasting soul music and storm updates out of New Orleans.  Our guts wrenched to the point of feeling physically ill as we listened to the frightening broadcast that began to unfold detailing the struggles for survival in Louisiana, and we were in the thick … dead center of the same storm.   Earlier I had lost the phone signal while speaking to my mother, 8 long miles away from me and screaming about windows bursting and water entering her home.  She and my father, now in their early 70’s, alone in a situation I fought imagining.  I couldn’t fight the urge to have a cigarette inside my home.  I decided I would go into the recreation room to smoke and try to keep it out the house.  I opened the door and stepped down into a fast growing pool of water.  My heart sank.  This house was 23 feet above sea level! My first though was of those, 8 miles south of me and below sea level.  Visions of loved ones flashed in my mind.  I rushed to a window, calling for Christian and we stood in awe watching white caps rolling down the street.  My mind was racing on thoughts of survival and wishing I knew how to swim.  Moments earlier we were praying for the lives of those in danger, and now we were praying for our lives.  -Suz 8/23/10

PEOPLE’s Sept. 19, 2008  issue ran an abridged version of reporter Alice Jackson’s tragic story: When Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Mississippi coast on Aug. 29, she lost her Ocean Springs, Miss., home and nearly all her possessions. Here she describes the storm and its aftermath in greater detail. Here are some quotes from her story:
“Saturday, I evacuated to my friend’s house with my 81-year-old mother, my 28-year-old niece and my sister-in-law. We packed clothes, food and water – plus axes, an extension ladder and flares. That way we could cut our way out through the roof if necessary. As a reporter, I’d covered too many hurricanes where people drowned in their attics because they couldn’t escape the rising water. On Sunday, the news showed the eye of the hurricane heading toward our exact location. That night, before the TV went out, a report said, ‘It’s looking better for New Orleans, and the very worst for the Gulfport area.’ After hearing that, I said to everyone, ‘I want you to forgive me now, because I think I made a mistake. I’m afraid we’re all going to have to fight very hard not to die.’
All night I’d been watching a giant pine tree in a neighbor’s yard. It had been bending mightily, but had stayed rooted. Suddenly I heard a deafening crack, and I yelled, “Run!” Seconds later the tree smashed through the house. We had escaped to the master bedroom closet in the center of the house. My sister-in-law hauled a mattress off the bed and leaned it on top of my mother and my niece. Then we noticed that the walls were heaving, so we raced around the house, opening windows to relieve the pressure build-up. Looking outside, we watched in horror as the house behind us turned into what looked like a living, breathing monster. The roof would lift, the house would expand, and then the roof would fall. Finally, the house exploded.
The next day, we drove out to see what had happened. When we turned toward my street, all I saw was a big lake where there once had been houses, trees and roads.  Finally, about three miles from my property, we were stopped by debris: the remains of what had once been beautiful homes, with tattered curtains blowing from shattered windows and overturned furniture covered in mud. We walked through the debris, which was sometimes head-high.Some women were pointing toward an empty slab. They told us, ‘Last night, there was a house there, and a whole family was in it.’ One woman screamed, ‘Where are the children?’ We walked toward them, and I stepped on something. It was a little shoe, with a leg attached; it was a body, buried in mud. I told the women as calmly as I could, ‘Please don’t pull this out; let the rescue crews do it. You don’t have anywhere to put it, and you can’t just leave it out here.’ My house … it was completely gone. I knelt down on my slab and said out loud, ‘I am so grateful that the people I love have lived.’ And I cried. I had 20 good years in that house, and I feel fortunate.
After I went to Sunday mass in my old church – which was still standing – I decided it was time to stop digging in the mud and start rebuilding my life. I no longer want to live in Mississippi. You know you’ve seen it all when you’ve watched deputies taking ice chests from the local Winn-Dixie to store bodies. I will leave here and make a new life somewhere else.”

