They’re trying to wash us away
They’re trying to wash us away
- Randy Newman
When I was a kid, one of my favorite TV shows was “WKRP in Cincinnati.”
It was a great sitcom, but in 1980 it veered off dramatically for an episode called “In Concert,” incorporating the tragic death of 11 fans in December 1979 outside Riverfront Coliseum who were trampled trying to get in to see The Who.
In the episode the station owner, Mr. Carlson, is about to leave for a memorial vigil when he stops to talk to one of the DJs, Venus Fly Trap (hey, it was the 80s, OK?).
He tells Venus about Cincinnati’s plans to forbid general admission concert seating which lead to the deaths, which the city actually did for 25 years.
“Oh, it’s a good town, Venus,” Carlson says. “We’re responsible people here.”
I’ve thought of that long ago line more than a few times when thinking about Baton Rouge, my hometown, and its heartsick journey through this most tragic year.
The Alton Sterling shooting. The subsequent protests. The shooting of five Baton Rouge police officers and a sheriff’s deputy. And now the floods. I almost hate to wonder what might come next. Could a Zika virus-laden asteroid be currently hurtling our way?
I think I can speak for all when I say 2016, thus far, stinks. I’ve lived here all but a couple of my nearly 50 years, and I have to say it’s the saddest year in Baton Rouge I can remember.
And then I think of how we’ve all pulled together through this. First through the shootings and the aftermath, when it was a madman from Kansas City who came here with evil intentions and shot those officers, not someone who lives here. Sticking in my mind is a selfie of LSU running back Derrius Guice, a young black man who grew up in Baton Rouge and went to Catholic High, with a white Baton Rouge police officer.
Both are smiling.
Now I think of the people who were trapped in the water and the people who have gone to get them. People of all ethnicities helping people of all ethnicities, and often their pets, trapped by the water that has shocked us all in its swift rise and its devastating reach.
It is when things are at their worst when we are often at our best. There are hundreds, probably thousands of great stories out there. But I’m a sports guy, so I’m thinking particularly of a couple of feel good stories from this disaster, starting with the rescue of Carol and Jim Hawthorne from their flooded Park Forest home.
No one had heard from the Hawthornes since late Saturday night. By midday Sunday, LSU was alerting the media to assist in getting the word out to look for the long time and recently retired broadcaster and his wife. LSU sports information director Michael Bonnette, who ended up helping others out of the floodwaters, organized a boat to take to the Hawthornes’ home.
Fortunately, a boatload of four strangers from Brusly, who plucked some 50 people in Park Forest from their flooded exile, got to the Hawthornes first and took them to safety.
It’s been a rough time for LSU broadcasters new and old, though the story of new LSU play-by-play man Chris Blair and his family didn’t turn out for the worst.
The Blairs saw water rising Sunday morning behind their house in Oak Ridge Estates and backing up through storm drains. With two young children, they decided to get out to avoid “a dangerous extraction, possibly Sunday night in the dark.
“A great neighbor, John Kitto, launched his boat early Sunday and told me if we wanted out to let him know, so at 12 noon we arranged the house as good as we could getting things off the floor and took off.”
Kitto, a local attorney, took the Blairs down flooded Elliot Road to its intersection with Hoo Shoo Too Road, where former LSU pitcher and LSU radio baseball color commentator Doug Thompson was waiting at a staging area to drive the Blairs to his home.
“We boated out and passed homes on Elliot under water and realized how fortunate we were,” said Blair, who communicated by text with cell phone service still spotty. Blair said he’s told their house didn’t take on water and that they hope to go back Tuesday.
Some welcome to our area for the Blairs, who moved here from Statesboro, Georgia, where Chris was the play-by-play announcer for Georgia Southern. But hopefully having a neighbor like Kitto made up for it.
“John was there two full days rescuing people on Elliot to the tune of 50 or 60 people morning, noon and night,” Blair said. “True hero.”
There are a lot of John Kittos out there throughout our area, pitching in to help those they know and those they don’t, not directed by some government agency but because this is their home, and they want to help.
Oh, it’s a good town. We’re responsible people here. And we’ll get through this together. And the next test to come.