How many times in life do we have to start over? How many times do we have to reinvent ourselves just to survive?
Hurricane Katrina washed through my house, my city and my life. In the blink of an eye, the comfortable routine I had known was over. The high-heeled world of a party planner came crashing down. My home was flooded. I lost my job. No neighbors. No friends nearby. Everyone had evacuated elsewhere. My city was devastated. Everything was turned upside down.
I fell to my knees in grief.
As a corporate event planner, I sold parties, petals and pretties. I showcased and show-boated all the best of New Orleans: restaurants, hotels, musicians, plantations and bayous. The sounds of clinking china and crystal, the laughter and revelry where now drowned out by the National Guard and heavy machinery rolling through our streets. Blanketed in a film of mud and toxicity, the city was grey and lifeless.
Oh my gosh, I’m single. Who is going to protect me? Who is going to put my shelter back together? How am I going to survive? What other type of work can I do? Do I have any other skills? These are the most basic questions we ask ourselves in the middle of any type of disaster: divorce, death, unemployment, and loss of relationships. This is when our survival instincts give us options: morph or die!
My answer came from the most unlikely source one afternoon. Two Brazilian brothers were gutting out the mildewed walls of my little house. I was sitting on a 5-gallon paint can watching them and holding my head in despair. I seemed to be in my own trance, mumbling to myself, “What am I going to do? What am I going to do?” They spoke an epiphany, “You are an American. You have every right to own your own business. You have opportunities that we do not have in our country. You don’t know how lucky you are. Go start a business.”
In that moment, I received the greatest lesson of my life. Two simple, down-to-earth boys showed me the way. When catastrophe hit, it didn’t matter that I was a doctor’s daughter; that I had private school education; or that I knew the best concierges, restaurant owners, and all those other meaningless things. I had a choice of how I was going to react to my circumstances. I had to choose my attitude. I chose to be hopeful. I chose to humble myself. I chose to be positive and it paid off: The Demo Diva Company was born.
Equipped with hot pink business cards and yard signs, I sold my demolition services across the city. Door to door. Flyers on windshields. At first, I knew nothing about the demolition equipment but I assured my customers that they could trust me to help them. I would solve their problem. It worked.
Six years later, I own a fleet of hot pink dumpsters, dump trucks, and excavators. Our equipment is all over the city. I can’t go into a grocery store or gas station around town without a young or old person singing the jingle from my commercial. “Who fights the Blight, Demo Diva fights the Blight!” Demo Diva isn’t just a demolition company. It’s an attitude of resilience. It’s the personification of us—the people of New Orleans and we, Americans!
It took immigrants to show me the light. It took my passion to help my community. But I have influenced a male-dominated industry with a little pink flair and emerged with a successful small business.
Simone Bruni is president of The Demo Diva Demolition in New Orleans, Louisiana.