Transcript

299:

Back from the Dead
Transcript

Originally aired 10.07.2005

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Full audio: http://tal.fm/299

Prologue And Act One. In the Event of An Emergency.

Ira Glass

It's one thing to go through something so horrible that you think you're gonna die. And it's another to go through something so horrible you think you're going to die, and it's exactly what you always expected.

Alexandra Jacobs

I've always been scared of flying. I have several different scenarios in my head that I imagine. Some involve collisions with other planes. The plane stalling and plummeting. You know, just precipitous nosedives.

Ira Glass

Alexandra Jacobs was on that Jet Blue flight a couple weeks ago. The one where the landing gear turned perpindicular, and they made an emergency landing on live national television. She was six and a half months pregnant, taking one last trip to the East Coast from LA before the baby be born.

Alexandra Jacobs

I'm usually most scared on take off, and then once there's a little ding ding and it's now safe to use portable electronic devices, I'm pretty much fine for the duration of the trip. This time, that comforting ding ding did not occur, and we just weren't ascending at the normal rate.

And the pilot got on. And he said, "Well, folks." And you know, I have this joke that whenever a pilot says "folks," it's never good news.

Ira Glass

The pilot tells everybody that he's getting a signal that the landing gear won't retract. And really it might just be that the signal is screwed up. The landing gear may have retracted just fine. Technicians on the ground are using fancy satellite communications gear to check the plane's systems, which Alexandra found reassuring. It all sounded routine. Sounded high-tech.

Alexandra Jacobs

But then he said that we were going to do a low flyby, and that people on the ground were going to inspect the underbelly of our plane with binoculars to see what was wrong with the landing gear. And I thought, my God. Like that's how they're going to, you know, check out the safety of the plane? With binoculars? Like the ones my husband uses for birdwatching? You know, it just didn't seem-- it seemed very retro, you know, to have someone peering at our plane.

I don't think people began to sort of panic and cry and get upset until the words "emergency landing" were bandied about.

Pilot

We have run all the relevant checklists and are confident that we know exactly what the issue is, as well as the issues to be dealt with.

Ira Glass

This is sound from a video camera that a passenger pulled out once it became clear that something unusual was happening on the flight.

Pilot

At this point, what I'm doing is burning off additional fuel.

Alexandra Jacobs

And almost simultaneously, or very close to that announcement, I looked a couple of rows in front of me, and saw that someone's television had imagery of a plane circling in a blue sky. And I heard someone say, that's our plane. We're on MSNBC.

Colette Cassidy

Good evening, everyone. I'm Colette Cassidy. We are breaking in to Hardball with this live picture of a JetBlue airplane, that is flight 292--

Ira Glass

As you may have heard from the coverage of this story, JetBlue planes have satellite receivers, so each seat on a plane gets live DIRECTV on a little screen.

Pilot

I've been told by both the company as well as our in-flight crew that apparently we've made the news. I'm sorry about that. I apologize for any apprehension that this has caused to you. I want to assure you--

Alexandra Jacobs

I mean, I think that ratcheted up the level of alarm, because it wasn't local news. It was national news. It was in the same text zipper as Hurricane Rita. It was on multiple channels. People were flipping around and they're like, oh my God, it's on FOX, it's on ABC. You know, and we're all familiar with these national events that take over your television, where you flip from channel to channel and it's the same image.

Ira Glass

Right. You are in the white Bronco, all of a sudden.

Alexandra Jacobs

Exactly. It wasn't a good feeling.

Ira Glass

For years, Alexandra has been having these conversations with her husband and his brother and his dad-- the brother and dad were actually Navy pilots-- about whether flying was safe. Alexandra, of course, said that it was not. And the thought went through her head right now that well, if we crash, at least I win that argument.

Alexandra Jacobs

I always knew I was going to perish in a plane crash, and you know, it's just coming true. Here it is.

Ira Glass

Well, today on our radio program, stories of people who thought they were goners, and what they say once it's clear that they're back from the dead. From WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass.

Our program in three acts today. In the first act, we hear from more passengers from JetBlue flight 292 about what it's actually like to be on a plane that you think might be doomed. Act Two, ""P' is for Port-A-Potty" in which you visit a town that might not actually recover after Hurricane Katrina. Act Three. "Friday Night Floodlights." A story of a town that is actually near that town in Act Two, which doesn't have a high school up and running yet, but all kinds of people have turned their lives upside down to restart high school football. Stay with us.

Act Two. 'P' Is For Porta-potty.

Ira Glass

Act One. In the Event of an Emergency.

So in addition to Alexandra Jacobs, I talked to two other passengers from that JetBlue flight.

Zach Mastoon

We basically had three hours total of flying in circles.

Ira Glass

Zach Mastoon was sitting in the very back of the plane.

Zach Mastoon

It was terrifying. I quickly asked the stewardess for a drink. It never happened. I never got the drink. They didn't do any service. There was just too much going on. And I was seated next to this really nice guy. He's in real estate. His name was AJ. He was really my angel. And he offered me this large bottle of what looked like seltzer, and he said, hey, you can have a swig of this. It's leaded.

So I started drinking this really strong vodka tonic. And it was brilliant. It really took the edge off, and allowed me to look at the situation in a much more accepting way? If I hadn't had something to drink-- I know that sounds sort of pathetic, but worrying, and you know, freaking out, watching the news and hearing commentators tell me that I could die in a ball of fire wasn't, you know, what I wanted to do. So I flipped on Comedy Central. Started watching The Daily Show.

Dave Reinitz

People were up and about more than I would have thought they would be. Just getting their stuff, or going to the bathroom, or you know, whatever.

Ira Glass

Dave Reinitz is the guy who was shooting videotape on the flight, sitting in seat 18D.

Dave Reinitz

Yeah, people were-- there was some talking. But people, I think, were very in their own heads, and very-- trying to get their emotions in check for what was happening.

Zach Mastoon

Nobody was making a spectacle out of themselves, and no one was really, like, just going bananas.

Alexandra Jacobs

It was very tense. I mean, everyone was dealing with it in his or her individual style. You had the weepers. You know, it was later reported that grown men were crying, but I didn't observe any. I just saw a couple of women were crying. You had the stoics. And they were just sort of acting like-- just, you know, inside themselves. They weren't really expressing anything. And then you had these sort of chirpy, road warrior types who were laughing and joking, telling their harrowing experiences in previous flights.

Zach Mastoon

There was a real camaraderie among the passengers, and everybody was really understanding, and just sort of humbled. And in fact, before we were landing, they moved a lot of the passengers to the back of the plane, and this woman was seated in between AJ and me--

Ira Glass

To make the front of the plane lighter?

