It's Friday afternoon, and I rush to the airport after getting off the air. I’m always anxious to go home, and when I say home, I am talking about New Orleans.
The feeling is always the same. It's an adrenaline rush, an anxiety to hurry up, land and feel the life of the city. It's become a ritual on the plane from LA to NOLA. As soon as the pilot says, "We are descending," I lift my window shade up and stare at the wetlands. The views from above never fail to stir my emotions. They start getting the best of me, and I tear up, knowing I am home.
Welcomed by familiar faces in the lobby of my hotel, I hear, "Welcome home, Rocsi Baby” in that distinctive New Orleans accent. I hurry to my room, where I see a gift basket full of my favorite hometown goodies: Zapps potato chips, pralines and seasonings that you will only find in New Orleans.
It really warms my heart to feel the Southern hospitality within just a few hours of being home. I waste no time meeting up with friends. Staying only blocks away from the historic French Quarter, I want to take full advantage of the free time I have, knowing that this isn’t a regular trip home for me.
I am here to give HLN a tour of my city, 10 years after Hurricane Katrina.
I take advantage of the night, linking up with my dearest friends Juggie (whom I have known since I was a teen) and Shawn, and we hit the streets of the French Quarter. Only here at home do I feel safe and like I am free to be myself. In every bar, on every corner, I hear “Welcome home, Rocsi!”
I start the next day with my friends Javetta and Dana Chanel. We sit and chat about love and life and how things never really change the older we get. I’m comfortable around them because they know me and we all share a bond that is New Orleans now and was New Orleans before Katrina. Laughing at how much the city has changed, I tell them I saw a tour bus driving through the city and we all laugh. I tell them it’s like Beverly Hills here, with the TMZ buses and tourists flocking to see New Orleans. It’s a beautiful sight to know that there is interest in my city.
I leave the hotel with my producers to head to our first stop: My alma mater, West Jefferson High School. My high school gym became a housing facility for the National Guard and other federal agencies during Katrina. Our main campus lost its roof, and our library and cafeteria were both badly damaged as well.
We pull up to the bus loading area and the gates are open. I tease my producers and tell them the gates are open because they knew I was coming.
Walking through my high school is like walking down memory lane -- little has changed. Walking through the outside corridors of the hallways where we always hung out during lunch time, my mind takes me back to the days of the cool kids sitting on the benches. I could hear the laughter and chatter in my head as my mind literally takes me back to 1999. During my time at West Jeff, I went through so many experiences that have shaped the person I am today.
Our next stop is the house where most of my childhood memories took place. We head over to Chalmette, a small town that had some of the worst devastation from the storm but received little media coverage.
My last time in the area was five years ago, when I mustered enough courage to go down the street I used to live on, even though I knew there would be tears. That is what happens now as we pull up to my street where our little house once stood, only to find a lot of unclaimed land instead.
As the crew and I drive up, I am confused about where I am exactly. I cannot recognize the area because it is so bare. I’m shocked at the fact that there are no homes on the side of the street where my house once stood, and there are only two homes still standing on the opposite side of the street that look like they have not been touched since Katrina.
There are no kids in sight, no people walking around the area. Everything is quiet and empty. The house where my brother and I would build forts to wait for Santa, run after the Easter Bunny, and even swim in flood waters that filled the street after a heavy rain is gone. All I will have from that place is memories.
There is nothing to visit or see here now.
Read more: 10 years later: How Katrina changed my life
We finish our tour back where we started in the French Quarter for lunch. I meet up with my friend Shawn again and we sit and talk about the changes that New Orleans has seen. Shawn gives me such a positive outlook on all the good that has come after the storm. It is the people who stayed and came back, like my friend Shawn, that now give this city the same heartbeat it had pre-Katrina.
The words “pre-Katrina” and “post-Katrina” are how New Orleans is described today, but as we walk through the Quarter and I hear the music from the bars and the laughter from the people walking by, enjoying themselves, I don't think “pre” or “post.” All I think is, “I am home.”