Sunset after a storm.
The storm blew out. We got this. This sunset.
I went to one of my usual places. Not because I’m lazy, which is the norm around dinnertime, but because I knew I would have something if I just waited a while. And, because I like some kind of subject in the foreground of my sunset pictures. Even if it is just power poles.
There is a lot of post production going on. Nothing really great comes straight from the camera. Even pictures of nature. Film or digital capture just can’t “see” the way the human brain sees. But, our human brains can help our images. To be what we see.
That’s not what I want to talk about today. We can bat this ball around forever. Most of you who are not photographers would just get bored.
I want to talk about my city. I want to codify my sometimes rants. My ravings. After learning what we did about the Sewerage and Water Board, I’m livid. Furious. Irate.
Let’s start with this.
I’ve been “home” for six years. I came back at a time when I thought things were improving. I kept coming back during the years in between. I kept working at hurricane recovery from a distance. This place was home. Sure, things were still coming back from the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina and the consequent flooding, which is now generally called “The Federal Flood.” But, it appeared the city was getting better. Healing. Recovering,
Things are getting worse.
Crime is way up. The murder rate is skyrocketing. The shooting rate is higher. People are getting violently mugged in locations and at times when that rarely happened pre-storm. There aren’t enough cops to patrol the city even with huge amounts of overtime. State Troopers permanently patrol the French Quarter because tourism is our sole major industry. Private guards patrol neighborhoods that can afford it. My neighborhood pays for it. The jeep guards are great, but they can’t arrest anybody. They hold them until the NOPD arrives. Which is sometimes never.
Crime ties in nicely with gentrification. Most of the people who make the city what it is can no longer afford to live here. Many of the Mardi Gras Indians and the Benevolent Societies who I photograph during second lines and Indian events no longer live in Orleans Parish. The only people left behind seem to be the bad guys. And… the people who can afford to live in gentrified neighborhoods. Despite moving here for what they perceived to be our culture, music, food and old buildings, they want things to be like the places that they came from. Oh, and they don’t want to pay for services.
Which brings me to infrastructure. The streets. I live in a good neighborhood. I live on a corner. One street looks like Berlin in 1946 with potholes, patches and craters. The other street is half cobblestone and half pavement. It expands and contracts depending on the weather. We are lucky. There are streets in some neighborhoods, like Lakeview, that are not drivable. Of course, there is the electric power. Lines are patched, re-patched and left hanging to the point that two squirrels on the line at the same time means a power failure. In this day and age of all things digital, that’s disaster. It also means we buy a lot of storm lanterns to use without the arrival of bad weather.
All of this brings me to our latest flooding. Our latest rounds of lies from the people who are supposed to keep us safe from the weather. From flooding.
On Saturday when the storm dumped all that water on the city, it was a “100 Year Storm.” That would be fine, if we didn’t already have another “100 Year Storm” two weeks prior. And, if last summer’s flooding of about 70% of the river parishes in the state wasn’t also a “100 Year Storm.” Then, we had a few pumping stations out. First, it was four, then eight and finally sixteen. Then, on Thursday all of our phones went off at about 3 am to tell us there was a fire in the turbine station which provides electric power to the pumping stations. Only a few of the pumping stations from the 9th Ward to Jefferson Parish were working. The mayor kept us updated throughout the day; mostly by making excuses that amounted to the catchall phrase, “who knew?” He’s supposed to know. One of his titles is President of the Water and Sewerage Board.
It turns out that of the 8 or so turbine stations located throughout the city, most of them have been offline for years. Waiting to be repaired. Or rebuilt. When this latest one caught fire there was no backup. Supposedly, as I write, the turbine has been repaired and two backup generators are on their way from Florida. During the highest point of hurricane season.
We have FEMA money to repair the street. To repair our hurricane damaged pumping stations. To repair our turbines. Even to clean the entire system which means pipes and gutter drains. We are talking billions of dollars.
Yet, nothing really gets done.
Well, that’s not true. Some things get done. The man who ran the Sewerage and Water Board decided to retire on Sunday, after word of his lies first surfaced. He leaves at the end of the month with a $176,000 a year pension. Seems that he is a 28 year civil servant.
And, I wonder about the state of my city.
Think about it. People retire after 20 or 30 years of city employment. After 20 or 30 years of not doing a good job. And, they get rewarded for it when they retire. They leave the city worse than they found it.
Now, the mayor is bringing in an outside firm to stabilize the water board since so many top officers were forced out in a matter of days. No bid. No city council approval. Follow the money. My money. My neighbor’s money.
And, I wonder about the state of my city.
At the end of the day, everything has gotten worse in the six years since I’ve been back. Much worse.
The mayor thinks he would be a good presidential candidate in 2020.