Zach Mastoon

Yeah, possibly. They did it, anyway, and they moved some of the luggage back. And this woman was seated between AJ and me, and she started showing us pictures of this wedding that she had just attended. And it was this really intimate moment that would have never-- she would have never showed the photos to anybody.

Ira Glass

The strangest thing about the videotape of the flight is how normal everything looks. There is one long close-up shot of two hands. An older couple, across the aisle from Dave. And he filmed their hands, squeezing. The woman rubbing her thumb over the back of her husband's hand for a long time.

Dave Reinitz

You know, I was carrying some extra tension that day, because I'd had a big argument with my girlfriend. We'd left on very tense terms.

Ira Glass

So you're on the plane thinking about the fact that you just had this huge fight.

Dave Reinitz

I'm thinking about the fact that she could be at home watching this, knowing that we'd had some harsh words before I left, and how difficult that would be for her if anything happened to me. So I took a few minutes, and you know, first I said to the guy next to me, listen, I'm going to say some things. And then I turned the camera on myself, and I said some things to Barbara.

Hey Barb, it's me. I'm watching the plane on the TV. We're having landing gear problems. We're going to crash land, or emergency land-- crash is a bad word-- in LAX. Just thought I'd leave you a message, just in case. I love you. Everything is going to be groovy. And we'll have a good laugh when I show you this video, and you see what a goober I am. But if anything happens, you know, take care of everything. Everything's yours. You know?

You know, my family was great. They were making big fun of me about that. Oh, you left her everything? Oh, the '91 Toyota and the credit card bills, everything, huh? Yeah.

Ira Glass

There's been a bunch of press attention to the fact that there were people writing goodbye notes and things like that. Did you see people doing that?

Zach Mastoon

I did not. And really, if we all burned up, those notes would have been incinerated, anyway.

Ira Glass

Yeah.

Alexandra Jacobs

The guy two seats to the right of me-- he was this calm suit. Once he told me that an expert-- an aviation expert on the ground that had been summoned by one of the studios, had said that it would probably be OK, and that it might be messy, but that it wouldn't be catastrophic, that was probably the most reassuring bit of information I got during the entire ordeal.

Ira Glass

So the TV actually turned out to be sort of comforting.

Alexandra Jacobs

Yeah. After the initial shock of seeing it. Yeah. I was glad to have it.

Ira Glass

Wow. So in sum, actually, if you had a choice, you'd rather have had the TV?

Alexandra Jacobs

Yeah. Well, no, I have to qualify that. I would rather have never seen it on TV, but given the fact that the TV was there, it turned out to be more reassuring.

Zach Mastoon

One of the commentators said, well, I can't imagine that the people are all watching TV. You know, JetBlue has television. I'm sure they're all getting ready to brace themselves and learning about the emergency procedure. And at that point, the whole cabin kind of erupted in laughter. I guess a lot of people were watching the same channel.

Ira Glass

So during this two hours after you find out you're going to make an emergency landing, Alexandra, as somebody like you, who actually has to stop herself from picturing the different ways your plane can go down, are you actually picturing it, now that you're in a situation where--?

Alexandra Jacobs

No, I wasn't-- I mean, I was, in a strange way, growing calmer and calmer and more and more rational. You know, I'd been in this fatalistic mode of yup, I'm going to die in a plane crash, just as I always thought. But then as the emergency landing became more and more real, I thought, the pilot doesn't want to die. Nobody on the ground wants us to die. Everybody is doing their absolute best. You know, I'm really well-positioned. I'm in a seat behind the exit row. And I'm just going to be one of the first people out. I'm going to run straight into my husband's arms. I have a really good chance of surviving.

Ira Glass

And before the actual landing, like, as you're coming in for that final descent, did you think then, oh, I guess I could die now?

Zach Mastoon

No. I no longer believed that it would happen. I no longer believed that we would crash and die.

Ira Glass

Why?

Zach Mastoon

There had been so much of a buffer of time and thinking about it, and everyone saying it's going to be OK, that when it actually happened, I was no longer afraid.

Ira Glass

It's almost like you got bored with being afraid.

Zach Mastoon

I got tired of being afraid, yeah.

Alexandra Jacobs

The pilot told us that we were beginning our final descent, and I think he even said, "Flight attendants, prepare for arrival."

Ira Glass

Wait, you laugh as you say that, because--?

Alexandra Jacobs

Well, because it's such a mundane announcement. I mean, that's what they say on every normal flight.

So I can't remember whether it was the pilot or the flight attendants, but we were told that we were going to hear an automated announcement. And as we came in for our landing, a mechanized voice came over the loudspeaker and said "Brace! Brace!" That was very scary, because that's when you were in the reality of, oh my God it's an emergency landing, it's a real emergency landing. A warning signal has taken over. Because whenever-- I don't know about you, but I've read black box recordings. And you read in the black box recordings transcripts about the various signals of the plane that take over.

Automated Voice

Brace! Brace! Brace!

Alexandra Jacobs

And then what was absolutely remarkable to me was that the flight attendants continued to repeat this mantra of "Brace! Brace!"

Dave Reinitz

And I kept waiting for it. I kept waiting for the thing to snap. I kept waiting for a big hit. You can actually hear me on the tape saying, "Come on! That's it? That's all you've got?"

Zach Mastoon

Gently the nose just got let down. We smelled some smoke and a little bit of the burning rubber.

Alexandra Jacobs

And a voice inside my head said, it's OK. You're smelling burning rubber because the tire is burning off, and you know, that's what it is.

Zach Mastoon

It was so incredibly smooth, it was almost anticlimactic.

Ira Glass

Dave Reinitz, Zach Mastoon, and Alexandra Jacobs, passengers in JetBlue flight 292.

[MUSIC - "YOU ARE AN AIRPLANE" BY OF MONTREAL]

Act Three. Friday Night Floodlights.

Ira Glass

Act Two. "'P' is for Porta-Potty."

Since Hurricane Katrina, lots of towns are trying to come back from nothing. New Orleans has gotten so much attention, but there are dozens of tiny New Orleanses all along the Gulf Coast, towns actually harder hit by the storm than New Orleans.

One of them, a town called Pearlington in Mississippi, is just over the Louisiana border. It's about 10 miles inland and 45 miles from New Orleans. About 1,600 people live there. Or did, anyway. The county that it's in, Hancock County, is the Ground Zero of Hurricane Katrina, in terms of devastation.

Around Pearlington, the estimated death toll is 80 to 90 people. One of our show's producers, Sarah Koenig, visited to see how they're doing.

Sarah Koenig

It's hard to overstate how small and isolated Pearlington was. Most people didn't have computers at home, never mind internet. And the only copy machine in town was at the elementary school, which doubled as the public library. And some of the school kids had never been outside the town. When the first graders made a book about Pearlington called The ABCs of Pearlington. "I" wasn't, say, ice cream or IHOP.

