Life on Generator Power: Waiting for a city to love its citizens back


We’ll return to our regularly scheduled, coming-of-age segment next week. But seeing that we’re off the grid, we might as well explore a little.

A couple months ago Jen had a family of possums move in under her shed. I didn’t invite them. She swore she didn’t either. But AirBnB being what it is these days, who could really tell?

Jen and I have already delineated certain relationship tasks. I cook and write the blog posts and make the priest jokes. She handles the dishes and any blood and all wild animals.

So the arrival of these backyard guests didn’t really affect me and my department. O’Possum. Good Irish name. Let me know when they check out.

Except they didn’t. Which meant our two dogs became great white sharks at every bathroom break, encircling their prey with champers at the ready.

I filled out an inter-department request for service and took matters into my own hands. Or onto my own playlist.

I chased a family of possums out of our yard by playing WWL Radio.

I wish I was making this up. There’s something about human voices that gets possums moving. Google it. I’d invite you over to see, but WWL Radio already did the trick.

When serious storms quiet everything down, 870 pipes up, bringing needed information and filling the void. My family will be forever grateful to hear “the water is rising” alerts on Katrina Tuesday, convincing them to flee my dad’s downtown office building. WWL Radio did that.

But for all the civic service, I often have found myself playing possum this week, turning down the knob and walking away.

Maybe I’ve just caught them at bad moments. The hours of 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. can be tricky.

Newell Normand has been a great addition, especially in times of public disaster. He coolly cuts through the latest rumor, while also suggesting unthought-of concerns. He asks the right questions – when there’s actually the right person to ask them to. (Ahem. Entergy, are your phones down, too?)

Scoot is Scoot. I like the positivity and togetherness he preaches. Though it would be better to talk to people with information (What’s that about a load imbalance, @EntergyNOLA?), he treats callers with respectful seriousness and playful banter. I don’t mind Scoot.

And then there’s Tommy Tucker. What’s the line? I wish I were as certain about anything as he is about everything.

During Hurricane Zeta last year, with hundreds of thousands of people sitting in the dark (Ida is unprecedented, right, Entergy?), Tommy Tucker began each battery-powered call-in by whining about missing the eye of the storm. How he wanted to see it. How he wanted to dance in it. How he wanted to be utterly oblivious to the world outside because of it.

I know, I know. I’m being negative – incidentally the number one sin a Tommy caller can commit. “If anyone questions that every politician and public work is not working their butts off right now, they’re out of their mind.”

There’s Tommy, stuck in the eye-of-the-storm again.

No one questions 20,000 linemen. Or pop-up cooling stations. Or police-assisted gas stations.

We question how we got here. Again. And while that question is uncomfortable, it’s no more so than the 100° temperatures this week.

Why doesn’t the New Orleans East Power Station black-start? Why does the fallen Avondale transmission tower have the rusted color of an abandoned wheelbarrow? Why have my 150-feet of Costco string lights survived Zeta and Ida but the neighborhood transformer has not?

You see, Entergy, you start with a guidewire and a couple ferrules…

How bad is it right now? Our Calvin Coolidge-era sewerage system has come out of Ida smelling like roses. Comparatively – and metaphorically – speaking, of course.

Entergy can astroturf a City Council meeting with paid demonstrators, but it can’t cover over its sins here. Thankfully, Helena Moreno is already pulling out the receipts. Hopefully, she can make the energy monopoly sweat a little, at least as much as Jen’s 80-year-old neighbor, now in day 6 without power, without a generator, without more than the food he’ll take from us.

But who am I kidding? Nothing will happen. Gustav made energy islands out of us, and Gustav is now 13 years old and entering high school. Time and again, the institutions fail, the people help, another ad campaign is born. Resiliency! Rinse, flood, repeat.

No other citizenry needs fifteen gallons of gas, two propane tanks, and an axe in their attic to get by. No other citizenry is told by politicians and PR hacks and radio hosts that the “first seventy-two is on you” and screamed at “to be calm!” No other citizenry must have contingency plans that run from Andrew to Zeta and a stomach for official excuses running much longer.

President Biden arrives today to tour Ida’s damage. During his last trip to town – in May to tout his infrastructure legislation – he asked the powers-that-be at the Sewerage and Waterboard Plant a most amazing question: “How would you design this if you could start over?” I couldn’t hear the answer over my guffaw. Bienville and Iberville have still not made themselves available for comment.

So we wait, hoping for small structural improvements at least, wait listening to my little generator drone on for another day, another season, another election cycle, another rate increase. We wait because no matter the dereliction of duty from those in charge, the congregation generally gets the right message.

We wait until the spirit of the neighbor filling the gas cans, the family cleaning out the fridge, the restaurant giving away the food springs upward. We wait for a city to love its citizens back.

And when that happens, I’ll invite the O’Possum family over to listen all about it on the radio.




Now a word from our sponsor: the spirit of New Orleans. Most mornings during my four years in Rome I walked to school only after listening to this song. We can name reality for what it is and yet, accentuate the positive.



Digital Sponsors

Become a sponsor ...

Sign up for our FREE

New Orleans Magazine email newsletter

Get the the best in New Orleans dining, shopping, events and more delivered to your inbox.