For my 200th review I figured I'd kick it up a notch with the sentimentalism. I took a trip to New Orleans and decided on taking a tour of the city. That city tour also incorporated a "Hurricane Katrina" tour and it was amazing. One of those experiences where you're really watching a part of history and something that has a long lasting effect for anyone with a conscience.
The tour is set to go for about 3 hours and costs $48 a person (discounted tickets can be found online). The tour bus was stationed at the Gray Line Lighthouse ticket house (French Quarter section of the city), which thankfully was only a few minutes away from our hotel in the Warehouse district. Once there we were greeted by our very friendly tour guide/bus driver. The bus itself was clean, air conditioned and very very comfortable.
Things starts off with an overview of the history of the "original" New Orleans, the French Quarter and why it was built at its particular location along the Mississippi River. French quarter is clearly more than just an awesome spot for Mardi Gras and Girls Gone Wild videos (although I have to say, those are pretty good too). Needless to say, it's a very eclectic area with a lot of great shopping venues, particularly for souvenirs.
The experience goes on past the coastal wetlands where the the guide discusses its history, its gradual disappearance and efforts to raise awareness and preserve what is left of it.
The tour hits its stride when focusing on everything related to Hurricane Katrina. The tour guide gave a first hand chronology of events leading up to the hurricane and the days immediately following the disaster. We passed by the levees and were given a quick explanation on how they failed during the hurricane as well as the improvements made since then.
The bus drove through various sections and neighborhoods of the city. The devastating effect of the hurricane along with the incremental pace of the rebuilding efforts were very evident. There were the neighborhood blocks that had unkempt grassy gaps in them because whole houses were demolished (due to unrepaired damage from the Hurricane and abandonment by the owners). We passed many makeshift memorials for those who lost their lives during the hurricane.
There were many homes that still had tarps on the roofs and windows boarded up due to unfinished repairs from hurricane damage. Every building in the city was searched for victims during the month after Katrina struck. Symbols were painted on homes/buildings by search & rescue teams. The symbols included references to the date, the search unit's identifier, hazards (such as a gas leak), and number of people found. Very chilling stuff.
The tour guide was really an asset when it came to discussing the effects of the hurricane on the city. He knew a lot about how the various sections and even specific neighborhoods suffered, the fate of people in specific houses we passed and the status of a lot of houses that were palatial mansions pre-Katrina but now were rundown and abandoned. Towards the end of the tour we passed by homes that were built or being built differently post Katrina (higher off the ground to reduce future flood damage). Some of those homes were part of a program established by Brad Pitt as part of the rebuilding efforts in the city, particularly the parts with limited resources (9th ward).
All in all, there's no joke or punchline to illustrate how amazing this tour was and how everyone could benefit from a first hand look at a part of American history. It's been like 6.5 years since the hurricane but the reminders are still pretty evident.
Speaking of jokes, I'll end with a quick story and let y'all respond with your thoughts. The tour bus makes a snack and bathroom stop at this rest area that has something like a food court. My travel companion and I decide to get ice cream/milkshakes because the city was still somewhat warm during the mid-fall season. It's my turn to order and the young cashier appears to be kinda tired and a little aloof. I end up placing like three different orders because I was told THREE SEPARATE TIMES by the cashier that a crucial ingredient (vanilla ice cream, bananas, chocolate, etc.) in each order was not available. Flabbergasted, I made a lighthearted reference to the dessert shop's lack of basic ingredients by jokingly remarking "I KNOW KATRINA CAME THROUGH HERE BUT DAMN!".
I finally ended up successfully placing/receiving my order and sat down. My travel companion proceeded to come at me like I worked for FEMA. She acted like I was that little bad kid everyone sees at the mall throwing a temper tantrum. That kid who usually has that leash/body harness on and is cursing up a storm because they can't have everything in the store. C'mon, was the joke really that bad?
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