I spent the final paces of my walk back to the hotel with my head in the clouds, in awe of the city. I had gotten it. My spirit connected with the city and I found out on a very personal and internal level what makes this city important and great. It’s the people and the palpable spirit you feel here that makes this place like no other. The soul of New Orleans is absolutely enchanted. Imagine a modern day Stonehenge. The Druids and other mystical folk of yesteryear aren’t readily apparent on these streets, but behind the plain clothes of today’s average citizen the spiritual DNA is very close to those sages of times past, of that I have no doubt.

The next morning I decided to venture out of the Bourbon Street area that many locals refer to contemptuously as “Disneyland”. The residents of this area were friendly and welcoming, yet, they seemed to have a quiet strength and determination that was as tangible as their hospitality. In the community of Algiers, located in the Orleans Parish on the west bank of the Mississippi River, I walked into the Sortez Café to get directions to 509 Wagner Street, the former residence of beat writer William Seward Burroughs. It was at this address that Jack Kerouac famously visited the author of “Queer”, “Junky”, and most famously “Naked Lunch” in 1949. Kerouac described his visit in what might be the most influential American novel since “Tom Sawyer”, the seminal beat novel “On The Road”.

The workers at the Sortez didn’t immediately know where Wagner Street was, but took the time to walk into another store and find out. The café itself was filled with the smell of Rum Cakes that were so intoxicating I had to buy one even though my stomach was still painfully full from the beignets and coffee I had scarfed down at the Café du Monde a few hours earlier.

Once we left the cool of the café and started down the road a painful truth reared its ugly head. A portion of New Orleans was still without street signs that were presumably blown or washed away. Though the directions we received were good, we missed a crucial left turn and headed out into greater Algiers and away from Burroughs’ previous digs. On the surface this would have seemed like a bad omen, but the fact is, one of the most compelling portions of the trip was spent walking these uncharted streets of Algiers with my assistant, Little Red. On many of the neighborhood blocks houses were left in every kind of variation of disrepair imaginable. Perhaps on a rat could find shelter in there former abodes, and by rat I mean the animal, not those politicians in thousand dollar suits and ten dollar cocktails that have moved at a snail’s pace to try to help the indigeous poor of this blighted land.

With a bit of luck we found our way back to the Sortez and retraced our steps. This time we guessed correctly with regard to where our turn was supposed to be. Only a block away from the beat writer’s former crib was a home laid bare along with tree limbs, clothing, and children’s toys scattered about. The wreckage of the edifice had been moved to the edge of the street for removal, but more work was left to be done. The only visual comparison of this scene I know of is old World War II footage of London after being bombarded1. The toys were a haunting reminder that this yard used to serve as a sanctuary of play and good times for someone’s formative years, now it is in ruin and the only emotional response it invokes is pained spiked sadness.

After snapping photos, we hiked back through the now soaring heat of Algiers. Great drops of sweat pouring down my brow and had Little Red been a lesser person she would have mutinied. It was a huge relief to walk up the steps to the Canal Street Ferry. Finally a place to rest our aching feet! A smile swept across my assistant’s face as we rode the ferry across the Mississippi River to the Central Business District (CBD) in the shade of the lower level.

During the day the CBD is a blend of business professionals, tourists, and down-and-out hangover sufferers just trying to make their way beyond the hurt. Little Red and I strolled along and somehow ended up on Poydras Street. The street’s claim to fame is the Superdome, home of the National Football League’s New Orleans Saints. International news was made here as the sports complex became the temporary digs for some residents in the days following hurricane Katrina. Seeing the sign for the stadium was an important sign and bastion of hope in attempting to make it back to some semblance of familiarity, but a series of Green Fairy-inspired bad decisions once again derailed our plan to make it back to the hotel. We strolled around leisurely holding hands with the Fairy and eventually found ourselves on North Rampart Street, the home of Saint Louis Cemetery number one. This resting place for the dearly departed is significant in that it holds the remains of Marie Laveau.

To the uninitiated this name means nothing, but to scores of creatures both living and dead the mention of Madam Laveau’s name is meant with admiration, amore, fear, and yes, loathing. She is without a doubt the most celebrated figure in American Voodoo. The only thing larger than her popularity may be the tales told of her existence, few of which can actually be proven.

