We headed off to the Avis earlier this evening to pick up the most claustrophobia-inducing vehicle Dan has ever driven to tide us over while the mechanics do their best to figure out why the heck the older of our two cars won't start. It was outside the airport that I saw the stupid billboard that got me ticked. It said something to the effect of "Shop at a mall in a museum!", showed a picture of a French Quarter balcony, and urged viewers to visit the Quarter.
Boy, did that rub me the wrong way.
The airport across the way from that idiotic billboard is one of the places that shows how ridiculous the economic development strategies of this area have been, and how piddly they continue to be. Does a world-class metropolitan area really have an airport that is that devoid of air traffic? A place that touts itself to be a gateway to the Americas - but its gates have clearly seen better days? Are we really reduced to touting an area of historical and cultural interest as a mall?
Ummm, the answer seems to be "yes" to all of the above questions.
My brother has recently floated a spring break travel idea to my parents: a trip to Jamaica that will only cost him, and his three friends who also plan to go, the airfare and $35/day for the four of them in "environmentally-friendly accomodations" that include meals. My mother half-joked that they were probably going to end up in a tent on the beach. She's going to be clued in on more details tonight as my brother plies her with more carefully researched information on this prospective trip while she fires back with the stories about my cousin who got mugged on the beach in Costa Rica and tales about Natalee Holloway's bad end in Aruba. What can I say? Mom's a champion worrier with a wry sense of black humor.
I suggested he come to New Orleans, and she could resort to that if things got really rough. Chances are, he'll chuck that suggestion on knee-jerk impulse, simply because it came from Mom. Having seen that billboard, though, something in me started to wonder if it was such a good suggestion after all, because it had me asking the question that does and doesn't apply to my home:
What exactly are we rebuilding this city for?
I ask this question in the interest of reexamining the hard truth: that in many ways, we New Orleanians are indeed squandering some assets here. The worst evidence of that was that dumbassed billboard. I see even more evidence of this nearly every other time I check out the daily exertions of the New Orleans News Ladder, whose Editilla digs up all kinds of ways in which the Army Corps of Engineers is still weaseling out of the thoroughly unsexy yet still vitally necessary job of bolstering levees all over this country. As Abba Eban once said of Yasir Arafat, it seems I and others who live here are surrounded by institutions that never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.
Yes, it is a good idea to keep the voluntourism rolling...but in the third year after the Federal Flood, it is apparent that the volunteers aren't going to be getting themselves dirty in a political sense. It's an easy thing to condemn this city from afar. Fine. Keep dishing it out. Go back home after your sobering, drunken jaunts through any and all neighborhoods in this town and keep telling others who are clueless that this city is still on its knees, but hey, it'll crawl its way back out of the mire! Just toss some tourist dollars at it and help nail some two-by-fours together and it will always be there, the oldest city on the youngest geological land in this country.
I say this quite honestly and not a little testily: Help us, dammit.
Help us get the crooks of any and all stripes out of our elected positions. It could be you in that situation - and, in fact, it currently is, if you take a good long look at the illustrious oaf in the White House and his supporting cast.
Help us get some real, viable economic development here that doesn't involve knocking down lots of places for retail. All that those shopping centers and big box stores will be doing is taking our hard-earned wages and sending them out of this city and state. Don't even get me started on the jobs - well, I will say one thing. A new labor movement must get going, one that will be closing the loopholes that businesses seem to have found in order to circumvent some hard-won labor gains over the decades. Cutting people's work weeks down to 38 hours in order to deny them benefits is a good way to begin a good fight.
Help us get some good social services here, starting with quality day care for children in order to free up half of a potential workforce. Hospitals need to be rebuilt, not razed. Our mental health here is very much on the fritz and nearly nonexistent - start recognizing that traumatic circumstances deserve a great deal of sensitivity in helping those affected. Case in point. Don't just tell those proud parents that they shouldn't be raising their daughter there. They just rebuilt their home. They want to live here and are active people that most other communities across this country would kill to have working for them. Instead, this city, if it continues as it has been, will most likely be killing them. Let's chalk up better police and a better justice system while we're at it.
Help us to educate our children - and not in the way education seems to have nearly always been regarded for most of the years it has been seen as a profession. Start treating it like a real profession and pay our teachers more. Back them up with the resources they need. Quit throwing loads of roadblocks in their way that seem to impede more than aid progress. Promote teaching strategies that actually care about the kids and carefully take their sense of wonder into account. That kind of empathy goes a very long way - it can even go right back into the very places that teach it.
If a lot of what I'm saying could just as easily apply to your community, no matter where you are, then you know that what I am also saying is Help us all, dammit. I'm sure the last thing you would want is for me to come back from a visit to your city or town and say that it's on its knees, but hey, it'll be back. Just throw some money around over there and nail some boards together.
Speaking of boards...
Anybody got a match? There's a certain billboard in Kenner that is in dire need of remediation by fire. Maybe if it's torched, the planes will start landing, like moths to the flames.
Deep down, though, I know a different sort of fire is desperately needed. And, if anybody else out there reading this listens to their deep down feelings, well, you know it, too.