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The Suburbanite
  • Steve Doerschuk: ‘Normal’ still new in N.O.

  • It’s no great skyline. It was never supposed to be. New Orleans tends to have its friends in low places.

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  • The old lady in the quiet booth along the Mississippi River, two blocks from Super Bowl mayhem, appeared like a ghost.
    “No, honey,” she said to a stupid tourist who had wandered from the beaten path, “the river didn’t flood. This is the high ground. The water didn’t come here.”
    The wind did, she said. Katrina scowled her worst at the handful of skyscrapers I am looking at right now from the seventh floor of a hotel window.
    It’s no great skyline. It was never supposed to be. New Orleans tends to have its friends in low places.
    How long did it take before things were back up to normal?
    “Honey,” the old lady said, “what would you call normal? The Wyndham didn’t open back up until last year.”
    Later, I walked by the Wyndham. It is about a mile from where I am typing — this hotel is in the shadow of a bridge that got torn apart.
    The restaurant at the Wyndham stretches for a city block of windows offering a city view. I was almost to the end of the block before finally seeing a customer, in a booth by himself with a $12 cheeseburger and a newspaper.
    It was 3 p.m. A block away, the street-level restaurant at the Roosevelt, one of those hotels that would take your life savings, was packed.
    Perhaps it was a reflection of what has gone on since the hurricane of 2005. Some of New Orleans has come back. Some never will.
    As the setting sun casts a lovely light on the buildings, I recall a message from a wonderful fellow who preached at Westbrook church in Canton some years ago.
    Ron Opfer, who is on the other side now, had just returned from a trip to Mount St. Helens, a volcano that had erupted with devastating ferocity in 1980.
    For a while, Ron said, the earth in the region of the volcano was a blackened wasteland. In time, however, life colorfully and resplendently sprang from the ground, until there were no signs of destruction.
    I am in the Warehouse District, looking down on an old sugar processing building where Journey and Rascal Flatts will play a concert tomorrow night.
    It obviously survived Katrina. Some buildings, and more than 1,000 people, didn’t.
    “Honey,” the ghostly old woman at the booth said, “80 percent of New Orleans was under water.”
    The highways leading in and out of the city are Dr. Seuss cartoons, twisting, almost absurd, far above the ground. One towers over this hotel. It is impossible to view it without remembering that people used it to escape the water in August 2005.
    Escape to where? How long were they up there? When did help arrive? Why didn’t they leave before disaster struck?
    Page 2 of 2 - All questions that must have seemed bigger than: How do you like the 49ers’ chances?
    We took our daily walking tour today. Hours and miles.
    The local papers write about not being able to fall out of bed without seeing a celebrity. It’s a myth.
    A press pass crossed my path with Jimmy Haslam, Joe Thomas, Dan Rooney, Roger Goodell, Larry Fitzgerald and a fair number of people I maybe should have known because they were trying hard to seem important.
    When not using the pass, my biggest sighting began with somebody connecting the sighting of a bald fellow with a report that Michael Phelps was in town.
    I got closer. The bald guy wasn’t the Olympic gold medalist. It was a graying quarterback, Matt Hasselback.
    No doubt, the crowds are picking up. A late afternoon swing through the French Quarter wound into swarms of fellow stupid tourists.
    One could barely walk on Bourbon Street at 3:30.
    Some semi-drunk gentleman in 49ers gear called out loud to his traveling companions.
    “This is so fun!”
    Back at the booth, the old woman will be here when the party’s over.
    “I’ve seen it both ways,” she said. “Who can predict the weather, honey? It’s home.”