Jeannie Brooks

"I" was the interstate, and the picture was the interstate with all the little dotted line of cars on it. "J" was the junkyard. "K," what was "K"?

Sarah Koenig

That's Jeannie Brooks, the school librarian in Pearlington. She was my host, and the first day I followed her into town. Just a two-lane road and trees for miles. You'd never know a town was back there.

15 miles outside of Pearlington, I got my first shock. I was following Jeannie in her truck, and she stuck her arm out the window and pointed.

Oh. Wow. Tombs. Holy crap. There are just tombs on the side of the road. Like coffins. Like coffins are just sitting on the side of the road. White coffins with lids. Luckily they're closed. Oh my God.

This part of the country isn't very high above sea level, so when the cemeteries flooded, the caskets just came floating up out of the ground. The ones I saw had landed in some bramble on the other side of the highway.

Pearlington was, if possible, even more shocking. The entire town is gone. The streets have been cleared by now, so you can see the plan of what was the town. But on either side of the roads, where the houses used to be, there's carnage. Some houses have collapsed on themselves. Some, the wind has stripped to the frame, so they almost look like new construction. As people showed me their homes, it was hard to know how to react.

Sarah Koenig

Which is your house? Behind? Oh my God!

Man

It's a mess, ain't it?

Sarah Koenig

Well, it's just so-- that tree is so perfectly crushing your house. I'm sorry to laugh, but it's so shocking.

Man

It's a mess. Along with the water that went through it.

Sarah Koenig

The hurricane had pushed a 25-foot wall of ocean water 10 miles inland from the Gulf. Afterwards people saw fish, like sting rays, and speckled trout, and shrimp just swimming around in ditches. Everything was flooded.

So some houses looked intact, but when you went inside, the floors were blanketed with mud. And not the friendly mud you played in as a kid, but a kind of noxious, slimy paste. You could see the waterline near the ceilings.

Richard Clark had one of the few two-story houses I saw in town, a beautiful house he built himself. We walked up the staircase, above the waterline.

Richard Clark

Now, this is beginning to look like some of what the house was.

Sarah Koenig

So it's so crazy, because up here it's like the carpet is clean. It looks like it's just been vacuumed. Here's a bedroom, perfectly fine. Smells nice. Fresh. It's so weird. You would never know. If you were asleep up here, you would never know.

Richard Clark

We might sleep up here, once we get things straight. Maybe.

Sarah Koenig

Which would be a fine idea, except for the mold, which has been growing for a solid month in the more than 100 degree heat. When you go inside a house like this, you can instantly feel it shoot down your throat. It burns a little bit.

The maps that fire and rescue teams were using to help Gulf Coast towns didn't even show Pearlington, and organized relief didn't come for about 10 days. So now, a month after the disaster, hundreds of people-- no one knows exactly how many-- are living in tents on their property next to their decimated houses. Just camping there amid the trash and stinking water and debris.

Sarah Koenig

So both of you are in here?

Mary Lou Brooks

That's my bunk and here's mother's.

Sarah Koenig

I hung out for a while with Mary Lou Brooks and her mother, Pauline Davidson. They're both widows, and they live on the same three-acre property. Mary had a trailer. Miss Pauline had a little house. And for the first week and a half after the storm, they lived in their cars. Now they live, like almost everyone else in town, in a tent, which Mary showed me.

Mary Lou Brooks

And that basket over there is my clothes, and this is mother's clothes. Got a friend brought us that little thing there, so we can put our nighties and our undies and all in it to keep them separated.

Sarah Koenig

They've got a generator, but they try to use it too much, since gas is so expensive. Mostly they use it at night to run a fan so they can sleep.

Mary Lou Brooks

Just close the screen here, and leave this open, and with the fan, it was real cool, you know, in there.

Sarah Koenig

Was it scary at all?

Mary Lou Brooks

Yes. I'm not going to tell you no story. It has been scary. I mean, some nights you sleep an hour or two, and some nights you don't sleep any. Because here you are-- you just don't know what's going on. Police come by and told us, wanted to know, do we have guns? And we told them, yes, we did. I've got one and mother's got one. He said, well, I would advise you all to sleep with them close to you. He said, but you all know like I do, once this free stuff's over, he said, there's going to be some bad looting then.

Sarah Koenig

Mary is 61. Miss Pauline is 79. She told me later she didn't want to shoot anybody, but she could, if she had to.

To look at her, you'd never, ever guess she'd been camping for the past month. She looks like anyone's fastidiously kempt grandmother. I asked her how in the world she was managing it. Her nails she soaks in Purex laundry soap with a little bleach. She brushes her hair with a Red Cross comb. She's wearing seersucker pedal pushers and a clean white shirt. Someone came by in a truck and let them choose whatever clothes they wanted. A friend from Mobile met her halfway to Pearlington and gave her some new bras. And the day before, her daughter was able to use a washing machine that their Avon lady had hooked up to a clean well in another part of town. Before that, they were washing clothes by hand, using a hose attached to an overflowing well at somebody else's house. They even bathed that way, standing in this guy's yard, soaping themselves through their clothes.

They do have a Porta-Potty on their property, but like so many confusing aspects of life in Pearlington right now, there had been some kind of dispute about whether it was supposed to be there.

Pauline Davidson

But now a toilet, they going to come get it. I called them to come and empty it, because it's stinking. And the lady said, well, thank God! She said, we've been hunting it for a week and a half! I said, well, how did you get it? I said, two men brought it over here in a truck. I don't know who they were. But she says, oh, no. We're going to have to come get it. I said, all right. Come get it.

Sarah Koenig

Did she tell you why?

Pauline Davidson

Because it was supposed to be at somebody else's place.

Sarah Koenig

Wait. This specific toilet?

Pauline Davidson

Yeah.

Sarah Koenig

But they haven't come, so that's good.

Pauline Davidson

No, they didn't come get it yet, but Lord God, I wish they would. It's been about two weeks now and it's not empty.

Sarah Koenig

Not for two weeks?

Pauline Davidson

Almost two weeks.

Sarah Koenig

So you can't really even use it now, because it's so stinky.

Pauline Davidson

It's too stinky. I have a bedside toilet, when I had my hip replacement. And we put it back there, and then we can haul it way off back there in the woods and dump it. That's better than nothing, but.

Sarah Koenig

Do you feel like a pioneer?

Pauline Davidson

Well, in a way, I guess you would call it that. That's better than homeless. Yeah, that's better than homeless. And that gets to me every once in a while. I have lived almost 80 years to be a homeless.

Sarah Koenig

Their days are kind of typical for people here. They spend part of the day cleaning something and part of the day struggling with some form of bureaucracy. Today Mary and Miss Pauline drove about 30 miles round trip to get their mail from a neighboring town.

