Thursday, September 29, 2005

Kindness of strangers …

The little things add up to something really big. From Tuscaloosa, our first stop outside Louisiana, to Columbus Ohio, our first apartment since this odyssey began a month ago, Hurricane Katrina’s evacuees are being “adopted” across the country.

Columbus is the first place we can call “home.” We expect to be here as long as three months, but had to sign a nine-month lease. “Olentangy Village,” (OV), understands the situation and will let us out of the lease for a mere three months rent. We are paying so little that this will not be a big problem.

Yes, we are living in subsidized housing. I don’t know if our benefactor is OV or the feds (FEMA?). The apartment is pretty nice, but the furniture they are lending us (yes, for free) brings it down a little. How can we complain about stuff like that without sounding whiny?

We are in the “Rivers” section of OV, named for the adjacent Olentangy River. We have three couples-friends in OV, from UNO connections. We have been too busy to establish local friendships, or even to enjoy any of Columbus’ attractions.

How could we be so busy? Susan is putting in pretty full days at Ohio State, earning her continuing UNO pay by doing work related to her position in New Orleans. I am looking for work, taking charge of our finances while trying to advance our insurance claims, and running errands by the bushel. It takes time to set up a household from scratch. I may author a guide for evacuees after we have gotten all this together.

Susan is somewhat at home at OSU. She got her Ph.D. at OSU almost 30 years ago, and has kept up with members of the PoliSci faculty at professional meetings. They have provided her an office (better than the one at UNO), and all the related accoutrements.

My situation is a bit more fluid. We evacuated only days after I had finished the MBA program at UNO. I did some job-hunting in N.O. before Katrina, but cannot say that my attempts were making me hopeful. Columbus seems to have a bit more “vitality” in its job market.

As I register at a county job bank, and with an agency specializing in employment for seniors, I seem to be describing myself as an academic. In parallel I am emailing résumés to local colleges at which I feel I am qualified.


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Sunday, September 25, 2005

How do you define “livable?”

Now that Rita has passed, perhaps the reconstruction and “repopulation” of N.O. can begin. We cannot yet even get into the city to see our house. A preliminary report by our flood insurance adjustor indicated that the first floor is wrecked, but the second floor is OK.

It sounds straight out of “Alice in Wonderland.” When you bulldoze the first floor, does the second stay suspended, or does it lower itself to the first floor? Simple, says the adjustor. Just replace all the first floor studs one at a time. I feel certain that it is easier to save what contents we can salvage, and then plow it under.

Plow our wonderful house under! We felt a sense of loss when we put it up for sale, but this is worse.

Housing is impossible in the N.O. area, and, as I hear it, life is like the frontier --- few provisions or services available. We have first refusal on a couple of apartments owned by friends, but they will probably be ready before we would feel comfortable about moving back.

Columbus is a nice town, and we plan to stay here until the news from home is not so bleak. We expect to have a white Christmas here before that happens.

Matt is at LSU and seemingly doing well. We have not seen him since the hurricane, but talk a couple of times a week. He is living with his friend Justin and Justin’s parents in Baton Rouge. The Bantuelles have been wonderful to Matt and us.

Matt feels almost at home, but occasionally asks about the status of our “real” home. He has offered to try to see our house, but Susan worries about his picking up some dreaded disease from the sludge that now serves as ground level. He still wants to graduate from UNO, but we have no idea what form UNO will take for next semester.

We spend a remarkable amount of time just re-acquiring the near-necessities of life. We have few clothes, and what we have will not be warm enough before long. Neither of us does well “off the rack,” and good alterations are hard to find. Because we don’t know all the stores or the local geography, we are probably not very efficient.

These are pretty minor inconveniences compared to what many have suffered, and we feel incredibly lucky that this is all we have to contend with. And even these are overwhelmed by the kindness of strangers.


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Thursday, September 22, 2005

A plan begins to emerge …

In Monday’s blog, you may recall, we were settling in with our in-laws in Dillsboro IN. The plan was that we would stay with Harley and Jascia Robinson for the four-to-six weeks we expected it to take before we could find a place in New Orleans or nearby. That was Sunday.

This is Thursday. We are working on some finishing touches to our apartment in Columbus, OH. “What happened?” you may ask. In a way we are as surprised as you are.

On Monday a series of events occurred that led us to develop the current strategy. We were beginning to realize that it would be months rather than weeks before we could return to a livable situation in New Orleans. We are, too literally, homeless. Competition is keen for what little housing is, or will become, available.

