This morning, driving food to donate to the Red Cross shelter in Baton Rouge, I got stuck behind a pick up truck towing a trailer with a big pirogue in it. A pirogue is a Cajun-style small boat. Everywhere on the streets of Baton Rouge this morning you see men hauling boats. Seems that every man who has one is answering the police call to deploy to rescue people stranded in their houses. Seeing that pirogue, though, damn near made me want to cry. I love this state. I love it so hard.
The shelter is at Celtic Studios, a big production facility on the eastern side of the city, closest to the flooded areas in Livingston Parish and beyond. I have been told that the other Red Cross shelters in the area are full, so the Celtic Studios folks opened up to take overflow. I could not confirm that, though. I picked up a couple of adults who had walked in from out Greenwell Springs Road in the stifling heat and humidity. “It’s terrible,” the mother said, describing the scene they had departed. “We ain’t never seen water like that.”
That is the story all over this part of south Louisiana this morning. There was a steady line of cars delivering food and supplies, but also delivering people. I got behind a Baton Rouge city bus that had been pressed into service ferrying evacuees. I delivered our stuff, but there was a mix-up about who was to receive it, so I spent some time in the shelter looking for the chef who put out a call for jambalaya fixings. While I was looking for him and pushing a cart full of chicken, sausage, onions, celery, garlic, and rice (no bell peppers at Costco this morning), I was taken aback by the sea of humanity washing through the doors of the vast building. There were people who looked fairly prosperous, people who looked like they had not much more than the clothes on their back, old people on walkers, little children carried by their parents, an old man on a cane who had no shoes — basically, here comes everybody.
The Red Cross was coordinating it, and doing an amazing job. Teams from local churches were already in action, lifting, hauling, comforting. Ran into a guy I know from Healing Place church in south Baton Rouge. Later, when I heard that Healing Place was cooking jambalaya for evacuees in their kitchen and bringing it over to the shelter, I asked another Healing Place volunteer if I could take my stuff over to the church.
“You can,” he said, “but you need a boat to get to it.”
I decided to come back home, ice down the meat, and get on wifi to find a church that’s cooking and can take the supplies. Everybody who has AT&T mobile phone service is out of luck this morning. A switching station in waterlogged Livingston Parish is underwater now. AT&T is trying to reroute calls, but a whole lot of people can’t even call for help this morning. I saw a Baton Rouge Police Department officer at the shelter letting an old man on a walker use his phone. The old man has AT&T. The cop has Verizon. And there you are.
I overheard a Red Cross worker ask that officer for more security at the shelter. Everybody is peaceful, but as the day wears on, and more and more people come in for shelter, there aren’t enough volunteers to manage them. The officer said, “I’ll do what I can, ma’am, but half our force has been wiped out by the flood.” I understood him to mean that they are either on flood duty or live in neighborhoods that are underwater themselves. A lot of Baton Rouge cops live outside the city, in the same areas now being evacuated. Driving back to the house from the shelter, I passed the spot where those BRPD officers and the East Baton Rouge Parish sheriff’s deputy were gunned down several Sundays ago. Anybody who says anything derogatory about a Baton Rouge law enforcement officer on this day ought to have his butt kicked. A friend who is an emergency room doctor said a couple of days ago that two police officers soaked to the bone brought in a victim they saved from drowning, then headed back to the front, so to speak, to rescue more people.
Driving back home, I reflected on what I was reading at breakfast while having my coffee. It was this:
My rallies are not covered properly by the media. They never discuss the real message and never show crowd size or enthusiasm.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 14, 2016
Checking just now, I see that Trump has put out seven tweets in a row this morning, whining about how mean the news media is to him. Not a single word about Katrina.2 here in Louisiana. To be fair, Hillary Clinton hasn’t said anything about it either, but her Twitter feed is managed by campaign drones. Trump does his twitter feed himself. I kid you not, as I sat at the stop light at the corner of Airline and Old Hammond Highway, waiting to turn, I looked over at the spot where those three law enforcement officers where shot dead last month, and I thought about all the poor, desperate people I had just seen at the shelter, and all the good men and women of Louisiana spending their Sunday morning doing whatever they can to help their neighbor, and I thought Donald Trump can go to hell.
