This afternoon on my lunch break, I was walking back to my office when a black gentleman asked me for directions to the nearest Subway. He had heard there was a Subway shop on Main, which was about 5 blocks away. I told him there was one much closer, if he wouldn't mind backtracking. He then told me he was staying in the Convention Center, and that he was from Louisiana.
We introduced ourselves, and I offered to escort him to the Subway, which was near my office. I asked him how things were going for him, and he said it's been great. "Everybody has rolled out the red carpet. I have everything I need, new clothes (he was wearing new pants, two new shirts, and a new FDNY cap), deodorant, all the food I want. I just want something different, and I have $20 so I'm looking for a Subway sandwich on French bread".
Lionel went on to tell me that he wanted to settle in Houston with his wife. He does maintenance work, and he was looking for a job. Lionel was proud of the fact that he'd raised 2 kids from his first marriage, and another child from his second marriage. At 58 years old, he was looking forward to getting back on his feet and working towards retirement. He had been renting in New Orleans, and had little reason to return.
I then asked him about New Orleans last week. He was housed at the Superdome and he said it was a nightmare. "Whatever you saw on TV, it was worse. There were rapes and murders. It was awful". I told him there were conflicting reports on the violence, and he told me that it was indeed lawless. In fact, he was initially evacuated to Arkansas, and there had been another rape at his shelter there.
As we neared the Subway, I pointed him in the direction to get back to the Convention Center. I then showed him the Subway, and he asked "Do you want something?" I was taken aback by this man's generosity, who had just lost everything but was willing to buy me a lunch. I already had my lunch, and said thanks but no thanks. We shook hands, and went on our separate ways.
My encounter with Lionel has put a human face on the suffering and the resiliency of those affected by Katrina. I'm also left to wonder why hard working, generous men like Lionel aren't the face of black America, as opposed to men like Jesse Jackson and Kanye West. I suspect the black community would gain far more insight from 1 hour with Lionel than they ever could listening to race-baiting nonsense from Jackson and West.
Welcome to Texas, Lionel.