August 28, 2008

In the Superdome, 2 years and 355 days later

We booked a hotel room in Memphis and then I went to Superdome. It is August 28th, 1 day shy of the 3 year anniversary.

I pulled the bike in and our guy who runs the lot was sipping whiskey with water and ice on the tailgate of a pick-up. His co-worker had me stick a business card in the bike's spedometer so his boss would know that I belong.

Fans crawled through the lots and sidewalks on the uptown side of Poydras. Brand new jerseys, to-go ups, bottle blondes, the heat of the preaseason. Think about 3 years ago, and the change in the crowd. Not a mention of that, just the loud thumps from the speakers on the patio of the Energy Building. My man and I drank Bud and Bud Light in plastic bottles. Where to go and memories of Memphis. Aw, wellllll.

We cut through the Marriot alley and past the old New Orleans Centre. Dead buildings with expired air conditioning units, stray dumpsters. I remarked on a rusting hulk of a Dixie Beer truck, still running, with three figures crammed in the cab, the sides of the bed made of rough lumber, the dashboard full of paper and emphemera. As it pulled out of a loading dock, I couldn't believe the size of it, like some giant old man, long gone to seed but wider by the year and mobile.

In front of the Amoco building, which houses the Orleans Parish DA, a dude rolled up to me trying to cell his CD. You know what, I bought that CD: Big Lou - That Corner Store. I didn't buy one off the second dude who approached me, but Big Lou, I got him.

Up the ramp to the Dome. I hadn't been in there since I graduated, when I was late and had to scramble down the lower bowl aisle, barely making it. The other times were a few Tulane games and a Monster Truck Pull. That time, I remember rolling down the confetti-colored carpets, leaning against alabaster walls, trying not to tumble from the upper deck. That night, once we made it out to the parking garage, you could hear a thousand drivers revving up their engines, amped up by the spectacle of a demolition derby and Gravedigger. I made accidental eye-contact with one driver. His woman was in the passenger seat and two kids doddled in the back. He said something to me and I just kept looking, shrugged. He actually reached under his seat. I couldn't believe it. He bluffed like he was going for a gun, and at that time, I really didn't flinch. There was no gun, and he had to sit back up, empty-handed. This really pissed him off. I came to my senses and we all split.

Oh, and the other time, my friend Dill showed up. On the flight down, he'd met a cameraman from CBS Sports who promised us tickets to the game on Sunday. We got loaded and forgot about it, until Sunday morning, my phone rang. I dragged myself to the desk. And on the line was the cameraman, asking for my friend. We got the tickets later in the TV trailer outside the Dome. When we walked into the darkened command center, my friend announced, "Hey, I'm M-----, I'm here for the tickets!" This didn't go over so well with the techs. The Saints played the Bears, an atrocious day of football.

So tonight, August 28, 2008, I walked up to the club level and dug the new paneling, concession stands, and turf. They did the Superdome right this time. The coziness, along with the casual booziness of the preseason, mean for minimal football watching, just eating and drinking and commenting. It was relaxed.

The roof which hung open like a blown intenstine, the cool air where a foul humidity once baked the left behind, they were there, as were the ghosts. The hallways, the endless hallways. What if we couldn't leave? I bought chicken strips and used the bathroom 3 times in 2 hours.

No banner hangs for those who sat under that roof 3 years ago. We give no moment of silence, even now, at the fingertips of another menace. Let us cheer the second and third string. This one doesn't count.

Yet we all know. We know what are our plans are, what are opinions are, what we expect. And with a decision only days away, we cheer languidly for men who won't even make the team. They bowl over each other on the site of a cemetery.

Saints' reserves look weak. The 3rd string QB, Tyler Palko, is from my part of the world. He sucked tonight. No one noticed, not much.

Back to the home. In time for most of Barack Obama's speech. Let me ask you:

Do you still believe in this America we speak of? Does that promise resound in you? When do you feel it? Does it sustain you?

If we are to reclaim this country, let us talk about who "we" really are, and what this country promises us, what it has left to promise us in 2008, after Katrina, after the last 7 years, after the last 40 years. You may tap the American spirit, but how much is left in that well?

In a week, we'll know if New Orleans lives or dies. No game, no speech can make it more certain. Only time and the wind.