As I write this, I'm watching images of a city I no longer recognize — New Orleans. Death, destruction, debris, despair, and debilitating rage have taken over her once-gracious streets. Hospital workers are dropping in their tracks due to dehydration and exhaustion, with supplies and time running out, while people shoot at helicopters bringing relief. I can't even begin to mourn the people who have died, who have lost everything, who have been displaced to far-off cities. The enormity of human loss is too big to get my mind around just yet.
So I find myself mourning the city itself. Even if that laissez les bon temps rouler city we tourists and conventioneers knew and loved was only part of the reality of the place, it was our vision of New Orleans, and we cherished it. While the French Quarter that was home to so much of what I loved — the incomparable Cafe du Monde, the Blue Dog gallery, the artists and Tarot card readers in Jackson Square — was spared the worst of the flooding, unfortunately fires, looting, and vandalism have rendered it uninhabitable for the time being.
While I'm sure at least the tourist areas will be rebuilt, I'm afraid that New Orleans may never again be the place I fell in love with — and the place I fell in love back in March of 1992, when I was the editor of an environmental chemistry magazine.
We were in town for the Pittsburgh Conference, a huge scientific convention I regularly attended. One of my then-colleagues talked me into going with her to a birthday party for her boyfriend's boss one night during the conference. As our group roved through the French Quarter, causing trouble and having a bit too much fun, I noticed that the birthday boy was kind of great. Then the next night, we fortuitously ran into each other on Bourbon Street, and ended up talking into the wee hours. Even though he lived in Massachusetts and I lived in Colorado, even though I was determined to stay commitment-free, New Orleans worked her magic. What began as a spark turned into an enduring flame. We've now been married for close to 13 years.
The thought that PittCon may never again rotate through New Orleans, that my husband and I may never again have a jazz brunch at Brennan's, that New Orleans may never again be the New Orleans I knew, breaks my heart. What is happening to her people, breaks my soul.
— Sue Pelletier,
P.S. If you have any ideas about how CME providers could better prepare healthcare workers for catastrophes like Katrina, or have a story to tell related to hurricane-affected meetings, please contact me for our December cover story. And please do anything you can to help the Gulf Coast recover.