Also, I make mention of New York and New Yorkers to make some points of mine. I meant and mean no offense to anyone from or living in New York, and I apologize in advance if that's how you take it, but I'm not changing my words.
As we entered the first area that had noticable damage, we were looking and pointing, talking excitedly. We kept driving... and driving... and driving. Soon we weren't pointing or laughing or making jokes, we were just looking. My friend put his camera away, unsused.
I saw houses without windows, fences fallen down, torn and shredded tarps covering broken roofs. Houses were spray-painted with what we assumed were messages from workers and rescuers. I saw messages like "2 dogs, 1 dead" and "5 cats, no alive" across houses. I saw people lugging garbage bags out to the street curbs. I saw people sitting on their porches, looking around at all the destruction. I saw two kids playing in a yard with only destroyed jungle gyms and roof tiles for company.
We drove more, eventually got to the hotel. As we walked around, I told my friends that I had wanted to order a shirt I saw that said "Show your boobs! (FEMA will send your beads in 6-8 weeks)" for the trip, but decided not to since it didn't seem sensitive. As we walked, we saw dozens upon dozens of similar shirts. Some said "Katrina gave me a hell of a blowjob," some had satellite photos of Katrina and the other hurricane, and at the bottom it said "Girls Gone Wild," one I nearly bought said "Katrina destroyed my home and all I got was this lousy t-shirt, a radio, and a plasma tv."
We saw signs on stores that gave new locations while their old ones were getting cleaned out. People came to us, giving us "tickets" for "having too much fun" and "being too good looking" (that last one gave us a good laugh), and then asking us to buy hats for Katrina victim charity. We all bought some.
While there we talked to many Orleans' residents. Some commented that this Mardi Gras was much smaller than normal, far fewer people, fewer cops, etc etc. Some told us stories of what they'd lost, where they went, who they blamed, all sorts of things.
The one thing they all had in common was that they ALL thanked us for coming. Repeatedly. Some of them bought us drinks to show thanks, or pointed out tourist sites they thought we'd like, or their favorite restaurants and what to order there. All of them said they appreciated the visit and the money we'd bring, all were very polite and friendly, all were great people. One man (admittedly pretty drunk) seemed to be almost in tears when he thanked us.
I don't know about my friends, but I felt pretty damn humbled. It was a quick shift from "Let's take pictures of everyone's broken houses and look at the destruction!" to what we experienced. We did see a small cross-section of residents, of course, but all were positive, humble, and upbeat about the future of their houses and lives.
To make a comparison, after 9-11, there was a great deal of "New Yorkers are so strong" mentality. I remember most the line from the first Spiderman movie when all the New Yorkers were together, helping Spiderman ("You mess with one of us, you mess with all of us!"). Even though I think that line is stupid and it bothers me, New Yorkers still got a great deal of recognition from that line and from other things like it.
I haven't seen anything like that in the media or in the entertainment industry for New Orleans. I haven't seen anyone calling them true Americans, great survivors, strong-willed people. All we get are jokes about how all the government-issued RVs lie unused, or how the debit cards given away were spent in casinos and on booze.
Well, I don't know any New Yorkers, so i can't comment on their mentality after 9-11, or how they banded together or how strong they were.
But I did see New Orleans people, and I did speak with them, and I and my friends were humbled.
I don't believe in God, but if he exists, then I hope he blesses everyone from New Orleans and helps them begin their lives anew.
And I hope someone besides me realizes that they are at least as deserving of praise as New Yorkers.