Franz and I drove to New Orleans Thursday. You may question the wisdom of taking such a long (eight hours) trip in a car, but for us it makes sense. Let’s face it; two can drive 525 miles a lot cheaper than they can fly it, pay for a rental car, airport parking and so on.
At Gator Country the preferred method of air travel is to go fly a kite! Not only that, but I enjoy a long drive, especially when Franz is sleeping.
But driving into New Orleans was unlike any experience I have ever had. You could see signs of the damage wreaked by Hurricane Katrina in Alabama and especially Mississippi. But seeing the devastation along the side of the road over the final 30 miles of the journey was something I will never forget. I sorta think all Americans should see what it still looks like here, and vow to never again allow our countrymen to suffer so much for so long. Entire apartment complexes remain empty and uninhabitable. Shopping malls are being demolished in hopes of someday rebuilding. Store fronts and individual houses of all sizes bear the unmistakable scars of that horrific storm and its aftermath.
It reminded me of early 1980’s scenes of the South Bronx after a series of fires, but the damage was man made.
But this isn’t just about this experience. This piece is also about re-birth, rebuilding and renewal, but not from my perspective. Instead, I’m going to write down for each of you a lengthy statement Billy Donovan made about the situation.
Donovan played in New Orleans back in 1987 when he led Providence to college basketball’s ultimate event. The Gator Head Coach was responding to a question about whether or not he would favor bringing the Final Four back to this remarkable city.
Billy Donovan on New Orleans:
“I’ve always loved New Orleans. I’ve enjoyed the times when I’ve been able to visit, and for me, personally in ’87 to come here and be part of the Final Four. This afternoon we had the opportunity to practice over at Delgado Community College, and the bus driver took us through that lake view area and some areas that were really hit hard. I don’t know if our players understand or if anyone understands the recovery that’s going on in this city; just the amount of disruption that’s happened to this city.”
“I think about a team like the New Orleans Saints having the success they had this year just 18 months removed from that storm. To see blocks and blocks and blocks of empty and vacant homes, homes not there at all and people trying to clean up and start over it’s a very humbling experience. And I hope by the NCAA Tournament being here in the city it’s going to bring some enthusiasm, some excitement and some energy to a city that’s obviously gone through a lot over the last year and a half.”
“I think having New Orleans as a site for the Final Four in the future would be a great thing. It’s a great city that’s had a lot of great events here. If it would help in the rebuilding process financially for the city it would all be good.”