They're waiting for a FEMA trailer, and they need the electric company to hook up the meter so they can have power ready for the trailer. But to do that, they need to call the electric company, which means driving about eight miles away to get a cell phone signal. Today they spent about two hours by the side of the road, dialing the same number over and over.

And then there's the problem of insurance. Unlike a lot of people in Pearlington, Miss Pauline actually has homeowner's insurance, but she doesn't have flood insurance. And she said her conversations with the company have been just maddening. They've been arguing about the definition of "flood."

Pauline Davidson

They told me, said, we don't pay flood. I said, didn't have no flood. But, no it was a flood. I said, no it wasn't. A flood is when it rains until the water comes up and the lakes and the rivers overflow the bank. That's a flood. And that Gulf didn't jump out here and roll 24 feet of water over my house. The wind did that.

Sarah Koenig

But so they're saying, we're not going to pay anything?

Pauline Davidson

They said they're going to pay from the waterline up.

Sarah Koenig

But it covered the house.

Pauline Davidson

Yeah, it covered my house.

Sarah Koenig

So that's nothing.

Pauline Davidson

That's the way I'm looking at it.

Sarah Koenig

Certainly one of the most infuriating, soul-crushing things to do is fight with a bureaucracy. And here is literally an entire town doing this, without telephone service. People who have already been through a much less figurative hell.

Dallas

I sat in the tree for seven hours, watching all the houses move.

Sarah Koenig

Are you kidding me? In the storm, you were there?

Dallas

There was four of us in the tree. Me, a guy by the name of Boogie, a friend of mine, Dale, and then his momma, Peanut. We was up in a big old tree for seven hours with eight dogs.

Sarah Koenig

This is Dallas, a friend of Miss Pauline's. It took me more than 10 minutes of talking to Dallas-- whose real name is Jean Trammell-- to realize that she was a woman. She's short and kind of square and manly. She's covered in tattoos, and she said so many horrible things happened to her, you kind of marvel that she's still alive.

She's not from Pearlington, but she's lived here for 13 years, and everyone knows her. She's been checking up on less mobile people on her four-wheeler, which she toured me around on. She can completely understand Miss Pauline's frustration.

Dallas

That's like with me, OK? I'm supposed to be taking Zoloft because I do go into deep depressions at time. Two days ago, I was ready to take a .38 and blow my head off.

Sarah Koenig

Why?

Dallas

Because everything was lost and then we was told FEMA wasn't going to do nothing. And I sat there, day in, day out, day in, day out, for 15 straight days, I didn't go anywhere. Waiting for them. And then we got told last night that they're not coming to the houses anymore.

Sarah Koenig

Apparently this isn't unusual. A mental health counselor I met here told me people typically start to get depressed four to five weeks into a disaster, which is where we are right now.

The school, or what's left of it, is where the whole relief effort is based in Pearlington. It's a pretty impressive setup. In the gym, there's a little supermarket of donated stuff. The sheets and pillows are the hottest items. People were allowed to fill two plastic Wal-Mart bags per person, per day, free. Keep in mind that there were no shops in Pearlington before the storm, so this is a big deal.

There are two trailers for showers. One for men, one for women. Although the nice guy who runs them, who came on his own from Oregon, will look the other way if a couple wants to shower together. There's a little clinic staffed by volunteers, and I noticed a box of Zoloft starter kits in there-- some of which Dallas took, thankfully. And one washing machine commandeered from Arkansas.

The mix of people here is so striking. People who normally would barely speak to each other, never mind become friends, people essentially from different countries, suddenly hanging out.

For example, one day I stopped by at Boogie's, the guy who rode out the storm with Dallas in the tree. Delbert McArthur Junior is his real name. A tough-looking guy with a 6-inch goatee that falls down from his chin in two prongs. A Confederate flag flies on his property. He told the black National Guardsman who came by, that ain't hatred. That's heritage, bro. In his youth, Boogie was known for, as he put it, hurting people.

When I visited, he was drying out his gun collection on a trampoline. About 150 weapons, total.

Boogie

That one holds 100 rounds.

Sarah Koenig

And these weren't quite hunting rifles. He's got assault weapons. AK-47s. A banned 12-gauge Street Sweeper that folds in half for easy-- something.

And with him was a group of wholesome-looking church people from Wisconsin, including a fresh-faced college student named Ben.

Sarah Koenig

What are you doing right now?

Boogie

I'm fixing to let this gentleman fire this weapon. We're going to walk down by the pond, I'm going to let him fire it. He said he's never fired one.

Sarah Koenig

Are you from here?

Ben

No, I'm from Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

Sarah Koenig

And what are you doing here?

Ben

Hoping to help people out, I guess.

Sarah Koenig

How exactly does this help?

Boogie took an AK-47 and walked with Ben to the end of the dirt road to a pond where the family's pigs usually wallow.

[GUNSHOTS]

Ben came to Pearlington with some friends from his church.

Boogie

Nope. It's made for brush fighting.

Ben

Like T2, T3, T4, something like that, for like Pull-Ups sizes?

Sarah Koenig

The next day, back at the school, I saw Ben again. He was in charge of organizing diapers. At the school there's this shelter set up by Christian group based in San Diego and run by a formerly homeless guy from Philadelphia. Another church group from Alabama was cooking all the food in three giant pots, feeding maybe 400 people every day.

Sarah Koenig

What is it today?

Woman

It's like chicken pasta. It's got pasta in it, cream of mushroom soup. What else we put, Joseph? This is Dr. Joseph.

Sarah Koenig

Hi.

Woman

He's a cardiologist.

Dr. Joe

Parmesan cheese. and--

Sarah Koenig

Wait, you're a cardiologist?

Dr. Joe

Yes.

Sarah Koenig

What? Is like, heart business slow? What are you doing here?

You start to realize that almost every single person manning the place-- and there are hundreds of them-- is a volunteer from somewhere else. Unpaid, missing work, sweating.

Still, I figured there must be some official entity in charge of the whole thing, and I decide to find out who that is. This turns out to be more difficult than you'd think. Pearlington has no town government. No mayor or town council or police department. So I start at what seems like the logical place. I see a guy in a FEMA T-shirt, and I go up to him with my microphone.

Sarah Koenig

Hi. No, no, no, no no, no! FEMA, you cannot run!

Man

Ask Boss FEMA!

Sarah Koenig

Who's Boss FEMA? Are you Boss FEMA?

Man 2

No ma'am. No ma'am.

Sarah Koenig

He's literally running from me.

The guy who runs away yells that I should look for a guy named Larry, who is Boss FEMA. It turns out all the guys at the Pearlington distribution site wearing FEMA T-shirts aren't really FEMA. They're firefighters from other states who have been hired by FEMA for 30 days. So they don't know all that much, which sometimes makes people yell at them. And so that's why the guys run away.

