EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the final installment of our series of interviews marking the fifth anniversary of the worst man-made disaster in U.S. history: the New Orleans levee failures. You can read the other posts here.
Today’s installment is part 2 of my interview with Robert Thompson, owner of Fair Grinds Coffee House in the Faubourg St. John neighborhood. (Read part 1 here). Learn more about local entrepreneurs like Thompson formed the backbone
of New Orleans’ renaissance so far by watching this documentary:
Independent America: Rising from the Ashes.
Q. What are you feeling about the 5-year anniversary?
A. I look at it with mixed reactions. On the one hand it indicates we have reached and survived a sort of landmark, the five-year mark. On the other hand, it implies that we have had enough time to be back to normal. I wish the 5th anniversary could have been just a big "thank you" and recognition of all who did unselfishly help and continue to do so. I dream of the day we can once again be in a position to help others as we have been helped. There would be so much joy in that. For the time being I hope other "misfortunates" know that those who have suffered here can empathize and in our hearts feel and share their pain. Too bad it took Katrina to teach many of us that!
Q. How is your life different since the storm?
A. When I take personal inventory. I know we are still not back to normal. I probably will live the remaining part of my life ‘damaged’. Some call it PTSD, maybe it’s a realistically adjusted point of view stripped of optimistic expectations and wearied of unproductive heroic efforts. Life is different, values are different and motivation harder to find.
Q. What would you tell outsiders?
A. Well, we desperately need tourists again. The Quarter is less vital it seems, and while not empty it seems more vacant. Restaurants are struggling there, and people don't seem to be coming as much. Since we put so many eggs in the tourism basket we are not recovering like we should from that point.
Here are some great resources:
President Obama’s speech observing the fifth anniversary
A fascinating animated time line of the systemic levee failures from the Times-Picayune.
Some movies to catch:
And finally, the final list of books I’ve enjoyed on the subject:
Why New Orleans Matters by Tom Piazza
1 Dead in Attic: After Katrina by Chris Rose
Year Zero, Joe Longo and Jarret Lofstead, editors
City Adrift by the Center for Public Integrity
New Orleans: The Making of an Urban Landscape by Peirce Lewis
One Block by Dave Anderson
Feet on the Street: Rambles Around New Orleans by Roy Blount Jr.