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Saturday, August 30, 2008

A Time To Mourn ...

A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; --Ecclesiastes 3:4 ... Yesterday was precisely three years to the day since Hurricane Katrina unleashed her merciless fury on New Orleans and other parts of the south, and the first levee failed ... adding insult to injury, this monumental storm was then followed by Hurricane Rita ... also yesterday, Hurricane Gustav began bearing down on the Gulf Coast with it's own designs set on destruction ... I decided to write something as a reminder of that awful time in America's history, so I began a bit of research to refresh my memory as to the facts of those tragic days ... my intentions were to revisit some of the more horrendous occurrences which accompanied Hurricane Katrina, including the mismanagement of evacuations before the storm's arrival, the tardy response by FEMA as to relief and recovery efforts afterward and events pertaining to the personal and human aspects of this disaster ... I had quite a story all ready to post, but one atrocious, unspeakable incident kept dominating my thoughts until I found myself just sitting there in the stillness ... mind gone blank ... tears streaming down my face ... I felt so sad ... so empty ... so inadequate ... then anger ... anger I'm not quite sure where to direct ... so I discarded my contrived and well-thought-out story ... and am left with the following ... I apologize for the unpleasantness ... there's neither baseball banter, nor any mention of Lamar's endless mishaps ... just the cold, stark reality of one of America's darkest days ... a time to mourn ... As Katrina marched forward, folks who were capable of escaping the coming waves of destruction had either done so, or were rapidly in the process of fleeing to safer grounds ... weather forecasters and disaster preparedness officials had for decades warned those who held the responsibilities of evacuating citizens from these areas of the immense challenges associated with the type of logistic endeavor a major storm such as Katrina would entail if it were to ever strike, and that most likely it would strike sometime in the future ... many folks were completely dependent on others as it related to their individual safety and well-being, their very existence ... Within the dark halls of St. Rita's Nursing Home, located in St. Bernard Parish, enfeebled residents sat there in wheelchairs or lay in beds unaware of the approaching danger, and completely dependent on those who had been entrusted with their total safety and care, their very existence ... three other similar facilities in that area had long before been evacuated ... however, for whatever reason, supposedly monetary concerns, owners Salvador and Mabel Mangano refused to evacuate St. Rita's until, and unless, they were mandatorily forced to do so by local, government officials ... tragically that order never came ... I could never imagine the sheer terror and suffering those dear, helpless people experienced as that deadly water began pouring unimpeded into their rooms ... scientists are still analyzing why St. Bernard flooded so severely. The best guess is that the parish was hit with a storm surge from Lake Borgne, which is open to the Gulf of Mexico, and the breaching of three of the four levees that protect the parish from the sea. "We were like in a sinking ship," said Gene Alonzo, a retired fisherman who stayed at St. Rita's to be with his disabled brother, Carlos, a resident. "I never did see water come up like that." Within 20 minutes, the water inside rose almost to the ceiling and nearly three dozen residents were drowning, some in their beds. Alonzo recalls the floodwater flowing from the direction of the lake, a few miles north of St. Rita's ... Trishka Stevens, Jodi Hanson's grandmother, said that when the water burst into the building, it cascaded through air-conditioning vents "like Niagra Falls." Stevens, 75, who had not walked in five years, was in her bed in Room 407 as water rose around her. "It was up to my chin," she said. In the pandemonium that followed, nurses and aides waded and then swam through the halls, unhooking the straps that held the wheelchair-bound upright and pushing them onto mattresses. They then shoved the mattresses outside so the evacuees could be taken to higher ground by boat. Alonzo, 55, said he put his 52-year-old brother onto a mattress, then grabbed Carlos' roommate, Harold Kurz. Alonzo recounts the frantic effort by nurses and others to save as many as possible: "You can't get out a door, so they're kicking out windows to float the residents out on mattresses to put them on the roof. In every room, people were hollering. They were screaming like somebody was murdering them (and) ... for God to help them. It was a horror scene." ... a time to mourn ... Stevens was saved by Steve Snyder, 29, an offshore oil rig worker who had motored past St. Rita's in a boat while fleeing his own flooded house nearby. By then, Snyder said, rescuers at St. Rita's were chopping holes in the roof to pull out residents who were floating just below the ceiling. Snyder added that he and his brother-in-law swam from room to room, searching for survivors. They gave up, he said, when "we just didn't hear no more screaming, no more people calling for help." ... a time to mourn ... No, I'm not sure where to direct my anger, but one thing is for certain, I never imagined that a scene such as that described above would ever happen in America ... never in America ... but it did ... in addition to folks sitting on rooftops and bridges, and beneath overpasses for days waiting on someone to help them ... no water ... no food ... no medical care ... no shelter ... nothing ... an absolute disgrace and shame ... dead, bloated bodies openly lying on public streets and propped up in chairs for days ... our elected leaders failed us from the local level all the way up to the White House where the fellow resides that calls himself "the decider" ... shame on them all ... no, we can't depend on government for everything, but can we rely on those who have supposedly asked for positions of responsibility where America's public safety hinges on their actions, or lack thereof? ... it's their job, it's their duty, they're obligated to do better ... had St. Rita's made any attempt whatsoever to evacuate those unfortunate people from that deathtrap, one nine-passenger van for a 100-bed facility was hardly a sufficient or realistic evacuation plan ... It appears that things are moving much better as far evacuation and preparedness is concerned with the impending threat of Hurricane Gustav's projected arrival ... let's hope so ... let's make damn sure that never again in America will 35 helpless people be discovered abandoned and drowned in their beds, for any reason ... never again in America will dozens of helpless people need to escape drowning by floating on mattresses covered with plastic ... never again in America will we see the dead lying in the streets and byways like common garbage for days on end ... never again in America will we see people sitting for days on end waiting for someone to offer them a helping hand ... a blanket ... a sandwich ... or a drink of clean water ... God bless those few courageous souls who risked their own lives to save those who could not save themselves ... a crown of righteousness awaits them ... for others, disgrace ... a time to mourn ... --sja

