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

Friday, August 10, 2007

Post-Katrina Living: Making Do and Good Enough

by Ana Maria

It’s finally here! We have the date on which the contractor will arrive and do the next set of renovations to my mom’s home.

He’ll sand and seal the wood that hasn’t been touched in that way since my parents had the house built 45 years ago. Hang the doors to the bedrooms. Rework the closet doors. Create new doors for the utility room. Put up the crown molding on the ceiling and the floors. I think that about covers this next leg of returning to life BK—before Katrina.

When I arrived back in March, I was shocked at everything. From the total disappearance of so much of my home town here on the Mississippi Gulf Coast through the evaporation of nearly every home and business along the 40-50 miles of beach going east to Biloxi, which is as far as I’ve traveled that way. Then going west to see family in New Orleans was more of the same: destruction, devastation, disappearance, and evaporation.

Clearly, the PR campaign that the Bush Administration has going along with its counterpart in the Mississippi Governor’s Mansion via Haley Barbour doesn’t hold any water. Barbour is the former head of the national Republican Party and good friends with Bush. Naturally, they would support each other’s BS, I mean PR, campaign.

I’ve been here now five months. I have acclimated to a great deal and in ways no one could have convinced me that I would ever acclimate myself. Not that long ago, I was living in the lap of comparative luxury over there in San Jose, Calif.

I lived in a beautiful apartment inside a complex with three “sparkling pools” as its brochures like to brag, two tennis courts, two workout rooms, free tennis and yoga classes, and a sauna—actually two: one for women and one for men. Everything was convenient to my locale. Within a matter of minutes, I could be at any number of malls and full-sized grocery stores. Real grocery stores!

Safeway, Albertson’s, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, PW, Ranch 99—the large Asian food store chain. Plus there were a myriad of farm stands and plenty of smaller ethnic grocery stores. What joy! What bliss! Especially for someone like me that loves to cook and is damned good at it, too.

Today, I have Wal-Mart. In California, I protested with my union friends the atrocious employee policies that Wal-Mart uses. Today, it’s the only grocery around, and I’ve tempered my political preference for the reality life is currently presenting to my family, friends, and neighbors. Today, I go to Wal-Mart to get groceries and rarely think more than twice about it.

In my very first blog entry on the first of May, I wrote, “The best I’ve come up with is that many of life’s routine activities is like walking through glue . . . for miles on end.” That remains the best way I’ve come up with for describing post-Katrina life. As a current example, let’s talk about moving out of the house so the contractor can come in and work on it.

I called around to locate a hotel. Well, there aren’t that many. The one I wanted to book is literally 5 blocks from the house and would be great. It’s booked solid. Oh. We FINALLY get a contractor and his schedule and ours is permitting him to come fix up the house . . . and we can’t find a hotel nearby? I panicked.

Next, I called Hollywood Casino Hotel. It’s almost twice as expensive, and we would not have all the nights we would need. That won’t do. If I’m having to interrupt the routine for an elderly mother who is not in her prime physical condition--though she's sharp as a tack mentally, I want to get somewhere and stay put until we can come home. Nevertheless, I took the rooms I could.

Then, I called the lesser motel down the road a bit. Rooms are plentiful. Great! I booked them and then, I canceled the other reservations. My younger brother recommended that I actually look at the rooms., which I did. He was right. Not good enough.

My hotel hunting began all over again. There are limitations to what has been rebuilt and open for business. Finally, I settled at another casino hotel which is about 25 minutes from the house. There some interruption in our stay, but it is doable. It’s more than good enough for now. It has to be.

The story of post-Katrina life. Making do and good enough.

Personally, I am elated to be going to a hotel with extremely comfortable beds. Little furniture is in the house today. I’ve been sleeping on a twin-sized air mattress. A month ago, it sprung a leak. I repaired it . . . so I thought. I repaired it again. Better.

It would go like this for a few weeks toward the end of which I would find myself in the middle of the air mattress, squarely with my butt and back up against the wood floor. Finally, I gave up. If I’m going to end up on the floor anyway, I may as well just put myself there to begin with and quit waking up oddly contorted.