I do find Boss Larry, Larry Beachum. He's a firefighter from Missouri, and he signed up for the 30-day FEMA duty. But he rejects the boss label.

Sarah Koenig

Are you the umbrella over all of these organizations that are here? I mean, there must be dozens and dozens.

Larry Beachum

No. I'm a worker bee. The person, or people, in charge of the operation here is Hancock County, EOC.

Sarah Koenig

He says there is a lady from Hancock County Emergency Operations and that she's in charge. But it's hard to know what that means, exactly.

Sarah Koenig

So the county is the one-- I mean, I guess what I don't quite understand is there are all these different groups, and who's-- so is it her job to coordinate so things don't get doubled up, like two teams don't go out to cut the same tree, or three teams don't feed the same-- you know what I mean?

Larry Beachum

We do it.

Sarah Koenig

We as who?

Larry Beachum

We coordinate it.

Sarah Koenig

We as FEMA?

Larry Beachum

We as the people that are running this distribution center.

Sarah Koenig

Pretty soon I find the Hancock County lady, Stacy Pace.

Stacy Pace

That's a sanitary issue that I thought--

Sarah Koenig

She's so busy that she literally doesn't have time to stand still for an interview, so we walk. She's got no office or desk or notebook. Just two cell phones clipped to her belt.

Sarah Koenig

And so you're from EOC of Hancock County, or--?

Stacy Pace

Nope.

Sarah Koenig

Who are you?

Stacy Pace

I'm a volunteer from Hancock County.

Sarah Koenig

Oh. So just explain who you are and what you're doing here.

Stacy Pace

Whatever I can, basically.

Sarah Koenig

But what is your, like-- when you're not doing this, what do you do?

Stacy Pace

I'm director of nursing for Coastal Family.

Sarah Koenig

Oh, you're kidding. You don't even work for Emergency Management?

Stacy Pace

No.

Sarah Koenig

Do you have any Emergency Management training?

Stacy Pace

Ah, other than being a nurse.

Sarah Koenig

So how did you end up in charge of this?

Stacy Pace

Started out fronting the medical clinic, and then just went from there.

Sarah Koenig

So Stacy's just another volunteer. She's from the neighboring town and she lost her house, too. She's so neat and organized, one of the guys working there calls her Miss Clean. She says cleanliness is the sign of a good leader.

Another person who people kept telling me to talk to is the Iceman, who's been loading his Toyota pickup with bags of ice every day and delivering them to people who might not be able to make it to the school. The Iceman is busy-- busy like Stacy-- and he's hard to find. I got some directions that sound more like instructions to a video game.

Man

You go down around here are the Zuni Indians are. They're the ones that are handing out the ice. You can ask them where the Iceman is. And so you'll see him. He's got kind of a hat on. Looks like a safari hat. And he looks like Crocodile Dundee to me.

Sarah Koenig

The Zuni Hotshots is the name of a group of federal firefighters from New Mexico. They're also paid. Paid to pass out ice.

The way it works is this. Ice has been incredibly important since the hurricane, and a major job of the relief effort is getting it to people. Trucks from all over the country, contracted through FEMA, deliver it to a central command post at a nearby NASA facility. From there it's sent to different drop off points, like this one, where the Zuni Hotshots are, and where the Iceman comes every day.

A couple hours later, I do meet the Iceman. His real name is Lester Huckabee. He's a paleontologist from Tampa, Florida. He's been here longer than almost any volunteer, so everyone comes to him for help. I go out on an ice run with him.

Iceman

Uh, hey! You all need ice here?

Woman

Yes.

Iceman

many you need?

Sarah Koenig

Lester finally clears things up for me. He tells me there are actually about five people running the Pearlington relief operation.

Sarah Koenig

When you say five of us, who do you mean?

Iceman

Stacy, I. Gosh, a couple people from Colorado. There's mostly volunteers.

Sarah Koenig

So no one from the government is in those five?

Iceman

No. We don't have a government here. We're all volunteers. The only government we have is FEMA, and what they do is hand out glorified trailers. Just glorified tents is all the government's doing for them.

Sarah Koenig

I've seen those FEMA trailers. They're OK.

Iceman

They're great if they had electricity and water and sewage.

Sarah Koenig

But they do, don't they? They have a toilet in them.

Iceman

Uh, yeah. But they're not hooked up to nothing. I think that right now there's six FEMA trailers in Pearlington and none of them are hooked up. And how many weeks is it after? 30 days after?

Sarah Koenig

This is the fifth week. The start of the fifth week.

Iceman

Fifth week? Good job, FEMA. I'm proud to be American, but I don't have time for horse [BLEEP]. Toby, y'all need some more?

Sarah Koenig

We pass out about 130 bags of ice in 45 minutes. Lester has to go back to get more. He's living in a tent, too, on someone's ruined property, but he's really happy here.

Sarah Koenig

You were saying you like it here.

Iceman

Yeah. I want to move here.

Sarah Koenig

What do you mean, here? To Pearlington?

Iceman

Pearlington.

Sarah Koenig

Are you serious?

Iceman

I want to help rebuild Pearlington. It's got everything I like. Gators, snakes, fishing, hunting. So it's kind of what I do.

Sarah Koenig

But it's destroyed.

Iceman

Ah, it can be rebuilt. It's my kind of place. These are perfect people here. They're really special here. Yeah. I'm in love.

Sarah Koenig

Boogie, the guy who gave AK-47 lessons to the church people from Wisconsin, feels the same way. He loves this town. He loves it so much that he used to drive six hours to and from work every day rather than relocate. He did try moving away once, for nine months, but it didn't suit him. It was too different. Later he tells me it was to Slidell. Slidell is 12 miles away.

Boogie said that since the storm, about half of his friends had left and weren't coming back, but that he just can't leave, even though the town isn't even that great.

Boogie

We have heat 10 months out of the year. We have mosquitoes that bite you constantly. I don't know. It's just-- I've never actually sit and thought about it, never actually tried to figure out what keeps me here. You know? I've always been content. I've never-- well, a couple times I've want to roam, like I said earlier. But other than that, I mean--

Sarah Koenig

But do you think that now what's happened, I mean, just looking around-- I mean, I wouldn't even know where to start. It seems so tempting to me just to be like, oh, forget it.

Boogie

I feel even more tied to it now, for some reason. It's hard to explain. It's weird. In my own mind, I think it's weird. Me still wanting to be here even more. Like Dallas tried to get me to go to Slidell to eat dinner and breakfast, and I wouldn't leave. I didn't want to leave.

Sarah Koenig

Even just for a meal?

