After the flood 

Ten years later, Arkansans who lived through Hurricane Katrina talk about the storm, the aftermath and what remains when you lose everything.

RIDING IT OUT: Bruce Snow, now a Metro Streetcar (formerly the River Rail streetcar) driver, settled in Little Rock in 2008 with his wife, but the couple plans to return to New Orleans next year. - BRIAN CHILSON
  • Brian Chilson
  • RIDING IT OUT: Bruce Snow, now a Metro Streetcar (formerly the River Rail streetcar) driver, settled in Little Rock in 2008 with his wife, but the couple plans to return to New Orleans next year.

Ten years ago, when Hurricane Katrina blew a hole in New Orleans, about 75,000 evacuees fled north to Arkansas.

They came by car, bus and military transport. They came with a change of clothes, if they were lucky. Some, like Barbara Scorza, were fortunate enough to have a vehicle and escaped the city before the storm made landfall. Others, such as Bruce Snow, were among the thousands left stranded in New Orleans with no food or water. According to state officials, some 8,000 to 9,000 of the Katrina evacuees received by Arkansas had been trapped for days in the Superdome or the New Orleans Convention Center.

Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee, in one of his finer moments, mobilized resources from local governments, churches and aid organizations across Arkansas to tend to the victims. The governor rightfully condemned the slow response from federal authorities. "Quite frankly, I've been almost ashamed to see many of our American citizens sleeping on concrete for three nights without food and water, to see infants who didn't have so much as something to drink. They deserve better than that," he said at the time.

The failure was one of society itself as much as government. It's hard to deny that the response to Katrina would have looked very different if the thousands trapped in the city had been predominately middle class and white. But despite the initial breakdown, an outpouring of aid followed in the subsequent months, including in cities and towns around Arkansas. That generosity and goodwill made a permanent mark on the tens of thousands of New Orleanians who landed here, a counterpoint to the trauma of the storm. Maybe that's why some of them have stuck around the state, despite the pain of leaving home behind for good.

New Orleans lies seven hours south of Little Rock and a universe away. In some ways, the city is everything Arkansas isn't: urban and pluralistic, libidinous and cosmopolitan. But a distant kinship lurks somewhere in there as well. Like New Orleans, Arkansas knows poverty and dereliction, the sense of being apart from the rest of America. If the Gothic weirdness of the South finds its most potent concentration in the city of New Orleans, it has its headwaters in places like Arkansas. Under the right conditions, those currents can flow backward, upstream, in unpredictable ways.

A decade after Katrina, it's time to remember the storm through the eyes of some of the people whom it brought here or otherwise touched.

Bruce Snow

It's poetic that Bruce Snow wound up driving a streetcar in Little Rock. In his native New Orleans, streetcars are an honest-to-God commuting choice. Here, he makes loops around downtown, usually working the evening shift, mostly carrying tourists.

Born to an Ecuadorian family in the Gentilly neighborhood of New Orleans, Snow was 25 when Katrina hit. He'd lived through plenty of hurricanes before, Snow said, and he and his family weren't evacuators.

"Katrina was coming, and yes, it looked bigger and scarier, especially as it got nearer and nearer," he said. "But [evacuation] was never really brought up, except at the last moment, and we said: 'I just don't think it's possible. We're already committed.' "

Snow, along with his mother, aunt, uncle and dog, rode out the hurricane in an interior hallway of his grandparents' home on Mandeville Street. After the storm passed, Snow said, he and his uncle emerged into the windy tail of the hurricane to survey the damage. Other than some downed trees, most of what they saw seemed fixable. Then they noticed something odd.

"On our way back, we passed a manhole in the street," Snow said. "It was puking up water, a little mouthful at a time." A little over a mile from their door, the levee along the London Avenue Canal had failed. Over the next few hours, the water rose inch by inch, covering the street, then the lawn, then creeping up the steps.

