Where are our Zambonis?
I got to thinking about those big, lumbering ice resurfacing machines when the TV station I work for, WVUE, broke a story last week citing a backlog of 607 complaints filed with the New Orleans Department of Public Works about blocked and clogged storm drains.
First of all, I believe the actual number of clogged drains is significantly higher than 607 because I'm sure I'm not the only resident who long ago gave up on trying to get someone from the city to come clean drains where I live.
Over the years, getting the city to come clean out my storm drains began to seem as likely as getting someone from the sanitation department to come over and sweep the dust bunnies from underneath my bed. Just ain't gonna happen.
Getting your storm drains cleaned around here sort of reminds me of the lottery; you hear about it happening, but it never happens to you. Or anyone you know. You just take it on faith that it's happening. Somewhere.
Anywhere but here.
For the past decade, it's been my habit — when there is news of a storm brewing in the Gulf of Mexico — to grab a shovel and a long wooden pole and head out to my street to try and do the job myself, fruitlessly digging and poking, trying to open up some small passageway where water might escape underneath our streets.
It's messy work, and it's rarely effective. The mud, branches, go-cups, litter and occasional missing persons that fill our storm drains are generally a solid and impenetrable muck that one man with a shovel is unlikely to defeat.
Now, in a city that lies largely below sea level, you might think storm drain maintenance would be a high priority. You might think.
Yet, to do this job, the city possesses just two heavy-duty storm drain vacuum cleaners. Two! As I noted last week, New Orleans having just two storm drain cleaners seems akin to North Dakota having just two snow plows to clear its streets in winter.
I believe that's also the number of Pothole Killers the city owns — those alien-looking machines that resemble worker bees from the Mother Ship in War of the Worlds, spitting some strange melange of gravel-glue into our potholes and generally making a mess of the streets and sending tons of little rocks and cement chunks into our storm drains. Clogging them.
And this would be funny, were it so decidedly not.
I saw one of the Pothole Killers drive down my street about a year ago, never to be seen again. I have this image of them parked next to the storm drain vacuums in a city lot somewhere, locked behind a chain-link fence because the city laid off the mechanics who kept them running.
This is, let me state for the record, sheer speculation. Either that, or the driver of one of them stopped to get a Coke somewhere and the parking enforcement people booted the vehicle.
And maybe it was the thought of winter storms — I can't really say — that made me think of the Zambonis. If I remember correctly, there were two — the magic number! — down at the Municipal Auditorium back in the days when the New Orleans Brass hockey team played there.
For all I know, they're still down in some dark nook or cranny of that building which, as the years pass, begins to resemble more or less the set of The Phantom of the Opera, and God knows who or what lives in that building now.
I don't know, maybe I'm the only one who thinks it's almost funny that New Orleans has as many Zambonis as it does storm drain cleaners and pothole fillers.
I went on the Zamboni website — yes, there is one, all things Zamboni — to see if I could learn anything about retrofitting the vehicles to do things like vacuum storm drains or smooth over potholes, but I had no luck.
It all makes me nostalgic, remembering how a bright, young entreprenuer managed to convince the city back in the '90s that what it needed was a hockey team which, of course, was a ludicrous idea from the start — and that's how it is that we managed to end up with a pair of idled Zambonis somewhere in this city, to go along with our pair of Pothole Killers and storm drain vacuum cleaners.
You could tell this bright, eager young huckster was cut out for big things, a man of inventive wit and ambitious ideas, very few of which — other than a hockey team and two Zambonis — ever materialized.
His name was Ray Nagin.