Sunday, April 25, 2010

Memories Of The Katrina Tour Bus


Modern life is demands that you have to eventually put certain things aside in order for you to make it. If you harp on something too long or get too depressed about it you might end up sleeping in your car because the world isn’t going to wait. In New Orleans we are real good at that because we usually don’t have the resources to put life on pause and give our issues full attention. At least most of the people I know can’t. Every now and then you see something that reminds you just how deep something was or still is.

I was watching Treme tonight and the end the last scene Chief Lambreaux and some fellow Indians were paying tribute to one of his gang who remains were found in his home when the chief went looking for him. In the middle of their song a tour bus rolled through and stopped. The people on the bus started taking pictures like what they were doing was some damn tourist attraction. Let me tell you, going through that experience is something that I can’t describe. Me, my cousin and some of our friends decided to clean out my grandmother and parents’ house. It was bad enough cleaning out my parents’ side and throwing away almost every family memory we had in that house. It was worse doing my grandmother’s side because everyone knew she passed away in there somewhere during the storm and the thought was on everyone’s mind while we were doing it. Imagine looking at a piece of furniture and wondering if she tried to climb on that or where she was in the house when the water finally claimed her. That’s the kind of vibe it was. It was one of the roughest days ever. We were halfway through the task and trying to maintain some sanity in order to finish when all of a sudden a tour bus full of people drove up and stopped on the other side of the street. Here we are standing in clothes full of mold, dirt, water, and a few tears and people are taking pictures of us. We just stared at them for awhile and I think they got a little scared and decided to start moving again. We probably wouldn’t have done anything because it was all too confusing at the time. I’ll never forget that day.

This post is not to make any particular statement about the show. I just want to tell anyone that may have been on a Lower Nine Katrina tour that stopped on St. Claude St. to watch five emotional brothers clean out my grandmother’s house that you can kiss my LOWER NINE ASS!

I now return to 2010 and life in a city that is not supposed to be bothered by this anymore.

26 comments:

Kevin Allman said...

...

...I don't know what to say, Cliff.

K. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
K. said...

Both of us cringed at that scene, and we didn't go through anything.

We took a Katrina tour in 2008, but avoided a Gray Line bus like the one in Treme. We jammed into an unmarked van driven by a guide who had lost her home in the flood. The only places I remember stopping were in the parking lot of a shopping mall, the musician's village, and her house. We took photos while on the move. It was all handled tastefully -- I hope -- and certainly made an impression on those of us in the bus.

We went to New Orleans for Jazz Festival, but that tour is what I remember. But like I say, it wasn't in a huge bus with "Katrina Tour" painted on its sides. And anything we saw was not as evocative as your post.

Anita said...

Dear Cliff - I don't know how you do it except that you are a strong man. They say what doesn't kill us makes us stronger.

The hardest day in my life was something like that and, no, you don't get over it it five years. After twenty years I can report that it's not so much that it ever quits bothering you as that you build up a little removal in time that lets you function. I also hear what you are saying about not being able to afford to stop and mourn.

The part about the tour, and this is just the way I am, I can't understand how people can go and gawk like that, much less think up the tour idea.

I hate it that it happened to you and your brothers. That shouldn't happen to anybody, ever. It's wrong. But the whole thing is wrong, you know.

Sherri Marina said...

The buses still roll through Gentilly. There are fewer now than before, but still....

Kim Hambric said...

People are curious. Hopefully the knowledge gained by driving through ruined neighborhoods eventually helped these areas in some way. But to get on a tour bus and take pictures of those in the midst of grieving -- that is extremely low.

I don't think those folks were intentionally cruel, just ignorant.

Beauty Jackson said...

I'm someone who is baffled when people slow down at car wrecks, so the idea of a Katrina tour was pretty much unconscionable to me. Whenever a person is planning a visit to New Orleans, they ask me, "Well, what Katrina tour do you recommend?" I just give them a blank stare and tell them I can't imagine why anyone would want to see such a thing.

Shari said...

I was walking pepper along the lake one day after Katrina and a family was walking taking pictures of the toppled palm trees and such. I guess they weren't getting the pictures they were looking for. They approached me and asked if I could give them directions to where the "real" devestation was. Then they looked down at the kids and added, "where it's realy devestated and safe for the kids."

Hold on, let me type that in my GPS!

sussah said...

