A NIGHT AND DAY IN THE (TOUR GUIDE'S) LIFE
Once again, I must make my apologies to Messrs Lennon and McCartney, as well as to my quasi-relevant JazzFest sign concerning guests (see past posts), as my guests in this case were my in-laws and they were not staying in our house, but in a nearby bed and breakfast, formerly an orphanage. That said, overall, a good time was enjoyed by all.
My in-laws arrived from California the Tuesday night before last, collapsed in their funky room in the B & B, and interspersed visits to our place and occasional meals with us with their leisurely schedule (oh, that I could sleep in some on more occasions!) and jaunts through town and just outside of town on their own...until Saturday and Sunday, the last JazzFest weekend of this year. They arrived for three reasons: to see their grandson, to see the city, and to see JazzFest. My husband and I are simply ambassadors for the kid and tour guides through this great, partially ruined city of ours.
Over the phone, pre-visit, my in-laws apparently requested we take them on the great levee breach tour of 2006, one that I embarked on my first day back here (see previous posts) and found myself not wanting to do it again. I was horrified by what I saw, and I really didn't want to go through it again. I heard the same feelings expressed by fellow dog parkers when I discussed it with them, and a good friend with whom we shared our last JazzFest ticket with on Sunday. People who live here are tired of disaster and destruction, "tired of mold", as our JazzFest friend put it. And I don't blame 'em at all.
I ended up compensating for their request by pointing out water lines on some of the houses and in some of the neighborhoods as we passed them by, not necessarily in the levee breach areas. After my in-laws' first day at JazzFest, we had a nice dinner at a nearby Spanish restaurant, and then my mother-in-law and I headed off to the Borders' Books in Metairie to take advantage of her gift card and get some albums by some of the JazzFest players she'd heard and liked earlier that day. We headed there by way of Canal Boulevard and the lakefront areas, with a detour down Fleur-De-Lis in Lakeview, just blocks from the 17th Street Canal breach. It was dark out, and the ghostly suburban surroundings closed in once we passed City Park. Once again, it was as though I were passing through New Orleans East, like I did when we were driving down from New York. Hundreds of houses, standing at attention, waiting for their occupants who, in all likelihood, would never return. Nearby streetlights revealed the water lines on some of the houses, shining in the night like sinister shadows. The shock only increased once we drove across the canal and into Metairie...and back into bright lights, shopping malls, and whatever passes for normal suburbia these days..all there due to the grace of God and the sheer luck of having the levee wall hold on the Metairie side.
While I was waiting with my son for my husband and in-laws to come to the restaurant that night, a young college student, eager and green, struck up a conversation with me and participated in the chalk drawings my son was engrossed in making on the sidewalk nearby. She is one of many college volunteers taking time (and, in some cases, gaining some credit somewhere, some way) to help with recovery and cleanup down here. God bless her for coming. God bless her for wanting to get some idea of what the situation is like down here, too, because she could see that aside from the kids in other social work courses like the ones she was enrolled in, and the people who live here, of course, no one else in the world can really grasp the sheer magnitude of the situations people here are facing every day in their struggles to survive, rebuild, and thrive.
Got to say, though, it's not easy having to explain one's home's trials, tribulations, and politics all in one fell swoop. The college student's friend asked me what the deal was with all the abandoned, flooded cars that were still sitting under the interstate (a featured set for mayoral candidate Mitch Landrieu's recent campaign commercials), and I had to explain how the mayor had supposedly brokered a deal that was going to take care of those cars, since for them to be carted away, they have to be emptied of their fluids first. The local paper revealed that the city had not taken the firm with the lowest bid on the job, and then the whole deal collapsed, leaving the cars sitting in their places. Can't say that my little local civics picture really gave those girls a full picture of what's going on, but I like to think that it opened their eyes to life beyond the Fair Grounds here.
Sunday morning dawned for me and my husband, and we decided to go to a local spot for breakfast, only to find that we had arrived there too late in the morning to get a table without a massively long wait. We headed for a birthday party my son was invited to after a late breakfast at home, and then we picked up my in-laws and our friend with whom we shared our extra JazzFest ticket and headed for the Fair Grounds. After moving some garbage cans on the street that were supposedly demarcating someone's spot, we managed to find a parking spot close by an entrance. We got our food, and then I went and enjoyed the music of a local klezmer band with our friend. I had taken care of our son for most of our time at the Fest; now it was my turn to take in some music sans child. Not that I don't love him, but I needed some remembrance of younger days, I guess. Plus, for the most part, he didn't want to be right near such loud music, understandably - though he did surprise me later on when he weaved his way through the crowds to get a close look at the doings of a Zydeco band.
