So, How Many Hats Do You Wear?

My photo
Pensacola, Florida, United States
Husband. *Dog Dad.* Instructional Systems Specialist. Runner. (Swim-challenged) Triathlete (on hiatus). USATF LDR Surveyor. USAT (Elite Rules) CRO/2, NTO/1. RRCA Rep., FL (North). Observer Of The Human Condition.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Warmth of a Few Good Friends

This weekend marks three years since Hurricane Katrina slapped the living daylights out of New Orleans, something I would not have known if not for my fine friends at National Public Radio. I guess the more painful irony might be the fact (at the time of this writing) a tropical storm is in the south Caribbean, with forecast models pointing anywhere from up the eastern coast of Florida to the central Gulf coast of Texas. Of course, both New Orleans and Pensacola are smack dab in the center of that particular cone o' bad things.
I truly don't want any bad things to befall either me and mine or my NOLA friends. During the period of time since our respective cities have been slapped about by cyclonic visitors without so much as a have a nice day, we've been able to compare recovery notes and what-not. Of course, we took the equivalent of a standing-eight count. NOLA got d*mned-near TKO'ed. The city is still not completely back; believe me, you can tell when you go through NOLA East or take a long gander at the watermarks on the exterior of houses near City Park...but it's a step in the right direction.
The first trip back into NOLA for the Crescent City Classic 10K, a little less than a year following Katrina, was like going into Sarajevo. I don't think many of my local friends got a good look at the neighborhoods surrounding the City Park, such as the Lower Ninth Ward, but the sheer expanse of devastation at that time was downright depressing. The hotel I stayed in downtown was serviceable (I'm pleased to say they looked fantastic two years later.) but a little rough on the edges. While racing, you're focusing on the task at hand; that continuous calculus between speed and comfort. That meant my focus was not much beyond the roadway, my fellow competitors and the crowd along the curbside. However, the next day's easy jog on the same course was much the same as seeing a hockey player's mouth during game time; lots of gaps where things normally once had been.
Each year, as I have gone back for one reason or another, I've been blessed with the opportunity to spend time with some resilient, and sometimes just plain tough people. I think James Taylor sang a song (Ananas, French for pineapple) about those folks: Sweet on the inside, rough on the outside. So, NOLA for me is an opportunity to meet new friends and see a side that most turistas don't want or don't care to see.
Take, for example, the 5:20 club. This group meets twice a week to run out along the canal and the shore of Lake Ponchartrain at 5:20 a.m. Sharp. You may consider that particular time (when I went it was before the butt-crack of dawn) to be the height of insanity, but keep in mind that in a city where the elevation is less than sea level, humidity of less than 100 percent is a dry day, and heat can be downright oppressive, running five-to-ten miles without an ambulance trip to Charity Hospital can only be accomplished at 5:20 a.m. The 5:20-ers make the experience as hospitable as possible by providing sports drink, a makeshift shower and dressing facility, as well as space at the table for a post-run breakfast at a NOLA west eatery (I must admit the breakfast was fantastic!).
I never had seen the shore of Ponch, so rolling along at 7:40-to-7:50 pace as the sun was rising was an absolute treat. Sure, there were lake houses in varied states of repair, and you could feel the humidity rise as the sun did, but there is nothing (in my humble opinion) like spending time enjoying nature - and breakfast - with a few good friends.
Here's hoping and praying Gustav decides to take a vacation somewhere very, very south.

No comments: