Saturday, September 29, 2012

A Few Obvious Differences

St. Croix has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. New Orleans has the Mississippi River. It's called the Big Muddy for a reason. There are apparently very nice Gulf Coast beaches within an easy drive, someone told me I could be in Pensacola, Florida, in six hours. We haven't had a chance to explore that yet, and we won't until we make our car more reliable. On the island we were three minutes from a great beach on St. Croix, so even with better transportation, the island wins on that one.

On the other hand, the roads on St. Croix are potholed messes, and unusually narrow We lived on a road that wasn't any wider than a standard driveway.

When Public Works finally get around to patching a pothole, the patch would last a month or so, then starts degrading again so that within half a year the hole is as bad as it ever was.

Most of the roads there seem to be what are known as "pie crust" pavement, thin layers of brittle paving over an inadequate base. But there's no rhyme or reason to where the bad paving is. We used to have to drive a stretch every morning and evening where the pavement was pretty good for a mile, then became so bad traffic crawled along for three-quarters of a mile, veering from side to side to avoid gaping chasms. Then back to perfectly decent pavement. We called that stretch "Old Bumpy."

The roads here are really well laid out, well maintained and logical. Locals may find that comment comical, but my experience is that locals never like the road where they live. The main streets here all have U-turn lanes to help you get where you're going, it's all very logical and consistent. And all the streets have names that are well marked. We've gotten lost once or twice, but it was our fault, not the road's.

And for comparison, Albany, the small town where we lived in Oregon, had pretty well maintained roads, but for a town so small the layout was was crazy. The main road came into town going north south, and went out of town going east west, making a big 90 degree turn in the middle. It and the railroad tracks effectively cut the town in half. And the second major road came into town at a 45 degree angle to the main highway, so there was this insane five-way intersection. They've tried different traffic signal systems and one-way couplets and all the usual. Nothing helps.

There was also a five-way intersection on St. Croix. Poorly planned, traffic would wait forever for the light to change and then plunge off in different directions. There was one orphaned lane, it had no signal, and your only choice was to turn right and find a place to turn around. A friend told me it actually worked better before they put the traffic lights in. Everyone just took their turns ina neighborly way. Crucian traffic is bad, but Crucian drivers are very nice. 

One thing I miss about St. Croix traffic is the horn honks. As I have mentioned Crucians honk their horns for any number of reasons – almost all friendly. It's the morning melody of too much traffic on imperfect roads, all trying to get along.

We've heard horn-honking here, but it's not the friendly island style. It's aggressive, angry. It's "Hey, the light changed .0037 seconds ago! Get moving!"

On St. Croix they recognize that everyone is on their way somewhere, so let's all work together. No one on St. Croix is so in a hurry to get anywhere that they feel the need to be rude about it. It's "Island Time," with all that that implies.

And that's one thing I miss about the island. That and the beach.

On the other hand, you've heard of Southern hospitality. It's real. The people in the stores, the people in offices and on the street, are all pleasant, smiling, friendly. They'd be ambarassed to be curt or unfriendly. We've been here two months, and there are supermarket checkers who know us and chat every time we come in.

On St. Croix, the concept of customer service is as foreign as Mandarin Chinese. You can stand at a counter for 10 minutes while the clerk carries on a phone conversation with a friend, not even acknowledging your presence. The people are friendly enough, the Good Morning/Good Afternoon'Good Night mantra making everyone a community, but put someone behind a cash register and you just disappear as far as he or she goes. It's an odd attitude for a community that depends on the tourist industry.

Anyway, those are a few of the differences we've noticed so far as we settle in to ourt new home.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Distraught in the Streets

The people in New Orleans have a reputation for being easy going. Not just the usual Southern charm, which we've met in spades since we moved here, but a real laid back, party in the face of disaster attitude. Hence the nickname, the Big Easy.

But everywhere we go these days, we're confronted with people in agony. The people of New Orleans are distraught. They are beside themselves and they don't know what to do.

Because their Saints, their beloved Saints, are 0-3 and things aren't likely to get better any time soon.

It's been a tough year for the locals who love the Saints – and that's pretty much everybody around here. It started in late winter with the ignominy of being fingered in a bounty scandal that made the team look like a bunch of evil, money-grubbing headhunters. Then the coach was suspended for a year, the interim coach is suspended for half a year, and various players may or may not be under sanctions.

