I’ll start with a simple story.
My wife got it in her head that she wanted to ride the streetcar all the way down to riverbend. But she wanted like paper passes. We were staying in the CBD, so I go walk a few blocks to one of only four kiosks in the city where you can get any kind of pass, corner of Canal and N. Peters.
I wake up earlier than everyone else, so I walk out that way. Had two separate people blocks apart ask me if I knew where I was going. When I got there, no kiosk. Just the RTA guy cleaning out his streetcar before it heads down Canal. I ask him about the kiosk. He goes.
“Little motherfukas tagged it up and shit. City ripped that sumbitch out. Use the app. That shit works. You need a ride to mid-city, bruh? I got this one almost clean.”
For weeks…hell years, all I heard from my family and people I knew who were still in Louisiana was about the conditions in New Orleans. Why? I mean, take your pick. Lately, saltwater intrusion. But recently, mayoral drama, car jackings, city works issues, interstate shootings in new orleans east, you name it.
My own dad described it as a city at its last thread.
My initial assessment on the ground…feels about like New Orleans.
Maybe that’s a bit hyperbolic.
I think I was going into it expecting the heart and soul of the city to have changed. For it not to be the city I spent the most formative years of my life.
Nope, looks, smells, tastes the same. The clubs seem the same. Still got people in the quarter asking you where you got your shoes. Some things have gone the way of ain’t dere no more, but thats also nothing new for the city. New restaurants and clubs are coming up that are fantastic.
Put it this way, I saw a drug deal go down between two employees of Cafe Du Monde right at the take out counter. Had to go fishing to find the right pills between 3 giant bottles while I was waiting for my cafe au lait. Yep, feels like New Orleans.
The reason why I left is the reason why I think people find they can’t live there, and the reason for the caution among the aforementioned. New Orleans is a city that will give you life in terms of vibrance, culture, and a multitude of ways to escape the unfathomable depression of existence for 5 minutes.
But, that is the only thing it can give. The only thing it ever gave. And it can take everything else.
I have often described New Orleans as the greatest city in the world. It is that. It is the best version of everything you want of a major city. Music, food, art, culture. It has the best in the world for all of that.
BUT, you want functioning schools, water, paved roads, job opportunities… you know, all the things you need to physically make it through this life. New Orleans will not give that to you.
And its always been that way.
I feel like Lafcadio Hearn‘s line about New Orleans gets much play. Here is John Goodman doing a much better job reading it in a room where I once took intro to biology.
What I think makes it timeless is that Hearn got the infinite loop in which New Orleans will forever be contained.
The city goes through points where the negatives are more intense than any sort of positive. And right now, those negatives are stronger than when I was living there.
But implied in Hearn’s statement is the cyclical. New Orleans comes back around. The city nature is trying to take back works both ways. There is a natural rhythm to the city that cannot be interrupted. And all of the current crime and corruption…it never goes away, it will fade for a time. And that time will come soon.
New Orleans is still New Orleans. And will forever be.
All that to say, my time in New Orleans felt like I never left. It still remains the greatest city in the world. And I cannot recommend spending some time there enough. Your soul will thank you.
One last closing thought, I had a friend of mine tell me that their dad used to say “I never left anything behind in my life that was worth going to New Orleans to retrieve it.”
What I told this person was “I cannot imagine what kind of unbearable asshole your father is. Look, I can’t make anyone fall in love with the city of New Orleans. You either connect to it spiritually or you don’t. And that’s ok. But I can say for certain, I don’t want shit to do with your dad.”
And if you don’t like the city. You don’t like the farces, you don’t like the crime, pollution, and troubles. You can go fuck yourself.