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Groundhog Day ja Voo

April 17th, 2014 Comments off

Bill Murray in 'Groundhog Day'


As I think back on the past five years, I am reminded of the movie Groundhog Day (1993) starring Bill Murray; a philosophical comedy film about a weatherman who finds himself reliving the same day over and over. A fictional misanthropic TV meteorologist Phil Connors gets wiser and wiser about the Events of 2/2; and gets the girl at the end. Now replace ‘meteorologist’ with Katrina Response researcher, ‘2/2’ with 9/1, ‘Phil’ with Darryl and you have the plot summary for my real life New Orleans odyssey.


Around the time of the four year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina in 2009, all signs were pointing to completion and fruition. I appeared that my independent research project had finally ran its course. On September 29, 2009, an invaluable and trusted research colleague, since the Repopulation Days at Camp Mama D in the New Orleans 7th Ward, and I went our separate ways. It was now time to publish and move on myself. But a funny thing, or two, happened on the way to the editor and printer. Two huge events at the start of this brand new decade, twenty-six days apart, occurred and sent me and The Contraflow Project (TCP) into a different orbit.


The first was the 7.0 Earthquake that rocked Haiti on January 12, 2010. After being in New Orleans for over four years documenting the Katrina Response while living in the devastation, then to see a mega-mega disaster in a predominately African-descendant Western Hemisphere country; well it definitely placed a lot of things into its proper perspective. One day I was collaborating with Haiti-native Maryse Dejean and WWOZ, who were being very supportive of TCP. The next day I’m at her side providing moral support and helping her electronically locate her family in the rubble of a Port-au-Prince suburb. It was so sad and so surreal, yet so familiar.

Saints #22 Tracy Porter returning the Super Bowl winning touchdown


The second event occurred on February 7, 2010, down in South Florida; New Orleans Saints 31, Indianapolis Colts 17. Two years earlier I was on Bourbon Street celebrating LSU’s victory over the Ohio State University Buckeyes in the BCS Championship Game at the Superdome. I came across a lot of happy Cajun and Creole folks in purple and gold, and a lot of nervous looking Midwesterners in scarlet and grey. But there is nothing to compare with what the Saints victory in Super Bowl XLIV did for the people of Greater New Orleans and the entire state of Louisiana. Along with it being the most watched television event to date in American broadcast history, it also led directly to the largest spontaneous party in the history of the Big Easy. Oh yes, and it was Mardi Gras Season too. Now, I’m a lifelong Oakland Raiders fan; “Just win baby!” However, during Mardi Gras (Lombardi Gras) ’10, I was a fan of the people of New Orleans.


The two aforementioned events made Hurricane Katrina seem like another lifetime ago. With all due respect, sympathy and love to the people of Haiti, the two events were what New Orleans and I needed to move forward. We needed to be needed by non-Louisianans, to feel someone else pain in a big way, to feel L’Union Fait La Force (“Unity Makes Strength”).


We also needed to feel like winners. “Who dat!” a battle cry that takes me back to the 1987 season. It was the year I first saw Saints owner Tom Benson on national TV second-lining with an umbrella through the Superdome while the crowd chanted, “Who dat, who dat, who dat say day gonna beat dem Saints.” They were heading to the playoffs for the first time ever that in ’87; this after being known for years as the team whose faithful and embarrassed fans wore “Unknown Comic” paper bags on their heads to the dome. Today, I realize what made that chant so unusual. Many people in New Orleans do not pronounce their “T’s”.


Anyways, for the next year I would find myself in noLA-noLA Land; finally getting a chance to enjoy New Orleans, to enjoy the people, to enjoy myself. HBO was filming the first season of Treme all around us, the South’s largest free music event The French Quarter Festival was only six blocks away and the NO Jazz & Heritage Festival was bigger and better than ever. Life was ‘easy’. Later on that summer, I was able to make something big happen for the Soul Patrol, the group of men from the Seventh Ward who I met and sponsored two weeks after Katrina. You see there was never supposed to be a “TCP”, or was there


My time in New Orleans was originally planned to conclude immediately after the one year anniversary of Katrina. It was at that time that I was supposed to head east to a donated home on Plum Island, Massachusetts and write Camp Epiphany; my original Katrina story of the Soul Patrol and the New Orleans Seventh Ward. But before I could board my LAS-BOS JetBlue flight, I received a call from New Orleans urging me to come back and be with the people during the recovery era. Yep, that phone call came from the aforemen-tioned invaluable research colleague; New England, or New Orleans?