Honestly, with so much suffering in this country now — acutely here, right now, in Louisiana, but people are hurting all over (seen the news from Milwaukee today?) — all that fathead can do is gripe about how mean the news media are to him. It’s disgusting. I have not been a #NeverTrump conservative, and don’t really care to be part of that crowd now, even though I cannot imagine voting for Hillary Clinton either. I believe Trump has brought up some important issues that the GOP didn’t care to address. But as of today, I wouldn’t vote for Trump if you put a gun to my head. The vanity and the pettiness of that jackass beggars belief. If he had any sense, he would be on a plane down here trying to help, or at least showing real concern, instead of sitting there with his smartphone, bleating like a baby.
You don’t need to know what I think of Hillary. If you are a conservative, it’s exactly what you think too. But it makes me really angry that this is what the conservative party has to offer America in the fall of 2016: this ridiculous clown. And we have him in part because none of the GOP regulars could make the sale to primary voters.
Till now, I’ve been laughing sardonically at the two repulsive figures American voters have to choose from this November, wondering how it ever could have come to this. This morning, I’m mad about it and disgusted beyond belief.
But you know what? I am not despairing. This morning, on the roads of Baton Rouge, and at the shelter, I realized what patriotism is. It’s men with boats. It’s women carrying loads of food in for refugees. It’s black people and white people and Hispanic people and Vietnamese people working together to love and to serve black people and white people and Hispanic people who are down and out, and have no place to go. It’s young men from churches serving hot jambalaya to refugees from the flood. Here’s that scene:
It’s the guy I can see right now next door to where I sit now, with his car backed up to his front door, his trunk open, loading it full of things. You know good and well he’s headed to the Red Cross shelter. My son Lucas and I will be right behind him.
I love Louisiana. This is my home. This is our home, my neighbors and me. I think of the great line from Little Steven Van Zandt’s “I Am A Patriot”:
I was walking with my brother
And he wondered what’s on my mind
I said what I believe in my soul
Ain’t what I see with my eyes
And we can’t turn our backs this time
I am a patriot, and I love my country
Because my country is all I know
I want to be with my family, the people who understand me
I’ve got nowhere else to go
What is my country? Today, to me, it feels like Louisiana. Washington is very far away. Baton Rouge is right here. Nothing against America, you understand, but this hot, wet, miserable piece of ground is where my heart is. I feel that this morning in a way I never quite have. Maybe if I had been here during Katrina and seen it with my own eyes, I would have come to this realization earlier. But I didn’t. Nevertheless, I’m glad that I did.
The only politics that really matter to me is the politics of this community — that is, the politics of being a good neighbor. Look, I know that politics as statecraft matter. I’m talking about what matters to me. I’d rather be there with the people from the churches and the community, we who are in dry houses today, helping those who have nothing. If that’s the Benedict Option, then I choose it. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have nothing to say to me that I care to hear. For me, this is here and this is now. Hillary, Trump and the rest of them are people from TV Land.
Hey, if you are in Baton Rouge and have stuff to give, take it to the shelter at Celtic Studios. Or better yet, there are churches all over town taking donations — might even be better to find one near you to avoid big traffic jam at Celtic. If you can volunteer somewhere, do. Give generously to the Red Cross; they need it. And if you have a boat, go to O’Neal Lane or Millerville exits. Men are launching boats off the Interstate, and state police are telling them where to go. A call just went out for boats to show up at the Home Depot on Coursey. This is how we do it.
UPDATE: I’m just back from a day spent volunteering at the shelter. The magnitude of this disaster is breathtaking. I don’t have a lot of good to say about Hillary Clinton, but I’ll say this, and I mean it: if she were president and this happened, she would be competent enough to get short term and long term help to the masses of people who have lost everything. Donald Trump would be sitting in the Oval Office reading his Twitter feed and thinking about his greatness.