The Psychology of Hurricane Season

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Scary hurricane graphic from the news.

We are almost at the end of hurricane season and New Orleans has emerged storm free. A few weeks ago it seemed the city would be hit by Tropical Storm Karen. The power of a tropical storm pales in comparison with higher-grade hurricanes, but the memory of Hurricane Isaac last summer filled me with dread about the potential of another set of days without electricity or something far worse to disrupt our fragile city. This recent storm threat had me pondering the hurricane mindset accompanied with growing up in the South.

The start of hurricane season on June 1 always makes the news and through the end of November, checking the weather requires a tertiary look at the tropics and the Gulf of Mexico for storm activity. I even know what times the National Weather Center posts their hurricane updates.  In Washington D.C. (where I used to live) it was the lack of conversation about activity in the tropics that made me realize that hurricanes are pigeonholed as regional news across the country. I didn’t miss the pre-storm shopping frenzy and drumbeat of doom fostered by the media, but unless a hurricane made landfall, the threat of a hurricane never made news up there. I moved to DC shortly before Hurricane Katrina made landfall, and I didn’t even know a hurricane had formed until it came ashore in Miami.

Screenshot of Tropical Storm Karen's projected path. It's pretty depressing, but by wishing a hurricane changes direction you're essentially hoping it hits someone else.

Screenshot of Tropical Storm Karen’s projected path. It’s pretty depressing, but by wishing a hurricane changes direction you’re essentially hoping it hits someone else.

The morose biproduct of watching the path of a hurricane so closely is that you hope the hurricane shifts away from your city– essentially hoping it goes and hits someone else. In Miami, where I’m from, the hope was that it would turn and dissipate somewhere in the Atlantic. Here in the Gulf South, a slight turn is a sigh of relief for New Orleans. But if you really consider it, you’re just relieved you’re not in West Louisiana or Mobile Bay.

Growing up within this culture also helped me retain information about the science of hurricanes. I think this is unique to areas threatened by hurricanes, simply because we are inundated with news information about them from the time we are very little. I can barely tell you why it rains, but I know that warm waters strengthens a hurricane.

The branches of a downed tree in my yard, after Hurricane Isaac in 2012.

The branches of a downed tree in my yard, after Hurricane Isaac in 2012.

I wonder if this the same for other regions affected by severe weather? I assume not because earthquakes and tornados don’t have the same predictability. Do regional differences influence the way the weather is covered in your area?

My Favorite Rap about the Saints

The best $5 I’ve ever spent was on a two-song rap EP. It was 2011, and I was at the Howlin Wolf for Hot 8 Brass Band’s regular Sunday-night gig. At intermission the band introduced local rapper Bossman Superior and he performed this song:

Bossman’s song about the Saints contained all of the touchpoints of a classic fan anthem, complete with a call-and-response chorus and a shout out to nearly every player on the roster.

“Mark Ingram, Colston, Meachem, Sproles, Ivoryyyyyyy, Vilma, Moore–I can name everybody!”

I had been back in New Orleans for a few months, and although I followed the Saints from Washington D.C., I was eager to assimilate into full New Orleanian Saintsdom. Obviously, this meant I had to buy the album.

The two songs* on the album cycled over and over in my car throughout that football season. Every turn of the ignition was met with “The lock out over now babyyyy… OoooooHHHH OOOOOooHHHH, Send ‘em out there, Sean Payton!” Bossman’s thick New Orleans accent and his song’s references to local culture made my heart swell with city pride. Each year, I look forward to football season because it’s time to put “Black & Gold” on rotation.

Other Saints Raps
“Black & Gold” is just one of many rap songs associated with the Saints. Arguably, the most famous is the Ying Yang Twins “Halftime (Get Crunk),” re-recorded in 2009 by NOLA rapper K. Gates as “Black and Gold (Who Dat).” It’s become the unofficial anthem of the team.

I visited NOLA a few weeks before the Saints won their first Super Bowl title, and I remember hearing the song at a party. Everyone shrieked and started talking about the Saints chances for the Superbowl. “How does everyone in this room know this song? ” I wondered. “What does it have to do with the Saints?”

Do Other Teams Have Raps?
Is it common for NFL teams to have fan-penned songs that penetrate the local zeitgeist? Some meager You Tube searches reveal other fan bases certainly have songs about their teams, but is it as pervasive as it is here? Perhaps it’s the city’s ties to the team or the city’s strong musical traditions. (Although, I bet Steelers fans have put together some good raps.)

The only other fan song I know is the Dolphins cheerful fight song.. It written by a fan in 1972 and that still reeks of that time period. Growing up in Miami, this was the only song I ever heard about the Dolphins.

