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Highway To Hell: No Exit September 3, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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Ok, I-59 during the evacuation was not precisely the Highway of Death. Still, many Louisianians were trapped in a miles-long parking lot with no way to exit: not exactly a healthy environment. If no elderly or infirm person died it was mostly a matter of luck. (Note: I went up I-55, the Highway of Shoot Me Now, Its Another Slowdown, but not quite the Highway of Death). So don’t take my word for it: read Loki’s account.

That is Odd, that exits were closed in the most congested areas, and people were not allowed to get off.

Planning my return to Toulouse Street this afternoon, I noticed this:

Lincoln, Pike County – I-55 S at the city of McComb
Last Updated on 9/3/2008 3:00:02 PM
Lanes Affected: Southbound All Lanes
Approximate Duration: 4 hours
Cause: Heavy Congestion
Additional Info: Exits in McComb will be closed intermittently due to high volumes of traffic.

So, when a Federal highway in Mississippi gets really congested the Mississippi State authorities respond by closing the exits so you can’t get off and find an alternate route. I think someone in Mississippi has some explaining to do. Are they afraid that “those people” might get off into back roads where they can’t be controlled? (This is not an exclusive problem to Mississippi. A spokesman for St. Tammany Parish all but insisted on WWL that people who arrived before the blockades were lifted without enough money or gas to go back be moved to the south shore to wait)

Also worth some investigation is Mississippi’s decision to block Louisiana residents access to I-10 East–an interstate, Federal highway–so that the people of the Gulf Coast might evacuate in the direction of the storm unimpeded. Forget Mississippi’s excuse about the Mobile Tunnel. Anyone who’s been to Destin knows that a huge mess on an average Saturday afternoon but there is an alternate route north for people approaching from the west. All they had to do is send the evac traffic up I-65.

What is happening is this: Haley Barbour and the Mississippi authorities are willing to commandeer interstate Federal highways for their own benefit. If those are the “rules” we’re going to play under, I think at the next tropical storm watch the Louisiana National Guard needs to wire the Pearl River bridges and be ready to blow them to make sure we get out first this time.*

*Note for Homeland Security Types: since the DHS probably doesn’t have the sort of high standards of education once required of the FBI, I should probably explain this particular paragraph is a figure of speech known as hyperbole, which I suspect is not on the extrance exam for DHS, and may not be taught in Mississippi public schools.** Hyperbole is an intentional exageration, and in no way indicates that I would approve of this action on undertake it myself. I would, however, unhesitantly take advantage of it were it to occur.

** Yes, that was an insult.

And Because It Is My Heart May 29, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in Dancing Bear, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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In the desert
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said: “Is it good, friend?”
“It is bitter-bitter,” he answered;
“But I like it
Because it is bitter,
And because it is my heart.”

— Stephen Crane

It is not the date itself, the largely symbolic start of hurricane season; the idea that the winds have changed after June 1, that somewhere between North Africa and the convergence zone in the North Atlantic something ominous begins to turn. It is the compulsion of the media at this cusp to flood us with stories like this one from National Public Radio, the tale of a a hardworking family (he in security at a local casino, she a waitress as Waffle House) living with five children in two motel rooms. In less than a week, on June 5, they will find themselves homeless, more than 1,000 days after Katrina struck the richest nation in America.

Steve and Lindsay Huckabee and their five children lost their home when the storm itself swept across the Mississippi Gulf Coast and reduced it to its natural state, a flat expanse of scrub-tree sand looking out on the Mississippi sound. They were driven out of their FEMA-supplied trailer by the formaldehyde which made their children sick. On June 5, FEMA will stop paying for their two motel rooms. There are no places for them to rent suitable for their family. Rents have doubled. They don’t know when they might get a Katrina Cottage, 300 square feet of formaldehyde-free manufactured home to put on their vacant lot.

“It’s not just the people who are on welfare and getting food stamps … it touches every class of person,” she says. “It’s not that easy. It’s not limited to just the super poor people who can’t find a place to live. It’s everybody, pretty much.”

Developers are rebuilding high-dollar homes and condos, but Huckabee says average Mississippi residents can’t afford to live in them.

Glad to see that Mississippi is doing a so much better job than poor, benighted and corrupt Louisiana. The link back to Wet Bank Guide is from September, 2006. So long ago and so little changed. And then we have to reconcile this sort of Pravda/Isvestia happy talk nonsense from USA Today with stories like this by the Washington Post. The only sure truth is that we are lied to.

If you wonder why I would write something as bitter as my post from last Memorial Day, why I consider the United States of America a failed state with which I feel no bond other than the chains they have laid around our necks like those placed around the ghost Marley, consider the season: it is time to be reminded again and again by the professional doom criers how we have been failed and forgotten, treated like some inconvenient third-world ally whose usefulness is passed. The central government have their oil and the port open. They don’t need us.

I am so dumb-struck this morning after hearing that story, sitting in my car with a bitter cigarette in the parking lot waiting for the piece to end with some glimmer of hope, of a happy ending, that I have a hard time finding words that are not sour in my mouth. So instead I go back a year and a half to a Wet Bank Guide post called “How Long, Lord?”, a question that bears repeating.

For how many will it be the last bitter insult in a long train since Federal levees failed us and our city was flooded? I have to wonder if here in the New South, people still take counsel from Psalms, or are we become just another part of a society that taps its foot impatiently to wait for a hamburger or a cup of coffee at the fast food restaurant. Are we ready for this marathon? I recall from my trip down from North Dakota that as close as Jackson, Mississippi the big and little box national retailers gleam clean in the morning sun along a ribbon of interstate highway, calling to people living in small trailers in ruined neighborhoods. How much longer will they resist that call from other cities?

How long, Lord, how long? “. . . Thou feedest them with the bread of tears; and givest them tears to drink in great measure. Thou makest us a strife unto our neighbours: and our enemies laugh among themselves . . .” the Psalmist laments in number 80. Unlike the children of Israel, release for the [returnees to the hurricane coast] is as close as the nearest tank of gas and entrance to the interstate. A conversation with a friend a few weeks back, a couple that came home early and rebuilt and who threw themselves into the endless parade of rebuilding meetings, turned to him talking wistfully of what life would be like in Memphis, and I wonder, how long?

Much comes down to what we can accomplish on our own. The question I have asked here again and again, is this: are we still the nation that weathered the great depression, or who turned back the seemingly invincible Japanese advance into the Pacific? Are we the country that, flush with those victories, erected a home for every soldier and the highways that tied them together, the nation that sent men to the moon.

Those who held the reins of power when Katrina wiped the Gulf Coast clean and the Federal levees failed measure greatness by prowess of arms. They were amply rewarded for their failure in Iraq with a serious thrubbing at the polls this past Fall. I think a greater test is whether this nation can rebuild New Orleans and the hurricane coast. As the blogger Ashley likes to remind us all, they rebuilt Hiroshima. For that matter, they also rebuilt post-war Europe, a fact I am reminded of when I think of the European foundation established to repay that largess which is helping to rebuild the gymnasium at my son’s school.

One thousand days and counting: why do we stay, and why do more come home each day? They come and stay because it is home, and because in the civics class, film-strip America we were all raised to believe in the government does not tell you where to live. We will do it alone if we must, Sinn Fein. It may at times be bitter-bitter, but in the end it is our heart.

P.S. Thank you, Tim, our eternal optimist and resident engineer who knows a thing or two about poldars and dikes and such.

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