The American Library Association is holding its annual conference in New Orleans, and I drove down here today from Montevallo. ALA is the first major conference to come to New Orleans since Katrina, and the city is rolling out the red carpet for us.
Driving on I-10 through Mississippi reminded me of driving through the Francis Marion Forest in South Carolina the spring after Hurricane Hugo hit Charleston. All along the highway, I saw trees that had been broken by wind. There were pine trees that were at least 18 inches in diameter that were snapped in two like tooth picks. There were also areas where all the trees seemed to be dead. I suspect these were areas where the flooding was heavy and perhaps the trees stood in salt water for too long.
Those of you who've driven on I-10 into New Orleans know that it crosses the lake. I'm not a big fan of long bridges as a general rule, and it was disconcerting to cross this bridge in the rain with the guard rail missing in several places. I-10 enters New Orleans through the suburb of Slidell, which looked like a ghost town. From the interstate, I saw several apartment complexes that were completely abandoned. There were very few cars on the surface streets, and many of the businesses I saw looked closed. Here and in Mississippi there were a number of billboards advertising various construction companies and, of course, attorneys.
I'm staying in a hotel right on Canal Street, and my room looks out over the French Quarter. I can see a number of tarped roofs, and the foot traffic on Bourbon Street looks lighter than what I remember from my last visit here. But the Gumbo Shop on St. Peter Street is still open, and it's about time to go in search of dinner.
Stay tuned for additional reports from ALA and New Orleans!