Although, winds, flooding and occasional tornadoes accompany hurricanes, most damage and death are caused by the storm surge.  The surge consists of the rising of the sea level caused by low pressure, high winds, and high waves. These are characteristic of hurricanes as they reach land. Storm surges cause significant flooding, and being caught in one is extremely hazardous.
The fall in air pressure with a hurricane helps with the rise in water. Normal pressure at sea level is 29.92126 inches or 14.6969 pounds per square inch. In the wall of the hurricane’s eye, ascending and spiraling winds lift over a million tons of air per second. This process drops the surface pressure as the air soars. The surface of the sea rises one foot for each one inch drop in barometric pressure due to the air rising within the eyewall.
If you think about the weight or mass of water, it is easy to understand why a storm surge can cause so much damage. One cubic meter of water has a mass of 1,000 kilograms. If we look at the weight of water using the British system, most of us are used to, we see that a cubic yard of water weighs nearly 1,700 pounds! (Source: Center for Atmospheric Sciences)

No sooner had the water began to cover the floor of the recreation room, it began to seep out never making it into the rest of the house.  Looking out now, we could see the whitecaps change direction moving almost as quickly as they had rolled in.  It was this suction that put so many lives in danger.  Though we realized we were momentarily safe from downing, we then began to notice the many trees outside swaying close to the house.  We quickly realized we needed to stay in the center of the house and that smoking indoors in the center of the house was not only our best option, but our only option.  We prayed heavily and paced, chain smoking and listening to a voice on the radio telling of how the roof was peeling off the New Orleans Superdome filled with evacuated people.  We were about 6 hours into the storm and about 4 hours past the last time I’d heard my mother’s voice.  I was feeling ill.  I’d become sick thinking of what I knew so many people, so widespread were enduring.  My parents weighed heavy on my mind. -Suz 8/25/10

The Gulf coast of Mississippi suffered massive damage from the impact of Hurricane Katrina on August 29, leaving 238 people dead, 67 missing, and billions of dollars in damage: bridges, barges, boats, piers, houses and cars were washed inland.  Katrina traveled up the entire state, and afterwards, all 82 counties in Mississippi were declared disaster areas for federal assistance, 47 for full assistance. Battered by wind, rain and storm surge, some beachfront neighborhoods were completely leveled. Preliminary estimates by Mississippi officials calculated that 90% of the structures within half a mile of the coastline were completely destroyed, and that storm surges traveled as much as six miles (10 km) inland in portions of the state’s coast. One apartment complex with approximately thirty residents seeking shelter inside collapsed.
A number of streets and bridges were washed away. In the weeks after the storm, with the connectivity of the coastal U.S. Highway 90 shattered, traffic traveling parallel to the coast was reduced first to State Road 11 (parallel to I-10) then to two lanes on the remaining I-10 span when it was opened.
All three coastal counties of the state were severely affected by the storm. Katrina’s surge was the most extensive, as well as the highest, in the documented history of the United States;  there were inundated by the storm surge and in all three cases affecting most of the populated areas. Surge covered almost the entire lower half of Hancock County, destroying the coastal communities. Remarkably, over 90% of Pascagoula, the easternmost coastal city in Mississippi, and about 75 miles (121 km) east of Katrina’s landfall near the Louisiana-Mississippi border, was flooded from surge at the height of the storm.
Although Hurricane Katrina made landfall well to the west, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle were both affected by tropical-storm force winds and a storm surge varying from 12 to 16 feet.
Katrina’s storm surge led to 53 levee breaches in the federally built levee system protecting metro New Orleans and the failure of the 40 Arpent Canal levee. Nearly every levee in metro New Orleans was breached as Hurricane Katrina passed just east of the city limits. Failures occurred in New Orleans and surrounding communities. The major levee breaches in the city left approximately 80% of the city flooded. Levee breaches in New Orleans also caused widespread loss of life, with over 700 bodies recovered in New Orleans by October 23, 2005. (Source: Wikipedia.com)

Please follow me on this journey over the next few days as I post this series about Hurricane Katrina.
Thank you,
Suz






