September 14, 2005
Interviewed by Marcela Contreras and Sari Albornoz
Austin Convention Center
Well, I grew up in New Orleans, I grew up in a place called Plaquemines Parish, a little part of the country. We considered it country at the time. It's about thirty-two miles from the city of New Orleans. Came up there in the '50s and the '60s. I'm fifty-four years old and I've been living in New Orleans all my life. What I do for a living, I'm a carpenter. That's my trade. I've had my ups and downs in life but I wound up being a carpenter. I really enjoy doing it, and so that's what I've been doing for the last maybe fifteen or twenty years.
I got had a pretty big family. There's eight children besides me in my family. I'm the ninth one. I'm the second to the oldest and last year, Thanksgiving Day, we were struck with a very sad thing, my sister passed away on Thanksgiving Day. So that put a black eye on Thanksgiving for awhile.
Before that my mother passed earlier, but my father wound up dying after my mother. He died from Alzheimer's, I guess, from the effects of my mother passing, because they were together for like some years and she died. They had lived together so long, mentally I think what he wound up doing, he wouldn't accept the fact that she was dead, so he used a mental block to block the pain, but in the process of blocking the pain, he blocked out a lot of other things, like his mind. So he died with Alzheimer's. He died with no legs and things, and it was a very hurting thing to see somebody who you look up on all your life just squinch down to thirty inches long and not knowing anything. It was like seeing a child because he had got to the point he had no control over nothing in his body, so that was pretty ugly for his children.
Then, we lived through that, then one day my sister just died. The coldest thing I can remember about that is me and my sister was real, real close, and the night when they called, everybody went to call and get in touch with this one and get in touch with that one, and meet me by the hospital. And all our lives we were like not only sisters and brothers, we was friends. We had some personal things that we knew about each other and we were real, real close, because we come from a close-knit family. My mother never had a lot of money, but she had a lot of love. Spiritually, she was a millionaire, you know. She was into that word big time, so I think her prayers carried us a lot through life.
And after her, I have a godmother. We call her El-Mi. I can't call her El-Mi, I gotta call her Nanna. Because if I do anything bad, she's gonna maybe slap me in my mouth because that's the way we come up.
But that's me, up until here. I don't have no children. I'm married, but I never had any children, never, never, never.
AIT: Tell us about when the storm started.
Sid: The storm started -- okay, the storm started for me that Sunday morning because we was at the house and my wife -- her name is Joyce -- she's a wonderful person. She got a big, big heart. She was so concerned about everybody that she's not thinking about herself. There were situations there beyond our control at the time, so we were really staying, we were really stuck between a hard spot and a rock, because it was like what do we do now? I mean, the storm is supposed to come but we'd heard about it in the meantime, but something in me made me think that this storm was going to be greater than the other one. So what I had to do was I had to convince her to leave and I said I wasn't going, so that it made it a little more harder to leave because she didn't want to leave me there. But at some point, I was able to talk her into it, because she knew I'm a survivor, I was able to make it.
So around twelve o'clock that Sunday, her and some friends of hers left. I think they went to Alabama, Montgomery. I thought well, okay, I'm going to hang around the house and maybe go over to another friend's house, and Monday or Tuesday, after the storm had come, they're going to come back. We're going to go back to everything. Well, little did I know that something was about to happen that I had never experienced and never want to experience and never thought I could experience.
Me and my brother-in-law was together. We were watching the storm standing on the porch, watching the storm, over at my sister's house on O'Reilly. We was actually watching the storm. We watched the storm from beginning to end. My wife was in Montgomery but she kept me on the phone off and on all night because they were seeing the storm. Our electricity was cut off, so they knew the damage that the storm was doing. So we had me and her become real paranoid on what was going to happen because we didn't know it was going to be this bad.
Okay, so we witnessed the storm as it was going by. That was on a Monday. Monday it went through the wind and the rain and all that. Monday evening we had a little sip of water which was to be expected because New Orleans is low, so when it rain hard and all that distance, you know we was going to have water. But little did I know into the night the water went to get greater and greater and greater. And by the next morning, the water was very ugly, up until the porch. It was up until the porch where we were and it was constantly coming. It was coming to like maybe six inches into the house that I was in.
