This one has been percolating around my head for several days now. Juan O Savin stated during one of his video streams that the United States of America just needs to have one perfect day, and I think I know what he means by this. Some of you might be getting concerned that this is going to turn out to be a big Juan O Savin fan site, and I can assure you that this simply is not the case, however I've been meaning to get this written down for more than a few days now and there's no time like the present.
Again, all caveats are in play, you cannot take my word for anything. I'm not an insider, I don't know Juan O Savin personally, but I do have some life experiences to draw from, and one experience in particular resonates with this phrase.
What do you think of when you hear the words "one perfect day"? Are you thinking about a sunny summer day, beautiful weather, a picnic and time spent with your best friend or your family? Maybe your perfect day is the opportunity to be the first skiers to go down a mountain with fresh, untouched powdery snow. Or perhaps it's an amazing fishing trip, where you caught the biggest fish anyone had ever seen.
In my opinion, this is not what Juan is talking about. I believe that he is actually talking about my perfect day. I could be wrong about this, or maybe I'm just bending his idea to suit my idea and they still mesh even if they're not necessarily equivalent. Let me try to explain.
I used to live in New Orleans, Louisiana with my family, which was smaller then than it is now. Neither my wife nor I were born in the south, but we felt very at home living in the city, even with all of its vices, due to its rich history, the amazing variety of people, the excellent food, the mystery and the opportunity.
Hurricane Katrina effectively ended all of that for us, and we relocated to another part of the country to start over. In the weeks leading up to Hurricane Katrina I recall having vivid dreams of the streets of the French Quarter completely flooded and lapping over the edges of the sidewalks, and in one dream in particular I remember being surprised as I stumbled across an abandoned laptop lying on the sidewalk in the rain.
When not sleeping, I kept seeing weird people with an odd shine to their eyes going about their business in the quarter, and I would always get the worst chill of apprehension when I passed them. There was something sinister about them, and I felt as though they were measuring me up every time I passed. Thankfully they always passed without incident.
When the news first alerted us that the hurricane was on its way, I looked at the trajectory and declared that Katrina was not going to hit Louisiana as the news was claiming, but would rather swing further east and likely make landfall in Mississippi. By this time we had already experienced a few hurricanes in New Orleans and having paid attention to the forecast trajectory and then later the actual trajectory, I was pretty confident that my assessment was accurate. History would bear witness as Hurricane Katrina crashed into the Mississippi coast causing massive damage. What I had not anticipated, however, was how the high speed winds on the outer bands of the storm would reach New Orleans and force a barge through a canal wall, starting a chain reaction of destructive flooding across the city.
The day before the store was to make landfall my employer offered to let us stay with him, and we took him up on his offer because his house was located in the Historic Garden District of New Orleans. It had three stories, and I reasoned that should flooding occur, we could relocate to the upper floor, which would not be possible in the bottom floor apartment in the French Quarter we were renting at the time. Our pet dog and cat came with us, and away we went with the few groceries we happened to have in the refrigerator at the time.
Hurricane Katrina came and went as we huddled indoors, howling and hurling wind and rain at the building for several hours through the night. The power went out very early on so we suffered through the storm in the darkness. We were very lucky no windows were broken, and eventually the storm died down enough that I was able to find some sleep.
The next morning we inspected the damage. A tree had fallen on my boss's SUV. There was a gas leak that was solved by shutting off the main line. There were a lot of fallen branches and leaves and debris, some telephone poles had toppled and were potential hazards, and we decided the best course of action at that stage was to sit tight and wait for emergency services and road crews to come and take care of the damage.
We were completely unaware that the Lower Ninth Ward had already flooded thanks to the barge that had been pushed through the canal wall, and the waters had destroyed the walls of neighboring canals, starting a cascade of flooding through different sections of the city. The Garden District, where we had chosen to wait out the storm, began flooding the very next day, and very soon we were trapped on the second floor of a flooded home. There were limited supplies, no running water, no electricity and no access to telephone. Cellular services were disabled to everyone except emergency services. Temperatures were in excess of 100 degress Fahrenheit with 70% or greater humidity.
My wife began praying to St. Michael.
The Perfect Day
Our perfect day began either two or three days after the flooding began. In the chaos and absence of electricity it was a little difficult to keep track of the time, so I cannot be certain about how long we had stayed on the second floor of this flooded home, surrounded on all sides by contaminated water and hidden power lines from downed telephone poles.