Since her reported death on June 16th, 1881, the priestess has become known as the Queen of Voodoo. It is said she was seen in New Orleans several times after her death. Non-believers attribute this to a daughter who was living-ringer, while the faithful adamantly say it was the Queen showing her spiritual strength from the other side. However, her most legendary feat was using her magic to procure a not guilty verdict for a rich man’s troublesome son. It is said the defendant had an overwhelming amount of evidence against him so his father approached the Voodoo Priestess and offered her a house if she could influence the trial from the spirit world. When the not guilty was handed down Madam Laveau was given the house! At the very least an equally amazing feat is she bore fifteen children.

Finding this crypt was essential to my trip to New Orleans. Fellow “Free Press” co-conspirator and ronin journalist at large, Dave Lewis, committed a grievous sin during his brilliant hurricane Rita storm coverage for “The Free Press” in September 2005. I felt compelled by compassion to beg the most powerful religious person in the city for his forgiveness. In his article titled, “From the Storm Front: Experiencing Rita in New Orleans” Lewis detailed his delirium resulting from the tough conditions, insomnia, and marijuana use along with his unfortunate choice of exorcising those feelings from on top of a mausoleum, gun in hand.

Here is an excerpt from that article2:
    Overwhelmed with elation and euphoria; I crowed in delight: we had displayed the necessary audacity to experience this amazing adventure; the opposing forces of good and evil had ceased fire long enough for us to stumble into this voyeuristic no-man’s-land between them and behold the perfect aesthetic of disaster, the beauty of amoral destruction at nature’s elegant hand. I climbed on top of a mausoleum and shouted curses and taunts at the cemetery’s soggy occupants, my frenzied rant peaking as I pulled my pistol from its holster and fired repeatedly into the storm, which rewarded me with ominous thunder and angry streaks of blue lightning.
Legend holds that if you scrawl three crosses (XXX) on the side of Madam Laveau’s crypt that she will grant you a wish. My comrade had angered the local spirits and I needed to make amends and wishing on Madam Laveau’s tomb was the perfect way to accomplish this. Everything was going well in my search for the crypt until I put my hand up on a large mausoleum to balance myself. This act caused some of the old structure to crumble before my stunned eyes. Little Red looked at me with abject horror. Simultaneously we both looked down at the fallen debris. A knot in my gut formed and I knew my accidental act made finishing this task impossible. I might have even picked up a curse. That damn Lewis has all the fun. If I was going to be cursed anyways I should have fired off a pistol into the midnight dreary of an abandoned city. Instead we left the cemetery as quickly as we could like a band of guilty marauders.

I kept looking skyward waiting for the justice of a lightning bolt to befall my accursed soul. After botching the attempt I thought maybe I could try another way to make amends with the gods, this time for both of us. While walking about we saw what appeared to be a piece of parchment paper on the sidewalk. It was unique looking, so I picked it up. The paper had directions to The Voodoo Museum. It was some kind of weird advertisement. Seemed like something to do while we thought about how I could remove the curses Mr. Lewis and I were now saddled with. It was easy to find and once there I paid $5 and was given a tour. Among the articles found were a “Zombie Whip” and a mummified feline. Not normal museum faire, but some people hang paint flinger Jackson Pollock in a place of prominence, so I won’t quibble. In the back I found an altar. This inspired an idea. I eased my way to the floor and meditated like I my life depended on it. In those moments I pled for forgiveness from the native gods. Lewis and I needed mercy and I begged for it like a starving dog for a bone. Our outrageous acts of disrespect needed to be healed. Friends, I felt a heavy spirit lift that day. However, I think the gods left a reminder as I have been vexed with loud snoring since. I can live with this lesser demon hounding me, even if those around me within earshot of my slumber cannot.

With a spiritual connection to the city verified, deep cleansing of sins accomplished, and my time running short, I turned my thinking back to the city itself. Why was I here? What did this trip mean? What place will Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath attain in the history of America? Will this catastrophe be relegated to “Black History”? And what will become of those people that remained here and those dispersed? When I first took on this assignment I believed the reporting of cold hard facts while enjoying the night life would suffice, but at the end heaviness weighed upon my spirit.

Think past all of the rhetoric on both political sides. Think past the earnest, but misguided remarks of music star Kanye West and his famous “George W Bush doesn’t care about black people” comment.