I guess it’s obvious what my decision was, “I’m coming back baby”; ‘baby’ being a favorite unisex pronoun of New Orleans folk. The rest is Katrina history.

"Heroes of the Storm" benefit - Soul Patrol members Manny Mathieu, Rick Mathieu and American Red Cross New Orleans CEO Kay Wilkins


Getting back to the five year anniversary of Katrina; there I was on a so-called research sabbatical, no Camp Epiphany, no Katrina publi-cation period. I was able to successfully reach out to the organizers of the American Red Cross of New Orleans’ “Heroes of the Storm” Gala and inform them of the real-life urban legendary men of the Soul Patrol. The ARCNO staff immediately contacted Rick Mathieu, Manny Mathieu, Earl Barthe and Jadell Beard and extended them all an invitation to the Roosevelt Hotel Ballroom for that coming Saturday, August 28, 2010. With all the big names at this fundraising event, like Mayor Mitch Landrieu and Retired Lieutenant General Russel Honore, it was the Soul Patrol that everyone wanted to talk to and be seen with. I was so happy for them. They were finally recognized by their city for their heroic deeds five years earlier. This would buy me some time…

Fast-forward to the spring of 2011. After spending six months cataloging research, improving my website developing skills and formulating a social media campaign, it was now time to get back into TCP final research phase mode. I made a list of those who I had not yet interviewed. On that list was Russel Honore, Sheriff Harry Lee (current JPSO Command), Lt. Russell Vappie, Dr. Greg Henderson, Mr. James Hendrickson, Det. Bill Waldron, to name a few.


Veteran Homicide Detective Waldron, who had recently retired from the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office in Bradenton, Florida, was the only person over the course of the first five-plus years to respond to my request for an interview with a definitive ‘No’. In May 2011, he could not wait to talk to me. He, like many other Katrina Responders, was no longer constrained by their responder agency employers. Waldron and I would go back and forth electronically for one year. On May 9th at 9:18 a.m. EDT, I received an email Waldron that made me sit straight up. The following is an excerpt:


“… I had a conversation with Major Shoop {Texas Dept of Wildlife & Parks} on the drive to the collection point transporting the medical patients. I told Major Shoop that I had not seen any violence except by the Police earlier that morning during the hours of darkness when NOPD Units fired a shotgun in the air over the people gathered out front of the Convention Center when one man tried stopping an NOPD car to inquire about getting assistance and food and water.”

Contraflow Research Project


It was at this moment that I realized that Waldron was referring to the NOPD killing of Danny Brumfield on Convention Center Blvd. The significance of this critical realization will be made very clear in the forthcoming book series CONTRAFLOW. To commemorate this major milestone in TCP investigative-research efforts, I wrote a Katrina essay titled “The Events of 9/1.” I likened it to a literal literary victory dance of sorts. But then came Hurricane Isaac on the seven year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Thankfully, those living inside the levee protection systems in SELA made out pretty good. However, about six weeks later, I would learn about an event that happened at the Superdome on 9/1/05, that would blow my mind; and this coming from a man that had heard it all over the years. The research continued…


For another year and a half, it seemed like I was waking up to the same day; 9/1/05. And like ‘Weatherman Phil’, I was getting wiser and wiser day by day. As I reviewed interview transcripts from last decade, I found myself deciphering data that had been just words to me the first time around. With the new-found clarity comes the proper follow-up questions. Fast forward to March 23, 2014; the day that the final “previously unidentified” last proverbial piece of the Katrina Response jigsaw puzzle fell into my proverbial hands. The final investigative-research major milestone. The event that started the man-made madness on 8/31/05; ‘Government Official Zero’; the defining moment of Hurricane Katrina; the conflict starter.

