There was a time when this was all fun & games. That is, until somebody got hurt.
You have to be of a certain age – post-1969 Camille (259 dead) and pre-2005 Katrina (1,800 dead) – when the notice of a hurricane approaching New Orleans was no harbinger of doom but rather, a call to party.
A Hurricane Party.
Remember those? All your neighbors would gather on porches and sidewalks and balconies and rooftops waiting for the wind to blow, confident that whatever storm it was would veer east or west and spare our fair city, contented and comforted by the notion that school was canceled, work was closed, and you had nothing but time – and a whole lot of meat in the freezer – to dispense with.
Folks gathered with grills and coals and the last 12-packs of beer from the local Circle K and had a throw down. Guitars and goofiness ensued. During Hurricane Georges, in 1998, me and my neighbors living alongside Audubon Park went out to the golf course and had a contest to hit a pitching wedge or sand iron dead into the face of the gale and see if anyone could make the ball land behind us.
Turns out we could.
It was during Hurricane Andrew in 1992 that I learned how to play Bourre at the house of my friend, the musician Paul Sanchez, while we waited for the end of the world, but the storm turned west and beat the crap out of Lafayette, not us.
Paul wrote a song about that night. It is attached to the end of this post. And every word of it is true. (*Author’s note: In a final verse he did not write, but should have, I wrestled the baseball bat out of Paul’s hands and threw it through his front door window. Thank God no drugs or alcohol were involved.)
Most “OK Boomers” have stories like these. Pre-storm hijinks for a storm that never comes. Until it did. That would be Katrina.
The concept of a Hurricane Party is not not so cool anymore. Not since the subsequent levee failures of 2005 whacked the crap out of New Orleans and killed more of our friends and neighbors than COVID-19 has.
In fact, that may be an apt metaphor. For more than 35 years, hurricanes and their “cones of possibility” or whatever they’re called, reliably and predictably became “meh” moments for the city, during which we tuned into meteorologist Nash Roberts on TV – he of his Magic Markers and white board – from Camille to Katrina, to tell us that all is well, the city will be spared, this is someone else’s problem.
Go ahead and have your party.
*Author’s note: Since I moved to New Orleans in 1984, I had never evacuated the city for a hurricane. I preferred to stay behind and party. Until Katrina, that is, in August 2005.
I was in line at the Winn-Dixie on Tchoupitoulas Street the Friday before the storm, gathering the requisite ice, batteries and various sundries, when the woman behind me in line was chattering with the woman ahead of me in line and said that her cousin had heard from a neighbor that Nash Roberts’ car was gone from his driveway.
I drove home and immediately told my then-wife: “Nash Roberts has evacuated the city. We’re leaving. NOW!”
Nash is gone now – or in a cryogenics lab somewhere – but his word, and actions, were gospel back in the day. And if he was splitting town, you’d be a fool not to follow his tail lights. We left. We lived.
But that event brought the end of an era. A time during which so many New Orleanians gathered in fellowship and good cheer – and booze – to celebrate an unscheduled school and/or work holiday.
Hell, back then, you didn’t even have to call in and make some phony excuse for not showing up at class or work. “Hurricanes’s a’comin!” was all you had to say and it was a busman’s holiday, but without the work-from-home thing. That didn’t exist back then.
Oh, for the lost innocence of pre-Katrina New Orleans. Until the proverbial shhh hit the fan. Until somebody got hurt. Or dead.
And so here we are, somewhere in between a storm that didn’t become a hurricane (Marco) and a storm that is definitely going to be a hurricane (Polo. No, just kidding. Laura.) but, as in so many times past, likely to wreak its havoc upon someone else and not us.
It’s a case of classic New Orleans hurricane preparedness: Light some candles, put some red beans on the stove and hope the storm goes somewhere else. It’s been a mostly reliable juju for half a century. Good for us. Not so good if you have a Cajun last name.
So here’s hoping for the best, for them, for us, for everyone. Until the next cycle spins and the lights go out. And we all wish upon the winds again.