LEJ's Blog

My Photo
Location: New Orleans, Louisiana, United States

Leonard Earl Johnson (photo credit Frank Parsley) covered Hurricanes Katrina and Rita (2005), and the 2010 British Petroleum oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico for ConsumerAffairs.com. He is a contributor to Gambit Weekly, New Orleans Magazine, SCAT, Baton Rouge Advocate, Advocate Magazine, The Times-Picayune, Country Roads Magazine, Palm Springs Newswire and the anthologies: FRENCH QUARTER FICTION (Light of New Orleans Publishing), LOUISIANA IN WORDS (Pelican Publishing), LIFE IN THE WAKE (NOLAfuges.com), and more. Johnson is a former Merchant Seaman, and columnist at Les Amis de Marigny, New Orleans; and African-American Village. Attended Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, and Harry Lundeberg School of Seamanship at Piney Point, Maryland. Winner of the Press Club of New Orleans Award for Excellence, 1991, and given the Key to The City and a Certificate of Appreciation from the New Orleans City Council for a Gambit Weekly story on murder in the French Quarter.

Monday, June 01, 2009

June 1, 2009 / Texas to New Orleans on the Big Choo-Choo

Yours Truly in a Swamp
June 2009

Photo Credits: Frank Parsley
Reprinted from Les Amis de Marigny, New Orleans

Texas to New Orleans on the Big Choo-Choo

Leonard Earl Johnson

* * *

Texas bluebonnets danced at our feet at the Lillian Farms Bed & Breakfast, in the Brazos River country of Texas. We were just down the road from where Texas was founded. Where Sam Houston and Stephen Fuller Austin sat with other Fathers of the Lone Star State -- without a woman's quill in the ink pot -- signing the Secession documents that thumbed the new nation's nose at Mother Mexico.

Now handsome ladies greet the morn from a landscape of cultivated wild flowers and tamed longhorns. Yes, privileged American traveler, there really is a Lillian Farms. And, yes, Louisiana, there really is a Texas!

* * *

Moist air licked at our ankles when we stepped off Amtrak, back in The Land of Dreamy Dreams. Back in Spring morphing into Summer. Back in New Orleans in time for the new hurricane season.

Sweet olive and Confederate jasmine perfumed the air around the train station. And magnolia trees hurriedly gave up their Summer fragrance. Allen Toussaint's "Southern Nights" played on someones portable radio, and Southern dowagers danced in our head.

"Heady as the Royal Street Pharmacy's perfume counter on a Friday evening," Norma said to the young man from Los Angeles she had cajoled into carrying our bags.

We met coming out of Houston, at sunrise, in the restaurant-car of the Sunset Limited streaming towards New Orleans. We were seated together at a table with a little bouquet of red carnations placed before the car's picture window -- a proscenium for the morning oil fields.

Our handsome table mate said he was on his way to his girlfriend's commencement at Tulane University. They had both been freshmen, in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina hit.

"Ellen DeGeneres is to be the speaker," he told us. "She is a huge television star and a New Orleans native."

After The Storm he had transferred to the University of California, at Los Angeles. His girlfriend stayed at Tulane, where she is now a part of the historic Hurricane-Katrina graduation class of 2009.

"My God, has it been four years already?" Norma said, as she tipped her coffee cup: "To you, and all the children Bush's FEMA forgot."

At New Orleans Union Station the four years boarded-up entrance way to The City sported gleaming new plate glass doors, with electric eyes. And taxi drivers jumped out from behind the wheel to open their car doors.

"Yes mam, you may smoke," our driver told Norma. "That is, if you open the window and don't tell the governor."

* * *

In Texas, we saw the skyscraper home of AIG, the con insurance operation, looming over Houston and America's economy. The American flag flew above it at half mast.

We also found the new home of Kaboom Books, formerly located across Barracks Street from Cabrini Park, "the dog park," in the French Quarter.

Following Katrina, Kaboom owner, John Dillman, relocated to two locations in Houston, 3116 Houston Avenue, and 733 Studewood.

Dillman, a man noted for great knowledge of books and little patience for fools, made the move, "With optimism and regret, and with no plans of going back."

After Katrina, Dillman bought our library at Squalor Heights. It was not a large library but it was ours, and it was mostly undamaged by The Storm. (It was sold for reasons survivors everywhere will understand -- to lighten our load.) Included in our collection was the heady title, MOSES AND MONOTHEISM, by Sigmund Freud. We first read it in college, when doing time for the Illinois Board of Higher Education. It told us of three iconic philosophers coming out of the East and forming the collective monotheistic God-stories loved by Jews, Christians and Muslims. We had bought this edition from Dillman many years before The Storm.

Following September Eleventh, a discussion about religion with L. A. Norma sent us looking for this book to clarify some salient point only vaguely remembered. We did not know the title, or the author, we told Dillman. "It was about one-God and by, or about, Freud."

With no more description than that, Dillman, said: "I have two copies. One is five dollars and one is three."

We bought the five-dollar specimen. The other one had a torn page. When we found it again, in the new Kaboom of Houston, we bought it back. We were carrying it with us back to New Orleans, for no particular reason. Norma gave it to the young man from Los Angeles as a graduation gift.

* * *

Later at Squalor Heights, we watched Ellen DeGeneres on television speaking to Tulane's Katrina Class. Sitting by her side was the jovial University President, Scott Cowen. Everyone laughed when she told them the job market is huge and, "Now you know the right question to ask in that first job interview, like: 'Is it above Sea level?'"

God bless us all, and be a New Orleanian wherever you go.

Lillian Farms Bed & Breakfast

Ellen DeGeneres address to Tulane's Katrina Class of '09

LEJ's refrigerator magnets