groundhog day5


Well, tomorrow Lord’s will at 5:59am, I know it’ll be 4/18/14 and not 9/1/05. I can finally stop waking up and reliving that pivotal day. Yesterday, April 16, 2014, marked exactly 1,700 days (9/29/09) since I went solo with The Contraflow Project; a productive, solitary, personal journey indeed with no Hollywood (South) ending, yet. But, a necessary odyssey. Somebody had to do it. Somebody has to tell the true story of Hurricane Katrina. Somebody will, soon.


I want to give a shout out to my main man Budd; my air traffic controller whose helps me keep the “flow” going in Contraflow. I appreciate you more than you’ll ever know, as I appreciate all of you who have encouraged me throughout the past eight years. What a milestone moment these past four weeks have been. Thank you. Blessings & Peace.

 


M. Darryl Woods, Lead Researcher
The Contraflow Project




The Second Half Flashback in New Orleans

February 7th, 2013 Comments off

Super Bowl XLVIIAs I sat there last Sunday evening Feb. 3, 2013, watching Super Bowl XLVII along with family members and some 108 million other viewers, I could not help but think about the events that transpired in the Superdome seven years ago. It probably had a lot to do with a series of interviews for The Contraflow Project that I had just concluded with Rev. Walter Austin, who was a state chaplain for the Louisiana State Chaplain back during those surreal days of Katrina. Then came the Pepsi Halftime Show’s Beyonce, and I quickly forgot all about my 7 1/2 independent research journey into what really happened in New Orleans. It was HalfShowTime!

Then came the opening 2nd half 108 yard kickoff return by Jacoby Jones; a feat that we now know cost Gardiners Furniture Store in Baltimore $600,000 in furnishings. Now, take the Ray Lewis sentimental factor out and I knew more 49ers fans than Ravens by ten fold. Me, myself, I’m a lifelong Oakland Raiders fan who also enjoys watching the Saints and the Seahawks do their thing. I digress. Anyways, after that record tying touchdown return which was topped off with a Ray Lewis dance-tribute end-zone celebration, I felt it was over in an embarrassing way for all my California Niner-fans. It took me back in the day to how my father scheduled me and my big brother’s whoopings on Sunday afternoons to coincide with the conclusion of the last NFL football game of the afternoon. We would be down in the laundry room waiting on the inevitable. I would always wish that something crazy would happen, like a plane falling out of the sky onto our front yard or a blackout, to cause my father to forget about us. A diversion, if you will, to stop the (in this case the 28-6) whooping…

Rev. Walter AustinThen went the lights! Man, I had spent all of the first half trying not to think about Katrina, and then this. Because Rev. Austin was my most recent Katrina Oral History Contributor, and 90% of his experiences took place at the Super-dome, he was heavy on my mind. I first learned about him after reading Jeff Duncan reporting in the Times-Picayune’sRefuge of Last Resort” series, which was republished in ’10 in commemoration of the five year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. To be honest, I reached out to Rev. Austin two months ago to help me verify one thing. When I caught up with him in his office at Ascension of Our Lord Catholic Church in LaPlace, Louisiana, I explained the mission and vision of my nonprofit research organization The Contraflow Project. His first words to me were, I believe, “What do you want to know?” It was like he was waiting for my call for seven years.

I realize today how huge Katrina was. Meaning that it touched so many lives and each one of those lives has/had a story. I do believe though that my steps have been preplanned by a higher power, and that I have crossed paths with those responders and survivors that I needed to to tell a Katrina story to end all Katrina stories. Last July, I wrote a Katrina essay titled “The Events of 9/1“. In the second to last sentence I boldly write, “Yeah, guess I have done ENOUGH!” As in, my research was over. But, in the last sentence I added three words, “…or am I?” No. I hadn’t spoken with Rev. Walter Austin yet. Back to the Mercedes Benz Superdome, the “second halftime” is in effect. What I was watching on a massive, secured, coordinated scale, was people in the know sharing information with those who needed to know.  It reminded me of something Rev. Austin shared just a few weeks ago.

