What Gulf Coast Congressman Gene Taylor wanted the Easter Bunny to bring him.
South Mississippi Living 4/07

Monday, May 14, 2007

Bridging Worlds

Bridging Worlds Listen to this podcast

When folks around here [in Bay St. Louis, Miss.] say, “I’m going across the bridge,” that means that they are crossing the Bay Bridge traveling eastwardly on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The bridge links one side of the coastline to the other along Highway 90, a major thoroughfare. The saying “going across the bridge” automatically implies going to one of the tiny beach towns spread over 40 miles.

We “go across the bridge” for any number of reasons: shop, visit friends and family, work, go the beach, conduct business, play at a casino (Beau Rivage, The Grand Casino, etc.), or eat at one of the area’s many fabulous restaurants with their decadently delicious dining for which our region is well-known.

When Katrina blew through town over 20 months ago, the hurricane so thoroughly demolished the bridge that it left only the pilings as the photo below captures.

Image from Waveland and Bay St. Louis After Katrina.

Eastern and western coastal beach towns became cut off from each other. So integral is this bridge to our daily life that when I first learned that the storm had wiped it out, I couldn’t imagine how to get to the other side. “What?! How would you get to . . . ?” Initially, an alternate route evaded my thinking—and I’m a native.

While an alternate route does exist, no one in their right mind would voluntarily use it as a routine way to travel from one side to the other. So let’s look at an example to understand the very real impact the bridge’s evaporation has had.

For a young lady working at the Silver Slipper, a newly opened casino in Lakeshore, Miss., located on the western tip of the Gulf Coast beach, her daily drive from her home in Pass Christian to the casino adds 25 minutes to her commute each way, she told me. This translates to just over 4 hours in additional commute time each week. Annualizing this means that she spends 210 hours in additional time traveling to and from work because the bridge is out.

All told, her additional commute time would be the equivalent to five 40-hour work weeks every year. Now in her case, the Silver Slipper has only been opened since November 2006, six months. However, plenty of other folks have been commuting the additional 50 minutes a day since Katrina flattened the area over 20 months ago. The commute is one of many additional challenges that residents in Katrina-land face daily.

For these 20 months, families along the Gulf Coast, in New Orleans, and surrounding areas strive daily to put back their lives in the wake of Katrina.

After having battled the worst natural disaster in our region’s history, if not the country’s, these residents have had the enormous displeasure of experiencing the unnecessary challenge of battling our nation’s other disasters of epic proportions. Bush’s FEMA, his compassionless corporate cronies who raided the post-Katrina reconstruction funding, and his compadres in the insurance industry who are stiffing Katrina’s survivors. I just love that Gulf Coast Congressman Gene Taylor labeled State Farm and Allstate the “axis of evil.” The photo below is of Taylor’s spray painted sign propped up in his front yard expressing these exact words.

Spray painted sign in the front yard of Gulf Coast Democratic Congressman Gene Taylor whose family home Katrina completely demolished when the hurricane blew through Bay St. Louis, Miss., my home town.

Fortunately, for the Gulf Coast residents, the first major community-wide milestone in the recovery has finally arrived. With well-deserved fanfare on May 17th, the Mississippi Gulf Coast reopens two lanes of the Bay Bridge. Isn’t it a beaut!

Bridge Fest celebrates this magnificent inaugural partial opening of the new Bay Bridge, which reunites worlds separated since that fateful day in August 2005. Those two lanes reconnect the tiny beach towns of Bay St Louis and Waveland with the eastern 40 plus miles of the Gulf Coast’s families, friends, and businesses located in Pass Christian, Long Beach, Gulfport, Biloxi, Ocean Springs, and Pascagoula (pronounced Pas-ca-goola).

Technically speaking, a bridge is merely an avenue of transport. Reopening the bridge connects more than two tiny Gulf Coast beach towns separated by a few miles of water. In this Katrina-ravaged region, however, the Bay Bridge represents far more.

The enormous weight of post-Katrina mourning, loss, and sense of abandonment from the insurance industry, FEMA and Bush White House, while palpable, may escape reduction to a numerical scale. What is visibly measurable are the beaming smiles and twinkling eyes at the mentioning of the bridge’s opening.

Those smiles and eyes reflect a much needed healing similar to that which often occurs spontaneously when loved ones reunite after a long, hard, and difficult separation. For coastal residents on one or another side of the Bay Bridge, the reopening is a sort of family reunion, a homecoming.

“Going across the bridge” once again returns to our vocabulary with renewed meaning. While long overdue, even this partial reopening of the Bay Bridge opens the coastline to a renewed sense of optimism and relief that my fellow locals embrace enthusiastically with all the warmth of the Gulf Coast’s gloriously blazing sunshine.

1 comment:

Les said...

You are providing a wonderful humanitarian service here.

Keeping the spotlight on the people who were so deeply affected by Katrina, and, describing how our current administration is unable to provide the support they need to rebuild their lives.

Kudos to you Ana Maria.