Does your NFL team have a fan song? Can you recommend any other songs about the Saints?

*The second song on the album is a ridiculous track about getting a girl in bed. It contains many quotable lines, but it deserves its own blog post.

Remember Me?

Today, I signed into this blog for the first time in nearly six months.  After entering my username and password, I had the option to save my password. The checked the box that said “remember me.” How ironic.

Oh Kind of New Orleanian, I’ve missed you! In April I began a new job, and it has taken up a lot of my time. I also began writing for Go NOLA, a blog I have long admired. It’s the blog for the New Orleans Tourism and Marketing council and they do a spectacular job of highlighting what’s going on in NOLA and also digging into some of the history and cultural traditions of the city. When I did have free time to write, that’s where I directed my energy.

Still, I miss having a platform to work through my thoughts on city identity and observations of New Orleans. Many things have happened in the last six months, so hopefully I can work through them in this space–with the help of your thoughts and suggestions!

As a jump start, I’m going to start cross posting my work from Go NOLA. Last week they published a post I wrote about Bell Street, a street nearly a mile from my house, in Bayou St. John. Enjoy!

Hidden Road of New Orleans: Bell Street

I’m Calling Out Rouses for Using Too Many Plastic Bags

Rouses is a statewide supermarket chain that has three locations in New Orleans. Although Rouses is a vast improvement over the awful Sav-A-Center grocery stores that they bought out, my major quip with the Rouses is that the cashiers and bag boys/girls use an outrageous amount of plastic bags when they bag groceries. A common practice is to place one or two items per bag, so that if you buy six items you have nearly as many bags. Additionally, cashiers don’t seem to notice when I bring a canvas bag. It always feels obnoxious to repeat, “Excuse me, I’m sorry… I brought a bag.” This happens at every single location I’ve been to, even outside of Orleans Parish.  It’s upsetting.

In January 2010 Washington D.C. implemented a 5 cent tax on all plastic bags. Although it’s only 5 cents, I shook my fist in anger when I got caught with the fee. I never wanted to pay it! The tax has also made DC merchants a lot more sensitive to how they bag your groceries. It’d be a long time before Louisiana passed a progressive environmental law, but this blog post is my 5 cents of advocacy and publicity.

A Pictorial Investigation of Rouses Bagging Practices
Last week I made a trip to the Rouses and purposefully didn’t bring any bags. Once at home, I took photos of my all the bags used.

I purchased 27 items and was given 10 bags.

This bag has room for more items.

There is clearly more room in this bag. Perhaps it could’ve been combined with the bags of vegetables.

Four bags with one item each. However, given that I purchased beer, wine, chicken and cupcakes, which are all in delicate cases, I think it’s okay each item has its own bag. (I realize you, dear reader, are going to make fun of my purchases.)

There are only two items here! Unacceptable!

This bag has two items. As you can see, there is room for more.

I believe these groceries are the only ones properly bagged from the shopping trip.

Again, two items with room for more.

If I acquiesce the four items given individual bags, than Rouses used six bags for 23 items. I believe the cashiers could’ve consolidated, what do you think? And have you had this same experience at Rouses?

I’m going to send this post to someone at Rouses, in hopes this will draw attention to their irresponsible bagging practices.

Kind of New Orleanian Interview: Rachael Kansas, New Orleanian (Part 2)

Hey guys!

This is the second part of my Kind of New Orelanian interview with Rachael Kansas. Check yesterday’s post to read my introduction to this new feature and learn what brought Rachael back to New Orleans, two years ago.

Part 2

You went to Ben Franklin High School. I know it’s a really big deal here which high school you went to and what that says about you. What’s the stereotype of someone who went to Franklin?

Nerdy.

Is it? It’s a public school, right?

It’s a public school, but it’s a magnet school. We were all over the news in the last 3 or 4 years—we were number 16 in the nation, so it’s a smart school. You have to test to get into it. It’s the best public school in the state, pretty consistently. We don’t have a really strong football team or anything, but we have some sports that we are good at. I know soccer is a big deal. But so is Mu Alpha Theta.

I know you’re a big Saints and Hornets fan, but there’s not a lot of Hornets fans out there. I feel like your family is really dedicated. What is it about the Hornets that you love?

I don’t know, it’s just something fun to do to mix up your week and go to a game. It’s really interactive. You’re a lot closer to the action. It’s a smaller, more involved experience to go to the game. Also, the sport is great, although I think the NBA shouldn’t have as many games in their season.