Boogie

Just for a meal. Didn't want to leave, for some reason. Especially tied to that tree again, now. I was tied to it when I was a kid. I was hooked up to it.

Sarah Koenig

You used to climb it?

Boogie

All the time. Sleep in it.

Sarah Koenig

He's talking about the tree where they all survived the storm. That's another thing that's happened. He's become close to Dallas. He used to think he hated her. I asked her about that, about what it was like for a gay woman to move onto that street 13 years ago. She said after she first moved in, her neighbors set fire to her truck and poisoned a couple of her dogs and threw trash in her yard. After she confronted them, things got better. Since the storm, she's talked to her neighbors more than ever before.

Dallas

Since all this has happened, me and Boogie's got real close with me. And when they first brought the campers there, I slept in one of the campers for two nights, and then his cousin came in, so I left. Because it was actually his cousin's camper. And he kept telling me, why don't you go to sleep in there and I'll sleep out here? And I said, no. You go ahead and sleep in there. That's your family. You stay there. I said, I'll be all right.

Well, he come by later on. Got him a drink out the ice chest-- even though they got ice chests over there. And he tells me, "Goodnight." And I went "OK, goodnight." And then he said something else, and I never did hear what he said. Well, the next day I ask him, I said, I know you said goodnight, but I know you said something else. What did you say? Oh. I said, "I love you." And I went, "OK. Love you too."

Sarah Koenig

Even though people are coming together in this unprecedented way, looking around Pearlington, it's really hard to imagine that the town will survive. There's already a song about that by Miss Mississippi. It sounds like a death knell.

[MUSIC – "PEARLINGTON'S PRAYER" BY MISS MISSISSIPPI]

Kristian Dambrino

Bring back Pearlington. Pearlington. Save Pearlington.

Sarah Koenig

The school, the only public building in town, probably won't get rebuilt, which means little kids will have to be bussed to another town. A good number of people probably won't come back at all, and the ones who are staying are suddenly so poor.

Miss Pauline, who finally got her FEMA trailer two days after I left, thinks she'll eventually buy it and live the rest of her life in it. You get the feeling that will be the only choice for a lot of people here.

Kristian Dambrino

[SUBJECT] Pearlington is my name, you, live in all the nation's news, hurricane did her abuse, and now. My train tracks are all twisted and my houses have been lifted and security was shifted by the storm.

Ira Glass

Sarah Koenig reported that story.

Coming up-- one teenager's guide to the best and worst MREs. Could be handy when your town gets hit by a hurricane. That's in a minute, from Chicago Public Radio and Public Radio International, when our program continues.

Credits.

Ira Glass

It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Each week on our show, of course, we choose a theme, bring you a variety of different kinds of stories on that theme. Today's program-- "Back from the Dead." Stories of people and towns that have come back from the brink. Or are trying to come back, anyway.

We've arrived at act three of our show. Act Three. "Friday Night Floodlights."

About 15 miles from Pearlington, the town we just heard about in act two, are the towns of Waveland and Bay St. Louis. Waveland was pretty much wiped out in the hurricane. The majority of homes and businesses were destroyed or severely damaged. Bay St. Louis fared only a little better. Even now, a month later, you can't drink the water out of the faucet. Some people still don't have electricity. Not really the kind of place you'd expect to find a thriving high school football scene. One of our producers, Lisa Pollak, says, that's coming back.

Lisa Pollak

The Bay High Tigers played their first game of the season on the Friday before Katrina. They beat Hancock High, 30-14. After the storm, the joke was that they'd gone undefeated. Everyone figured the season was over. Players were homeless. The high school was closed.

But just days after the hurricane, the Bay High coach, Brenan Compretta, started hearing from his players. They wanted to play football. They called his cell and sent text messages. They stopped him on the street. They wanted to play football. They wanted something that reminded them of what life was before.

Brenan Compretta

The thing that a lot of them were saying is it only takes 11 men to play, and no matter how many they had, they wanted to do this. That was the only thing that they had to look forward to, you know?

Lisa Pollak

You wouldn't stage a school play without a school, but football is different. Here, anyway. In Bay St. Louis, game day starts at 6:30 AM with the team breakfast at a church. Newspaper stories about the game are posted on the wall at school. In the afternoon, drummers from the band march through the hallways just before the pep rally. Strangers in town stop players to talk about that week's game. So even though school won't start again until November, the coach called a meeting to try to restart the team.

There were some challenges. Only 19 players showed up of the 70 who were on the team. They couldn't use their practice field since National Guardsmen were camping there. Their field house was destroyed and most of their equipment. And as for their uniforms--

Brenan Compretta

We pulled up, a few days after the storm. They had people running around in our jerseys and cleats, and throwing balls around. And I guess it was fathers and sons or whatever.

Lisa Pollak

Wait, so you saw people wearing your guys' football jerseys just as, like, replacement clothes?

Brenan Compretta

Right, exactly. And you know, considering the circumstances, I didn't get really upset about it. It was like, well, I guess if they need some clothes, they can go ahead and take them, you know?

Tyler Brush

They're saying-- there's a possibility-- they're saying it's probably going to be one of the most packed games we've played, ever.

Lisa Pollak

It's game day-- the Tigers' very first game since Hurricane Katrina, one month after the storm. And I've flown to Mississippi, where Tyler Brush, the team's quarterback, is showing me around. There's not a lot to see. Just huge piles of wreckage. And near the beach, mile after mile of empty spaces where houses and buildings used to be.

After the hurricane Tyler's family left for a while. Moved to Florida, to a town where they used to live. They got a nice house and Tyler began high school there. He was practicing with their football squad. He was going to be a starter there, too. But then Coach Compretta called. Tyler says coming back here was a hard choice.

Tyler Brush

My dad, he originally didn't want me to come back. I mean, he was pretty much against it. But he decided-- he said that it was my decision. I mean, I had to think about it a lot.

I was nervous about coming back. I recognize the situation. I knew I was taking the chance, if I came back here, college teams might not see me play. But I felt that I still needed to come back, though, for whoever did come back.

Lisa Pollak

As quarterback, he didn't want to let the team down. So now his family is living 15 miles away in Diamond Head, and two of the team's other players, whose families didn't return, are living with them, too.

This is a strange place to be a kid right now. With no school, they spend their days doing cleanup work. Hauling out sheet rock and moving trees and debris. It's bleak and boring. Their favorite hangouts are gone. Football is one of the few things they have left.

Tyler Brush

We're actually pulling up to my house now. This is pretty much nothing left of my house. There's some stairs right here-- were right here, leading up to the house. They're completely gone.

Lisa Pollak

Literally all we are looking at are the wooden stilts that held up the house and the foundation, which looks like it was lifted up from the ground. And I mean, there isn't even like stuff around. Like furniture or clothes, or-- where did all the stuff go?