We were able to get the attention of two men who passed the front of the building in their canoe and let them know that we had children in the building. They said they were already on their way to pick someone up that they were going to transport to safety, but they offered to pick up our two daughters (age two and four) and take them to a nearby shelter that had been set up at the local church. Our initial reaction was to agree to this, because we wanted our kids to be safe and not trapped in a building with no food or water.
Then it occurred to me that their safety could not be guaranteed.
"Either we all go," I said, "or none of us goes." It did not escape me that by uttering those words I could have doomed my children, but I believed that it was the right thing to do.
The two men in the canoe returned, and I repeated the phrase to them. They said, "That's fine, of course Mom and Dad can come too." So we loaded up into their canoe, said farewell to our dog and cat and began our journey.
At this stage, my understanding was that to get out of New Orleans, we wanted to make our way to the New Orleans International Airport where we might be able to find a flight to take us to safety. However, to get into the canoe my wife had to wade through the contaminated water, which was waist deep. Because she was two months pregnant she was very worried about what that might mean, and so finding medical attention for her was also part of my plan, but at this stage it was completely up in the air about how we would do these things. That said, I didn't doubt that we would find a way to make it happen.
That was the key through all of this. I never once doubted that we were going to make it out of New Orleans to safety. I had no idea what that meant exactly, whether we would end up in Texas or some other part of the country. I just knew that we would make it to the next step, whatever it was, and then we would adapt to that step in order to make it to the next one, and so on.
The next step, unbeknownst to us, was to receive an immediate act of kindness from our canoe benefactors. They took us on a route to spare us from the site of bodies that they had already encountered, and took us directly to their shelter. While we waited in the canoe, someone ran inside and then came back out with a gallon jug of water, which had been frozen solid.
This gallon jug of water was the biggest gift anyone could have given to us at this stage, because it was hot as blazes and we did not yet even realize how far we had to go. But it was also the first cold water we had enjoyed in days, and it was very well received.
Then the two men took us west in the direction of Harahan by canoe, all the way to a man they knew on dry land. He was in the process of loading up his SUV and wanted to get out of New Orleans that night to meet back up with his family. However, he was worried because he was nearly out of gas and was not sure if he would make it to a gas station that was still operating before he ran out. Despite that, he was willing to drive us a short way to the nearest hospital, and we took him up on that offer.
He drove us into Harahan, and dropped us off in front of the hospital before waving goodbye. I have no idea if he was able to get out before running out of gas, but for his sake I hope he was able to. We walked up to the hospital entrance and were met by armed National Guard who told us we could not enter the building. This was a bit of a blow to our morale, and so we tried to figure out what to do next.
My understanding was if we kept heading west we would eventually reach the airport, but it would not be easy going. The road we were on followed the Mississippi river and would likely bring us through bad neighborhoods. Without any better idea we started walking until we noticed a police vehicle approaching, and we waved him down.
The officer inside was clearly reluctant to help us. We explained our situation and told him we were trying to get to the airport. He stated that he could not take us there because that would require him to leave his jurisdiction, and he was not willing to do that. My wife started crying, and he took some pity on us, telling us to get in. He drove us to the next major intersection at Causeway Rd and then asked us to get out. There were already hundreds of people gathered at this intersection, and the police officer explained to us that buses were going to come to pick everyone up and take them to the nearest staging area for evacuation. Then he drove off.
My wife urged me to join the small sea of humanity before us as I stood there, trying to decide whether to wait for buses or to move on. Our two daughters were clearly tired by this point so I decided we would stop and wait. In the crowd, we must of stood out because shortly afterward a young man walked up to us and introduced himself as "Brown". He had with him a six month old pit bull, and he asked us if it would be okay if he tied his dog up to the signpost next to us. He promised that his dog was well behaved, and she proved that by sitting quietly as he walked away, talking to some other people gathered in the crowd. This was clearly his neighborhood because several people recognized him, but as we waited I noticed he kept an eye on us the whole time.
By this point the water in that gallon jug was running low, and then a pickup truck arrived. On the back of the truck were large bags of ice, and people swarmed around it, clamoring for a bag. I waited patiently until almost everyone had grabbed a bag of ice, and I walked up, thanking the men profusely as they handed me one. Until I made eye contact with them and thanked them, they seemed irritated by the pushy crowd, but they nodded at me before driving off.