Because of a sequence of events on September 1, 2005, the National Guard had pretty much stopped communicating with the Katrina survivors-evacuee-refugees at the Superdome. Pretty much all, except Rev. Austin, who held the rank of a Lieutenant Colonel I believe. It may have been Colonel. I need to check my notes. So, he made his way through the crowds gathering folks around him and passed on the latest news without a megaphone. He got up close and personal. We are talking about a time where 99% of the folks just wanted some good information. Yes, Rev. Austin was heavy on my mind as I watched the “second halftime”, but there are so many many many positive stories from Katrina that have never been told in their proper context, or at all. As I told Rev. Austin, this is my mission, my vision.

Super Bowl BlackoutUp, the lights came back on! We all joked that Beyonce “boodylicious” performance did it. But, it’s New Orleans. A city where anything can, will and has happened. Some of the senior members of my family, moma and dem, were bored now, so we left my sister and brother-in-law’s home. I couldn’t figure out where the CBS Sports Radio Network affiliate was on the radio dial. I did get a text talking about a Comeback!

I finally got to a TV and saw that the 49ers had score 17 unanswered points. Here they come! I started feeling better for my Northern California friends and family; one particular die-heart Niners fan, DJ SupaK in suburban Oakland, California. I had a victory text all prepared to send him, but the game wasn’t over yet. Kaepernick was driving. Then there it was, 4th down, pass incomplete! Next, safety. Next, free kick. Next, game over! So, I had to come up with a consolation text for my homeboy SupaK. Thinking on how the older Harbaugh has won both games they’ve played against each other I texted, “BIG Brothers always rule, it seems… Damn K”, along with an attached photo of him and I taking a back in our adolescent days. He responded back with “LOL…MY (BROTHA)!!”

So you see a plane never fell out of the sky causing me to miss a whooping. Although, last Sunday in New Orleans a blackout did occur, but it did not change the outcome for the Niner Nation. Sometimes you just gotta take your whoopings, learn from your mistakes and comeback correct! All in all, the halftime show, the blackout and the almost comeback; made for one of the most exciting Super Bowls I’ve seen in a while. Only in New Orleans…

A few days later I sent the following email messages to Rev. Austin:

I can finally say I have no more questions. I thought about you during the Super Bowl blackout, and pictured you in the stands telling everyone to gather around, “Here’s what I know…” 
 
I’m very thankful to have been allowed access into your Katrina experience memory bank, and I cannot wait for the public to learn (in more detail) your heavenly contributions the Katrina Response. I’ll keep you updated on the progress. Thank you!  

 

He replied back with:

As for Sunday night, I am sick over the bad publicity the city got for that snafu. It was magnificent the whole week having people come down and see how much we have overcome since K.  Now when they think of this SB it is when the lights went out.

I replied:

As for the Super Bowl, it was one of the most exciting games I’ve ever seen. Because the lights came back on, most of the people I’ve spoken with are looking at it as a “second” half time. And for all my friends from California, their “prayers” were almost answered.  I can only think of one Super Bowl game that had a more climatic finish, and it was the St. Louis Rams vs. Tennessee Titans in the Georgia Dome where the game ended with a Titan player being stopped on the 1-yard line. Coincidentally  this was also the game where Ray Lewis was arrested after an after party double murder in Atlanta. 
 
Back to the Superdome, the first words out of the Ravens owner’s mouth as he held the Lombardi trophy were accolades about the New Orleans Super Bowl experience. And everybody was safe, and I’m sure the Superdome double its concession sales; win, win, win…

 

Rev. Austin replied:

 

People in NO love the city. It has its own way of life and its own rhythm.  Now we get ready for the Mardi Gras weekend.

 

Mardi Gras, yes.  Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulez! (Let the Good Times Roll). Amen Rev. Austin. Amen!

 


M. Darryl Woods, Lead Researcher
The Contraflow Project

 
 

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