"Now you're talking agony," he said. "The front step goes under. The next step goes under. It just keeps getting a little bit higher. Now it's like noon. Five steps are under, three more to go. How high can it go?... That was the torture. Just watching it. This is my grandparents' home. They emigrated in '63, they bought it in '72. It's their American Dream. And it's going under."

They tried stuffing blankets under the door, but water began bubbling up through the floorboards. It was ankle deep when they fled to the attic, leaving almost everything behind, including the jugs they'd filled in the bathtub. Snow's mother, who suffers from seizures and who had recently had several surgeries, left her medicine downstairs.

"By the time we thought to go back for it, it's all underwater," he said. "So we were up in our attic with two gallons of water, a two-liter of Diet Coke and a bag of Doritos, for four adults and a dog."

Snow was able to climb through a window to reach the roof. From there, he watched while the neighborhood drowned. The water eventually reached 8 feet deep in the street out front, submerging large vans and SUVs. Though they'd hoped the water would begin to recede, it was still there in the morning.

"The wind is gone, and now it's just hot," he said. "Now it's like a typical summer day. No tropical winds and racing clouds. It's just dead still, calm, hot."

After catching a ride on a neighbor's boat and regrouping near a hardware store on a patch of higher ground, Snow and his family decided to try to make it to the Superdome, 6 miles away. They waded through water up to their necks and reached the Superdome on Tuesday evening. Inside, they found a scene quickly devolving into something out of Dante's Inferno: what Snow estimates at 20,000 people, many of them dehydrated and exhausted. Lines for water and food were over three hours long. With the power out, the pitch-black bathrooms quickly became squalid, stinking bogs.

Snow said he saw frequent fights in coming days. Some people broke the legs off Army cots that had been distributed and began carrying them as clubs. At one point, Snow and his uncle were almost trampled on the field after a crowd panicked and ran from the sound of gunfire in the stands. The stress was so much that Snow's mother had a seizure toward the middle of the week, blacking out. He took her to a stadium seat and cared for her until it passed. When she came to, Snow said, the first thing she said was to comment on the smell. It was only then that he noticed the dead man a few seats away.

"We look and there's this old man sitting in a chair, in a stadium seat, surrounded by other people, kids," Snow said. "He kind of had this smile on his face. His skin was kind of yellow, kinda gray, sort of waxy. He'd started to smell — the smell of fresh death. It's nothing you'll ever find in a funeral home."

Finally, they were told that the Superdome would be evacuated. National Guard troops crowded everyone onto the terrace outside the stadium, where Snow said they waited for over a day, sweltering in the August sun. With no toilets near the line, they were soon standing in human waste.

"We're standing like sardines in this valley of crap," he said. "Sun shining. Summer. New Orleans. No cover. Nothing. Valley of shit. Standing there. The sun is killing us. People are dropping out left and right. People are getting mosh pit crowd-surfed to the front, incapacitated. Old people. Kids. Babies."

On Saturday at around 5 p.m., Snow and his family were able to get on a bus. Originally told they were going to Houston, Snow said they were instead taken to the New Orleans airport, where they stood in another line, over a mile long, for 10 hours, before boarding a military transport plane.

They were flown first to Ft. Chaffee, then to the Little Rock Air Force Base. Once there, Snow said, several soldiers and a man in a suit came aboard.

"What the hell is this? Bill Clinton?" Snow said. "That's the only guy from Arkansas I'd ever heard of. No, it isn't Bill Clinton. It's Mike Huckabee, the governor at the time. He's personally boarding each plane as it lands to address us. ... It was a really nice speech, but at the time, it was like: 'Just shut the hell up, dude, and let me get off this plane. You can form a constituency another time.' "

From there, they were taken by bus to the Pine Bluff Convention Center. Snow said the compassion he found there was like waking up from a nightmare. "As far as I can tell, the whole community of Pine Bluff and White Hall all showed up," he said. "It's Labor Day weekend. This is Sunday morning. They gave up their Labor Day to volunteer. ... Before long, I had a team of middle-school-aged minions waiting on me hand and foot."