I used the ice to refill the gallon jug, and we waited a bit longer. Finally, an empty tour bus showed up, driving slowly around the turnabout at the end of Causeway road. The driver looked out at the sea of humanity, then made an abrupt U-turn and drove away without stopping. There went our ride to the staging area.
Brown came back and said the sun would be setting soon, and we needed to leave. He brought with him a shopping cart from a nearby convenience store and commanded my wife to get in it with my two year old. He also tied his pit bull to the front of the cart, and I got behind it to push. We then started our trek on foot down the Causeway road, heading north to the I10 intersection where the staging area was located.
Several others walked with us, notably elderly people who needed help. Earlier I had noticed Brown making sure that they were part of our group and that no women, children or elderly were left behind. My understanding was that if we were caught outside in that part of New Orleans after nightfall, we would have to contend with the local gangs, and there would be violence.
As we walked down the Causeway road, police cars pulled up behind us and demanded that we get off the Causeway. By this time we were at the top of an overpass, and there was literally no way to go except forward or back in the direction from whence we had come. I heard someone mouthing off to the officers, informing them that if they were so desperate to get us off the road they could give us a ride or get out of our way. With that the officers left, and we continued on our way.
About a half hour later some pickup trucks arrived, and the drivers let us know they would take us the rest of the way to the staging area. We hopped in the back and enjoyed the respite from the long walk. By the time we reached the staging area, the sun was setting.
Compared to where we had been, the staging area was truly a sea of humanity, with thousands of people waiting on the side of the highway for an opportunity to board one of dozens of busses that were parked by the road. We took an opportunity to sit and get our wits together. While we did, some women asked us if our kids were hungry, and when we indicated they were, they offered some fresh pieces of fruit to our daughters. We thanked them, then after conversing a bit more came to the decision that we needed to get on to one of the buses rather than sit outside as it continued to grow darker.
We got up again and headed on to the highway, and the first few buses at the front of the line were already packed with people who were also evacuating. On the other side of the highway, helicopters were landing and taking off, delivering rescued patients to a makeshift triage that had been set up directly beneath the Causeway overpass. We made our way along the line of buses until we reached the end, and that was when I realized that these buses had intentionally parked with their doors against the guard rail so that nobody could get on.
I sighed, and turned us in the opposite directly to see if perhaps we could find another way to get on one of the available buses. It was right at that moment that a man dressed in medical scrubs ran up to us and asked us if our children were okay. At that point I was carrying my two year old daughter, who was fast asleep. I let the man know that our children were fine, but that my wife was two months pregnant. He nodded and said, "Follow me," and led us through the crowd to the makeshift triage area.
Here there were people lying on mats on the ground. Some were moaning. Some were sleeping. Some were already dead. The man in scrubs grabbed a wheelchair that had been set up by the curb and demanded that my wife sit in it. She immediately balked, "What if someone else needs it more than me?"
"Do you want to get out of here?" the man in scrubs asked. She nodded. He pointed at the wheelchair and said, "Sit. Wait here, and I'll come back when we're ready for you."
We waited and tried not to stare at the dead and the dying around us. My wife was crying softly by this point, and my two year old was still fast asleep on my shoulder as I stood, holding her. My four year old held her mother's hand, seemingly unaffected by everything around her.
After what seemed like a short eternity, the man in scrubs came back and began pushing the wheelchair. "Come this way," he said to me and I dutifully followed. He led us to a large coach bus that had the engine running, and we could feel the air conditioning coming from the doorway.
"This is your ride," he said. "Good luck." We thanked him, and he disappeared back into the crowd.
We got on the bus, and my wife took one seat and held our two year old, while I sat next to her with our four year old in my lap. The bus slowly loaded up with people, some that we recognized from the French Quarter. Eventually it was full, and the driver started the bus up, informing us that our destination was Dallas, Texas.
Even though we were exhausted neither one of us could sleep. The air conditioning was colder than it needed to be, and before long we were shivering. We didn't complain, however, and enjoyed the fact that we were on the way to safety.
About two hours later the bus driver got on the announcement speakers and let us know that Texas had closed its borders to evacuees until further notice. Instead we were to stop in Lafayette, Louisiana, west of Baton Rouge. We were confused about what this meant and became worried as soon as they announced that we would be staying at the local Superdome in Lafayette after we arrived.
