NOTE: This is part of a continuing online novel. Here is the Table of Contents.
The America Diaspora is a sequel to The Chinese Century.
Im back in my home country again, and exhausted.
I have been here for a week now, with just my blood pressure and cholesterol pills in my pocket, forcing myself to eat so they will do some good, and often failing.
All the credit goes to Mark Cuban, who mobilized as I have never seen anyone mobilize while Hurricane Katrina approached the Gulf Coast.
Cuban guessed where this might hit a week ago and began making calls Thursday the 24th. Thats where his idea for la Armada came from.
He managed to convince President Fox to lend him a Gearing-class destroyer and several patrol craft, and to put out a call for volunteers food, water, blankets, medicines. He got the ball rolling with a $100 million check, in pesos.
Freighters began loading Friday, when many feared the storm might still continue west and strike the Mexican coast. The moment the storm began its turn to the north, on Sunday, la Armada put out to sea.
Flying Mexican flags, la Armada crossed the mouth of the Mississippi on Tuesday. I had left South Africa on Saturday, arriving with Cuban in Veracruz just as la Armada was sailing, and stood (with others) on the deck of (ironically) the Katrin S which usually runs to Houston. We were packed to the gunnels with food and water, with basic medicine, clothes and blankets.
What awaited us was a scene out of Dante. We put in right next to the Convention Center, and someone must have sensed us because suddenly thousands of people were coming toward us, looking like Third World refugees. Mexican soldiers piled out of the freighters and the patrol boats, guarding a small stretch of dock area as the first container was raised over the side and toward them.
Mark Cuban had prioritized the loading brilliantly. The water went in last so the water would come out first. Then came non-perishable foodstuffs, baby formula, then blankets. A ramp was laid down and doctors started to come out, but the sick were already coming in, and they couldnt get down to the dock for some hours.
Word spread to the Superdome that the people at the Convention Center were actually being fed, and the crowd just grew. Thank God we had enough soldiers to make certain the water was handed out fairly. Our crew all went down and sought out the sickest and neediest.
Baby formula came out of the fourth or fifth container, and Jenni helped take charge of its mixing. Thousands of mothers crowded around. She got some of the more capable ones working with her. Little paper Red Cross hats, the same shape as those given out at the Café duMonde, came down and when each woman was trained, Jenni placed one on her head, then urged her to train someone else.
Thus began the delivery of New Orleans. Our freighter was empty by Wednesday morning. Cuban said a second would arrive on Thursday. It was decided we would lay-out the containers side-by-side, providing rudimentary shelters, and take as many victims as we could on-board bound for Houston. The sickest went on-board first, but if any had family, those people also went on-board.
When the second freighter arrived on Thursday, we were on the dock to meet it. By now the people knew the drill. Their behavior was awesome, really made me proud to be an American. There were natural leaders among them, who kept others in line, and made certain everything was given-out and used appropriately.
The first TV reporter to catch me was Shepard Smith of Fox News. I stiffened. I didnt trust Fox. But he was crying, tears of joy he said, for the deliverance of these people. They would have starved without you, he said, they would have died. I didnt do anything, I emphasized. I just came in with Mr. Cuban. Mr. Cuban organized this. Mr. Cuban paid for this. Hes the man to thank, not me. Thank Mr. Cuban, although hes busy right now.
Geraldo Rivera followed Smith, and I began explaining what we were doing to him. Then I saw Miles OBrien of CNN, who had once interviewed me back in Atlanta about some article Id done for a computer magazine. (He didnt recall it until I reminded him of how his laptop crashed during a commercial break.) I met Martin Savidge of NBC, formerly CNN, and he seemed nice. A small awning came out, one of those things we bring to soccer games, and I sat on a stool all day Thursday, describing the scene, thanking everyone for their kindness in the face of all this suffering, urging Americans to give to the Red Cross. I felt like a fool, becoming a spokesman like that, until Jenni smiled at me that evening.
Something about what we were doing shamed the U.S. government. An Aircraft Carrier suddenly appeared on the river Friday, and helicopters began coming in for the sick. Dozers came out of the carrier as well, and were airlifted to the levees, to start closing the breaches.
When our second ship left, loaded to the gunnels with victims on Friday evening, Jenni and I stayed behind. We walked around the now-empty Convention Center that evening. The Mexican troops were gone, but some National Guardsmen must have recognized me, because they asked where we were going and offered escort.
I didnt hesitate. I wanted to see Emerils.
Jenni and I celebrated our 22nd anniversary at Emerils. We brought the kids. John was disappointed that the man himself wasnt there. But we had a great time. The pantry had been emptied and the place closed for a week, but it hadnt been looted because so many potential looters had gone out by the dock.
The doors were closed but one of the guardsmen accidentally broke in. We stood at the bar. He went behind it and found a bottle of red wine and two glasses. He uncorked it, poured two glasses from behind the bar, and motioned Jenni and I over.
We toasted, we drank. He and his comrades finished the bottle. The place was eerily quiet, dark with plywood over the windows, the door smashed-in. Two soldiers found some unused plywood in the dining room, and promised to close in the hole when we were done. I signed a 200 Rand note, and left it on the bar with the glasses.
That was our celebration. Apologies, Mr. Legasse. I didnt know the break-in would happen. If you read this, send me a bill for the door.
An American freighter had docked when we arrived back at the dock. A National Guard spokesman had taken over my tent, and the press was now gathered around him, which was fine by me. Im tired, I told Jenni, quoting Randy Newman. Why dont you be The Boss for a while?
A fire had begun at the Canal Place shops, but local fireboats seemed to have it under control. We walked around it, past the Hyatt, down Canal Street to Harrahs Casino.
We were shocked when the black SUV pulled up in front of us, and the passenger door opened. Hop in, said a friendly voice.
Harry Connick Jr. got us out of there. Nice guy. Did you know his father was once D.A. there? The Causeway was dry by that Saturday night, and the stars were made brighter by the lack of lights. Harry sang for us all the way to Baton Rouge, where we got a ride with a busload of hospital workers who were headed to San Antonio. Jennis folks live there. I figured it was time for a visit.
We fly back tomorrow, after weve had some time to rest. I know all readers of the Virgin-Maverick blog deserved some report, so here it is.
I dont want to be in the public eye ever again. But when I got out of the bus downtown, near the AlamoDome, there were some local reporters waiting for us. We had to do another interview, where once again I praised Mark Cuban.
He was the one who delivered New Orleans, I said.