So we spent an entire night in the house where it just got mentally we just couldn't handle getting out of the bed to maybe go to the bathroom or moving in the house that night to see what happening and walking in water in the dark. I mean you never would, you would never know how this feels. I saw this story where people had been out to sea for so many days and they were rescued and it just sounded like something that happened. But now with just the smallest flood, I had water -- that is a horrible thing to be caught in the water, what's gonna happen, not knowing how much deeper this thing's gonna go.
So by the time Tuesday came, it had got very, very ugly and I was telling my brother, I said, "Brother, we're going to have to raise up out of here 'cause this thing is getting uglier and uglier. Whew. So, we went to the Superdome. Upon arriving to the Superdome, I don't know if the atmosphere was sick like this before we got there, but we instantly became prisoners. Prisoners. Because I went in the Superdome really looking for some people, right? So when I got in the Superdome, we was told that if you go in, after we was in, once you pass this point, you cannot come back out until we let you out. So this is on Tuesday or Wednesday. So at this point, we goes in, but I want to come out because I saw things -- I mean, a lot of people would describe this as the point that people were just being destructive. I saw a bunch of people who was on the edge, their nerves, have a nervous breakdown. Because people with children crying, old ladies there, and things just happening.
I mean you take an old person out of their house and put them in this kind of atmosphere, with teenagers reacting as teenagers, wow, wow, wow, and scaring these people. They're dealing with the storm, they lost everything they had, now they're dealing with living. This what you might call a bunch of pirates or whatever, just running around destroying things because the things they destroyed they were striking out, not for the things that they needed, not for the things that they wanted. They just was reacting to something. You know, we all react to things in different ways and I think that's really what it was. Their behavior was only part of their personality. I don't know how the parents had dealt with the child, I don't know what point they was in. I would say they was in their radical childhood, striking back and not knowing what they're striking at.
So this made the Superdome a madhouse, not a place of care, a madhouse. You've got to understand -- the Superdome opened to save people's lives and to some degree it did save a lot of people's lives. But ugly as it was, it saved a lot of people's lives. A lot of more people would have been saved -- no, I'm not going to deal with the political aspects at this point, because I think that's what the world -- we always have a world and we've always the political phases, people are going to be caught in that. Most people gonna get caught in this, poor people, mainly poor blacks and poor whites. Because the people who could afford to leave town, they're not going to be in the storm. Poverty is the reason a lot of people didn't leave.
So now you're stuck there. So you're offered -- people over there are saying oatmeal being offered -- you're offered something that's not good but it's better than what you had. And if they wouldn't have used that shelter as refuge, a lot more people, thousands of people would have died. Now, it was ugly, because I think if we can send people all across the world to fight wars and do all these other kind of things, we can prepare for things like this. I mean there was a thing right before that where I think the United States sent some people over to Russia or something to help to get a submarine from the bottom of the sea. And they did it in such a short period of time.
Now you're telling me the Corps of Engineers can't figure out a way of fixing a hole in the levee? Okay? But, you know, I think at some point the Lower Ninth Ward and East, okay, are poor areas. I think if they had any kind of way of redirecting the water, that would be the portion that would be redirected because it's the poorest part of town. So you know if you've got to pay for properties, it the best to pay for, but not taking into concern the lives you're going to take, because everybody didn't take heed to your warning to get out.
So many things happened. In the storm, I saw so much happen to so many people, good people, you know, whose lives will never be the same. It's not nothing uncommon because it happens all over the world that some kind of thing come in, and you know, destroy everybody's life for awhile. There are people who may think on a naïve basis that it was an act of God because New Orleans has got the crime, the drugs, and all that. But I would say that's somebody who reading the Bible but not understanding it. Because if they serve the same God that I serve, they're not going to serve a God that's going to punish people like this. So if He's got the power that many powers, He could use it in another kind of way.
There are going to be people think that, there are going to be people think on a radical basis, you know, that it happened because we're black. But it was just something that nature caused and we could not stop it. We was not prepared. But not being prepared is one thing, because when you're not prepared for something, it's because you didn't think it was going to happen. But these people told us stories about the storm before it got here. Okay, now when the levee bust, I think it was something they could have got on right away, but with everybody running for cover, there was nobody here to close the gaps. So some horrible things happened.