A volunteer cut his knotted hair. He showered in the gym locker room and changed into clothes provided by the Salvation Army. He was combing his hair in the mirror, he said, when his new reality dawned on him.

"It hit me: 'I don't even own the clothes on my back anymore.' That was a big eye-opener," he said. "What's next? What happens next? I had no time during the whole Superdome thing to think about any of that. ... There was only right now."

Soon, Snow and his mother caught a flight to Florida to stay with his uncle. He didn't go back to his family home in Gentilly until October. He and his grandparents brought a U-Haul to move out their belongings, but found that everything worth saving fit neatly in a Toyota Tercel hatchback.

Snow moved back to the city around Christmas, working where he could over the next few years. He was setting up the audio-visual equipment for a conference when he met Erin, a Heifer International employee who would eventually become his wife. He moved to Little Rock to be with her in the fall of 2008, and has been driving the streetcar since 2012. He recently finished a memoir about his Katrina experience and hopes to see it published. Most of his life is back to normal, he said, but he doesn't do well with crowds.

"I went to a 'Welcome Back to School Night,' my step-daughter's, at Mount St. Mary's," he said. "You've got hundreds of kids and hundreds of parents all running through this building, looking for different rooms, moving. I started pouring tears. I had to back up against a wall. I was shaking. It was the most overwhelming experience I've had since [Katrina]. I'm sure people were like: What the hell is wrong with this guy? It just came out of nowhere."

He and his wife plan on moving back to New Orleans next year. They've set a date: Labor Day weekend 2016. He has heard that the storms are getting worse. He knows that it could happen again. As he makes his loops on the streetcar through Little Rock, surely he sees another great hurricane in the glass sometimes, grinding across the Gulf toward New Orleans and the familiar life he hopes to build there. After what he's seen, though, you get the sense that not much scares him anymore.

"Things will happen regardless," he said. "I'll evacuate this time for sure. I'm not going to stick around and ride it out again. But you can't be afraid. You can't be afraid of the what-ifs in life, or you'll never do anything."

FROM IRAQ TO NEW ORLEANS: John Edwards went to New Orleans with the 39th Infantry. - BRIAN CHILSON
  • Brian Chilson
  • FROM IRAQ TO NEW ORLEANS: John Edwards went to New Orleans with the 39th Infantry.

John Edwards

On the morning of Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2005, Col. John Edwards was relaxing at Community Bakery on Main Street when he got the call to suit up and head to New Orleans.

Edwards, who lives in Little Rock, had returned in June from an 18-month tour of duty overseas as a JAG officer with the 39th Infantry Brigade of the Arkansas Army National Guard. He'd been in Iraq throughout 2004, as a bloody insurgency expanded; that summer, Edwards was still "just trying to get back into the world," as he put it. But Louisiana's largest Guard unit, the 256th Infantry, was still deployed overseas, and so it fell to the 39th Infantry to bring belated relief to those stranded in New Orleans.

A little over 24 hours later, Edwards found himself aboard a C-130 en route to Louisiana, along with some 200 other Arkansas servicemen from the 39th Infantry.

"We essentially had the same equipment with us as when we rolled into Baghdad — our helmets, our body armor, our weapons," Edwards recalled recently.

The transport planes landed just after nightfall at the Naval air station in Belle Chasse, where the 39th Infantry rendezvoused with the Louisiana National Guard. They tried to catch some sleep in a junior high school at the base, but Edwards lay awake most of the night, stretched out on a row of chairs in a counselor's office and fearing what they might have to do the next day.

"The initial reports we were given [said] to expect, you know, hostile activity from the local population. And we were issued live ammunition. I just remember thinking, 'This could be the day some of our soldiers actually might have to draw down on fellow Americans,' " he said.

