By New Times
By Robrt L. Pela and Amy Silverman
By Katrina Montgomery
By Kathleen Vanesian
By Monica Alonzo
By Benjamin Leatherman
By Robrt L. Pela
By Katrina Montgomery
It's nearly as difficult to get an interview with one of the 500-plus New Orleans evacuees housed at Veterans' Memorial Coliseum as it is to get timely rescue assistance from FEMA. A dozen phone calls to flacks from various agencies in search of an audience with someone -- anyone -- who's taken refuge in the improvised housing at the Coliseum got me nowhere, in good part, I'm told, because the media reps were swamped with similar requests. But also because none of these agencies -- not the Red Cross, nor St. Vincent de Paul, nor the Arizona Department of Housing -- is set up to navigate media relations between reporters and a representative homeless person, especially when the well-being of these homeless people is their main concern. I know, because I tried.
And after a while, I began to wonder: Are these agencies trying to keep our New Orleans guests away from the media? Are they worried that the recipients of our city's deep generosity -- temporary housing and jobs and the necessities of life -- will express their justified anger and despair over having lost everything while their president vacationed in San Diego?
Hanging out at the Coliseum, waiting for a turn to go inside and chat with one of the Katrina evacuees, was a waste of time, and worthless to anyone looking for a scoop of any kind, since reporters who were eventually granted entry were expected to share their notes with fellow journalists once they returned to the makeshift media camp. After days of failing to meet someone who'd lost everything to Hurricane Katrina, I took to driving through the neighborhoods that border the Coliseum, chatting with displaced folks through my car window and offering them lifts to and from the Circle K at 15th Avenue and McDowell, which has become a haven for the fine citizens of New Orleans who are lately calling Phoenix home. Which is how I came to know David Frank Sr., a 52-year-old African-American man who two weeks ago was still living in his native New Orleans. He agreed to talk to me about losing his home and about his former life back in the Big Easy, but refused to have his picture taken. "You see," he told me, "this isn't what I actually in truth look like. You come to New Orleans this time next year, and you'll take my picture as I really am. I can't be that man today."
New Times: What's your story, David Frank?
David Frank Sr.: Well, now, I was staying in an apartment complex in New Orleans, up there on the third floor. So I thought I was all right. Then the lights went out, and then it was all the stores and everything was closed. Then the water started to rise. It was chest-high [on the street]. If you stepped off that curb right there, you'd be drowned. And I was looking at the sky thinking, "What am I gonna do?" And the next thing, this boat came, and these guys said, "If you're gonna leave, you have to leave now. And if you stay, it's on you."
NT:Why did you stay?
Frank: I didn't figure it was going to be all that bad. You see? I been through [Hurricane] Betsy, and a couple other [hurricanes], and Betsy was bad but she wasn't that bad. But this one made Betsy look like a bitty little girl. You know what I'm saying?
NT:I've seen the footage on TV.
Frank: Uh-huh. That's a picture. A picture on a TV is bad, but not until you live it do you know what it is. The smell. The sound. They're not showing that on the TV, I can tell you that. It's bad. I been in New Orleans my whole life, other than when I went through the Air Force for five years.
NT:And what did you do for a living there?
Frank: I cut grass. I worked for the Parks Commission. I would still work for them, if they're still there.
NT:So you're planning to return to New Orleans?
Frank: Well, you see, it's a day-by-day thing, really. We'll see what happens down there; we'll see what happens up here. And then it depends if my family, my brothers and everyone, if they're gonna be around there.
NT:I've been thinking lately about what I would have grabbed from my home to take with me, if I were in a similar situation.
Frank: Well, that's real funny. Because, let me tell you what you would take: Nothing. There wasn't no chance for none of that. The guys who was coming to get us, I said to them, "Let me grab a few of my clothes." They said, "Ain't no time for that." So I came here from New Orleans to Phoenix with what I had on. And that was me wearing those clothes on a bus ride to the airport, and a plane ride from New Orleans to here.
NT:What's happened since you got here?
Frank: When we got here, aw, they treated us great. Phoenix people? Y'all are beautiful. Y'all are god-sent to this world. I mean, they gave us underwear, lodging, food.