The facts are, here we are five plus years past 9/11, over a year past Katrina, a few good soldiers past 3000 dead in the ill advised and illegal “pre-emptive” aka “unprovoked” war against Iraq.

Think about that.

Think about how a man was appointed by The United States Supreme Court and has led our country down a decline so steep that most of our citizens don’t believe it. Indeed it is hard to believe! How could a man that lost the popular vote in 2000, “won” the 2004 election with rampant “irregularities” cause this much trouble?

Anyone with the vision of a mole and intellectual integrity of a small child would know why. It’s because the Congress of the United States of America along with the corporate media has been absolutely and emphatically complicit in the fall of our empire to its current state. It is because a lot of our minorities really believe a lot of white people are racists when the fact is middle and lower class people of all races in America have more in common with each other than the wealthy aristocracy that makes most of the money and makes all of the important decisions. While there definitely is a lot of work to do in race relations in America, the subject of class-ism is only a whisper amongst very few. If the people of New Orleans were the wealthy elite I doubt a lot of the bungling would have ever occurred- no matter what the skin color of the residents happened to be.

Money is the membership card of the ruling class in our country. When a person is a billionaire they can use money this way. They can keep our poor mutli-cultural asses away from their places of play. It’s easy. You simply charge five thousand dollars a plate at a political fund raiser to keep the common out in the cold and out of the discussion. The only means of protest we now have is the internet, but the government is allowed to peruse anything and everything you write online. Hell, with the Patriot Act you can’t even check a book out of the library without the government having access to the information.

What does all this have to do with Katrina?


The slow response to Katrina showed us our government is cold and calloused. We have a government that appointed a man whose requirements for being the head of FEMA was showing horses.

And why not?

They certainly got away with it. I hear “the right” in my ear state, “the man resigned, he paid the price”. He should now reside in jail, if not have already been executed for treason. At the very least there should have been a trial for the gross negligence the government showed in the days of and following Katrina. If a contractor built a house and it fell on the occupants injuring some of them he’d be jailed. How no one has been jailed for this farce that led to the deaths of American citizens is an affront to everything good and decent. Indeed Hunter S Thompson was correct when he stated that Richard Nixon should be considered liberal in comparison to the current administration.

Now a few days since returning to my fortified compound in Delmar, Delaware, I realize the magnitude of what I found in Katrina’s wake. While some buildings are in disrepair, some people are still becoming fatally ill with West Nile virus, and life can’t really be described as being easy, the big picture is the heart of New Orleans; namely, its residents. I found them to possess a strength that is as incomprehensible as it is unmistakable. The people have quite frankly weathered a liquid hell. Adding insult to the injury of the hurricane’s fury was government in action, cold hearted con men on the prowl, and questionable decisions from a multitude of people from low-lifes all the way up the ladder to the President of the United States. Yet the people of New Orleans have come through like all great champions do during times of adversity. Their sense of humor is intact and their obvious love for one another, tourists, and even nosey reporters is evident and abundant. Not only did I see the heart of America in New Orleans, I found the flame of the human spirit and both are as inspirational and contagious as they are overcoming.

Like the line in the film “Easy Rider” goes, “We blew it.”

We did indeed by not forcing our government to react with more fervor in the continuing clean up and in the non-existent prosecution of criminals that shirked their responsibility to serve the people of the United States of America. Ah, but the good people of New Orleans are overcoming. The people there are of a strong stock. They have been asked to overcome so much and have been such an example of grace that I believe the rest of America including this writer isn’t worthy of them. They endured one of the bleakest episodes in American history and yet the rest of the country is too collectively apathetic to force any action out of our government. Much like my meditation at the altar of a foreign God, America needs to reflect upon what has happened in their country since 2000 and beg the God of our own individual understanding for forgiveness. We have remained criminally apathetic for too long. It’s time to draw strength from the residents of New Orleans and force our government to live up to the promises, ideas, and sentiments The United States Constitution espouses. To do anything less and the slide of our great constitutional republic will continue and the corporations, along with the best congress and president they can purchase, will lead us lockstep with the wishes of faceless corporate boards we didn’t elect nor could identify in a line up. Let’s begin the process of taking back our country by asking for forgiveness, receiving acceptance, and demonstrating the power of contrition with action.