Goodbye NOLA, and God bless America (we need it)

In oilpocalypse by summerburkes16 Comments

It’s the Fourth of July, 2010, and we did it — “pre-evacuated” — because, along with all the other Gulf Coast residents, we were being poisoned against our will.

The Corexit headache is (maybe) finally going away. One more seat-of-the-pants trip to Grand Isle ankled us good for a couple days — it’s hard to sort all of one’s material possessions when one can’t stand up or keep one’s eyes open. Then we finished packing, split for Texas and points west, and drove all night, in hot weather with the heater blasting in the car to keep the radiator from exploding.

Thank the stars there was no sitting in those hurricane evacuation lines we expected — the Goat Boat would’ve certainly blown up. Every possession is stuffed in our beleaguered antique car outside on the gravel road — except for our gorgeous barge-board house in the Holy Cross, on the River in New Orleans. Can’t take that with us.

The house and we had a good long talk. We made sure it knew we loved it, even though we never really got a chance to know each other. We asked it not to fall down, and promised to return, if hope would let us. It’s alright to feel this crazy, because things ARE this crazy. Said goodbye to the house, and to the neighborhood, and went across the street to the levee to take one last look at the River and the million-dollar view … but we couldn’t do it. There’s no reason to walk up the levee just to cry some more. Ever hear of the story of Lot’s wife? Our face already felt like a pillar of salt from all the tears. Sorry to be melodramatic but it’s true.

and we wanted a weekend home like this. (All photos by Craig Morse / Culture Subculture)

Now, we sit in an undisclosed location in rural Texas, listening to the neighborhood fireworks and cuddling with the scared dogs inside — transfixed in front of the computer, digesting information, compiling links, and filling our brain with the reality of what’s happening, of what we escaped by leaving, perhaps in the nick of time. Perhaps we’re not far enough away.

God dangit, we wanted to live out the rest of our days in our homeland. In the South, in Dixie — but in the lowest part of Dixie, with pan-global freaks and unique indigenous melting-pot cultures and crazy-beautiful nature. And now the world megacorps are killing it, with the assistance of the American government and its military. The Gangster Party is staging a coup — successfully. The South, by the looks of things, will NOT rise again any time soon, but will instead go down in history as the place where the beginning of the end of the world started.

we wanted this to be us

So maligned, we Southerners are. So tired of being accused of racism and lack of intelligence. So tired of our accents being jealously made fun of and mangled on television. So tired, mainly, of being the redheaded stepchild of the country.

The unspeakable horror of slavery was as real as the Holocaust — but slavery loomed everywhere in the colonies. Blah blah blah it’s not even worth getting into AGAIN for the millionth time, trying to defend the South against people who think racist attitudes somehow can proliferate disproportionately in an area where black and white people live on top of each other and, for the most part, enjoy it. At least down here in Louisiana.

what will he do now? what will his family and all his employees do?

Southerners are so friendly. So, so friendly. An armed society is a polite society. Look us in the eye when we walk down the street. Not because we’re threatened by you, but because it’s common courtesy for us to each let the other one know we mean no harm. COMMON COURTESY. Ever heard of that?

An opportunity for love arises with this greeting — howyadoin — and a conversation, smile, or comment gained from this greeting could teach you something, widen your perspective, make you laugh, and/or change your crappy day for the better. Southerners like to do this for each other. Howyadoin. How yall doin? Howdy. That’s why we left San Francisco to come settle in the only other port city we’d ever be able to live in and feel right about it.

We were tired of standing in line at the grocery store in California, trying to small-talk people all Southern-style, and having them look at us like we were crazy and clutch their purses tighter and pretend we weren’t there. That made us feel bad. That’s not how it’s supposed to go. Southerners know this. We were finally back home.

what's the point?

Well, if we are soon to experience this environmental ollapse, then we want to be with our chosen family in our other home, near the heat of consciousness known as the Bay Area. Things that pepper the Bay Area’s history and future are arguably more crucial for our species’ evolution than nearly all else: green technology, bio-engineering, computers, quantum physics, radical thinking, equality, legalization, relaxation, spirituality without religion, flowering of consciousness, and an explosion of lowbrow D.I.Y. grand-scale interactive mechanistic apocalyptic art that doubles as scientific playtime and / or visions which foretell the future … all things with which we resonate like a tuning fork struck by lightning.

