The Taxi Trilogy: Feeling the Power of Survival in New Orleans

by Gray Cargill on April 27, 2012

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This is part 3 of a 3-part series about memorable stories from cab rides I’ve had over the years. (Click to read part 1, Finding Inspiration in a Las Vegas Taxi, and part 2, A Silver Lining in Orlando.) Today’s story, the third and final story in my trilogy, comes from New Orleans.

New Orleans

New Orleans

My trip to New Orleans was a powerful one in a lot of ways. I had almost planned a trip to New Orleans in 2005 that would have put me in the city right around the time Katrina hit, so when I did finally visit the city in 2008, Katrina overshadowed much of how I processed things. Locals I spoke with still talked about it. They had either made it through the storm in New Orleans or evacuated and returned to pick up the pieces of their lives. Outside the tourist areas, the city still needed much rebuilding (and still does). The most powerful story I heard, though, came from my cab driver, Eddie, who drove me to the airport on the day I left.

As we drove away from the French Quarter, Eddie (who was a tour guide before he became a cab driver), pointed out the watermarks on buildings and noted which areas had been flooded during Katrina. He stayed in New Orleans during the hurricane. I’d taken a tour earlier in the week with a guide who had talked about how repeated hurricane warnings over the years had made people numb to them–like “the boy who cried wolf”–and that’s why so many people stayed. So when I asked Eddie why he had stayed, I was able to couch it in the same terms without sounding like I thought he was crazy for doing so.

Eddie told me that it wasn’t until 15 hours before Katrina hit that the weathermen started emphasizing that the city was definitely going to flood and people needed to get out. But at the same time, the news reporters were shown on the evacuation route, pointing out the bumper-to-bumper traffic and saying the backup was hours long. At that point, no one who was still in the city was going to get out in time, Eddie said.

“You live in Vermont, right?” Eddie asked. (I had told him this earlier.) “When you hear there’s a blizzard coming, what do you do?”

I shrugged. “I make sure I’ve got supplies and hunker down in my house.”

He nodded. “Exactly. That’s what we do when we hear a hurricane’s coming. It just didn’t work out this time.”

New Orleans

New Orleans

He woke up to find his house flooded. But his mattress was floating. So he tipped it sideways to get it out the front door, threw his springer spaniel on top of it, and walked down the street, using the mattress as a flotation device, to a two-story apartment building. There, he found two other men and a dog. The three of them survived by breaking into empty apartment buildings for food and water. They left notes saying who they were and what they’d taken.

Things got hairy. They all had guns, and according to Eddie, that was a good thing when all hell broke loose during the aftermath, with gangs of looters roaming the streets. They took turns at night standing guard and wouldn’t let anyone else near the apartment building. Eventually, the National Guard came by to try to rescue them, but they wouldn’t take the dogs. Eddie and the other dog owner weren’t about to leave their best friends behind. They barricaded themselves in the apartment building and wouldn’t leave. Eventually, some Guardsmen came along who allowed them to bring the dogs and they were transported to the airport. But they couldn’t get on a plane with the dogs, so again, they stayed. Finally, they hopped in the back of a National Guard truck to Baton Rouge.

I expressed my wonder at what he’d been through.

“History’s really fascinating to read about,” Eddie replied. “But it sucks to live through it.”

But like so many other New Orleans residents I met during my stay, it didn’t stop him from coming back. In this classic “Man vs. Nature” story, man was bent, beaten and battered. . .but not broken. New Orleans and its people are survivors, and they love their city. Having visited New Orleans, I understand that love. It is truly one of the most unique cities in the country and well worth a visit by anyone traveling to or within the US.

Gray May 23, 2012 at 6:57 pm

Oh, Vicky, it must go on your list. It IS one of the most unique cities in the US and has so much to offer.

Vicky May 23, 2012 at 1:27 pm

I have always wanted to go to New Orleans but have yet to make it over there. I have heard that is it definitely one of the most unique cities in America and hopefully I’ll make a trip there soon.