The Robinsons could not have been more hospitable. They had setup up a basement apartment that was comfortable and private. We were thoroughly enjoying their company, and feeling a sense of home that was warm and genuine. Still, we had expected to be there a month at most and felt that being there for several times that would wear out our welcome.

We then heard (from our dear friends, Steve and Janice Shull) about a nice apartment complex in Columbus that was offering a 70% discount to Katrina “refugees.” We called the “Olentangy Village” apartments and found out that we could get a two-bedroom apartment for $150 a month. Further “sweeteners” included free use of furniture from a local charitable organization.

Susan contacted the Political Science department at her alma mater, Ohio State, and they offered her a fully equipped faculty office at no cost. They had done that for Steve, and the Shulls were living in Olentangy, so now a move to Columbus seemed to bring us a real support network.

We will share some more experiences with you on Sunday.


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Sunday, September 18, 2005

7: It's time to develop a plan ...

As we near the end of our first week in Dillsboro, IN, we are no more certain of what to do next than we were when we arrived.

What will the new New Orleans be like? How does the “re-population” of a great city unfold? What can we do to help?

In a sense we lost three houses. One was our primary residence, another a former residence which we now rent out; the third was a new house that we were building that was physically only the forms in which to pour the slab, but was thoroughly fleshed out in our minds.

Based on what we can tell from 700 miles away, we feel that little will be salvageable. Even though we had decided to sell the Lake Forest house, it was still our dream house for 15 years. We don’t know whether our long-term tenants, Sam and Darlene, will return. Are we going back to rebuild these houses, or are we liquidating our real estate holdings and starting all over?

We have not yet been able to contact the builder of our Lakeview house. We feel certain that he lost his Lakeview home, so he probably has his mind on other things.

We have a contract with a finish date that is impossible for him to meet. He owns the lot, so he may just refund our deposit and build a house for himself there. We suspect that building materials will be hard to get, and that what we can get will be expensive.

Neither Susan nor I have rented in the 20 years we have known each other, but the time may have come. She will be retiring in a few years, and we may stay “light on our feet” enough to consider a retirement location other than New Orleans.

So we have quite a few tough decisions to make, for which we need a little more information. We also have a tough decision as to when we leave Indiana, and where are we going to stay when we get "back home."

Despite all the uncertainty, we are still extremely lucky. All our loved ones are safe and sound, even though a bit scattered and facing similar choices. We were pretty well insured, and we have options.

Maybe facing a few decisions isn’t so bad after all.


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Thursday, September 15, 2005

6: This is so heartland …

From Memphis, our next destination was Dillsboro Indiana. We flirted with the idea of heading south and trying to find an apartment within an hour or so drive of New Orleans, but preliminary phone calls indicated that our chances were not very good.

Dills is less than an eight hour drive from Memphis, but Susan insisted that we make it a two-day drive. I think that the only thing she hates more than a hurricane is a driving trip. So, after over-nighting in Bowling Green Kentucky, we pulled on to Wilderness Lane in “suburban” Dills just in time for lunch with Susan’s brother Harley Robinson.

Staying with Harley and Jascia was the closest thing to home that we could find under the circumstances. They are very busy, so we have the house pretty much to ourselves during the day, enjoy dinner with them, and then watch the latest news on the New Orleans recovery process.

We find the recovery news to be so spellbinding that we have to budget our TV time to get anything else done. CNN’s “wall-to-wall” coverage is our favorite; let us know what you’re watching, and how you feel about it.

In Memphis, someone asked us if Dills had any natural hazards. I suggested that some might consider boredom to be the greatest risk there. It is so unlike New Orleans, so white-bread, church-going, trusting, clean, and “chipper.” I must admit, however, that I am beginning to appreciate mid-western bland.

There are so many defenses we have to build to survive at home. Cynicism heads the list; everything seems to fall short and arrive late. Priorities are based on all the wrong criteria. (Wait a minute. Is it just me? Give me your view.)

Today we expect to receive our DSL modem because it was promised today. Making the arrangements was simple because the service provider and the guy at Radio Shack were so helpful. We worked out at the “Y” today, and they waived the registration fee for us, and let us pay as we go. People help with directions and suggestions cheerfully, and the information they give is clear and it works.

