Your correspondent stands smoking outside his hotel in the night air, 20 feet from the glass doors beyond which lies the sumptuous hotel foyer. A taxi pulls up, and from it emerges a man in a gray business suit. His arrival is unremarkable against the backdrop of a warm Southern night in a town suddenly full of insurance people in suits.
What makes the man noticeable is the way he navigates from the taxi to the glass doors. Something is wrong with his legs. Instead of walking like a normal person, he lopes like an ostrich. Each leg is in turn shot forward to replace the other, in a gross parody of how normal people walk.
Other bystanders turn their heads to avoid looking, but from personal experience I recognize only too well the lurching movements of a man entirely drunk.
It is possible to move forward in such a manner for short distances, but the effort is almost always followed by collapse, because no thought has been given to stopping. The brake mechanism apparently lives in a separate part of the brain that alcohol renders inoperative. I once saw a fellow fall down a flight of granite steps to end facedown in a metal grill under such circumstances.
In New Orleans, the man in the gray suit crashes headfirst into the glass door, arresting his progress. Using drunken logic, he kicks his legs backwards as he falls to the floor on his face.
None of those nearer to him than I am make any attempt to help. Legless, but possessed of indomitable willpower, our man tries to propel himself forward through the glass door and up the steps beyond.
There is another spine-shuddering clonk as his head hits the door, but his will enables him to open it with his noggin and force himself through. Halfway through, alas, the door closes in on him and traps him, a horizontal Duke of York, halfway in and halfway out. His face is a study in grim determination.
A bellman finally appears on the scene and drapes the fellow over his shoulder, at which point staring is no longer acceptable.
And there our sad story ends, except for pointing out that the hangover all this must have induced will probably last the guy until the next RIMS. It's being held in San Diego, as it seemingly almost always is these days. Oh, and I might also mention that no one at the hotel in any way criticized our drunk friend for his ridiculous behavior. Smokers are another story.
New Orleans is not a ghost town, but it's no longer a real town either. It has the same desperation that the wrong side of Atlantic City has; the people in both towns, speaking in generalities, have the same empty eyes. New Orleans has half the population it had before Katrina, and for many that means living half the lives. They're the lucky ones.
New Orleans strips away all your illusions and leaves you with nothing to hold on to. This was driven home for me by the man in the suit, trapped facedown in a world he could no longer comprehend. New Orleans, metaphorically, is in a similar fix. It has yet to grasp what has happened to it, let alone be able to form a strategy for dealing with it.
The wounds will take generations to heal, if they ever do.
ROGER CROMBIE, the alternative risk columnist for Risk & Insurance®, lives in Bermuda.
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July 1, 2007
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