Now we're into the point about walking through the water like for three days, me and my brother-in-law, we walked through the water.
We was able to escape the next morning. I say, it's just what I say, escaped, because we were told not to leave. So they told you that. We had soldiers, National Guardmen. They might have not wanted to be there, so at some point they executed like that. I think it was very cowardly of them, the way they handled it, very unprofessional the way they handled it, and not caring the way they handled it. But that's another thing, because you know, my words can't tell you what the Army's gonna do. And if people warn them, I'm quite sure they didn't tell them that.
But after I escaped the Superdome the next day, I said we ought to go back to the house. If I'm going to die, let me die with dignity. At least let me die trying to live. So we waded back through the water again and in the process of wading back to the water, it had got to the point where on the way home, I saw about seven bodies, just floating. Thank God, because I feel like this thing had gotten to the point right now where it's over. The worst thing we could get was water. But little did I know there was something about the Seventeenth Street Canal then. So we're talking about more water, all right?
This thing was getting to be more dangerous. So Thursday, Thursday night, right across the street from where I was, which was very scary, right across the street from where I was they had to airlift an eighty-seven-year-old woman. The Red Cross helicopter was setting over our house, about ten or fifteen feet over the house. Now you've got to imagine this. I want you to take your mind just where I'm gonna take you. It's two o'clock in the morning. There are no lights in the city. There's water six inches in your house. With the helicopter being and the blades turning, the six inches is now ten, twelve, eight to twelve inches, because it's coming in because the propellers are pushing the water.
So I'm laying on the sofa, because I would never get that far back in the house in case we had to escape. There was a second floor house across the street, I thought I might get out and swim for that, if I had to get upstairs. We had made it to the attic, but the thing I had created had like floated away, because it was outside. The ladder, this makeshift ladder, was a chair, a stool, and all this we were going to use to get in the attic. But it had floated away. But we could never set it back up because the water couldn't give us the leverage to do it.
So now we're looking at the front door, our only means of escape. In the process of looking at the helicopter that was airlifting the lady -- it's two o'clock in the morning and deathly dark, and all of a sudden you hear, brrrrr, the sound of the helicopter blades overhead. Sounded like it was in the house, really. So I looked out the door and I see waves coming in. I said, okay, now I got to the door, and waves are coming, and the lights of the helicopter shining down. So this is superceding the waves from eighteen inches to thirty, because it looks like it coming much more higher, which it is. And when I look outside, I say oh, man. I hear somebody say, "Get out of here because she's gonna fall in the water." And I say oh, man, everything bad that could have happened have happened. We about to die.
At that point, I only did one thing. It may sound cowardly, because of the kind of person I am, it may sound cowardly because a lot of guys would say another thing, the macho thing, would be say, "Well. I'll deal with it." At that point, to the best of my ability, I started praying, because I didn't know what was going to happen. I went to asking God for another day of looking at life. Another day of looking at daylight, one more time. But then as that was going on, they airlift out and when they airlift out, the water kind of calmed. At that point, I knew it was time for me to leave.
Not only that, I had kept -- about five days had passed and I hadn't talked to my wife. She knew I was here, stuck in the water, so she was like, she's the kind of person that cares. I wasn't able to talk to her. I had two things in mind, surviving this water and talking to my wife again. And with the help of God, both of those things happened.
It's a short story, but it's a long story. Because those hours were so long, you never would imagine how this would be. I mean, I'm telling a story and I'm feeling the effects of it, but like I said earlier, this thing has done more damage than property damage, you know, things of material. It's done more damage to people. You got people living in this place who never stood in a room with this many people. Because me being black, young, I've been incarcerated, okay. But thank God I was able to come out of that so I could live in this environment. Do you know there are women and men that live that have never exposed themselves, and I mean exposed myself -- not on a nasty basis -- but I mean is never took a shower, with other bunch of other people. There are women that have been mentally raped because what happened is, that they never thought they had to do this before.
So now they are caught in a position like a prisoner or somebody being held hostage. But this is survival, and I've got to say this place and these people has been more than helpful. I've heard about the Red Cross, and I thought Red Cross people would come bring you coffee when you're hunkering down in a storm or something, but these people are volunteers. I watched these people walk the dorms, I mean the rooms, at night, and I noticed how they do it with great concern, knowing that they have other things that they could be doing. They could be home in their warm, dry beds, but they chose to give up a part of life. I'm always going to have a special place in my heart for these people.
