Returning Home to New Orleans, if Briefly

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After an evacuation to Mississippi and Baton Rouge, commentator Chris Rose finally found his way back to New Orleans this week. He describes a bittersweet homecoming to a city that will forever be altered.


Residents continue leaving New Orleans after evacuating first to Mississippi, then to Baton Rouge. Commentator Chris Rose finally found his way back to New Orleans this week. He described his homecoming to his readers on The Times-Picayune Web site. We asked him to tell us about it, too.


I'm one of the lucky ones. I live uptown, high ground, where all the fancy-pants houses are. And they're still here. Amid the devastation, they never looked so beautiful. They never looked more like hope. There are still homes and schools, playgrounds, stores, bars and churches here. Not so many trees, I'm afraid. The Circle K drugstore near my house was looted, but there are still ample supplies of cigarettes and booze. They just took what they needed.

Riding my bike, I searched out my favorite places. I found the Tipitina's dance hall is still there, and that counts for something. Domilise's Tavern, where I get my shrimp-and-cheese po'boys, is intact, although the sign fell and shattered. But the truth is, that sign needed to be replaced a long time ago. Just down the street, I saw a dead guy on the front porch of a Creole cottage, and the only sound was wind chimes. Everybody here has a dead guy story now.

I passed by the Valence Street Baptist Church, and the facade was ripped away, and I walked in and stared at the altar amid broken stained glass and strewn Bibles. The Neville Brothers grew up right around the corner from this church. I sure could stand to hear some serious bayou funk right now, but there is no music here, an unfathomable notion in New Orleans. The church just seemed like a place to take shelter from the storm in my head. I got on my knees and I said, `Thank you, but why? Why? Why?' And I'm not even anything close to Baptist. But I needed to talk to somebody, and there's nobody left here except the military. And every time I try to thank a National Guardsman or some state trooper from the Midwest for leaving his own family to come help us, I start to cry.

When you're on the ground here, the enormity of this thing is simply too big to get your head around. You begin to feel and look like the walking dead, and none of this could possibly be real, not in my town. I haven't been to the kill zone yet. I haven't seen the waters. I haven't been where all property, life and hope is lost. Like I said, I'm the lucky one. All my relatives survived, even the ones on the Mississippi coast. My family is a thousand miles away in Maryland now, and it's impossible to consider months of separation from my wife and children anything but a minor inconvenience in light of the total despair that's around me. I'm sleeping in my own bed at night, without power or water but on the stretch of dry ground that looks like the future of my city, for those who want to come back, that is.

We took the hit, and some of it is still here. This is where we'll make our start. This is where we'll make our stand.

STAMBERG: Commentator Chris Rose is a columnist with The Times-Picayune of New Orleans.

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