Monday, October 09, 2006

The Dome Reopening

On Monday, September 25, 2006, the Superdome was scheduled to reopen, with the Saints playing a Monday Night Football game. Southern's band was to do the halftime show, Irma Thomas and Allen Toussaint were to do the National Anthem, and Green Day and U2 were to sing some songs pre-game. Businesses were shutting down, schools were closing early (ours didn't, but we all got to wear black and gold or Saints clothes). It was a special day.

We tried to get free tickets through WWL. We wouldn't find out about them until a few days before the game.

The game was sold out. The only way to get seats this year is through buying season tickets. Unless we got tickets through Mark's job, we would not be going.

The weekend before, we waited. We heard nothing. Monday came. Mark went to work. He heard nothing. I wanted to go only to BE there. And to see U2. And since Reggie Bush is singlehandedly keeping me employed, I felt I should be there for him. I'm no football fan. I hate that sport. I'm a Saints fan in the sense that I feel happy for them when they win, and sad for them when they lose, but other than that, I know nothing about them. But I wanted "to be in that number when the Saints came marching in."

It would be an experience to remember for eternity, I thought. I was there, watching the roof of the Dome fly off during Katrina. I saw the lines of people snaking around the stadium, before the mists began. I saw them desperately trying to get in as the mists and outer bands started coating the city. I saw the people strolling around outside after the storm had passed. I saw the truckloads of people being carted through the early stages of flooding to the refuge of the Dome. I almost was stranded in the floodwaters between the Dome and the New Orleans Arena. The Dome was one of my last glimpses of the city as Spud drove us to the safety of Baton Rouge. And I wanted to be there as it reopened.

People all over the world criticized us for putting football high on our list of priorities. There are other authors more eloquent than I am, so I won't say much on that subject. I will include links to them at the end of this post if you think that what I say is unsatisfactory.

But first, we have been criticized for using millions of dollars to restore it. Most of that money came from FEMA and insurance. All of you critics in other states -- if a tornado ripped through your town, or a mudslide, or a hurricane, or an avalanche...I don't know what your specific potential natural disaster is, but imagine it happening to your home and your business. Now imagine applying for FEMA and collecting your insurance check. What are you supposed to use it on? Your next door neighbor's house? The grocery store down the street that you don't own? A cruise? (Put aside those who falsely applied for funding after the storm and who were caught..they are scum and do not count.) No. You HAVE to use that money to repair or restore your property. Same applies to the Dome.

Also, we need something for tourism. Our blossoming movie industry is non-existent now. Our convention center has a tainted scar from Katrina, too, and people are afraid to plan conventions here now, especially from June 1 to November 30. We have lost a lot of revenue from tourists and from residents who are too afraid and have packed up and moved on. Many companies have also deserted us in our hour of need. Some, like IHOP and MAC cosmetics have come to us, have appeared since the storm, have put faith in us. But many have left, including the headquarters of Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, which originated here. We need money. Desperately. And if we can get some tourists here for the games, then we'll take it. In addition, these tourists, these football teams with their entourages, can come here and see everything first-hand. They can see and they can go back and share.

And while this may seem even more superficial, we need something to DO. The parks are a mess. The Lakefront is a mess. Stores close early. Restaurants are still on the post-storm limited menus. The Hornets are in Oklahoma. The Voodoo haven't come back yet, but are about to. I have now been to two Saints games this season. I am a football hater. But being there was exciting, and it gave me something to DO. You don't know how important that is.

We also need a unity item. And if a bunch of overpaid athletes can give us something to talk about besides sheetrock, demolition, insurance, FEMA trailers, and places that have closed and friends that are gone, then goddammit, don't take them from us.

I've just given away the fact that we did, indeed, get tickets to that homecoming, er, DOMEcoming game. At 3 p.m. that Monday, I had a text from Mark. He just found out we had tickets. My friend Jen, who teaches down the hall from me, was going. She lives two minutes from school. I parked my car at her house, and the P.E. teacher picked us up there and dropped us off a few blocks from the Dome. We walked to it, then waited for Mark. He left the house at three. He did not get to the Dome and into a parking spot until 2 1/2 hours later. Jen and I met up with Over, who was recording Cowboy Mouth's set before the game. With no Mark in sight, and no other things to do, Jen and I accompanied Over to his car, which was all the way over at St. Patrick's Church, to put away his recording equipment. On the way back, Mark called to say he was there.

I tell you, it was more Mardi Gras than Mardi Gras downtown. People were everywhere. Everyone was in a good mood. Jazz musicians were on several corners. Block party ran into block party ran into block party. Booths were set up all over. Merchandise, contests, media broadcasts, food, the GooGoo Dolls, Cowboy Mouth... it was a madhouse.

At 5:30, they opened to doors and started letting people in. But not before they dropped a big black cloth off the Dome, revealing a sign that says, "Our home. Our team. Be a Saint." There was a huge countdown clock above the banner. It was like New Year's Eve, the way the huge crowd counted down together.

The pat-downs at the entrance were dragging, so by the time we got up there, the frisking before entry stopped.

Waiting in line to walk in was nerve-wracking. The anxiety levels and fear levels and sadness levels were high, but then, as soon as I walked in, it was like a triumph. Reopening the Dome is such a milestone. A small one, but one nonetheless. And I got teary-eyed. It was triumph, sadness, joy, fear, and awe all rolled into one.

We climbed to our free nose-bleed seats. We sat down in chairs that had (possibly) never been sat in before. We took in the view. It was still about half an hour before showtime, and the stadium was quickly filling up. The last Dome game I'd attended was when the Colts handed the Saints their rear ends on a silver platter. It was a dismal season, anyway, and it was so empty.

We saw them wheel out all of the stage pieces. The excitement level in the room was only rising. A voice came over the brand-new soundsystem. The noise level in the room dropped slightly so we could hear what was being said. Suddenly, on the new screens in the end zones, reporter Robin Roberts appeared. She is from the Gulf South, and has made it nationally. When her face appeared, the crowd erupted. If you saw the game on TV, you may have noticed she smiled wide while talking and then started yelling into the mic. This was because the crowd was so loud, you couldn't hear her at all. She introduced U2 and Green Day.

They played "Wake Me Up When September Ends," a song I can't ever hear anyway. Ever since we were evacuating and the song was stuck in my head, I haven't been able to hear it without crying. So, naturally, I did. Then they played their new joint effort, "The Saints Are Coming," which was raucous. Even the old people sitting around us were nodding their heads. They followed that with "Beautiful Day." Then Irma Thomas and Allen Toussaint played the national anthem.

And then, after clearing the stage, the Saints arrived. They ran out of an inflatable Saints tunnel and down a line of first-responders from the storm. Again, I cried. And the game got off to an amazing start, staying amazing the entire time. I never thought I'd enjoy a football game. But the mob mentality of enthusiasm was too infectious. It was so loud in there, I was holding my cell phone, which was on vibrate, and I couldn't hear it when I got texts. You could barely hear anything but a roar.

I will spare details of the game. Those can be found anywhere. And you already know they won.

In more ways than one.

For further opinions on the game, go to these articles by columnist Chris Rose. He is amazing.

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