I'm not sure when I became a New Orleanian. It didn't automatically happen after I moved here last year. New Orleans was just another stop in a broadcast career that's taken me across the country for the last 17 years. This was a one year assignment for NBC. It was a great assignment and one I personally requested. But nonetheless, this was a stint. And now my time here in the NBC News New Orleans bureau is coming to a close.
At some point, New Orleans became something more than a job to me and my family. I can't say there was one particular moment when it occurred to us. Instead, it was a collection of moments:
--Like the day last summer my 2-year-old daughter announced: "Claudia like New Orleans";--That Sunday in October when the Saints turned me (a total non-sports geek) into a die-hard fan;--The Thursday in January when 5,000 people marched against crime and I felt like I belonged beside them instead of with our camera crews;--Three weeks ago when our new neighbors came by to make sure we were OK after the tornadoes;--And last week as I watched my 1-year-old scream with glee during Mardi Gras.
Photo caption: Steve's daughters, Shoshana and Claudia, at Mardi Gras.
Which is not to say that there haven't been other things that we tried to forget about the last year; the crime, the grindingly slow recovery effort, and the psychological weight of living in a city where so many have lost homes, loved ones or a way of life. But those have been overshadowed by so many more positive experiences.
It truly has been a year that I'll never forget. I've met so many incredible people along the Gulf Coast: Politicians and plain folks, Uptowners and Ninth Warders, Cajuns and Creoles, evacuees and immigrants and everyone in between. I can only hope I've made a small difference by helping to tell their stories. Because that is what I set out to do.
If you forgive me for going on a bit longer, I went back to my first post on this blog to remind myself of what I wrote to explain why I came here. Here it is, in part:
"I asked to join this bureau because this is more than a story about a hurricane. This city and this region is a microcosm for every kind of issue we're facing in our country. How well are we prepared as a nation to respond to any kind of disaster, terror attack or epidemic? We're finding that out as we watch the government respond here. How do we as a nation take care of the less fortunate? We're discovering that as we watch faith-based groups, charities, and government agencies rebuild the lives of folks here. What is the best way to rebuild failing school systems, overhaul the insurance industry, revitalize a city's economy, or disrupt a long-standing pattern of violent crime before it has a chance to regain a foothold? You name the issue in your state or community and there are lessons to be learned by watching the stories from here."
So many months later, I still believe that to be true. The story of New Orleans is the story of America and how she cares for her citizens and how those citizens care for each other.
And so, I come full circle by telling you that for the first time in my life, I will become part of the story. My family and I have bought a home and have decided to lay down roots here. We are new New Orleanians. Although I'm leaving NBC, Brian Williams and NBC News have made it clear that they aren't leaving the story of this city anytime soon. And for that, we, the people of New Orleans, say, "Thank you."
Photo caption: Steve's partner Todd with their masked (and youngest) daughter, Shoshana.