Dear Cliff, This is your best post ever. sp

MBT4679 said...

This is a great post. While it doesn't compare, I find myself feeling similarly when I'm in Harlem and I see tour buses going through, full of White tourists snapping pictures not of the Apollo theatre or other things, but of homless people and drug addicts and abandoned buildings. They take stops at churches and disrupt people's worship services, just to get a peek at how coloreds do church. They come in, Sunday mornings, dressed raggedy as hell, with cameras, and fill in the upper pews, snapping pics of people praise dancing, praying, etc. then abruptly, loudly, and rudely leave.

Like, really?

Editor B said...

I remember the controversies surrounding these tours. At the time, I thought I understood both sides of the argument. Even so, I was basically pro-tour. I thought it was important for people from elsewhere to see the destruction with their own two eyes.

But that final scene in last night's episode — and your write-up here — makes me feel like I really didn't get it after all.

ferngrrl said...

It was a hard scene, showing hard reality. Maybe I'm naive, but it seemed to me that the bus driver was genuinely sorry, that albert's face and words spoke a loud truth to him that he'd not known before. And, yes, of course he continued the tour elsewhere; he had a bus of people and a job to keep. He obviously wasn't from here, or maybe he was--doesn't matter. The media blitzed the Lower 9, and people wanted to see for themselves. A hard way to share the reality of what happened, to be sure, but I wonder if in some cases the pix those tourists took and the stories they told "back home" may not have led some of those many volunteers down--the ones we're still relying on. Maybe, maybe not, I'm just saying.

I find Sonny's repeating lies about his rescuing people more grim. Snakes comin' out of bodies? I see trouble ahead in that guy.

ferngrrl said...

Disclaimer: I hate all tour buses. The ones that wreck our fragile streets and shake our houses, and jam up traffic and spew fumes. The ones that are constant uptown, in Carrollton, and in the Quarter. I hate them and always have. I hate them because they remind me that our city is addicted to tourism. At the same time, I am proud of the often-disturbing history of our city, and wish that tourists would get into *that* as much as they do the Disneyland that was once the Quarter.

T. Clear said...

I was stunned by the power of that scene in Treme, also. But I was with Citizen K. in that van, and those three hours were some of the most powerful and profoundly moving of my life. The woman next to me kept wanting to "chat", and I was unable to, stunned as I was into contemplative silence, a state of shock and something like prayer.
There are so many in the far reaches of this country (like Seattle) who have no concept of any kind of New Orleans, either pre- or post-Katrina. I applaud Citizen K.'s mission to bring NOLA music and culture to a greater audience, and I never pass up a chance to speak of what I experienced in NOLA, again, both before and after Katrina.

(My late husband's mother grew up in New Orleans, so there exists more than just passing connections to this amazing city.)

Leigh C. said...

A city that is not supposed to be bothered by this anymore my ASS. This is going to keep coming up. It came up 2 years ago when the Prospect.1 art biennial stuck a bunch of exhibits all around the Lower Nine and as long as there are still signs of devastation through most of the city, it will keep being a source of conflict.

My heart broke when I saw that last scene. So right and so damn wrong. Go see what your misallocation of tax dollars did, tour bus riders. Uh-huh. Getting past the safety glass of a bus and your own camera lens, though - much, much harder. The hurt, the pain...

jeffrey said...

I am still waiting for Grayline to launch a "Treme Tour" of locations used in the show. The buses can leave from the Fairgrounds every hour during Jazzfest for, say, 40 bucks a person. That way they can finally make Jazzfest a 100 dollar ticket and, in the process, add a ride to the rest of the Disney experience there.

Cold Spaghetti said...

I am so thankful that you are willing to write about this experience. In a topic, a situation, of such tremendous sensitivity -- you're able to pinpoint directly and concisely why the whole bus tour THING may be in good intention (i.e.: showing people so that they may start to understand), but incredibly misplaced (by whose permission and right?) and ultimately, takes advantage of residents (to whom does it benefit?).

Deb said...

Great, great post Cliff. Thanks for writing it, hard as it surely was.

I appreciate that you confirmed - with your own painful story (WITH photo documentation) - that those damn tours, DID in fact happen (there are many who doubt they did).

But more importantly, you couldn't have made the chasm between human suffering and - them "dollar bills ya'll" any plainer.

