Guest Essay: Cars and Katrina

Mr. Christopher Rowe recently went back to college, as many of you know. Yesterday morning he had to get up early to write a one pager of thoughts on Hurricane Katrina for his anthro class. He saw fit to include one of my favorite CVR anecdotes and I asked him if I could run it here. He had little choice but to say yes.

Here it is:

When I was sixteen I made the first and only trip I ever took to New Orleans. I traveled with my late stepfather, who was a used car salesman possessed of a deserved "colorful" reputation in matters of business. It was also the first time I ever flew on an airplane, and when we took off from the Nashville airport I was carrying $30,000 in cash in the pockets of my jeans. My stepfather explained that it was best if we split up our money in case we were mugged.

We were going to buy "sinkers," which was used car terminology for the considerable number of automobiles that are pulled from the waterways of Louisiana, Mississippi and even extreme southeast Texas following accidents or storms. There’s nothing illegal about it, actually. We bought dozens and dozens of cars at various lots in the city dedicated to the "rehabilitation" of sinkers. I remember that the lots weren’t paved with gravel, but with crushed seashells, because on the Gulf, it’s easier to find shells for grinding than the limestone we use here. Eventually, we arranged for the cars to be shipped back to Kentucky on freight trains, where my stepfather would resell them to car lots throughout the Commonwealth. When I asked him if the dealers who sold the cars to new owners would admit that they’d once been submerged in swamp water, my stepfather replied, "What do you think?"

I think that in the next year or so, a lot of sinkers will be making their ways to car lots all over the country. I think that sales of the smaller, more fuel efficient cars will outstrip those of SUVs and trucks, because I think that fuel prices–corrected to something approaching half the world average for end users in the wake of the destruction and obstruction of much of the USA’s domestic production capability–will continue to rise.

Revealed by Katrina’s winds as having been a thin scrim of a First World vacation town resting atop a Fourth World city teeming with poverty and desperation even before the storm, New Orleans may or may not rise again. The city’s location in the Delta was not chosen by caprice at its founding almost 300 years ago, however, as a deep water port is crucial at the mouth of the Mississippi if the vast center of the nation is to continue to engage in international trade. Further, Bourbon Street and the Quarter did not develop and maintain their reputations as destinations for Midwestern burghers and their college aged children to engage in a few extra-Christian activities far from the eyes of their neighbors only to see the bars shut down because the people working in them no longer have homes.

I believe it can be said, then, that the Port of New Orleans and the French Quarter will definitely be rebuilt in fashion that serves the business and social needs of the ruling plurality. Whether the city itself will be rebuilt is another question.

One Response to “Guest Essay: Cars and Katrina”

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