A lot of people say that New Orleans isn’t a two-sport town, it’s a one-sport city. But I’ve seen when the Hornets have been in the playoffs, how much enthusiasm people could have for it, so I don’t know—I think people are out doing too many other things to get excited. But, it’s a long season with a lot of games.

Speaking of the Saints, what do you think of the whole bounty thing?

It breaks my heart. On the one hand, I know it’s probably true that every team in the whole league does it to a certain extent. But it hurts that we’ve been doing it and got caught. It’s sad and I’m really upset that they haven’t been able to sign a contract with Brees. And, then, of course Sean Payton lied to everyone and Goodell.

In a perfect world I would love to see Goodell to have to hand over the Lombardi trophy to Benson in the Superdome next year, despite all of the scandal. That would just be the ultimate like, F-you man. We still did it.

Rachael loves Drew Brees.

It’s easy to see why the Saints are so beloved post Katrina and the Superbowl win. Do you remember it being as big of a deal growing up?

Growing up the rule was that if we didn’t sell out the Dome, they wouldn’t show the game on TV. It’s ridiculous to think of now tickets go for so much and we have a full, sellout season every year. But growing up, if we didn’t sell out they’d only play the games on the radio. It was like punishment if we didn’t buy tickets. We’d have to sit at home and like listen on the radio, which my dad always made us do. My family was always out fishing on the weekends so we didn’t go to games growing up until more recent years. But, yeah, we were always Saints fans.

What are some touristy things in the city that you’ve not done?

I’ve been plantations to before, for weddings, but I’ve never been on a plantation tour. I’ve never even been to Oak Alley. I know I’ve been to Jean Lafitte Park for something in elementary school. But I’ve never been on the traditional “swamp tour.” But I grew up going out in the marshlands with my dad on a boat and seeing alligators and nutria, and fishing and crabbing. It seems silly to pay to do something that I did all the time with my dad. But maybe it’s different to go on a swamp tour versus being out in the marsh.

There’s definitely a lot of places where growing up I never went to, but I go there now. Like, I never went to the Bywater growing up. And now I go there all the time.

One of the things I’ve been very preoccupied with is that New Orleanians have this kit of things they bring out with them, especially in the summertime.  They have a hat, their koozies and fold-out chairs. I know you keep koozies in your car! Is there anything else you don’t leave home without?

Bug spray. I am really prone to getting chewed up alive by mosquitos. I have one to two cans of bug spray in my house and my car at any given time. They come with me in my purse.

The bugs or the spray?

Both. If I were more responsible, I’d probably add sunscreen to that list.

Rachael's RE/MAX koozie.

What do you like about living in Mid City?

I love Mid City. I love that it’s a neighborhood that people are so proud of and a real community. I love all the little historic homes. The people that live here are just real local, been-in-Mid-City-forever types. When I moved in—and I’ve lived in a lot of addresses across the country— I got four housewarming gifts from different neighbors.

I love that I can walk to a couple places. I love taking the streetcar. I’m a big streetcar rider for Saints games, for Red Dress Run, for Running of the Bulls, for Mardi Gras Day. Basically any time I know I’m going to have a couple of beers, I’m going to take the streetcar downtown.

What do you do with your Mardi Gras beads?

I don’t bring them in the house. Every year I only physically walk in my car or my house with something unique. I’ll catch a lot of beads, but I’ll leave them at my friend’s house, or put them on other people or on someone’s gate. You know, the gates on St. Charles that will all have beads on them anyway. At my friend’s house she’ll put out trash cans and I think she recycles them.

What’s your favorite Mardi Gras parade?

I like Muses because it’s like the beginning of the big weekend. It’s fun to see women partying at night. My dad’s in Endymion, so that’s my favorite. It’s always a good time to be out at the parade or at the Dome. There’s something different because it’s such a big parade, the floats are incredible, it’s the only one in Mid City and my dad’s in it. I get like, real excited. Real crazy. Endymion is definitely my favorite.

What do you hope for the city?

I hope for the same thing everybody else wants… better education and less crime.

What about recycling? People in San Francisco would judge you for not saying that.

More recycling! How could I forget? And, also, I hope that real estate prices continue to go up and up and up.

Does anything in the city surprise you anymore?

Um, not really. Last year I saw a guy in costume in the middle of the day, in the middle of the week. He was waiting at the busstop and I just thought “Eh, New Orleans.”

Actually, I’m surprised when people are rude! I’m like, “Why are you being so rude? There’s no reason to be rude!”

I feel like people here are really assholes on the road. Why is that?