Believe me, in other circumstances, I would have gone out and bought another air mattress. Heck, in other circumstances, I would have gone out and bought the replacement mattress, set up the bed, and had myself some terrific sleep. If anything, however, these are extra-ordinary circumstances even some two years after the storm.

Back in April when I met the woman who turned me on to her contractor husband, I had thought everything would work out so he could get in here at the end of May at the latest. Then, I kept thinking a few more weeks, a few more weeks.

The whole time, I was slowly being baptized in the post-Katrina way things are. When I’d become agitated at something, I would think to myself, “This is only temporary. This, too, shall pass—quickly. I can handle anything for a little while.”

Or I would think, “I’ve only been at this since March. I can NOT imagine how it has been for those who’ve been back a year or those who actually went through the storm!”

So, when I found myself waking up in the middle of the night in contorted positions due to the deflation of my air mattress, I pulled out one of my old stand-bys and thought, “This is only temporary.” Of course, there is another part of me that says that things like this are part of my post-Katrina experience. My dues, as it were.

Going to a hotel room for a while will be a welcomed reprieve with its wonderful bed that will be heavenly to sleep on, I’m sure. (I’ve actually gone to the hotel and looked at the rooms. Gorgeous! A fabulous bed to sleep on--a new found luxury.)

See, there is no use in buying mattresses to replace the ones that had to be gotten rid of after Katrina had her way with the house. Why buy them and put them up only to have to move ‘em when the contractor gets here? It’s going to be harried enough with all the moving parts to prepping the house for the contractor without adding to the workload.

And so this is how I imagine many others from every walk of life have coped with the dysfunction that has characterized post-Katrina living. Whether finding the courage to go up against the insurance industry or dealing with a contractor that has taken money and failed to show up (a horror story that is far too common) or dealing with not finding a contractor to do the work in the first place, folks around here have more than perfected the art of making do.

Whether sleeping on the floor or putting up with the contamination that is inside the formaldehyde-filled, Barbie doll-sized FEMA trailers or dealing with insurance companies trying to rip off consumers by hiding behind false claims that the 135 plus mile-per-hour winds created not a smidgen of damage to a home or business, folks throughout the Katrina-ravaged region have invented new ways of defining good enough.

But these persistent conditions are not good enough. No one here should have to make do for two long years. It’s not right. As always, the question is how do we improve the situation? What can we do? What kind of political hell can we raise to shake things up and make things better?

Today’s Political Hell Raising Activity

''Fighting an insurance company is like staring down the wrong end of a cannon,'' Dr. Bennett said after fighting his insurance company in New Hampshire.
Dr. Bennett is so very right. We can change this and have the insurance industry itself staring down the wrong end of a cannon when it does its policyholders wrong. We have a great opportunity to impact insurance reform efforts this very month.

During August, our federal legislators are in their home districts. We can contact our Congressional representative and two U.S. Senators by phone or email and ask them to support two pieces of legislation to fix the problem going forward. Many lawmakers will be holding town hall meetings. Going to one and asking for their support is another option.

1. One policy: Wind and Water Insurance Coverage
At the same time, let’s continue to contact our federal legislators to support expanding the Federal Flood Insurance Program to include wind. Remember that the insurance industry begged off of its legal obligation to pay if so much as a smidgen of water came onto a property regardless of the damage that wind had caused. This is wrong.

We can make it so the post-Katrina experience doesn’t happen to other Americans. Informing our federal lawmakers that we support having one policy for both flood and wind coverage is how we remedy the situation for the future. That way future American families and businesses will not be required to make do unnecessarily.

2. The Insurance Industry Must Play By the Same Rules
Robbing us blindly with premiums for policies that they deliberately fail to make good on is, well, NOT good enough. So, let’s contact our federal lawmakers to ask for their support on the proposed legislation that would require the insurance industry to operate under the same rules as every other business in America. End its accidental 60-year exemption from laws governing price fixing and collusion.

That proposed legislation is S. 618 (in the Senate) and H.R. (in the House of Representatives). We must make the insurance industry play by the same rules as other businesses in the United States. This is fair.

Together, we can redefine what is good enough.

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