Everyone we know is a rock star. We live in the whole world, not just one place. But since we don’t have family or a job to ground us in the Gulf, we’ll go where there’s security, comfort, human contact, love, hope, and beautiful landscapes in which to walk and think and write.

We’d rather fly the coop like oil-soaked birds, to clean off in the Pacific Ocean or the high Nevada desert, and spend time over there with those guys. If we go down in an earthquake, so be it. At least we’d know the Earth took us out — and not other people blinded by greed and ego, drunk on the power they have to manipulate other human beings and discard them at will.

Part of us feels like a quitter. A failure. A deserter. But the other part knows that we’re now and forevermore chemically sensitive to Corexit, to the point where we physically can’t live there, not for another day. Who knows if the Corexit destroys our meat-sack faster than other people’s, or if it’s just that the alarm system in our meat-sack is louder than those around us, so we can holler about it at this keyboard like Chicken Little … but we had to go. Plus, itchiness to “pre-evacuate” was beginning to take a toll on our social relationships, to put it mildly. Those who aren’t prepared to leave, or are still in denial about the truth of the situation, don’t want to hear what we have to say, and we are nearly incapable of talking about anything else. At all.

For the next period of time TBD, we will bear no more witness to breathtaking pink sunsets in tenuous Waterworld, which can withstand hurricanes, but not human sabotage

We still live in New Orleans in our heart, and other writers split their time between cities, so why can’t we? Later, when it’s not a death-cloud of poison, with military vehicles pouring in, and nobody who’s supposed to serve and protect us is telling us why they’re there?

New Orleans is a state of mind. It’s unique on this planet, as is the Louisiana bayou system. In our heart, we can always retreat to the place that taught us resiliency, patience, endurance, voodoo, bounce music, second-lining, hurricane evacuation preparedness, and how to field-dress a bullet wound. We can and will go to this place when we close our eyes, when it’s too much — when we need to remember there’s magic in the world, love in hatred, sex in music, and wisdom in the marsh.

One friend told us: You never leave New Orleans because you want to. We say amen to that.

Love you, New Orleans. Love you love you love you. But the oil is everywhere, and there’s a hurricane comin’, and we’re the type who leaves the concert before the end, to avoid the crush of crowds on the way out. We won’t say goodbye; we’ll just say see ya later. We’ll be in California, or maybe Nevada, trying to talk to people in the grocery store line, and hoping they talk to us too.


Follow Summer Burkes on Twitter.


  1. I’ve been to New Orleans once in my life. Many years ago, pre-Katerina, and long before that. I always wanted to go back. Still do. I cannot, not matter how hard I try, understand that this is happening. My mind refuses. It’s too heart breaking.

    Be well.

  2. Summer. You’re doing the right thing. We love you here in the bay and can’t wait to see you.
    Keep that poison gas outta yer lungs, what’s the point of being the voice of a generation if you’re dead?

  3. I’ve also been to New Orleans once in my life. Such a wonderful, kaliedoscopic place. SO sad what is happening.

  4. the south will rise again. in the meantime, welcome to norcal…

  5. You are a quitter… and cheesy AND melodramatic. More allergic to Corexit. PLEASE.

  6. Calling new orleans “a death-cloud of poison” is libel and it is an irresponsible thing to write, even if only on a shitty, self-obessed blog like this one. So while you drive you gas-guzzling, polluting “antique car” back to California.. please don’t pretend that you can still call New Orleans home.

  7. In addition, maybe it’s not the Coretix that’s giving you headaches.. maybe it’s the fumes from your “beleaguered” that blast through the heater when it’s 100 degrees outside. It sounds like you should see a doctor and a mechanic before shitting on New Orleans.

  8. To whoever wrote those last three hateful comments: Everyone’s a tough guy on the internet. You should just go back to beating yourself up when you look in the mirror and bullying little kids. Stop trying to make people feel as shitty as you do every day.