"As a JAG officer, one of my principal duties in wartime overseas [is to] give commanders guidance on the rules of engagement. When to shoot, when not to shoot, how you shoot. ... Almost all the soldiers we had with us in Belle Chasse were veterans of the war in Iraq. I was always very proud of the 39th's discipline — we'd never had a soldier charged with an improper shooting while we were in Iraq. But this is different. This is different. You're on American soil."

Around 2 a.m., Edwards received orders concerning the "rules for the use of force," or RUF — the stateside equivalent of rules of engagement — for the operation in New Orleans.  

"The main point was that soldiers have the inherent right to defend themselves if someone is trying to kill or seriously harm you," he said. The "Louisiana RUF" card Edwards showed the Times — he kept a copy — allowed the use of deadly force to protect the life of others, but explicitly ruled out its use for protection of property.

Looking back at the rumors emerging from New Orleans in the immediate aftermath of Katrina, it's not surprising the military distributed live ammo. Sensational stories mutated and multiplied: mass rapes, murders, heaps of hundreds of corpses piled inside the Superdome and New Orleans Convention Center, which had become shelters of last resort for thousands of people driven from their homes. The 39th Infantry was tasked with delivering aid to the crowds in and around the convention center, a hulking 3-million-square-foot complex near downtown. They braced themselves for the possibility of violence.

At around 4 a.m. on Sept. 2, the soldiers climbed aboard buses and crossed over the Mississippi into the pitch blackness of a city without power. They disembarked at a freeway off-ramp near the Superdome and began making their way eastward just as the horizon began to brighten.

"Right about then, we see these people start moving towards us in the water," Edwards remembered. "I'm thinking to myself, 'Is this going to be it? Are we going to have trouble?' And as we get closer to them, we see they're all foreign correspondents. There's someone from the BBC, someone from Le Monde, someone from a German paper.

"The guy from the BBC says, 'Hello! Are you the chaps from Ar-Kansas? ' I say, 'Yes, we are.' And he says, 'How do you feel about the governor's shoot-to-kill order?' "

No such order had been issued, but (unbeknownst to Edwards) Democratic Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco had suggested as much in her press conference the previous day announcing the deployment of the 39th Infantry.

"They have M-16s, and they're locked and loaded. ... These troops know how to shoot and kill, and they are more than willing to do so if necessary, and I expect they will," Blanco had said, which further abetted the rumors of chaotic violence.

After Edwards assured the reporters the unit had no directive to shoot looters, the soldiers paused for several hours in a parking deck as they waited for the arrival of a convoy of five-ton trucks carrying water, MREs and medical supplies. By noon, they continued on their way.

"I'll never forget when we turned onto Convention Center Boulevard and got a full view of the scene. There was just this huge mass of humanity, as far as the eye could see," Edwards recalled.

It's estimated that as many as 20,000 people had been awaiting rescue at the convention center for days on end, with little or no food and water.

"Almost everyone was really young or really old — those were the people who had the hardest time getting out of town. I remember seeing a couple of young pregnant women and thinking, 'Y'all could give birth any moment now.' You'd also see [physically disabled] people on these electric scooters — wherever their power ran out, that's where they were stuck."

Although the crowd was suffering and desperate, the soldiers quickly realized the reports of hostility had been inaccurate.

"People were screaming with joy. Everyone was friendly, everyone was very polite. So, after a couple of hours, [the commanding officer] allowed everyone to take off their helmets and body armor.

"There had been some looting, but I was expecting worse. You had some people who were drunk, but if I'd been stuck out in 105-degree heat, I might have been getting drunk, too. ... And you did see a lot of the best of humanity. I remember a young black man in his late teens, early 20s, tending to an elderly white lady in a wheelchair. He was always there with her, making sure she was getting water and had shade. You saw a lot of things like that."

