Monday, July 23, 2007

Reflections on AALL in New Orleans

Dear OOTJ Readers,

I wondered how it would be to attend a conference in New Orleans after Katrina. I recall earlier conferences there with both AALL and with ALA, with very warm memories. So I wondered a bit what I would find on my return.

The trip from the airport showed some demolition and reconstruction, a bit of condemned buildings, but mostly it looked like a trip from the airport in any city that is constantly rebuilding and renovating. The people I met in the hotel staffs, restaurants, taxis and elsewhere were on a range, like anywhere. There were people who were just amazing, going way above and beyond, and some of them thanking us for coming back to their city. Most folks were in the middle. But a few people were angry and bitter and it flowed into their interactions with visitors.

This was a very small minority, but it was jarring. In most cities, people who act like that don't stay in service industry jobs for long. But New Orleans has jobs in service industries or construction/demolition, and not a lot more choices unless you have special training. People told me there were not enough people at the entry-level, and so I am guessing that management is reluctant to fire rude doormen or waitresses. I tried to keep in mind that many or all those who were unpleasant were living in awful conditions when not working. But that thought made it all the mroe miraculous how many excellent people I met. Those people who are working hard to bring New Orleans back from the brink, smiling and doing their best and better than that, even when they are living in trailers, or missing loved ones, WOW! They deserve halos.

The other thing that was striking about this meeting was the high number of really informative programs that I went to. After attending AALL nearly every year since 1985, I don't see so many programs that knock my socks off. There were a lot of those this year! It's always wonderful at the conferences to catch up with friends, and see people from all over. And most years, nowadays, that's the highlight of the conference for me. This year, I was so excited by several programs that I just had to blog about them immediately. That's never happened to me since laptops were available! Wow! Great job, AALL program committee and members who put these programs together! I am sure there were other programs equally excellent that I didn't see, as well.

I am so glad I went to New Orleans!


Amy Wright said...

Betsy, AALL was my first trip back to New Orleans after the storm. I visited at least two-three times a year from 2001-2004 and usually revisited the same inns, restaurants and nightclubs each time, so my husband and I quickly grew to have at least a nodding acquaintance with many of the service staff at these spots. When we went back to our old haunts, it was a pleasure to see many familiar faces, but it was heart-wrenching to hear their Katrina stories. Almost all of the folks in the service industry that we talked to were still living in FEMA trailers, often in crowded conditions. Some had lost at least one friend or relative, almost everyone who was in the city had hair-raising stories about surviving the storm, and everyone's social network was in tatters. After hearing so many of these stories, I can only say this -- I am amazed at the courage, resilience, and heart that New Orleans' residents have shown. And I encountered no rudeness from anyone after spending over a week in the city. I just felt that it was important to give this perspective.

Betsy McKenzie said...

Wow! what a great and heart-breaking comment! Thank you, Amy! I suspected, but certainly did not have the guts to inquire of staff I really did not ever see before. Only if they struck up a conversation did I get any info. Thank you again for an excellent reply. I certainly did not want to undersell the terrific people who are pulling New Orleans back out of the muddy grave our government left it in after Katrina.