The forgotten daughter

12 07 2010

For anyone who doesn’t know this, the state of Mississippi was the 20th state admitted to the Union.  The state was named after the Mississippi river which flows along it’s western boundary and has Indian roots in the name stemming from “great river”.  Mississippi’s catfish farms supply the majority of catfish in the USA’s seafood industry, while the state also offers a large supply of all seafood in the industry.  Mississippi is bordered on the North by the state of Tennessee, on the East by Alabama, on the South by Louisiana and a coastline along the Gulf of Mexico and on the West (across the Mississippi River) by Louisiana and Arkansas.  There are 5 major rivers in Mississippi and 4 major lakes.  The coastline includes large bays at the cities Bays St. Louis and Pascagoula.  It is separated from the Gulf of Mexico by the shallow

HORN ISLAND, MS GULF COAST JUNE 2010

Mississippi sound and partially sheltered by Petits Bois Island, Horn Island, East & West Ship Islands, Deer Island, Round Island and Cat Island.  I’m telling you all of this because I think many people don’t know Mississippi and it’s time you should.  Mississippi is the forgotten daughter of this nation in my opinion and Mississippi is a beautiful gem somehow kept secret from our brothers and sisters that need to know.  There’s a reason why I’m telling you all of this, so please don’t get bored and stop reading.  It’s important to me, and it should be important to you too … even if you live in a favored state of this nation, Mississippi is still your sister.

While the media does not favor this great state, Mississippi is not what they may lead you to believe.  The media wants to convince you that we haven’t moved forward since the civil war.  That our mindset remains prejudiced,

OPRAH WINFREY IS A MS NATIVE

backward, and ignorant.  They don’t want you to know that great musicians, authors and artists came from this humble state.  They don’t want you to know about the culture and beauty that is overflowing here.  The coast of Mississippi hosts beautiful beaches, classic homes, talented musicians and artists and some of the best fishing any enthusiast could ever ask for.  The coast of Mississippi was the place where Hurricane Katrina actually made landfall 5 years ago this summer.  But, the media overshadowed that fact with reporting of our neighbor and more popular city, New Orleans.  The difference, however, is that New Orleans flooded due to a failure on their local government’s part by ignoring repairs to their levee system that was decades overdue while Mississippi’s coastline faced the brunt of this (the nation’s worst

WILLIAM FAULKNER IS A MS NATIVE

natural disaster in history).  Mississippi was raped and pillaged and in areas like Bay St. Louis, Waveland, and Lakeshore the damage completely wiped out homes and businesses up to 8 miles inland and widespread destruction so deep inland that even the northernmost cities of the state faced destruction.  But, while the people of Mississippi were ignored by the government, media, and celebrities looking to lend a hand we remained strong and took matters into our own hands.  We are a resilient people who are no strangers to being the forgotten daughter, so we worked hard to do things on our own.  And we were blessed by many volunteer groups who did come to aid our efforts in rebuilding the secret gem that is the Mississippi Gulf Coast.  But once again, despite the fact that this information is important  … this is not what I am here to blog about today.  However, I am here to blog about the fact that we are yet again treated as the red haired step child of this nation and now I’m going to tell you why.

HURRICANE KATRINA SATELLITE IMAGE 8/05

JAMES EARL JONES IS A MS NATIVE

I am a resident of the resilient and beautiful Mississippi Gulf Coast.  I was born and raised here.  This is my home.  I love this place.  Before Hurricane Katrina, the cities of this coast had it all … quaint little shops and pubs lining the beach, fine dining restaurants and entertainment as well as prosperous industries in seafood and tourism.  We have been struggling to rebuild what we lost and we have held fast to our hopes and dreams of recovery.  Today, in the wake of a disaster that heavily overshadows Katrina, many of us are losing our strength, our hope and our dreams and waking up to just how forgotten we truly are here.  Once again, I don’t want to write this as if any reader is living under a rock and doesn’t know the disaster I speak of, but I’m speaking of the BP Deepwater Horizon rig explosion that occurred April 20, 2010 and continues to spew millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico daily. If, by some crazy chance, you don’t know what I’m talking about you can read about it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deepwater_Horizon_oil_spill .