By sundown, the soldiers had distributed food and water to everyone in the crowd, some of whom were so badly dehydrated they required immediate medical care. "We went through 400 IV bags in short order. There was an elderly woman who died the day we arrived, I believe from dehydration. If the combat medics had not been with us, there would have been a lot more casualties that day."

The Arkansans slept that night on a loading dock; one soldier found an industrial-sized roll of shipping foam, and the men unrolled it for makeshift bedding. The next morning, Sept. 3, they began evacuating the crowds: "All day, it was a constant motion of assisting people onto buses."

By the night of Sept. 3 — five agonizing days after the storm made landfall in Louisiana — the convention center had been cleared, and the 39th Infantry turned to providing security to clinics and other relief operations. The soldiers never encountered significant hostility in the following months. Just the opposite — one of the commanders' biggest problems, Edwards said, was "the over-exuberance of the local populace."

"People in these neighborhoods were wanting to give our soldiers stuff to drink. They meant it quite well, but ... automatic weapons and alcohol is not a good combination, especially when you've got a bunch of guys who'd just come back from a year in a place where you weren't supposed to drink at all. We had to have a lot of talks."

Edwards, who served as a Democratic state representative from 2009 to 2014, blamed the delayed response on officials from the local level (he has especially harsh words for New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin) to the top of the chain of command.

"You had this perfect storm.  Nagin, Blanco, President Bush ... . There was all this misinformation about who was in charge. Everyone was losing. People were suffering for it." As for the military, "we couldn't go [to New Orleans] until we got the order."

DIVINE GUIDANCE: Barbara Scorza's thoughts of scripture led her to leave before the storm. - BRIAN CHILSON
  • Brian Chilson
  • DIVINE GUIDANCE: Barbara Scorza's thoughts of scripture led her to leave before the storm.

Barbara Scorza

When the storm surge breached the levees of the Lower Ninth Ward, Barbara Scorza was left stranded in the attic with her mother. The waters rose high enough for Scorza to dangle her feet and play in the flood, or so she was told later. She was nine months old that September 1965, and the storm was named Hurricane Betsy.

Forty years later, almost to the day, Scorza locked the gate to that same house early one Sunday morning and pointed her Nissan Altima toward Memphis, fleeing another hurricane. Her 82-year-old mother rode shotgun; in the backseat were her two sons, 11 and 25, wedged alongside three grandchildren ages 3, 5 and 7.

In the living room of her North Little Rock home on a recent afternoon, Scorza said she's sure divine intervention guided her to Arkansas. On Saturday night, she was still trying to figure out whether to leave or not. Mayor Ray Nagin's order for mandatory evacuation didn't come until 10 a.m. Sunday.

"Around midnight — and this sounds strange to people who don't believe — I woke up thinking about this scripture in 2 Chronicles where Jehoshaphat was facing an army, and he was afraid. God told him, 'This battle isn't yours, it's mine. All I need you to do is stand and take your position.' ... I felt like God was telling me I needed to take my family out of there, and that this wasn't mine to fight."

She woke her older son, and together they packed the trunk of the car with three days' worth of clothes for everyone, Scorza's laptop and an ice chest filled with sandwich supplies. Then, they roused the rest of the family and were headed north on I-55 by 6 a.m.

Scorza chose Memphis only because they hadn't gone there in past hurricane evacuations. ("We may as well go someplace new and see what it's like," she said.) But the hotel room was in bad shape, and she didn't like Memphis, so she opened up her laptop and reserved the first hotel room she saw, a Days Inn in Cabot.

That Monday, Katrina slammed into New Orleans. Scorza spent the day making calls, checking up on the friends and family she could locate, still assuming she'd be back home in a few days. On Tuesday came the news: The levees had failed and the Lower Ninth was under 12 feet of water.

"That's when things changed," she sighed.

She bought a hot plate from the Family Dollar across the street and decided to extend her motel reservation until the weekend. But when she went to the front desk, she was told that a passing stranger who noticed her Louisiana license plate had already paid for her room through Saturday. As she walked back to her room, a man pulled up in a car and asked to pray with her — then handed her an envelope containing $300. Another man approached her and asked if he could take her family to dinner.