It turned out I also needed the release that comes with dancing my ass off. I danced a hora with other people around me. I kicked off my shoes and danced in the mud. I let my hair down and shook my money maker. A full hour of dancing to the music left me weak in the knees and aching some in my right leg - but man, did I need it! "Happy JazzFest!" a man in full tie-dye regalia I'd been dancing with yelled near the end of the set. My in-laws commented later on how much tie-dye they saw at the Fest - it seemed to have gone east from California, in their eyes. Years ago, when I had first moved down here, I thought that all the Checker cabs that were gone from New York streets had moved west, myself, because I saw so many of them in New Orleans. I guess this city is where all the fads and trends and throwaways end up, eventually - but it only adds to the whole demeanor of the place.
It can certainly work its effect on the visitors here as well. My in-laws were so much more at home visiting us here than they ever were visiting us in New York. Even the funkiness of their B & B here was something to be glossed over, especially since the people who ran the place and worked there were so nice. Their last visit to us in New York, the people who worked behind the desk at their hotel near JFK tried to pull a fast one and book them in a room that was clearly much smaller than what they had booked on Priceline. On another visit, my mother-in-law was staying with us in our second floor apartment around the time our landlords got a primo entertainment center and were blasting their disco music and their American Idol albums such that it could be heard through the floor. My husband and I didn't care, as our son could sleep through anything when he was tired and so could we, more or less, but my mother-in-law likes a quiet house and never failed to comment on it every day she was in town. Bad timing on that one! We told our landlords near the end of the week that we could hear them downstairs, and to their credit (hey, they were a great buncha guys), they were embarrassed about it and kept the music down after that. Overall, New York did not present a good vibe to my in-laws: it cost too much to live there, it was too congested a place to live, and it was way too far away from California for them to put forth true doting grandparent duties.
Of course, my husband, son, and I have gone from a major metropolitan and world center under terrorist watch to one of the epicenters of American natural disasters. That alone would give most people pause, and though my mother-in-law maintains a constant interest in real estate and in property costs all around this great nation of ours, she did ask about whether or not we would be getting some land in the Baton Rouge area - not only because it might be good to have a place to evacuate to that is close to where my husband works, but also because it would probably increase in value once another storm with the potential to blow south Louisiana off the map comes through. At the very least, we could rent it out if we weren't living in it, right? My mother-in-law needs to get a real estate license, is what I think.
My in-laws' observations about the city now, though, were interesting to hear. It looked to them like my son's presence on the streets of the French Quarter was a surprise and a delight to passersby, and they attributed it to the small numbers of kids that were in the city. I would attribute it to that a little, but I would also say that the Quarter is more like Disneyland for adults and has been that way almost from its inception. Any kids there in the daytime were the ones attending the one small school that still remains at the edge of the Quarter, or they were on the streets tap dancing with bottle caps imbedded in the soles of their shoes for tourists' loose change. The only clubs I know of that allow kids in them are Preservation Hall and Snug Harbor in the Marigny - one offers only live music, and the other serves good meals along with its full bar offerings and live music by titans such as Ellis Marsalis. Anyplace else is largely serving drinks and little else with its music - hence, no young 'uns allowed.
Another observation was of how much work is going on on homes and businesses in the areas that experienced no flooding whatsoever. There was a good amount of damage to properties from the winds of the storm, to be sure, but does that really justify the amount of places in our neighborhood, say, that are being remodeled into condos? It was enlightening to my in-laws to see just how many places are taking advantage of the rebuilding frenzy to do things that, in a lot of cases, needed to be done anyway... in the case of the newly designated condo properties, folks are also coming through in the department of sheer opportunism. The whole atmosphere of the non-flooded areas is that of a frontier town - but the buildings have already been here, in some cases, for well over a hundred years. Not exactly Dodge City.
And of course, the fact that a major public transportation artery, the St Charles streetcar line, is not in service right now is confining most tourists to the Quarter. Even Commander's Palace in the Garden District is in on the remodeling bonanza. People coming to visit have to make arrangements of their own to get a good look at the areas badly affected by the levee breaches and the storm effects. Rental cars and locals are the only means by which these folks can do so. And considering my personal reaction to becoming a levee breach tour guide, it comes down to rental cars, I'd say. I'm sick and tired of having this place known for good times and for devastation on a colossal scale. People are busy trying to live here, for crying out loud.
Then again, this is the price people have to pay for calling this place their home, myself included. Those who can face it all and come out the other side with some form of sanity and humor intact will either be stronger than strong or be just plain insensitive. I'm not sure exactly where I am just yet...
Speaking of humor:
More recent bumper stickers, T-shirts, etc.:
Blame Me - I Voted For Nagin
Authentic Trailer Trash - Thanks FEMA
FEMA: The New Four Letter Word
Comebacks, Not Kickbacks
To Move Forward, We Need To Move Back