Tyler Brush

I guess water just washed them up that way. Wiped out. There's nothing left.

Coach

Does anybody in here need pants? You need pants, come with me.

Lisa Pollak

Over at the football field, the new uniforms arrive just in time-- a gift from a man in North Carolina-- and the kids line up while the coaches open the boxes. The new jerseys are blue and white, not blue and gold, the school colors, but no one seems to care.

Coach

Hold on-- hey, man. We're not getting picky here. Just relax, buddy. What do you need?

This isn't the team it used to be. Over half the Tigers still haven't come back, so the coaches have filled out the roster with some new recruits. A few seniors who have never played football, some freshmen from the school's ninth grade team, two guys from the Tigers' archrival, Saint Stanislaus-- they cancelled their season-- and to cap it all off, Bad News Bears style, some scared-looking seventh and eighth graders from the junior high. In all, it's still just 29 players-- a long way from 70.

Some of these kids are all but homeless, sleeping on other families' couches and floors. One linebacker is living in a camper, alone, his parents hours away. All so he can play football.

With everything these kids have been dealing with and everything they've seen, they seem genuinely relieved and excited to be here today, putting on jerseys and lacing up cleats.

Trevor Adams

Everybody's just anxious to play again, to get things back to normal.

Lisa Pollak

That's Trevor Adams, a senior tight end. And for him, getting things back to normal means pretty much one thing.

Trevor Adams

I love hitting people. That's-- I mean, there no better feeling in the world, just unloading on somebody. I mean, even now, dealing with all this, you have an extra feel of warmth. You get just that exciting feeling about, you know, hitting somebody, or you-- there's no-- you can't explain it.

Lisa Pollak

Equally excited is Brandt, a tenth grader. I think Brandt might be one of the happiest kids I've ever met. He doesn't stop beaming, even when he's talking about swimming through his flooded kitchen, or living for weeks without plumbing or power. He moved to Texas to stay with a relative for a while, but didn't stay long.

Brandt

Texas was great. Everybody was real kind. Like scary kind. It was just like-- have you ever seen The Stepford Wives? How everything's perfect? That's how it was. They were all like, hi, how are you doing? Can I get you anything? Clothes? Food? And I'm like, I'm fine, ma'am.

Lisa Pollak

So does this feel like a normal couple hours before a game, or does it feel different.

Player

Way different.

Brandt

One thing I'm going to miss before the game is the pregame meals. We don't have that here. Them pregame meals were good. All you can eat.

Lisa Pollak

What kind of food?

Brandt

Ah. Baked chicken with all these spices on it. Just so good.

Lisa Pollak

You're making me hungry.

Brandt

That was like a month ago.

Lisa Pollak

So you've stayed here this whole time. What's there been to eat for you?

Brandt

Three meals a day, MREs.

Lisa Pollak

So what's an MRE taste like?

Brandt

I'll tell you what. Meal number 20 and meal number 22. 20 is spaghetti and 22 is jambalaya. The best. I told my momma she should step it up, because that stuff is-- I'm going to just start getting MREs just regular.

Brenan Compretta

All right. Hey, guys. Everybody right here, where these guys are, get down, you can take a knee or something. Let's go. Real quick. You can sit down or take a knee, either one.

Lisa Pollak

It's late afternoon now, about an hour before the game. Everybody gathers around Coach Compretta, and he urges them to think about the past month when they get on the field tonight.

Brenan Compretta

Everything you have inside of you, let it out. All the aggravation, the frustration, having to get up and do all the junk you do every day because of this hurricane-- let it all out right here. Play for your community. That's why you're here, OK? Some people can't be here. Play for the guys who can't be here, too. Play for Bay St. Louis and Waveland.

Does anybody have any questions about anything? Offense, defense, special teams, what? What?

Cal

I love everybody.

Player

We love you too, Cal.

Brenan Compretta

Love you too, Cal.

Lisa Pollak

Of course, there's only so much love one football team can take. An hour later, as the team gets ready to run onto the field, the coach has this to say.

Brenan Compretta

So forget all the kindness and niceness right now, all that junk. Go out there and get after their behinds. Do you understand me?

Players

Yes sir!

Brenan Compretta

Now, we do want to win the football game, OK? Everybody touch somebody. Let's go.

Players

[UNINTELLIGIBLE]

Announcer

Ladies and gentlemen, the Bay High Tigers!

Lisa Pollak

It's kind of hard to believe that out of the ruins of this town, just down the street from gutted houses and buildings, this thing has appeared, this movie-set perfect football game.

It's dusk now, with a pinkish sky. And under the stadium lights, everything's kind of glowing, and everyone showed up to play their part. The cheerleaders, the PA announcer, the marching band, or what's left of it. A single kid with a snare drum, standing in the bleachers.

Announcer

Please join me in singing the national anthem.

Lisa Pollak

The opposing team, the Long Beach Bearcats, line up on the other side of the field. The moment I see them, my heart sinks a little. Not only are there twice as many of them, they just look so determined. Assistant Coach Keith sizes them up this way.

Coach Keith

Ah. Big They came here on three buses. We need a minivan, you know? A big difference. And they don't have junior high kids out there, and we do.

Lisa Pollak

Not even the quarterback's father expects the Tigers to win tonight. They're missing so many guys that they'll have to play their good players twice as much. Their starters will play offense and defense. Guys will wear out.

Announcer

Doing the kicking for the Bearcats, Chip Vonderbruegge.

Lisa Pollak

The Tigers get off to a great start. The first time they get the ball, they go in a drive that lasts half the first quarter and ends with a touchdown on a six yard run by Robert Labat. I watch Tyler pass the ball off to Robert, knowing that Tyler pretty much moved back to town for this moment, and that Robert, who is living with them, separated from his own family, did too.

Brenan Compretta

Get out there! Go, go, go! Run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run.

Announcer

Touchdown. TIgers on the board!

Cheerleaders

Fight, fight! Here we go, go!

Lisa Pollak

On the sidelines, eight Tiger cheerleaders are jumping around. It's more than half the squad. One tells me her uniform was the first thing she packed when her family evacuated. When the girls aren't cheering, they're consulting this big, elaborate chart they've set up in front of the bleachers. Celeste, the captain, explains.

Celeste

This is our cheer list, and we have 63 cheers on it. And every year we just take it and we add more to it.

Lisa Pollak

OK. So like, what's 36?

Celeste

36 is G-O, go Tigers go.

Lisa Pollak

And then what's 37?

Celeste

37 is G-O, go, go! G-O, go.

Lisa Pollak

And what's 28?

Celeste

Go, go, G-O. Go, Tigers, go.

Lisa Pollak

There's some similarity.

Celeste

Yes, they're very.