"Story after story after story," Scorza marveled. A bank took a collection; an orthodontist fixed her braces free of charge. The Patrick Hays Center in North Little Rock provided her family with meals. Within a week, she'd received a housing voucher from the Red Cross and was set up in an apartment in North Little Rock. "When I tell you I think this is where I was supposed to be, beyond a shadow of a doubt, I believe that," she said.

It wasn't until the end of 2005 that Scorza was able to return to the Lower Ninth. She found her childhood home erased from the earth.

"The foundation was still there, but ... it was as if someone had taken the house and ripped it away. The water meter that was on the side of the house was literally straight up in the air, as if someone had pulled it like that." She made a yanking motion with one hand. The few items she found were maddeningly random: By the curb, a glass pickle jar filled with rice. A single black-and-gold shirt, tangled in a fence. And, impossibly, a welcome mat still in place where the front door had been. In the backyard was her neighbor's house, turned around almost 180 degrees, its front door facing the slab where her own home had stood. "It was insane."

Before the storm, Scorza worked for a housing nonprofit that assisted people with HIV/AIDS, and she continued to work remotely until the terms of a grant demanded she return home or lose the position. Her younger son and her grandkids were doing well in North Little Rock schools, and she'd have to build from scratch in New Orleans, she said. "That's when I knew this was going to be home." Scorza soon found a job as director of operations at her church, Fellowship North, where she works today with single mothers and people in need.

"I do miss New Orleans," she admitted. "I miss the food. In the beginning, I couldn't understand why I couldn't get a po' boy here. I couldn't understand why I couldn't get stuffed merletons." Most people in Arkansas have never heard of the fruit, also known as chayotes. "We're a state right above you! How can you not know merletons?"

She misses the people — the friends she grew up with, the culture of a city where neighbors swap stories and conversation as a daily matter of course. "I miss sitting outside on a porch, where you can hang out and just talk and watch people. ... I want to see that happen here," Scorza lamented. Still, she said, "I feel like I've been embraced by Arkansas."

"I like seeing the snow, as long as I can stay home. I've grown to like watching the trees change. I don't like raking the leaves, not at all," she laughed. "And another thing that was really strange to me in the beginning: hills. Like, what are these things?"

Scorza's family has seen its share of tragedy since settling here. Her oldest son, who had lupus, died in 2011 of a heart attack. Her mother died the next year. But she's raising the three grandkids herself (now 13, 15 and 17), and her younger son, Kendrick, is a senior this fall at Ouachita Baptist Univeristy.

Despite all she's faced, Scorza is thankful she had the resources to get her family out of Katrina's path. "I had friends who were there in the Superdome. I had people in my neighborhood who did not get out. There was a mom who lived not far from us who died in her home with seven children," she said. Most of those stranded, she pointed out, didn't have a vehicle in which to escape to Arkansas or anywhere else. "The areas hardest hit were predominately African-American, lower-income. They were areas without transportation. Telling people to leave without any means for them to leave is ridiculous.

"I think the response time was horrible. ... I do feel like race played a huge part, and the fact that they didn't have money," she said. "It's unbelievable this was happening on American soil."

MIND WIDE OPEN: Luther Williams misses home, but says his 10 years in Arkansas have expanded his consciousness. - BRIAN CHILSON
  • Brian Chilson
  • MIND WIDE OPEN: Luther Williams misses home, but says his 10 years in Arkansas have expanded his consciousness.

Luther Williams

What brought Luther G. Williams to Arkansas in August 2005 was simple: A good friend had a friend in Little Rock who worked in a hotel. With hundreds of thousands of evacuees headed west to Texas or north to Mississippi, Williams and his 92-year-old father decided instead to drive northwest, along with Williams' friend and the friend's family.