I'm fifty-four years old, right, and I've always had different things about black and about white, but this made me look at people altogether different. I mean Jews and me coming up in the '50s, went all through life with a bitter taste in my mouth for Caucasians, but I met some Caucasian people here that really cared. So I, like many other people, was misdirected by things that had happened in my past to me. I guess I held other people responsible for things other people did to me, like they did to them. Like vice versa, Caucasian man, well, he's just because of that. That's totally wrong. I agree with that now because I met some people that really care.
Without caring, you can't be here. You know, I'm trying to kick the wool over you or anything, but you all are reporters. You're doing this for a living. I'm not going to say I don't know, I won't say that you're doing this for a living, but it's your job. But there are people in there right now who's working their butts off, just to see us smile. And know that they helped you by some means.
Anything I can give to make people understand that things happen and God will make it right, I am willing to do it. So here I am.
One day a reader will see it and say, well, man that must have been horrible. And actually with the water, you don't see all the lives. Man, I remember seeing a little girl laying in the water, and the water -- she was a brown-skinned girl, so the water have a tendency to turn you more paler. And she was like pale. But the most horrible sight, a child, I'm not going to say daughter because I don't know whether it was boy or a girl, because I didn't really stick around, it was just too much of a mental explosion. That was my breaking point. I said, this is where I get out of the water, right here. If there is help and the next day, some dude came in a boat and say, "You all want to get out?" We tried to get a ride to the bridge, to go talk to people. They said, "No, we're not giving rides, we're bringing people to the rescue points." You know what I thought, I'm saying rescue point, rescue point, rescue point.
I said to myself, why would I stay here? What would I stay here for? My wife is in another place. If I leave here, I could contact her. If I come out of here, I could live normal, and I knew after seeing all the animals and people in the water, and seeing the manhole covers exploding, and seen the water coming back through, I knew that by the next day, but the time the sun started shining, this water is going to be deadly poison. You know what I mean, this water is not going to be a place you want to be. The times I went out on the water, I did things like take an alcohol bath when I come back. But that couldn't last for long.
So I decided when the boat came back, I said, "Hold 'em up. Give me a ride out." And they brought us to the bridge. Upon standing on the bridge, we didn't know where we was going. At least I didn't care, I knew I was out of the water, I knew I was going to be dry, wherever I been. So he told us Tennessee, at first, but we was at the airport at like five o'clock in the morning.
They took us from the bridge to the airport. We arrived at the airport and they had lines and lines of people. They were going through checking and processing. A lot of people don't understand their behavior. You know, here's the thing. There could be one single door, and there could be a fire in the back of the building. There could be five hundred people in that building, and every person can be safe, if they alphabetically get in line and go out that door. But when you hear the horrible sounds and things are ugly from the back of you, you want to be the person to go to that door. So that five-four-foot door now becomes a two-inch hole, because everybody try to use it.
But everybody was saying in the back of the line, if we would have done that, when suddenly roaring in the back, you want to get out of the way. And this happened at the Superdome. I don't know what really caused it, but it was an explosion. I think one of the youngsters was playing with something and when he popped it, it sounded like a gunshot. It might even have been a shampoo bottle, I mean champagne bottle, right? It made it like a gunshot. With the old people living in fear of the things that had happened -- see, what happened is they tried to run.
Because you remember, you believe an eight-one, eighty-two-year old woman or a four-year-old child trying to run and people trying to hold children, trying to run. They had a lady -- I was like manning a fifty-foot line, they had a bench that we had put to kind of block -- the lady literally, and she was not a small person, tried to dive under the bridge, I mean under the barrier. It was to the point where like, man, they was just scared. You can't blame them for their behavior because you can take people and put them in a position they've never been put in before.
The authorities were doing what a lot of people did, try to save themselves. There were no, I saw at the time, I saw no physical presence of the New Orleans Police Department. Which I guess I can understand, because everybody want to live. But there are certain job that you take, put you on the front line. But I think they had too many things that they were dealing with to care about human life. They had too many other things that they were dealing with to care about human life. They might have been caring about their families, which is not wrong, which to me is not wrong. My family come first. To serve and protect, the first commandment of the house. So about a third of them, they wasn't there.