Gray May 18, 2012 at 2:01 pm

Have fun, Opal! I’m sure you will. New Orleans is a great town.

Opal May 11, 2012 at 5:19 pm

Wow- what a powerful story! Like you I love talking to cabbies- their stories always intrigue me.
I’m heading over to New Orleans in two weeks and am traveling solo. I’ve travelled solo before but I must admit I prefer to have a companion. I will read you post about what o do in New Orleans and report back

Gray Cargill April 30, 2012 at 1:29 pm

Did you live through a hurricane, Jeremy? That’s got to be one of the scariest things ever. I’ve got to say, we’re pretty lucky in Vermont. We don’t usually experience weather that’s too violent (although we did get nailed with a hurricane ourselves this year, which was shocking, since we’re so far from the ocean).

Jeremy Branham April 30, 2012 at 1:05 pm

I can’t say that I am all that interested in New Orleans. It has an incredibly fascinating culture and I love the French connection. However, reading Eddie’s story was an eye-opener. I lived through a hurricane in South Carolina (Hurricane Hugo) and there was a lot of damage done. However, my experiences were nothing like his.

And I loved his quote about history – great to read about, sucks to live through it. I’ve never thought of it that way before.

Gray Cargill April 30, 2012 at 12:26 pm

His story was pretty powerful, Andi, that’s for sure. I can’t imagine living through something like that.

Andi of My Beautiful Adventures April 27, 2012 at 5:45 pm

Wow what a powerful post!!!

Gray April 27, 2012 at 5:28 pm

Thanks, Rashmi. I’m glad you feel the same way about New Orleans. It’s a special place, for sure.

Gray April 27, 2012 at 5:17 pm

Bess – Check the sidebar under Categories and you’ll find a category for New Orleans under “Destinations”. I wrote quite a bit about it when I first returned, and also a post earlier this year on the “must do” activities in New Orleans. I think you’ll love the city. Have fun!

Gray April 27, 2012 at 5:14 pm

Agreed, Tracy. You’ve got to admire anyone who survived Katrina. I remember watching it on the news and thinking even then it was very post-apocalyptic. And I was like you, too, with the criticism about why would people stay when a hurricane is coming and why would you want to rebuild a city below sea level where it could just happen again? Visiting the city really made a difference in my attitude. There’s an argument for travel right there: it really challenges your preconceived notions.

Gray April 27, 2012 at 5:07 pm

Thank you very much, Kate, that’s kind of you to say. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

rashmi April 27, 2012 at 4:13 pm

This is a heart-touching story. I have been to New Orleans and I agree with you that it is a city one should visit.

Bess April 27, 2012 at 1:19 pm

Great story. I’m going to New Orleans in a month, so I’ll have to fish around your site more more posts on it.

Tracy Antonioli April 27, 2012 at 9:24 am

Wow. I sincerely cannot imagine living through that. That’s like post-apocalypse kind of stuff. Wow.

The thing that struck me about New Orleans–and the reason it has become my new favorite city in the world–was the people, and how attached to the city they are. And how knowledgeable. But really, when you go through something like that with a person–any sort of tragedy–it brings you closer together. The people of New Orleans suffered through that together with their city, and I think they came out closer and stronger in the end.

I hate to admit this, but when Katrina happened, I was very cavalier about the whole thing. I was all like ‘well what do you expect with a city below sea level, between a gulf and a river and a lake?’ I am so, so, so, glad I was fortunate enough to travel there, because now I KNOW why New Orleans was worth saving. It’s more a living entity than any other place I’ve ever visited. And it is so, so fortunate that it survived.

Kate Convissor April 27, 2012 at 8:27 am

Lovely, evocative trilogy, Gray. I used to talk to cab drivers, but lately I haven’t. Good lesson for me, and thanks to you for listening.

I was in New Orleans pre-Katrina, and it is such a unique town.

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