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Perfect Sunday

The Perfect Sunday ... Until This Year

Until this year, Sunday afternoons were the perfect times for this preacher. Walt, Matt, and JennyUpon arriving home from church, a great meal was ready (usually a beefalo roast or lemon pepper chicken breasts with potatoes, carrots, and onions). Then, while the baby and mommy took their naps, this preacher brought his sweet tea to the recliner, leaned back and tuned it to Skip and Pete, or Joe and Chip, to hear how the Bravos were going to fight their way back into the division race.

For the last four years, Sunday afternoons went this way. Last year was very sad, losing the Braves on TBS to different corporate direction. For a Braves fan since 1990, living in Northeast Arkansas, TBS was my pipeline to all things Atlanta Braves. As Solomon (or was it the Byrds) wrote, to everything (turn, turn, turn) there is a season (turn, turn, turn). But it was particularly difficult for me to turn off the broadcast after the Astros game ended TBS’s partnership with the Braves.

I still have it on my DVR-I just don’t have the heart to delete it. Listening to Skip thank the fans for their support and then signing off to the video essay made me realize how fortunate we Braves fans were for the last 30 plus years. Just think. If we had been Royals, Orioles, or Mariners fans, we would have had no national TV broadcasts, unless our team was being drummed by the Yankees or Red Sox.

Speaking of Skip, I have to say that I mourned his Grandaddy, Grandma, sis and mepassing for reasons far more personal than being a Braves fan. In 1990, my grandfather introduced me to the Braves on TBS. Skip and Pete were our best friends for eight years in-season dominance and postseason disappointment (except for that magical ’95 season).

I lost Granddaddy to cancer in ’97 (he would have been 87 this past August) but I still had Skip and Pete to give me a connection to him. With Skip’s passing, one more link has been silenced. As long as Pete calls the games on the radio, I’ll maintain that link to a happy past, and I pray that my son (named for Granddaddy) will grow up in time for me to turn on the radio and explain why the somewhat-nasal voice means so much to me. Thanks Skip and Pete, for bringing the passion of Braves baseball into this home for so long.

Thanks Skip!



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Thursday, August 7, 2008

So Long Dear Friend ...

I felt I should write something in honor of the late Harry Christopher "Skip" Caray Jr., born in St. Louis, Missouri on August 12, 1939 ... father of TBS broadcaster Chip Caray ... son of the legendary Chicago Cub and former St. Louis Cardinal broadcaster Harry Caray (1914-1998) ... but I found myself at a loss for words, and as I began searching the web I quickly realized that countless tributes have already been written chronicling the many fond memories of those unforgettable times we all watched or listened to Skip ply his trade over the airwaves either by TV or radio ... his wit and humour was incomparable, his honesty often frank and to the point, but listening to Skip work a ballgame made you feel like you were attending the game seated right there next to a good friend or family member ... I never met Skip personally, as I'm sure is the case with most other folks, but he was one of those guys that you just felt you knew ... during those years when TBS aired nearly all of the Braves games (along with Turner South), Skip was there on the TV most every night, you just took it for granted that he would always be there ... last Sunday, Skip's heart beat for the last time, and his spirit and soul passed on, and along with that passing went a huge part of the heart and soul of the Braves ... it just won't be the same without him ... During the last few years, the Braves as we know them have been slipping away ... no more Ted Turner sitting on the front row cheering for his team beside wife Jane, along with Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter ... no more consecutive division championships ... no more Braves games televised nightly on TBS ... no more players walking with that swagger ... no more Don and Skip jousting comically in the broadcast booth ... and many others too numerous to mention ... the Braves just don't seem like the Braves anymore ... the faces have certainly changed over the years, but that's not really it ... there's just something missing ... that fact was shockingly underscored this week when the Braves lost their voice of nearly 33 years with the passing of Skip ...
Many eloquent and heartfelt lines have been written about the life and death of Skip Caray ... my perspective is like that of most other folks, from the outside looking in, so there is no way I could have written anything that truly did justice to this wonderful human being ... but I must say that Skip was indeed a character with character ... simply put, an extraordinary ordinary guy ... a genuinely kind and decent man ... he will be sadly missed, but never forgotten ... and although weak and broken at times as of late, the voice of the Braves is now forever silenced ... so long dear friend ... Skip Caray (1939-2008) ...
I hope all visitors and patrons of TheOldBarbershop will feel free to take a few moments and share some of their best memories of Skip here on the blog ... --sja