The mood at Louis Armstrong International Airport is surprisingly relaxed. "We'll see when it hits," ushers a baggage claim attendant. A woman at the city shuttle desk speaks through a forced grin, "CNN must be happy."
As that point, there was no talk of a city shut-down, though the state is being prepared for an emergency evacuation, cued by the storm's strength in the Gulf of Mexico.
As I walk through the French Quarter, things are noticeably quieter than normal for this time of year. In corner stores, there are an equal number of folks stocking up on water as those with beer. Hotel lobbies are littered with Gustav updates - and CNN predictions - but local bars are solely focused on the Saints-Dolphins game.
By Friday, it looks like the storm is slowing down, heading west, and veering away from a direct hit to New Orleans. I exhale.
That night, we party like it's the last night on earth. Others follow suit. One bar sign announces, "YOU CAN'T STOP THE WEATHER, SO WHY STOP THE PARTY." Denial becomes the mantra of late night Bourbon Street.
I stumble home at 5:30 am to a notice posted - evacuate in two and a half hours.
I rush downstairs to call the airline to no avail. The wait time to talk to a representative is over an hour. Two hours later I'm frantically packing, only to realize the false alarm that has been issued. Again, the storm has slowed down and looks like it will make landfall later than expected.
We are invited to return to our rooms. Others, in panic that all remaining flights out of the city, rebook shelling out upwards of $900 in fees (until an emergency evacuation is issued, many airlines won't waive change or cancellation fees).
The rest of my day is spent on the phone organizing an evacuation plan. Apparently, the only available flight is leaving five minutes prior to the airport's Sunday, 6:00 pm lockdown. The airline tells us the only other option is to rent a car and drive to Atlanta (typically an eight hour drive, but under evacuation conditions, can jump past 16). Seemingly the better option, we rent a car.
During a final stop at the famous Café du Monde, Christian protestors drive by in a car, megaphone poised, thanking homosexuals for bringing Gustav to the city of New Orleans.
Saturday night is plain creepy. Military children with automatic rifles, convoys, police eager for looters, essential service employees, unhappy newly weds, and mostly gay men account for the city's population.
We eat dinner at Coop's, a local eatery serving authentic Creole and only one of a handful restaurants still open. So near to the storm, conversations surround evacuation plans matched with reasons for staying put.
Bourbon Street is eerily quiet, dark, and mostly lifeless with the exception of four healthily attended gay bars. Exit strategies become hook-up strategies as many of the area's hotels have already closed their doors, leaving countless visitors homeless. You start to hear a lot of "well, here's my card, if you're stuck, I'm room 3442 at the Marriott."
Though feeling particularly Lord of the Flies, in its autocratic leanings, the street party is unlike anything I had ever experienced.
We arrive at our hotel, to a sign announcing that a citywide evacuation has once and for all been announced. After one final check with the airline, we are able to secure seats on an afternoon flight to Atlanta. There is a city-sponsored shuttle that escorts us to the airport in record time. This mandatory city-wide evacuation is most un-Katrina in its execution.
Regardless of the political agendas at work, this city is finally prepared for the next Big One; which should be around the time I plan my next trip there.
Christian Lloyd is a filmmaker whose work includes Getting Lucky