Lisa Pollak

The coaches are scurrying up and down the field, improvising to fill in for the key players they don't have, swapping kids in and out. Brandt, the MRE kid, is getting trounced out there, so the coach pulls him aside.

Brenan Compretta

Hey Brandt, not bad baby, not bad baby. Going to make a change, put somebody in there with a little more behind on him, OK?

Brandt

I got manhandled up here.

Brenan Compretta

I know, we saw that.

Lisa Pollak

But the rookie players come through with some surprises. For instance, at the very same moment that the coaches are grumbling to themselves about where exactly freshman Allan Villalta is heading on the field, Villalta recovers a fumble.

Brenan Compretta

Oh God, Villalta is on the [BLEEP]. Oh damn, he just made a play! He just made a damn play.

Lisa Pollak

By the end of the first half, it's Tigers 7, Bearcats 6.

Brenan Compretta

Good job, Walt, that a boy. Good job.

Lisa Pollak

The home bleachers are pretty packed by now. And the thing I realize when I start talking to people is that this is the first time this town has gotten together since the hurricane. One of the first people I meet, Gary Yarborough, doesn't even have a kid on the team.

Gary Yarborough

I'm just out here, just trying to see who's still here, who's still in town, and visit with the other folks. And see how everybody's handling everything and dealing with everything.

Lisa Pollak

Is this the first time you're seeing a lot of folks in a while?

Gary Yarborough

Yeah, some of them, yeah. Because you know, with the curfews and nothing open in town, there's really no place to go to see anybody.

Lisa Pollak

As I walk through the stands, the one thing people keep telling me is what a normal night this is, what a relief it is to do something normal again. But talk to anyone for more than a couple minutes, and what you hear next is just how far from normal everything is. They're worried about flood insurance and FEMA trailers and whether they'll have jobs. I asked one man, the Booster Club president, what the highlight of the game is so far, and he nearly starts to cry.

Down on the field, the Tigers are playing better than anyone had expected. Going into the fourth quarter, the score is 21-6, Tigers comfortably leading. But then, in the last five minutes of the game, everything falls apart. The Bearcats' star player, Tramaine Brock, rushes for a touchdown. They miss the extra point, so it's 21-12. Two minutes later, with just three minutes left in the game, Brock sprints 55 years to the end zone as the Tiger coaches watch helplessly.

Brenan Compretta

That's it. He's gone. [BLEEP] He's gone. Dang it.

Lisa Pollak

It's a two point game now, 21-19. The Tigers are still waiting, but Long Beach has the momentum, and they only need a field goal to win. The Tigers are completely exhausted. Many have been on the field the entire game. The kicker is limping. Allan Villalta, the ninth grader who made that great play, is on the sidelines with an injured knee.

The Tigers get the ball back, their last possession, but they can't even manage a first down. They punt it away, and there's still plenty of time for Long Beach to score.

Brenan Compretta

Everything you've got, right now!

Coach

Be ready to drive!

Lisa Pollak

The Bearcats start to drive again. They cross the 50 yard line into Bay High territory. The clock is running down. Coaches are screaming.

Coach

Jason, be ready to drop. Here we go! Here we go!

Lisa Pollak

The place is going nuts.

Audience

Bay High! Bay High!

Lisa Pollak

I can honestly say this is the only football game I've ever been to where it really did seem to matter who won. Earlier I felt bad taking sides against the Bearcats. Their town was hit by the hurricane, too. But now I don't know what I'll do if the Tigers lose. Their town was hit harder. They're the underdogs. They have to win.

And then, they do. They stop the Bearcats. It's over.

The clock runs out and the place explodes. 21-19 Tigers. It's every corny sports movie come to life. People streaming on the field, hugging, players sprawled on the ground. All these people in this wrecked town ecstatic over a football game. Assistant coach Jeremy Turcotte.

Jeremy Turcotte

I think next to getting married and having my baby, that's about the most amazing thing I've ever seen in my life.

Brenan Compretta

Hey guys, listen up. I'm going to let you go. I know we got to get home.

Lisa Pollak

Coach Compretta.

Brenan Compretta

Never been more proud, OK? In my coaching career. Never been more proud of a group of guys in my life than right now. I love you guys. I love you guys. Take tomorrow off. See you on Wednesday, 3:30. Be here for 3:30, OK? Everybody touch somebody. Great job, fellows. Great job, fellows.

Players

Break it down, [UNINTELLIGIBLE] win.

Announcer

Bay St. Louis of Hancock County is still under a curfew, ladies and gentlemen. After the game, you'll need to go home as soon as possible.

Lisa Pollak

And just like that, the place clears out. A half hour later, the only people left are the coaches, still reliving the game. Luke, one of the assistants, is on the cell phone with his brother in Alabama.

Luke

They had the ball with about a minute and a half left, driving with no time outs, and we sacked them with no time left. But I just wanted to call and tell you that, man. I'll call you tomorrow sometime. I just wanted to holler at you real quick. I love you, bro. Bye.

Lisa Pollak

Of all the coaches I met here, Luke seemed the most discouraged about everything. He'd lost his house. He sounded disheartened. In the morning, he told me that when his contract is up in May, he'll probably leave here. But now his mood is different.

Luke

And you know, we play next Friday night here, and you know, it's not like the town's going to be back to normal next Friday night. So I mean, they're still going to not have anything to do, they're still going to be a curfew. And you know, I mean, this just starts it. I mean, if you lose tonight, it's like, you know what? You go home and you're sitting in a trailer and you have no AC and you lost a football game. But you know, it's a little easier to go home and sit in a trailer with no AC when you just won a football game that nobody gave you a chance to win.

Lisa Pollak

Before coming to Bay St. Louis, I felt the way I think a lot of us feel when we see these places on TV. I didn't understand how you go back to a town like that, to all that loss, and live there in the middle of it. What are you going back there for? And how do you even begin to get over it?

Watching the Tigers win, 21-19, completely outmatched, everyone together, cheering them on, I knew the answer.

Ira Glass

Lisa Pollak.

Our program is produced today by Jane Feltes and myself with with Alex Blumberg, Diane Cook, Sarah Koenig, Amy O'Leary, and Lisa Pollak. Our senior producer is Julie Snyder. Elizabeth Meister runs our website. Production help from Todd Bachmann and Chris Ladd.

[ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS]

You know, you can download today's program in our archives at audible.com/thisamericanlife. This American Life is distributed by Public Radio International.

[FUNDING CREDITS]

WBEZ management oversight for our show by Mr. Torey Malatia, who's lobbying for this be our new national motto, printed right on the money.

Iceman

I'm proud to be American, but, I don't have time for horse [BLEEP].

Ira Glass

I'm Ira Glass. Back next week with more stories of This American Life.

Announcer

PRI. Public Radio International.