I looked at my wife, and she and I both understood that we would not be able to keep our two daughters safe in the Superdome. As soon as we got off the bus we made an immediate detour away from the rest of the crowd and started walking down the road. We ran into a jogger who directed us toward the nearest gas station. With about $500 in cash in my wallet and a phone card, my plan at this stage was to use a pay phone to call a taxi service to take us to the nearest available hotel, where we could clean up, get some sleep and then figure out our next move.
When we found the payphone, it turned out that my phone card was not functional. We went inside the gas station to purchase a new one or try to get some change, but the attendant who was on at that time refused to help us and ordered us to come back after 6am. At this point it was close to 4am, so we left and started heading down a different road, hoping that eventually we would come across some business or establishment, flag down a taxi or stumble across a hotel even though we had no idea where we were, much less how to find anything.
A pickup truck pulled over next to us, and the driver opened the passenger window to talk to us. We explained we had just arrived from New Orleans and were trying to find a hotel. He told us that the Superdome was available for New Orleans evacuees, and we nodded and said we couldn't stay there. He looked at us again, saw our kids, nodded and agreed. He asked us to get in the truck, and said he was on his way to work and we could use the phone there.
This man's name was John, and he drove us to his place of work which just happened to be "Shelter Distribution", a company that specialized in going into disaster zones after a major natural disaster to provide temporary shelter and help with the rebuilding process. While there, we discovered there were no hotel rooms available. Additionally, there were no rental cars, nor were there any buses running, no train, and the soonest a flight would be available was in four days.
As the other workers at Shelter Distribution arrived, word spread about who we were and where we had come from, and soon food arrived, along with an air mattress and blankets. We were asked to use their break room to eat, then they set up the mattress and a television and VHS player with some Disney films for our daughters to watch. We could barely eat all of the food they brought us after having not eaten anything substantial for days, and we immediately fell fast asleep.
One of the employees brought his powered, air-conditioned camper trailer to the parking lot and set it up so we could have a place to stay. My mother purchased our air fare for the flight, so our escape from Louisiana was established. We were taken to a facility where we could all shower, and when we were finished there were new clean clothes and shoes available for all of us, a gift from the employees. We were taken out to eat, we were also brought meals, and the rest of the time we were allowed to hang out in the camper and wait for the day of our flight.
On that day, as we said goodbye to all the kind employees at Shelter Distribution, we were told everyone had chipped in and they gave us money in an envelope to help us get started at our new home. Then we were driven to the airport, we got on our flight, and we made it out.
Weeks later I was able to drive back to New Orleans to collect our pet dog. About a month later we were reunited with our pet cat at the airport, sent to us by my supervisor. We all made it out, safe and sound.
On a day when my family and I needed it the absolute most, we had a nearly perfect day. The day itself did not necessarily go exactly as we would have liked, as we were not granted access to the hospital, and we never reached the New Orleans airport. However, we did find our way to the right people at the right time who were able to give us just enough help to make it possible for us to reach the next stage of our journey without incident, and with the water we needed.
We were given assistance with travel by the two men in the canoe, a driver of an SUV, a police officer, Brown's shopping cart and his pit bull, a pickup truck, a coach bus and John's pickup truck.
We were given protection by Brown and his pit bull in what was undoubtedly a dangerous part of New Orleans to be in after a major natural disaster. He kept watch over us to make sure we made it to the staging area.
We were given some amazing divine assistance in the form of the medical professional wearing scrubs who found us, ordered my wife to sit in a wheelchair and made sure we got on board a coach bus. If that had not happened, we might have been trapped outside by the highway for several days, or possibly weeks, without shelter, food or water, as others were.
John, an employee of Shelter Distribution, found us wandering the streets of Lafayette early in the morning and made the unilateral decision to not only give us a ride, but to bring us to the one perfect business where people would not only fully understand our situation but be willing and ready to help.
Folks, it really doesn't get any more perfect that that.
There are of course more details to this story, but in the interest of getting this out I'd like to stop and finish with this thought. Juan O Savin said America just needs one perfect day.
I think that day may be coming up very soon, in just four more days. Hang tight, pray to St. Michael, and have faith that we will get through this as a nation, under God.
Peace be with all of you.