We have been in New Orleans for three days now, exploring the city and doing our laundry, indulging in the comforts of the civilized man. Earlier today, we went to the Arena Football League Championship Game, ArenaBowl XXI, in the New Orleans Dome on national TV, sponsored by ADT, Discover Card, and Sirius Satellite Radio, among others. The game was between the San Jose Sabercats and the Columbus Destroyers, and the Sabercats won, 55-33. There was confetti, and a trophy, and cheerleaders, and it was so air-conditioned and mesmerizing you had no idea that anything else existed, no idea of what the weather was like outside. Now, when people ask us why we paddled the Mississippi, we will finally know what to say: it was a pilgrimage. We paddled the river because we had to see ArenaBowl XXI.
New Orleans is a wild destination, a strange and appropriately American endpoint for the journey that we've just finished. Two years after Hurricane Katrina, the city is so far from fixed it's embarrasing, but you would have no idea, drinking beer and wearing tinted glasses, waltzing through the French Quarter with a buzz. At a barbershop Danny and I visited, rap videos split time on the tv with public service announcements from 2-cents.com, highlighting the fallout from the storm. In one, a Hurricane Katrina Bus Tour rolls through the 9th Ward, past an impoverished African-American, holding up a sign that reads, "This is what you paid to see, isn't it?" There is the voiceover: "If you like looking at it so much, maybe we shouldn't fix it." And there is a song by KUSH, cut with footage from the scene, poor black people crying for help on rooftops, wading through the streets, looting stores because they have no food, because the government is nowhere to be seen. But it is the!
al words that are the most chilling. "This is the realest line I ever wrote," he says. "We'll never get on top because we don't vote."
Everywhere, there are signs of the storm. A fountain recently restored. Hostels hosting relief programs. The side of a building, crumbling in upon itself. There are stories of fires and bucket brigades, and holes in roofs, and looters stripping houses down, all the way to the doorknobs. And then of course there is Bourbon Street, and beads, and beads. As I said, New Orleans has been a fitting end.
Amidst this all, the river sits there in memory, already receding, already fading away. We were out there a long time. Yet before you know it, it is gone, like a dwindling cigarette, like a dream, until you look back on it and wonder if those trances were real, if those sandbars and rivertowns existed, those bends in the river, until you look back and wonder how it all could have been. Did it all really happen? Did we appreciate it as it passed? Was it worth it? Am I okay? I imagine these are the types of questions we ask ourselves at the end of our lives.
Thank you to everyone who has checked in with this webpage, to everyone who has followed us along. It has truly been a pleasure relaying to you our travels, and I hope you all have been able, in some small manner, to take something away. We are off now, onto the rest of our lives, and I suppose you all are too. We always are, after all. I hope you pursue something that makes you feel alive. Please remember that this moment is what exists, that everything else is relative, and that this moment is here and then gone. Please remember that we live in a possible world. If nothing else, this trip has at least shown that. Best wishes as you carry on.
the mississippi project