Yeah, they are. See, I’m not surprised by that because we’ve always been notoriously bad drivers.

I always wonder– if everyone here is so nice, why are they dicks in the car? If you put your signal on, they speed up!

I know, people are so rude in the car. It’s weird. But if you were stopped in traffic for two hours, you would roll down your window and become best friends with the same guy you were calling an asshole ten minutes ago.

This interview has been edited for length.

Kind of New Orleanian Interview: Rachael Kansas, New Orleanian (Part 1)

Hey everyone! I’m so excited to launch a brand-new feature that I’ve thought about since I started the blog nearly a year ago. About once a month, I will feature an interview with someone I consider a true “New Orleanian.” In the interviews we’ll discuss their connection to the city, their opinions about local issues and how they think about city identity.

I recognize that the people I select for the interviews will be in a similar demographic, because it is based on people I know. However, that’ll change as the blog grows and I expand my network in the city. Eventually, I’d like to interview people I consider ~ians of other cities. I welcome all feedback and suggestions (unless they are critical, in which case I will spam you) (jokes).

Why I Chose to Interview Rachael
Rachael Kansas is the first person I ever met from New Orleans. We both had a fellowship with Hillel, a Jewish organization that is located at different college campuses across the country. I was placed at Tulane and she was at George Washington University in D.C. We met just after I moved here in 2004, at a conference for all the Fellows. She instantly embraced me and even hand-wrote a list of recommendations for all things New Orleans—not just restaurants and bars, but places to get my hair cut and go to the doctor.  Although she grew up here and has a large network of friends and family, Rachael always invited me out when she came home to visit. She’s a true New Orleanian—both in that she was born and raised here, and that she embodies the warmth, hospitality and charm of the city.

To this day, Rachael is my first call for anything related to New Orleans. She was the first person I thought of when I had the idea for this interview series.


About Rachael
Rachael grew up in New Orleans Parish and went to Ben Franklin High School. After graduating from the University of Texas in Austin, she lived in Washington D.C. and San Francisco. In 2010, she returned to New Orleans to earn her MBA at Tulane. She now works as a realtor with RE/MAX and was recently awarded RE/MAX’s 2011 “Rookie of the Year” award for the state of Louisiana.

How long has your family has been in New Orleans?

My mom’s family came before the Civil War. And my dad’s family came around 1910ish, I think. I don’t know. Both my mom and my dad’s side of the family came from Odessa, which is now Ukraine, and came straight to New Orleans—no stopping elsewhere. Except for my grandmother; I think her parents came from Czechoslovakia. I’m not entirely sure but we’ve been in New Orleans a long time.

After graduating from college you moved to D.C. Did you always know that you’d come back?

A lot of kids that grew up in New Orleans that were older than me had left New Orleans. That was the thing: you grow up and you move away. But I was always very close to my family and was always coming home. Even during college, I came home for Mardi Gras and Jazzfest every year. So, yeah, there’s probably something in me that knew that I’d end up here someday.

It was extremely heightened after Katrina. It was like, “Ohmigod, I can’t believe I’m so far removed from everything my family’s going through.” I also felt a little bit of guilt, but more just sadness for what was going on. At that point I decided I’d move back to New Orleans. The only thing is that I knew all along when I moved to New Orleans it would be my last stop. So, I kind of delayed the move back to here because I knew once I got back I would buy a house and I would stay and that would be the end of it.

My dad wanted me to move back right after college. He thought four years away was enough. He was like, “You know… New Orleans is really where it’s at.”

You’ve lived in DC and San Francisco and in Israel and Texas. Would you say people in New Orleans are different?

New Orleans has this uniqueness about it because we’re not just Southern, we’re not just that stereotype of  Southern hospitality. We have our own thing going on. We’re just big party animals and relax and enjoy life to its fullest.

There was some study done awhile ago that asked which state was the happiest in the nation. I remember talking about it with my brother. I was saying that people here are probably happier because we have so much to celebrate–we have festivals every weekend! There isn’t that competitive rat race. When you go downtown at 6:30, it’s basically dead, versus New York where people are in their office until 12 at night. My brother added that he thinks we’re the happiest because we are so family oriented. And so a lot of people that live here are with multiple generations of their family. We spend so much time together and that also makes our community stronger and happier. There isn’t that stress of having to be away from everybody. There’s people there to help you out and support you. I agree with that, too. My whole family’s here.

Rachael in San Francisco, with her mom, Lee Kansas.

You’ve seen a lot of people move here for business school, not like it and move away.

That’s not true.

Oh really? I thought a lot of your business-school friends moved away.

