The Journey Home–By Plane This Time

When I got to the airport, I lugged in my bags filled with books and tried to check in at a NWA kiosk. But, alas, it didn’t have a record for my flight out of NOLA. Now I had given up my car and I was sweating again. The agent at the counter started working on it and didn’t have a record with the seat that I had on my boarding pass. After about 20 minutes, which seemed like a very long time, she got me on the flight and gave me a new boarding pass. She told me that she was also originally from Minneapolis and was trying to get on my flight as well. I found out later that she hadn’t worked behind the counter for two years and had just been sent there to fill in.

When I looked at the boarding pass to find out which gate to head for, I noticed that she had put me in a first class seat. Wow! When I got to my gate, the Lucky Dog hot dog stand was the only food stand open (ironic since Wendy Diamond’s dog is named “Lucky”). This guy was smart. He had stocked up and was cleaning up the cash! I got a ¼ lb Lucky Dog and took a seat.

I ended up talking with Doug, who had come down from the Detroit area for the Southern Decadence Festival (when I looked this up, it was labeled “The Gay Mardi Gras”). Doug told me that their hotel closed down and kicked them out. When they woke up on Saturday morning their windows had been boarded up! After talking with Doug for a couple of hours, I gave him a book. He told me that he entertains a lot and will display the book on his coffee table and tell all of his friends about it.

On the flight out of NOLA, I sat next to another gay man from Indianapolis who was in NOLA for the Decadence Festival. Behind me were some oil rig workers who had been evacuated from out in the Gulf, and Deb, the NWA agent who had gotten me the first class seat.

On the flight from Detroit to Minneapolis, I sat next to Soren. He is originally from Minnesota and is now a 6th grade English teacher in St. Bernard Parish. He just graduated from college in May and didn’t train as a teacher in college. Over the summer he completed the Teach for America training program in Arizona, then he started teaching 6th grade English in SBP on August 11th. He was grading papers on the plane and told me that the kids are 2 or 3 years behind. He said he doesn’t know how to be a teacher and is just learning, but I think he is doing a great job so far. He has spent time in the Middle East and told the students that they can get scholarships to go to college if they want. I think he is a very interesting person for those kids to have as a teacher—someone who is from a different part of the country and can bring other worlds to them. I told him that I’m familiar with the parish and people who have lived there all their lives and take on the profession of their family (like shrimp fisherman). Many people haven’t traveled and don’t know anyone much outside their parish, which makes it much harder to leave, even for something as urgent as a hurricane evacuation. But with the recent hurricane activity, people in St. Bernard Parish may have to give more thought to living somewhere else and maybe doing something else for a living.

Soren told the kids to evacuate. Some tried to turn in their books and told him that if this is another “Katrina” they are not coming back. The only books they have to read now are in his classroom because there isn’t a library any more. I gave him a copy of my book, told him of Christa’s and Jace’s stories from Chalmette in SBP that are told in the book, and told him if he thinks it’s appropriate for his class, that I will donate more books. I said that part of the story is sad and that they may think it’s crazy to put so much $ and effort into a dog, but that it tells the stories of some people in Louisiana too and it’s also important for them to know that people far away care about them. Jace has children and if any of them are in the 6th grade, Soren will know them.

Soren is concerned about the fate of his school, the kids, and their families. They have gone through so much stress already. The parents are stressed and the kids may have concerns that haven’t been heard because families are just trying to cope. I suggested to Soren that he give the kids journals. He had already done that and he “grades” them confidentially, not grading content, but just giving them credit for writing. I also thought about those kids having pen pals from Minnesota or another place. Soren had thought of that too, but hasn’t had a chance to set it up yet. He’s only been teaching there for less than 3 weeks. I know some teachers here in Minnesota who may be interested in getting their classes involved.

I wasn’t looking for adventure this time. I run from hurricanes. I was hoping to visit, remember the animals that were lost and recognize the people who did such wonderful work after Katrina (+ publicize the book to help raise money for some of these organizations). I left New Orleans in a plane loaded with gay guys who were there for the Decadence Festival and ended up in Minneapolis with people coming in to St. Paul for the Republican convention. Talk about a diverse journey! And somebody please tell me that if the Republicans are so much in favor of family values why they have to keep the downtown bars open later for their convention.

I saw Soren’s family meet him at the baggage claim. He hadn’t been back to Minnesota since the beginning of the summer and had thought that he wouldn’t be back until Christmas. So although Hurricane Gustav was weighing on his mind, he was glad to see his family.

While waiting for our bags, I stood next to a man who works for the City of New Orleans. He had evacuated his family in time to get to the convention. Ironically, the convention may now be disrupted by Hurricane Gustav.

I finally arrived home at about 12:30 am on Sunday morning, August 31st. Gustav was expected to make landfall in Louisiana soon. The outer bands were already causing high winds in Louisiana and Mississippi. I was glad to be home, but very concerned for the people and animals of the Gulf Coast.  

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