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Here in Fort Worth, “Where the West Begins,” I felt melancholic watching the airlift of New Orleans’ mostly poor, mostly black folks to far-flung cities in the American West.

Hurricane Katrina and the breached levees left folks who lived below sea level with nothing. Now accidental voyageurs, many didn’t find out where they were going until mid-flight. In a moment, their clustered world of old neighborhoods, bayous, moss-laden trees, year-round rains and constant humidity, crawfish, hip-hop, jazz, and zydeco, where just about everybody was black, or at least brown Creole, was replaced with high-elevation landscapes of soaring vistas, blue skies, dry thin air, few if any trees, and people who look, act, think, and talk nothing like them. Most will never return to N’awlins. Years ago I met folks in Louisiana who knew all their ancestors nearly 200 years, back into slavery, none of whom had ever left a 50-mile radius.

The open road, the new beginning on a stark, arid landscape, is the enduring mythology of the American West. But that road has flattened many who did not expect the West’s loneliness, culture clashes, and environmental exploitation.

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