The question is why Williams, a child of the Creole-flavored Seventh Ward, is still here a decade later. His home survived Katrina with only moderate damage, sitting as it does on a rare bit of high ground in generally low-lying Gentilly. So why would a man like Luther Williams — a jazz pianist of no small talent, a Biblical scholar, a former communications professor at Clark Atlanta, a baritone singer who's a veteran of gospel groups across NOLA — choose West Little Rock over New Orleans?

"I like Arkansas! Why are you still in Arkansas?" he exclaimed. "Look, man, my dad and I were walking in the parking lot [of our apartment building] shortly before his stroke. I said, 'Dad, you hear that?' " Williams paused for several beats to let the silence build. "He looked at me quizzically, and I said, 'Exactly.'

"New Orleans is a noisy place. Even the food makes noise. It's so much sound! It's an onslaught on the senses," he said. "It's a far cry from the Natural State. I'm at the stage of my life where I want quiet. I'm contemplative. I grew up playing music for myself. ... I just want to be left alone so I can write."

Williams describes himself as "something of a recluse," a designation belied by his roving, charismatic energy. The Times first profiled him in 2005, when he was one of hundreds of evacuees gathering for meals at the Hays Center in North Little Rock. Now a pastor at a Methodist church in Conway — he took the job right after his father died in 2010 — he applies the same ecumenical vision he preaches on Sundays to the twists his life has taken.

"When you live in New Orleans for a time, you begin to take on this ... aura," Williams said, his hand sketching a loose circle in the air. "There are only two places in the world: New Orleans and everyplace else. The smugness and self-centeredness begins to envelop you. One day, God will make an attitude adjustment, and you just live your life in the meantime.

"Well, on Monday, Aug. 29, 2005, the attitude adjustment came, in a big way," he said.

Ask him what he misses about home, and he won't hesitate. "I miss singing in a quartet. ... It's hard to find a group. I can thrive individually, but I don't find a lot of coordinated [artistic] consciousness in Arkansas," Williams said. In 2013, he returned to New Orleans to record an album with the Zion Harmonizers, a venerated gospel group that's been a part of the city for 75 years. (The weekend Williams spoke with the Times, he'd intended to be back home for the 10th anniversary of Katrina, singing in a celebration with another gospel group called the Masonic Kings. But duty called: "Nobody could take my place at church, so it didn't happen," he said cheerfully.)

"I miss my walks along Elysian Fields" — the broad avenue that runs through Gentilly and the Faubourg Marigny before terminating at the northeast corner of the French Quarter — "the whole length of Elysian Fields, and down to the lake, and by the lake, and back. ... There's something about it that says 'Yes. You are here.' It speaks to you when you walk down Elysian Fields. 'This is what it's meant to be.'

"I canvass the lake, and I canvass the levee, and if I want to jog or walk, I can. Here in West Little Rock, I don't have that kind of terrain. What do I have, Markham?" He laughed. "I've got to dodge traffic to walk in West Little Rock."

Then there are the restaurants. "I'm not talking about the food itself. I've had great food here in Arkansas, some of the best burgers! Food is not the problem.  With New Orleans, it's the culture, it's the atmosphere. ... You sit down at a table with bleached white linen with fresh picked magnolia blossoms and the fragrance is wafting through the air as you listen to the piercing clarinet of Sidney Bechet." He drew an ecstatic breath. "Oh, my, you just want to lay in it, and it's just so lush!"

"I miss that kind of thing tremendously," he admitted. But Arkansas, he insisted, has its own treasures, neglected by the mainstream of the world.

"I've met some people here who have impacted my life like nothing else," he said. "I don't care if that's an inverted experience! My sights have been broadened upon coming to Arkansas. ... My mind has expanded in a way that it never had in New Orleans.

"No more of that self-centered smugness about New Orleans versus everyplace else! I love it. I say to myself, 'Until I get to heaven, Arkansas will have to do.' "


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