They came here for business school and left, but it wasn’t because they didn’t like it here. They liked it here, it’s just that New Orleans didn’t have MBA jobs for them. There’s a lot of people in my class that if they had been offered the type of salaries and the type of jobs that they wanted in New Orleans they for sure would’ve chosen New Orleans over the other places that they went. There were a number of people that wanted to be on Wall Street or wanted to be in a specific city, so they’re an exception.

There’s actually a lot of people from my class that stayed and tried to make New Orleans work. There are a couple of people that have taken not-so-great jobs just to stay in New Orleans. Or didn’t have a job and stuck it out in New Orleans, but didn’t get a job and had to go somewhere else. I don’t know anyone who moved here and, per se, didn’t like it at all and had to move away.

What can you get from living in the other cities you’ve lived in that you can’t get here?  

The Jewish community thing is a blessing and a curse because it feels like a small town. DC and in San Francisco are both very transient cities and no one is very invested in you. No one really tries to make an effort to keep you there, make you feel welcome and invite you and include you in things. But at the same time, there’s so many other young people that are Jewish and social and out. And so here we have less numbers, so if you want to get involved it’s a lot easier to get involved. People really reach out more and include you more than in the other cities–where they just kind of expect you to leave quickly. Here, the community gets excited for anyone that’s new. They want you to be at every event and invite you to every event. Maybe I just feel that way because I just know a lot of people from growing up.

I agree. I’m also a little bit biased because I worked in the Jewish community before so I’ve reconnected with it since moving back.

But I think when people here hear about a young, new Jewish person in town, they get excited. In other cities that doesn’t happen. People are like, “Oh, you’re just here for two years and you’re out.” So, I think New Orleans is really different in that sense. But that might be just a small-town Jewish community versus a big Jewish community difference. You know, that’s probably going to happen in a lot of other small towns too.

I didn’t realize that San Francisco was so transient.

It’s not as transient as D.C., but it is pretty transient. A lot of people do the “San Francisco thing” for a couple of years and then leave. When I moved there, we had a strong group of girlfriends that were all there and now only two of them are left from our big group. We all were there for about one to three years.

I think the emphasis on food and music is very similar with San Francisco. The liberal (well, for the most-part liberal) mentality in New Orleans and also the festivals and the emphasis on the people that actually live in the city is also similar. I think in DC there’s a lot of focus on the tourism. A lot of events are held at the national mall. The Cherry Blossom parade… things like that aren’t for locals. There isn’t an investment in the local community. It’s more about pride for the nation. New Orleans is like “we’re only proud of ourselves.”  We do things to enjoy ourselves, to please ourselves. I think San Francisco is a little bit like that too.

That being said, I feel San Francisco can sometimes have a slightly pretentious air like, “We’re greener, we’re smarter, we’re better.” And they are greener and smarter! They are very much more educated and more environmentally conscious in many ways. But, it doesn’t have to be talked about every time you go out to a bar. I was over that by the end. I was just like, “Let’s just hang out, have fun, and talk about football and not only about what new green start-up company you work for.”

How does New Orleans seem different to you after Katrina?

I think one of the bigger things is that New Orleans, pre-Katrina, was like a small, very tight social network. If you weren’t from here it was really hard to break in. Everyone cared about where you grew up, where you went to high school.

Now there are so many more people that didn’t grow up here and are in our local community and that are making New Orleans their home. How can you hate on them, how can you not include them? They chose your city, they love your city just as much as you do and they add so much more to it and change people’s outlook on things and bring new perspectives on things. I think that’s a major difference between the old-school New Orleans kind of cliquey-ness and the new New Orleans. Although, it’s not perfect. I know people who have come here and have first had a hard time because they’re not part of this circle of people who all know each other.

I think people are also more civically engaged and more involved. I have so many friends that are politically involved and running for local elections to be on some council, or trying to do this new company or this new idea. I mean, people are more engaged and more involved because we saw that we almost lost our city so we don’t want to just go back to the old ways. We have this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make it even better, so people are investing and more motivated, I think.

My mom was saying that when my older cousins were growing up–my cousins in their 40s–the norm was that kids from New Orleans would get educated elsewhere and they’d live elsewhere, because New Orleans wasn’t enough for them. They’d move to different cities, like Houston and Atlanta and New York and Philadelphia and wherever they could find a smarter, more modern community. But nowadays, it seems more kids are going away to college and moving back. But that also might be my mom talking about Jewish community, specifically, so I don’t know.

I’ve split the interview into two parts. Tomorrow, read Rachael’s thoughts about her high school, the Saints and what surprises her about New Orleans.