During the last 3 months we have learned all about the damage to Louisiana’s marshes and seafood industry and Florida’s beaches…etc… We have seen footage of what is and isn’t being done to protect these popular states’ coasts ecologically and economically but we have seen and heard very little about the forgotten sister that is Mississippi.

DEEPWATER HORIZON OIL RIG EXPLOSION APR. 20,1010

Though this sentiment has been in my heart since Katrina, yesterday two incidents spawned my desire to write this blog.  First of all, I traveled my local coastline yesterday to see what the BP clean-up efforts were like, what the media was doing and what the people were doing.  What I

BP Clean Up-Waveland, MS 7/10/10

found was disappointing.  I did see some laborers raking the sand and picking up tar patties that washed upon our shorelines and placing them in garbage bags.  The workers were far and few between and absent in many areas.  I waited until they ended their work day before I went out to do my own inspection and what I found was very disturbing.  Oiled litter, tar balls and oiled water was still as far as the eye could see.  Exhausted boom remained desperately needing replacement as oil seeped past it.  It was heartbreaking and painful to see.  I wondered why, but then quickly answered my own question … because the media doesn’t care about Mississippi so the nation doesn’t know that we are being treated this way and the government doesn’t care about the people of this state so our cries will not be heard.  Last night, after a trying day of dealing with this reality, I went out to have a drink.  Much like after Hurricane Katrina, the bar was full of transients who came here to make a buck following yet

Oiled litter post clean up-Waveland, MS 7/10/10

another tragedy.  In other words, laborers for BP here to do clean-up work.  I was seated between men working on Louisiana clean-up to my left and Mississippi clean-up to my right.  They were discussing what their work days consisted of.  The comparisons were mind boggling to a point that I couldn’t hold my tongue.  In Louisiana’s clean-up efforts there are more safety measures, crews, EPA involvement, BP and

Tar balls found post clean up-Lakeshore, MS

Government employees present and more detailed demands.  Louisiana’s clean up focuses on getting the oil out of the water and the marshes as well as getting the tar balls off the coastlines in heavy detail with inspections and safety measures as well as quickly replacing used boom with new boom to continue to protect the delicate marshes and waters of Louisiana.  At the end of the day, all clean-up boats in Louisiana waters must be thoroughly cleaned before returning to their ports as to not carry oil and contaminants inland.  NONE of this is occurring in Mississippi clean-up efforts.  There are less employees working in Mississippi, the EPA & Government are not present, boats are not cleaned and oil and contaminants are carried into our ports daily and Mississippi workers even complained that they feel their efforts are in vain because of the lack of supervision and precaution that are only spreading the oil and contaminants around rather than removing them.  The skimming methods on Mississippi waters are far less professional and hardly working compared to that of Louisiana.  Booms are not being replaced in Mississippi and our marshes are not being protected.  After hearing all I could stand of these comparisons, I blurted out the obvious question “Why?” and received the answer from both sides “Because Louisiana is ecologically and economically more important to the country than Mississippi.”  Ouch.  That hurt.  But, I guess the truth hurts.  And so, I have a few photographs I took yesterday to share this truth with you.  These were all taken within a 5 mile radius of Waveland and Lakeshore, MS , just a small portion of what is going on here that I wanted to share with you because if I don’t care, who will?

EXPIRED BOOM SITS IN FRONT OF DAMAGED MARSHLAND

Oil Mixed with toxic chemicals seeping past boom in marshland

High tides push oil onto the streets

Without proper protection or prevention, oiled water moves inland

Without proper protection or prevention, toxic soup forms in our marshes

Without proper clean up, toxic soup stagnates roadside

Oiled sand post clean up every 6" or less

an all too familiar sight along our beaches...

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SUSAN
7/11/10