The Army was there, and they was being Army. It was like we were in war or something, they was holding us there, keep them there, keep them out of the water. So you were dealing with dudes in the Weekend Warriors. I think it was more Weekend Warriors. Most of them had never been where true combat at, so they reacted to this like they were in war, and that's the kind of thing it was, real, real ugly, man. I never want to experience again in life. Even surviving, I never want to experience again in life. I know I'm going into it and going to survive, I never want to experience it again.
I think in a sense I was born to be a survivor. One of the things my wife said to one of her sister-in-law was, that Sidney was going to make it. If there is anyway to make it, he's going to make it, because all my life I've been trained to survive. I've been in this jungle for a long, long time, so when you're in the jungle, sometime you learn to live like a beast, and you gotta do what you gotta do to survive.
So with the help of God -- and I don't take credit for all this -- don't get me wrong -- I come from a praying mother, a praying mother who believed in God, and I think that if she could have said one thing before she left the face of the earth, she was going to say, "God, take care of my children." If anybody earned, earned, one request, it was her because always believed in God, so you know her belief might have been the check that paid my way through.
It's a good thing she gave me that belief because it was real. It helped me through but paid my way through only because I learned after. I didn't live up under her ways of life. I mean, I told you I lived on the wrong side of the street most of my life, by choice. Even with her praying on me on that side of the street helped. I'm not going to say that prayers never helped, but I believe that helped a lot.
I talk to my wife every day. We're thinking now about maybe we can join up by Friday, at least. There are some paperwork issues I'd like to get straight here before I leave. But even if that doesn't happen, we're going to get together sometime very soon. It's been awhile, and I really want to see her face, yeah. We talk on the phone, but it's nothing like-I really miss her. "Why did you put that there? Why did you put that, you could have moved that?" You know, the things that I didn't like, I really miss. You know what I'm saying? I miss her fussing, yeah, yeah, yeah.
I need to get some stuff straightened out here, because my wife worked for a bank, right? And right now, she's in Dallas. Her brother's staying there. So what I think is going to happen, a job might request her to go, maybe Atlanta, whatever, Atlanta, Houston, something. And that's where we're going to settle out. But it's kind of hard-and now we've been together thirteen years, and it's going to be like everything is starting all over.
Now, when I hear her talking -- when I was talking to her the other night, and I could tell-when you've been with somebody as long as I've been with my wife, you can tell that she's to the point where a lot of things are now happening and she'll just be in a vex, on her. Like everything you worked for, it's gone. What do you have? Nothing. What do you have that somebody might have gave you? I don't think she would ever have this because she worked hard, we worked hard to put it together.
What we had, you know, and me being a carpenter, we was able to put our house mostly to the point where we wanted. If I were to do it the way she wanted me to do, we'd be completely through. But I'm the kind of guy say, we'll put it off until tomorrow. But when I do put it in my mind to do it, she get on my case and I'd do it and it come out nice. So I do, I really do, if she get on my case good enough. So we had did a lot together and it wasn't supposed to get done, but it was at the point where it was decent.
And God had given us to put that together, and it's all gone. We lived like Painter Street. We lived like four blocks off the lakefront. So how much water do you think I got? Along the lake, you know what I'm saying. And the hurtingest part about it, you know, I haven't seen the house yet. It's not like I can go online and peep it out. I haven't seen it live, but the last I heard, we were still dealing with eight foot of water. This was this week, so that mean that that water has been in-so right now most all the sheetrock has bent off the things.
The favorite portion of the house, where she liked the best, the den she had built, table set. And we had mirrors on the wall, and she was never really confess to this, but it was one of the best-looking rooms in the house. And I did it. She would say it's all right, but she knew deep down that she had fixed it to where it was beautiful, and I know that all the mirrors have fell off the wall because the water stood there so long. And we don't even know where our dog is. We wound up letting him go, but we don't know whether he died. I don't think our dog was a survivor. I really don't think so, so he's going to be well missed, but you know, we'll get another dog.