  9. Please hurry back to your life of privilege on the west coast and don’t come back, ya herd me?

  10. this woman has been telling it like it is for this entire time. precisely because she loves the place, not cuz she’s talkin’ smack.

    these people who wrote really mean things on here obviously have no idea what they are talking about, and clearly have their heads either up their asses or deep in the sand…. i do think it’s kind of totally awesome that people who don’t know you are actually reading your blog, though!!!!! for each person who bothered to be a jerk head, there must be dozens more who said nothing and are actually taking these things into account, these things you have exposed. so woohooo for that.

    summer, your reports have been some of the most honest, informative and heartwrenching reports of this whole mess i have heard. you seriously care and you tried your damnedest to do what you could. i know for a FACT nobody who would ever call you out on this blog went out and, like you, laid hair boom out in the middle of it all, or actually attended town hall meetings, or spent one iota of the energy that you have to try to get people to wake up and smell the corexit and to fight for the rights and lives of the people who are being shat on down there. you here have chronicled some of your efforts to make things right. and for your efforts, you should be honored; and for your reporting i thank you.

    you are not a quitter, woman, you’re a survivalist and a realist, plain and simple.

  11. I miss you already, Summer. I think your amazing energy will enable you to be part of what fixes at least a part of this. I look forward to chatting with you in a checkout line somewhere down here in the future.

    I miss you already… *sniffle*

  12. You *are* a quitter…but that thing about “winners never quit” is a load of horseshit. The most effective ppl know when to quit at something, and do it early (and often). Sometimes you have to quit a battle to give yourself the time and energy to regroup, fold what you’ve learned into your strategy for next time, and come back to win the war.

    I also suspect you’ll find your role as an ambassador to the world outside of new orleans will turn out to be more important than you expect. Ppl have NO idea what’s going on there…even those of us who are actively trying to find out. If even 1% of those ppl you talk to in the grocery line end up hearing you say something that wakes them up to the reality of the situation…just think of the power that could have.

  13. Summer…You don’t know me – my friend sent me your blog. I am pregnant, living in New Orleans, and made the gut wrenching decision last week to leave. I put my house on the market and started telling everyone I was going. That was when the reactions started like the nasty ones above. People treat me as if I am acting selfishly because I am moving away (in an effort to protect my unborn child, no less). NO ONE is dealing with this in the city. I feel as though I am still living in the compound but no longer believe that Haley’s comet will take us to heaven like the rest of the cult does. Don’t bring up that there is cyonide in the KoolAid – they’ll get mad. No one wants you to tell them that IT’S OVER. The good guys lost. Who can blame them.
    That being said, it took me a long time to face this. My heart is completely broken to be leaving NOLA, the place where all spirit resides in this country. I, too, imagined raising my child fishing in the swamps, sitting him precariously on a ladder to dodge coconuts at Mardi Gras and fighting tooth and nail for this amazing place that would be his home. I know how much you hurt to leave your home. No one can understand, and many will blame those who stay without knowing of what they speak. But be kind to yourself. You did the right thing. Know you are not alone – there are so many of us who are silently grieving and planning an exit from the poison that will eventually fill every crevice. Your blog gave me strength. I salute you for all the power, energy and humor you put into the fight. I admire the strength it took to leave. Thank you on Nola’s behalf.

    1. Thank you, thank you. Just when I needed to hear this most. Thank you.

  14. Oh, Summer—although I haven’t asked her, I know that is my daughter who just wrote— and I cannot tell you how bravely and vividly you speak the words she speaks also. I only got to visit her, but now that Spirit is lodged forever in me… the bonfires along the levee on Christmas Eve, the bike messenger who sounded like Fats Domino…she always said that she had had to travel the world before she found Home, and now it has been yanked from her. She also always said she would never live in a place where she couldn’t wear her silverSparkly stiletto sandals, and now… well. We can’t do that here.
    Hundreds of thousand of individual tragedies, that is when “they” have created. Thank you for this, simply thank you. She doesn’t feel alone anymore.

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