Exit, stage right
[Written yesterday — I’m now in New Orleans and heading to my first meeting of the day. At 7:30 a.m. No sleep till Brooklyn.]
It’s been all hurricane, all the time here. The bottom half of Manhattan still has no power. While the subways started running yesterday, most of the tunnels are closed and with no power on the other side, getting to Manhattan is nearly impossible. People have taken to the roads instead, with predictable results. Stories of 4-hour commutes are not uncommon. My office opened on Wednesday, in part, at least, to provide power to those without – we are across the street from the blackout. But as almost my entire department lives in Brooklyn, none of us can get there. We joke about starting a branch office. I have everything I need at home. It’s not hard for me to work from there indefinitely. And I’m not supposed to be back in the office before next Tuesday in any case. AJ goes back to school on Friday, but the public schools are off for the rest of the week in a run of closures that is reportedly unprecedented in this city.
I am now on a plane to New Orleans. It was hard won, My two previous flights were canceled. And this one was uncertain until the very last minute. They didn’t announce that the airport had reopened until an hour before I was supposed to leave. And then my car service didn’t show up. After a half an hour of trying to get a hold of another one, someone picked up the phone and said they could be there in 5 minutes. By then I was leaving very late and traffic was insanely heavy, but amazingly, I got there just in the nick of time. Most of the traffic backup was headed to Manhattan. The airport itself was quiet. This was my first flight after having achieved “elite” status, which meant I flew through security and walked right onto the plane with minutes to spare. I’m on my way to Chicago, where I’ll catch a plane south. I can hardly believe it. I had given up on this. I didn’t think it would happen. I almost bailed out twice. But I’ve been looking forward to this for so long. I hated to let it go. And now I am in here. And in a stunning bit of luck, there is no one in front of or next to me. I feel like I have a suite.
I spent all week scrambling around and changing plans. I was supposed to run an all-day meeting in New Orleans yesterday. I ended up canceling the morning session and running the second half via a combination of cell phone and Skype from my bed, the only place in my apartment big enough to spread out all my paper. It was a gathering of scholars who don’t often get an opportunity to sit in the same room. It will be another two years before we meet again. I didn’t want to miss this chance. And I’m glad I didn’t. It was probably not as productive as it would have been had we all been in the same room, but we still got a lot done.
I found take off surprisingly emotional. A friend said that while she felt guilty saying this, the hurricane has reminded her of 9/11. There is this sense of a resilience, of a banding together to fight adversity. Looking down from the window of the plane window, I could see the waterlines below. There’s still one end of the airport that has enormous puddles. We were one of the first planes to take off after the hurricane. It felt like victory.
I’m looking forward to a few days of intellectual stimulation, meetings with scholars, making plans, and drinking with old friends. New Orleans looms large in my personal mythology at the moment. I need to certify the experience (if I’m remembering that Walker Percy term correctly) with some live action. There will be tales to tell, I’m sure. But first, a nap.