We got each other, so when the dust really settled, we broke even, that's how I look at it. I mean, come on, how else could you do? You can't put nothing place of something that's gone. You can rebuild, but you can never put it back the way it-it might even come out better, but you can never put it back the way it was. And the little things you losing mean more to you than you thought, you know, but we broke even.
I might go back at some point. With new seed being put in the ground of life, we may be staying somewheres else. There may be more to offer somewheres else. There's always going to be the distant wind blowing in from New Orleans, so I can't say right now what we will do. We're dealing with a new experience. We're going to go forward, all right. The storm is not going to hinder us from going forward, but who knows? We may wind up in Austin, because I thought about that. But she's in the banking business. She do accounts, she work in trusts, and she's been doing it for a long time, and from what I understand, she's very good at what she do.
But I don't know if there would be a job here to fit her where she might want to do it. Plus she graduated from Delgado not too long ago, and she's getting better. I don't know just -- I don't know what we're going to do to coordinate her job with what I do. What I do is carpenter work. There will be too much of that everywhere. So me getting a job won't be a problem, but for her-this is a town, I like this town, because once again there's a mental phase to all this. I guess by me living in the city all of my life, most of my adult life, I learned it's like living somewhere where smiles are not as genuine, not as real, or not as often as you see here.
I mean after awhile, I guess a bunch of these smiles are going to go away, but when people go to doing things, our society is going to blame another part of society. The other day, I was walking down the street and I heard the most horrible thing. A guy saw a bunch of us all together, and somebody must have asked who were we. And he said, "That's the refugees that are staying at the Convention Center." Then he corrected himself. Where did this man come from, the moon? We're taxpayers, so how could we be refugees? I mean that was an act of ignorance, so you know I'm not going to say it was a racial slur. I think that was ignorance. He didn't know nothing else to say. So to him, I thought he was telling his child the right thing, which was very dangerous, because if you tell a child and somebody asked that child, he'd say what, they're refugees.
So there's a lot of bad information being passed around. I saw people do things like a couple people at the Center, and there people in the Center and they're not doctors, because doctors have enough intelligence not to do this, some people living in the Center wearing a mask. Its somewhat degrading, but you feel sorry for that person because you know this person don't know what's going on. We have all, we have all the medical things -- Talking about food, I haven't had a plate of red beans and rice, I want some red beans and rice. I want New Orleans cooking. I mean, don't get me wrong now, don't get me wrong. These people have been fixing us nutritious meals, but I come from a soul food background, and I want a little bit of that. Two of the guys say there's a Popeye's up the street, so I'm gonna grab some of that tomorrow. They say there's a IHOP up the street, so I'm gonna do some grabbing on that tomorrow.
The best food I enjoy is when I eat with my wife, I don't care if it's a slice of bread with butter on it, with half a glass of juice, it will taste like two steaks and eggs, so I'll be happy when we be eating together again. So you know, I'm just the kind of person that -- I take a licking and I get up and I go forward. I mean I don't let too many things beat me down because when I experienced my mother's death, I think it gave me something that I had lost -- am I talking too much?
I think I lost something in life, it give you a second wind. You know what it's like when you love someone so much and they die and you begin to understand that things like death and losses, you understand the simple thing like a storm. An act of nature, that can get you pretty lonely. Look at the place where all the mud and water was coming in and all these thousands and thousands of people dying, in this big country where there was an explosion and thousands of people died, got drowned, it happens. Who would have ever thought it would happen to the Big Easy? The second-line city in the world, the Red Bean and Rice Capital, where everybody say, "Laissez les bons temps roulez." But the bons temps couldn't roulez that particular night. It just happened. That's all, and what you do now, you pick up life. They've got people in this building never left Louisianna. They got people in this building never left New Orleans, so you know now with this, they are forced to come up with a brand new thing. So now they've got to start dealing with it and see more of life.
I want to tell you about being positive. Positive is a situation where when you've been living in negative, it don't take much to recognize that. Sometime you are forced to run, and these people is supposed to change. You can't wait, click your finger, wake up and open your eyes and you standing on the other end of Desire or Painter. No, you're in Texas, and it just so happened you seem to be in the good part of Texas, because the people here to me are friendly. They opened their arms to us but I guess we would have opened our arms to them. I would like to think, think in my heart, that we could have been as kind to them as they are being to us. So that's it.