Katrina Plus Four Months, Part 2 - Riding Through Slidell:
So the old Check In/Check Out didn't make it. The Rude Pundit had used the promise of a po' boy from that old gas station turned beacon of fried seafood sandwich-dom as an enticement to get the Rude Brother to go along on a trip to the New Orleans area. Surely, the Rude Pundit thought, having heard about how so much of Slidell was fine, the Check In/Check Out would have made it. But, like so much else you've heard about recoveries, it's all relative. It's like saying that if we discover microbes on Mars, we've discovered aliens. Well, yeah, technically, but, c'mon, we were promised little green men.

Slidell is a divided city - an obvious line where the floods from Lake Ponchartrain ended extends across a large swath of the town. On one side, there's a kind of normalcy, as if no gigantic storms had passed right over the North Shore. On the other, there's a continuing degradation of the buildings of the town as you ride from I-12 down to the boarded up businesses of Front Street and finally to the absolute destruction of the area approaching the Highway 11 bridge across the lake. At the Starbucks on the corner of Ponchartrain, people wait for FEMA officials to talk to them about flood insurance, for insurance agents to talk to them about other kinds.

The Rude Pundit headed into the neighborhoods where the homes were of people he knew who no longer lived there. During the ride to Slidell, the Rude Pundit had passed at least a dozen trucks towing FEMA trailers, and in this subdivision, many of them were parked on lawns outside of houses, some with Christmas decorations on them. And when the Rude Pundit says, "Houses," he means it in the sense of structure, for every house - every house - was gutted to the studs and foundation. The dirt in front of the homes, which used to be covered by "lawns," held either the enormous piles of debris, the ruined furniture, decorations, possessions, sheetrock, carpeting, that used to fill the houses; or all the detritus of the carried away debris, life reduced to bits of trash, a broken CD, the pages of a book. The Rude Brother noticed a page in the dirt outside of the house of some of the Rude Pundit's friends: it was titled "The Mystery of Atlantis."

This was much the same in subdivision after subdivision, with shopping centers and churches still merely wrecked shells with piles of garbage outside them. Some churches held services in tents, some in smaller spaces. In the wealthier area of Eden Isles, a similar destruction had occurred, although most of the homes had second stories, which were able to be occupied. Outside of one gutted home, a perfectly clean infinity pool was in working order, complete with a waterfall, ready for a dip. And then the Rude brothers headed out to Highway 11 and quickly realized that those with gutted homes were the lucky ones.

For Highway 11 was just a couple of miles of destruction - crushed buildings, small apartment complexes wrecked, boats on the side of the road. One large trailer had one of those disturbing inflatable elongated demi-humans dancing in the breeze outside it. It was an open business: Jack's Discount Cigarettes.

And as wrenching as this was, when you turn left just before the Highway 11 bridge, you understand, finally, in all its stunning simplicity, what happened here. You see empty piles, those vertical logs, row after row of them on the lake. And if you didn't know what it meant, you'd pass them by, ascribing them to historical ruin. But those piles held fishing camps and houses that are simply gone. The sign remains for Vera's restaurant, which used to extend out to the lake and serve up awesomely crunchy and tender fried catfish. Across the road are boats pushed hundreds of yards ashore, piles of broken woods, a shambles. Nothing to look at, so the Rude Pundit headed back to the bridge and on to St. Bernard Parish, feeling the aching mundanity of seeing ruin after ruin.

Tomorrow: St. Bernard Parish and the Lower Ninth Ward.