And now the defense can't stop anybody.

I hope they don't learn that it's all my fault.

I was born a Cubs fan, the son of a Cubs fan who was himself the son of a Cubs fan. For anyone who knows anything about sports curses, that's three generations of bad mojo. The Cubs are the oldest team in baseball, but they haven't won a World Series since 1908, haven't even played in the fall classic since 1945, when they became the victims of "The Curse of Billy's Goat." (As Casey Stengel said, "You could look it up.")

I first started really following baseball in earnest in 1969, which Chicagoans will tell you was the year of the big swoon. The team was laden with stars, including Ernie Banks (my all time favorite ball player,) Ron Santo, Billy Williams, Fergie Jenkins, Randy Hundley and Ken Holtzman. (I still have my Billy Williams autograph fielder's glove.) They started the season like a house afire, building an 8 1/2 game lead by mid-August. Then they collapsed and the Amazin' Mets, who until then had never won anything and were notable only for on-field zaniness, went on a tear. The Cubs finished 8 games back and the Mets impossibly won the World Series, and my heart was broken by a sports event. The first time of many.

Oh, and fans still talk about the black cat that got loose that year in Shea Stadium while the Cubs were on the field, believing that deepened the curse.

Since then I've transferred my bad sports luck to whatever team I root for. In the 1970s I lived in L.A. and switched my allegiance to the Dodgers (keeping a soft spot in my heart for the Cubbies) and while they had some very good seasons and won a couple of pennants, they didn't win a World Series until I moved away.

I have been a Seattle Seahawks fan since 1979. They've been to one Super Bowl but didn't win, and mostly they've been pretty mediocre. I lived in Oregon's mid-valley, rooting for Oregon State, which in the '80s, set a mark for futility rarely matched in the pantheon of athletics.

And it's not just me. It's my whole family. The 1972 Lakers were arguably the best basketball team ever. They won 33 straight games, the longest winning streak of any team in American professional sports. They failed to score 100 points in only one game. They beat the Knicks for the championship in five games. So yeah, they were great. One team that my family rooted for actually was a winner.

But get this. The Lakers played 41 homes games that year. They won 36 of them. My father went to four games that year and they lost every time he was in the stands.

So you can see that the Baurs carry a ton of bad luck when it comes to rooting for teams, and now we're in New Orleans. I've always kind of liked the Saints, even in the '80s when they were so pathetic the fans started wearing bags over their heads and calling them "the Aints."

But things turned around, just when New Orleans needed something good to happen. After Katrina, the city was so torn up that the Saints had to play that year in San Antonio, and there was a lot of fear that they'd never come back. But they did, and they gave the city something special to cheer about. After teasing the faithful for years, they won the NFC championship and played heavily favored Indianapolis in the Super Bowl. And they completed the fairy tale of the plucky outsiders who gave hope to a city by refusing to lose, capturing a most unlikely and memorable title. No team has ever meant more to a city.

Now I live here. And of course, as soon as I get here, they start to suck. They've got a bunch of offensive weapons, some great players, but they can't seem to get in a rhythm and aren't scoring a lot of points. And like I said, the defense can't stop anybody. They could play play St. Mergatroid's Home for Blind Nuns, and the ladies would at least put a couple of field goals on the board.

Now they have to go to Green Bay on Sunday and play a very pissed off Packers team. (I will argue with you all day, if you'd like, about whether the Packers are justified in their pissed-offedness, but not now. As Pete Carroll said, "Game over. We won.") The point is, it's likely to be ugly. And as sports statistician will tell you, 0-4 teams do not come back to make the playoffs, especially not when they're in a division with the Atlanta Falcons, who are playing as well as anybody right now.

So it's going to be really unhappy around these parts Sunday night. I just hope people don't realize it's my fault. I like the Saints, I really do. I'm a fan. And that's their problem.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

That Was Unexpected

It was a week ago that Isaac came through and screwed things up. Time to get back to normal.

This morning I woke up at 6, made coffee, got Max up, made his lunch and we walked the half mile to T.H. Harris Middle School, arriving in plenty of time for the 7:20 start of class.

Except we were the only ones there. The gates were closed, the parking lots empty. So we walked home.