While I've enjoyed all of David Simon's work since Homicide: Life on the Streets and appreciate the valuable information Levees.org brought to this project, I hope you keep giving us YOUR very important take on Treme.

Your voice feels like "family" for me - not drama. And that, IMHO, is most important in the telling of the story of Katrina because it reaches deep inside, touching one's humanity - first.

Hope you and the family are well.

bayoucreole said...

Man, those darned bus tours were EVERYWHERE...they got on my last nerve. I know people wanted to see the devastation but, we were (some still are) in mourning. People were asking to come inside of my house so they could see ALL of the damage...wow.
I'm back here in Pontchartrain Park and we were flooded with buses that were either going to or coming from Lakeview so, I am with you on that comment...they can kiss mine too.
I love, love, love the series but, sometimes...I have to remind myself to breathe when I'm watching it.

Anonymous said...

From my distant perch, I received e-mail about the tours and was totally against them. I watched the episode last night, too, and recalled the tour bus discussions. But, Cliff, your post explains the pain in enough detail. I do hope someone sends your comments to Simon. If you don't write for "Treme," you should write a book. you have a gift and can explain the pain, the atmosphere, the taste, and the feel of New Orleans, then and now. Please keep on talking about it. PS I also recall the e-mail about the busses full of men with flashlights that came and walked in the Ninth Ward in the darkness of the night.

Editilla~New Orleans Ladder said...

Wow, Cliff. You true story seems to have touched a nerve for the Back of Towners. So now we're over here doing more and more interpreting plot-lines about that fictional (Simon's words) TV show instead of what you told us actually happened.
Kinda like that Tour Bus driver...in the movie "Groundhog's Day" in Hell.
Though unable to comment, I go there regularly for schooling.

I come here for You.

I am so sorry for your loss, man. It is made that much more precious by all that you have given us from your Crib since.
Stike on, Noble Mon.
Strike on.

Editilla~New Orleans Ladder said...

I know my last comment is off base and I apologize to the Towners.

I'm having real trouble finding The Line in this TV Show. The Actual Line.
As Cliff said in an earlier post, Simon is going to peel back stuff that gives me heartburn ...and heartbreak.
Nobody told me there would be days like these...

Anonymous said...

Not from New Orleans myself but I've been on the bad side of a big national "story" that attracted many gawkers and tour buses and this post hurt my heart with recognition. Thank you.

kmcorby said...

Horrible. I'm so sorry Cliff. I can't hardly imagine what it was like to clean out that house -- hard enough to clean out a house in which no one died.

I always thought the tours were despicable. I also used to get hysterical whenever a Katrina storyline was used in any popular entertainment like Law & Order. I absolutely could not tolerate that they were using our tragedy for entertainment purposes.

TREME is different, though.

At least the bus driver in the show had the wit to realize he'd trespassed, and to apologize.

Laura Paul said...

I've taken hundreds and hundreds of people through the Lower Ninth Ward and I understand both sides of the argument - on one hand people are entitled to their privacy and to grieve for their families and their community in private, on the other hand people from all over the country were ignorant, and remain ignorant, of the reality of the situation in the Lower Ninth Ward and across the Gulf Coast Region. If you don't see it for yourself, it's hard to believe how bad things are and how painfully slow our recovery has been.

It's really a question of tact and of respect. There is a way to show people the reality of the situation without being intrusive or improper. It's not easy to do, but it is possible. And no, it probably doesn't happen on a tour bus. But if you're a stranger to the city and you don't have connections here, a tour might be your only option if you want some of the real story. At least your trip won't be entirely about hand grenades on Bourbon Street.

Laura Paul,
lowernine.org

Karen said...

A friend of mine was in town in 2006 and her group was taking the misery tour so I went along.

What struck me most profoundly was that after the tour there was no information given about what local organizations were working on the ground.

So at a time when the tours were really fast and furious the occupants of the bus had no way of knowing if anyone was doing anything.

I also wondered at the time about the Red Cross trucks handing out meals. While we were gutting out our flooded downstairs they would come by and feed the PAID contract workers. My neighborhood was flooded but very active because of it's proximity to unflooded Jefferson Parish. And I thought it was ironic that the paid clean up crews were using the Red Cross as a lunch wagon.

After they would eat they would throw the styrofoam on the ground and we would have to clean up after them.

The last time I even opened a meal they served it was rice and wonder bread.