Tuesday, June 27, 2006

New Orleans is Back part one - the city & the aftermath

Pictured above - fixing the roof in the French Quarter; a doll in the window

I was in New Orleans last week as an attendee at a library convention - the first major event to be held in NO since Katrina. Here is what I saw.

''WE ARE JAZZED YOU ARE HERE'' said a banner as you exit the Louis Armstrong Int'l Airport. A nice young man from the convention bureau smiles shyly to greet each person but seems unsure what to do really. That was probably his 2nd day on the job. On the way into the city everyone looks outside the window anxiously - for what? broken houses? Brownie? Everything looks normal in fact until you realize most street lights don't work.

''WE ARE JAZZED YOU ARE HERE'' read the banner in my hotel lobby and later, the entrance to the convention center. I read earlier the city had organized a massive volunteer project two days earlier to clean & get the city ready for 15,000 librarians coming to town. Why volunteers? Couldn't $200 billion in aid pay some workers?

There are police EVERYWHERE, also state troopers in nice blue hats & national guard in their humvees. Everyone is jovial, it's nice to be on duty in New Orleans rather than whatever bumpkin town they came from. You can walk more than 2 steps without bumping into the law. 4 days and the only encouter we saw was a man thrown out of the Harrah's Casino.

''WELCOME ALA TO NEW ORLEANS'' read the poster on virtually every business, including Ricks Cabaret, a strip club. Post-Katrina merchandise are everywhere. Most popular were t-shirts - among my favorites:
- FEMA: Fix Everything My Ass
- Katrina Beach: Life Guard not on duty
- Katrina gave me a blowjob I'll never forget
- FEMA Evacuation plan: run motherfucker run

Speaking to a cab driver, who uses words like ''fugedaboutit'' and is clearly from New Jersey. He has a construction job manual on his front seat. He tells no one can afford to live in the city because the landlords have jacked up prices so they can rent to people with the $1,200/month federal rental assistance checks. We hear other stories from locals.

Speaking to a shopkeeper who sell beautifully handcrafted stationary (my fav - cards that say - merci, y'all). She tells me business is not only down but the hotels have no reservations for the summer. Why would anyone come to New Orleans during hurricane season she asks rhetorically. She said she saw people getting raped & the Navy Seals coming in & killing the thugs. She tells me if she were a tourist she would never come back to New Orleans herself.

Speaking to a sandwich shop owner. No business, she tells me, but so far it's been good this week, thanks to the library convention.

You can't see much damage in French Quarter or the Central Business District, but I hear stories from the outside. A publisher (Stephe Pagel from Meisha Merlin) drove in from Georgia and tells me there are debris everywhere, including one stretch of 20 - 30 cars and boats (boats?) dumped in the middle of the highway. Back in the city it's mostly broken glass, torn roof & omnimously, bullet holes.

DESPITE all that emotions were running high. The city is definitely on its way back. The city need people to visit, to bring life there.

(continued on food & entertainment)


Blogger es said...

Great eyewitness info. I gotta say that thinking about how it looks good in the central business district but "outside" is full of debris conjures up all those sci-fi post-apocalyptic dystopia movies like "Logan's Run" or even "Day of the Dead"- as long as you're inside the perimeter you're okay, but outside . . .
You know, after reading this, i would definitely go back!

11:36 AM  

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