It's not like we decided on our own that school would start today. There was a story on the district website that said they were looking for a Tuesday reopening. I didn't just make this up out of wishful thinking. But when we looked this morning after getting home, a new story said it won't be until Thursday. Some schools still don't have power, and others are still recovering from hurricane damage. Three apparently won't reopen this week at all and there's no mention of when they might.

Max took the news quite well, as you can imagine. We decided to call this dress rehearsal for Thursday. And the best part is, his homework is all finished.

Sunday, September 2, 2012


I take it all back! Our power is on!

As we neared the house, we started chanting – Baur Power! Baur Power! Baur Power! BAUR POWER! And as we turned the corner we saw our neighbor's porch light on. And then we saw a couple of lights on in our house, where we'd left a couple of switches on in (what we thought of as) the vain hope that the power would be back.

And it was! Huzzah!

It's still hot in here, it'll take the AC a few hours to cool it down. It was 91 when we walked in, it's 86 now. We shoould be able to sleep tonight.

The clock on out stove indicated that the power had been on for 20 minutes, about the time we were leaving the coffee house.

There are still some things to deal with, but thank god almighty!. It's funny how a little thing like being able to see when you walk down the hall just makes all teh difference in the world.

Hardly Seems Fair

Got home from the coffee shop last night and houses all over the neighborhood were lit up – power back on!

Except the five or so houses along our block, and we were right in the center of the dark. Presumably the same houses on the back half of the block as well, but frankly we didn't have the heart to look. The houses directly across the street were lit up like Christmas trees – the bastards.

So we're back at the coffee shop today. We just picked up Alan at the airport, but the house was too hot to stay. For that matter last night it was too hot to sleep.

Entergy – that's the name of the electric company – says it has 10,000 workers from all over the country in the area doing the power restoration. They expect to have 70 percent back up by Monday, 90 percent by Wednesday. They thank us for our patience.


Saturday, September 1, 2012

Left in the Dark by Isaac

Power is out. Tuesday night the transformer on our back fence line kind of exploded just as Isaac was really kicking into gear, and we've been dark ever since.

It's more an annoyance than a problem, but still, it's annoying. 650,000 people lost power. The electric company supposedly has 10,000 people called in from all over the country to help restore service, but it's not a fast process. The people on the other side of the street got their power back a couple of hours ago, but it may be several more days before we can turn on a light on our side. And yet, every time I walk into a room, my hand flips the light switch.

Thursday we found a Winn-Dixie supermarket open, selling ice. They also had an electric outlet on the side of their building, and we were among those who took advantage to charge the phone.

The library is closed, but their wi-fi is on and we pulled into the parking lot to download the mail and answer the most important, mostly just telling people we're all fine.

The difference between the hurricane here and on the islands is that when the power goes out, we still have running water. We're on a municipal system. On the island most people get their water from the cistern under their house, and with no electricity, the pump doesn't work. You have to pull up buckets of water just to flush the toilet. This is WAY better. Add in the fact that we have gas for cooking and water heating, and it's pretty damn civilized. I'm not complaining. I can take a shower, and as warm as it's been Friday and today that is a good thing.

We found a P.J.'s Coffee in a small area of Old Metairie that got its power back, and we're all hanging out there. Tori and I were here earlier in the day and it was all very civilized, people sharing the outlets and power strips. Yesterday we charged all the gizmos – phones, computers, games etc. – at the laundromat so this is definitely better.

We also have plenty to read, so we're set. Just before the storm the eight boxes of stuff, mostly books, we shipped from St. Croix, arrived. And yesterday the postman arrived bearing two other boxes that included the kitchen stuff we brought along, among other things. Most survived intact. One that didn't, our big countertop oven, was horribly mangled, but it requires electricity to run so we're not mourning too much today.

Max has been out of school since last Friday. It's supposed to reopen Tuesday – but of course that will depend on the power getting back on. And Millie's work can't reopen for a few more days.

It seems to get dark really early when you can't turn on a light to fight off the gloom. We've got candles and some flashlights, but we don't have the lanterns we used to back on the island. But no whining here! Isaac was a pest, but not a monster like Katrina or Hugo or even Omar (which wasn't bad. So for now. we'll take what we've got. We're all fine. Hope you are too.