The New Orleans Superdome is an imposing figure coming over the bridge. If nothing else, the enormous egg-like structure is a heavy reminder of the turmoil that the city has suffered through. A sign is posted saying that it will reopen in September. I find myself choked up looking across New Orleans and seeing massive amounts of destruction, with scattered recovery.
The cold fog is heavy over all of New Orleans. I can barely make out the cruise ships that linger at the port, carrying relief workers and displaced families. Still, there is something vibrant as we exit the highway and drive into the Metairie. Roofing crews are out in great numbers, working long hours to repair houses. Local businesses have begun returning to normal, signs in their windows pleading for employees. Many offer a signing bonus of over a thousand dollars to wait tables.
Mark and Lui are buzzing, excited to be back in New Orleans. They've been back before and claim the atmosphere is far better. The city seems to have far more life in it. I can't help wondering what they must have seen on their first trip.
We park at Lui's parents house, where a small Filipino woman greets us at the door. She is Lui's mother, and while she looks tiny, her electric attitude makes up for it. I feel warmth as she reaches up to hug me. The house is a place where love grows. I hang out shyly in the back as Mark and Lui talk to the parents. After a bit, we decide we need to eat.
After making several calls, Mark and Lui arrange to have lunch at a real New Orleans restaurant. We are starving, having stopped only at seedy rest stops. Leaving Lui's parents to prepare for an enormous supper, we drive to Lui's sister's house. I hate being in the car and feel crankiness slam into me. A deep breath and a sigh, and I tuck the feeling away. It's not my place to complain.
Lui's sister Celina and her husband greet us merrily, trying to usher us into their house. While it's not my place to say anything, my body is beginning to quaver. I haven't eaten in about 14 hours, and my body isn't happy. Luckily, Mark and Lui feel the same and drag them out of the house. We drive to R&O's, a place that I'm told was underwater. There's a sign informing patrons that bad attitudes will not be tolerated considering what New Orleans just went through. I worry that I'm too cranky to eat at this restaurant, but Mark assures me it will be alright.
We are seated, and all sorts of food is quickly ordered. I'm eager to try almost anything and order a Shrimp Po'boy. Mark is so hungry he begins to devour the free crackers on the table. I'm more patient, excited about the prospects of food I've never eaten. Fajitas and pizza arrive first, which we all greedily consume. Then my po'boy arrives, and I bite into it not knowing what to expect. I still remember that first wonderful taste. People aren't exaggerating when they talk about how great the food is in New Orleans.
Feeling heavy, we all stumble back to the carand take a ride through New Orleans. The atmosphere becomes morose as we pass houses that have been decimated by the storm and flooding. We drive by ports that have been washed away, Celina pointing out places they used to eat at. I barely recognize any structures.
After our heartbreaking ride, we sit down and do something I am quite fond of. We decide to have coffee and pastries. There is a wonderful type of coffee in New Orleans called Community Coffee, that is brewed from coffee beans and chickory. The smell alone rejuvenates me. They also bring out wonderful pastries called beignets, which are like funnel cake. I chat with Celina's husband, who has lots of interesting stories about Mardi Gras. I wonder what the next few days hold for me.