Dillsboro is a very small town. We had to travel 15 miles to the Aurora/ Lawrenceburg area for a major grocery trip. I’ll bet you haven’t heard of them either. Today, it’s the Queen City, Cincinnati, and about 40 miles each way.


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Sunday, September 11, 2005

5: Those Wedding Bells

When last we spoke about our displacement by Hurricane Katrina, we were on our way to Huntsville, AL. There we stayed two nights with Susan’s cousin Fred and his lovely wife Becky. It was a very pleasant visit including a lunch with Fred’s sister, Betty, an enthusiastic liberal activist. (It has been a while since I encountered one of those).

By then we had solidified our habit of ending our day with CNN’s 9-to-11 p.m. coverage of the hurricane aftermath. This has been as compelling theater as coverage of the 9/11 tragedy, Clinton’s legal and moral difficulties, and (for you fellow old-timers) the Watergate hearings.

Then it was on to Memphis for the wedding of my niece, Loni, to a terrific young man named Stacy Harrell. Loni is pretty terrific herself, my oldest niece, and a real live wire.

The wedding was originally scheduled for September 9, 2005 in New Orleans. The ceremony was to be at Sacred Heart Church with the reception at the Botanical Garden at City Park.

For all the elegance of the setting, the 300+ guests knew it would be a great party, because Alan and Mona know how to entertain. Alan is my eight-year younger brother, as sweet and generous a guy as you will ever find. His wife Mona is a beautiful lady, and a really “can do” kind of person. The most frequently spoken question on our side of the family is “What does she see in Alan?” I jest, of course.

Then, 11 days before the wedding, Hurricane Katrina decided to scramble these meticulously developed plans. The aftermath of Katrina meant that we were several months from a wedding in New Orleans, so Mona took her show on the road. Memphis is where Loni and Stacy work, and where many of their friends are, and so Memphis it is.

The wedding and accompanying events, products of just over a week of planning, were perfect. Loni found essentially the same bridal dress in Memphis. Bridesmaids, most of whose dresses “drowned” in New Orleans, all wore black dresses.

What was even more remarkable was the guest list. None of the N.O.-area guests were still at home, thanks to Katrina. Alan and Mona had to track down invited guests who were scattered around the southeast, with a cell phone system that worked only marginally, to inform them of the changes in plans.

For the distant guests, air reservations had to be changed; the airlines were most cooperative. The Peabody Hotel, Memphis’ finest, did an incredible job of pulling it all together. And the most important guests were all there to celebrate together.

The newlyweds’ story made the front page of the Memphis newspaper yesterday.


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Thursday, September 08, 2005

4: Extended Road Trip ...

Memphis, TN. Today we take a pause from our travel diary to highlight some useful Internet resources on Katrina.

From the Search Engine Watch Blog:

Craigslist Versus Katrina from Wired looks at how users of the Craigslist listing service are posting offers of aid and housing to victims of Hurricane Katrina. The key page to check out over there is here, listing lost-and-found (including missing family and friends), temporary housing and volunteer needs.

The Wired article also lists other online resources for checking up on missing people and a Katrina information map based on Google Maps that you can use to tag information such as dry areas or the status of locations.

If you're a site owner with space, the American Red Cross is asking for people to carry variety of banner ads you can carry on your site to help generate donations. You'll find more info here.

Running AdSense? The Jensens blog explains how to carry these ads as an "alternative" ad on your site.

From the ResourceShelf:

Maps/Census Data of New Orleans"New Orleans has 73 official neighborhoods. For all these neighborhoods, this site contains easy-to-use Census 2000 data--this includes households without cars, poverty, age of housing stock, and other demographics relevant to the impact of Hurricane Katrina. This site also publishes historical snapshots of each of these neighborhoods.

Satellite and Aerial Imagery

DigitalGlobe New Orleans, and other Locations, August 31, 2005

Earth Scan Laboratory, LSU

FEMA Photo Library

GlobeExplorer Before and After

NASA, More Images from NASA

NOAA Emergency Response [Aerial] Imagery

Summary info, key images, and additional links here.

Collection of Images from NOAA #1, #2

Aerial Images of Katrina's Devastation


SpaceImaging Some Images Taken September 2, 2005

We will see you on Sunday.


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Sunday, September 04, 2005

3: Diary of the Displaced

Washington, DC: “Displaced” is the word that most often comes to mind, followed immediately by “we are incredibly lucky.” There is also the occasional “it could have been worse.”

We begin today’s journal with an announcement from one of my online businesses:

“Hurricane Katrina Floods Offices of

We are (were?) headquartered in New Orleans until Hurricane Katrina came through. All our loved ones are safe, though scattered about. We may have lost a house and a car, but we are incredibly LUCKY!

New Orleans is a wonderful place and will be back better than ever. We will try to do our part by donating half the net proceeds of all sales of "Release Your Inner Entrepreneur," through the end of 2005, to the American Red Cross. Donations will be earmarked for the Hurricane Katrina relief effort in New Orleans.

So here's your chance to expand your mind while donating to a great cause…”

Making a living

This odyssey began about a week after I received my latest graduate degree and began my semi-retirement. My primary activity in the new structure is finding a way to make a living on the Internet. It’s harder than I expected.

The process is complicated by not having good old “Study” with me. That’s my home computer’s designation on our network. Study knows me well, fills in every form that comes up, and gets to all my favorite web sites with a couple of clicks.

On the other hand, my laptop “Katrina” is more than willing but is just getting to know me. Yes, I backed up my files before leaving home, but let’s say I didn’t do quite as thorough a job as I thought. Well, I was awakened at 5 a.m. and given one hour to get out of the place.

The “Sympathy” Phase

Since evacuating our home on August 27, we have rested our heads in Slidell (LA), Tuscaloosa, and now Washington (DC), where Susan is attending a professional meeting. As we circulate around Washington and among Susan’s colleagues at the convention, we are increasingly being treated “sympathetically.” It’s not a pitying version, but more constructive and supportive.

Yesterday at Macy’s we were picking up a few of the near-necessities of life, like makeup for Susan and long pants for me. When Susan’s saleslady, Raleigh, became aware of our plight, she was immediately involved and supportive. She rounded up a bag of makeup and fragrance samples to give us to tide us over.

My salesman, Abdul, was equally engaged and forthcoming. We e-mailed Macy’s to commend both for their service.

Susan’s colleagues seek her out to get the details of our ordeal, and several offered to help her find temporary employment if needed. These offers went beyond mere politesse; they were sincere. Her current employer, University of New Orleans, is establishing contact with its far-flung faculty but still without any firm timeline for getting back to “the new normal.”

From here

We leave this morning to fly to Birmingham to pick up our car. We have decided to then drive to Huntsville, AL to stay with Susan’s cousins, the Clemens. We then have a few days to kill until Loni’s wedding in Memphis, and then we have to figure out what our personal new normal will be.


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Thursday, September 01, 2005

2: And the rains came ...

Washington, DC: On Sunday we drove from Slidell to Tuscaloosa. It was a beautiful day, but we couldn't help but think about what was bearing in on the folks back home. Ironically, our dearest ones went from the south to the north shores of Lake Pontchartrain, to two locations in Covington, which we had rejected as too close for comfort.

On the road, we touched base with everybody back home, and three couples that we are on a "keep track of" basis. Two couples had driven overnight to Houston, and another drove to Cape Girardeau MO. On our afternoon arrival in Tuscaloosa, Susan reminisced with her friends there while I was getting to know them (lovely people, the Cotters). We had a very pleasant dinner and an early bed time. Running away from hurricanes is stressful and exhausting.

Monday our cell phone/lifeline went out of commission. Whether the problem was excessive traffic on the New Orleans exchanges, or towers down we don't know, but it was pretty scary. Television and Internet reports had nowhere near the detail we needed. Early reports made no mention of the north shore, which we took as good news.

We stayed in Tuscaloosa until Wednesday, then drove to Birmingham to fly to Washington, DC for Susan to attend an APSA (AmerPoliSciAssn) convention. This is our approach to normal life. We had spent the recommended maximum of three days with our friends in Alabama, needed a place to stay and figured DC was as good a place as any.

By the way, Susan was interviewed by CNN, about the "perfect storm," and it should air at 6 pm tonight (9/1).

When we leave here on Sunday, we get our car at the B'ham airport, and the fact that we have nowhere to go may finally hit us. We have a niece's wedding to attend in Memphis on 9/10, and will then stay with Susan's brother in exurban Cincinnati until we have enough information to do whatever comes next.

We are incredibly lucky. Our loved ones are fine, even if we are all homeless. We have no idea if we have a house to return to, or when we might find out. We'll keep you posted.


jbv's Competitive Edge