I am a 3rd generation New Orleanian on both sides of my family. Though I haven’t lived there since going away to college in the 1980s, I get back at least once or twice a year to visit family. My old friend Casey has been warning me for years that New Orleans is slowly joining the rest of America. I have to confirm, with mixed feelings, that this is true. I watched the slow rebuild after Katrina, and figured that if things didn’t change then, they never would.
I can’t say what was different this time, but the city seemed cleaner, for one thing. Little things like baby boomer top 40 playing in restaurants instead of real New Orleans music. Lots of new restaurants, especially in the warehouse district, where we spent most of our time. The people were different, too. Lots of staff in restaurants and hotels weren’t locals. Tourists seemed more well heeled and from further away, not just people who had driven in from neighboring states. Everything was a bit more expensive. One Uber driver told me there wasn’t really any more cheap housing (or dangerous neighborhoods) in Orleans proper.
The place did seem vibrant though. Not so much of that decadent, stagnant feel that used to be the calling card of the Big Easy. The city seemed to change slowly since Katrina, then all at once. I can’t say that is a bad thing. Many people I know moved on to places like the North shore. If other people from other places want to move in and carry on the traditions, that is fine with me. Let the stalwarts stay on teach them the ropes. I have no complaints if the place is cleaner and a bit more efficient and even modern. If those other things are part of the charm, I guess I won’t miss them much.
There was one point when we walked past a trash dumpster, just before the rain, and my son said: “that smells like New Orleans”. I knew exactly what he meant, and I realize that lots of people wouldn’t know what we were talking about. It wasn’t meant to be an insult, and it wasn’t. I realized it began on the way in at the airport. I used to be able to pick out my gate without having to know the number. Just look for the New Orleans people. They dressed a little different. A few would be drinking. People talking to each other. This time, it seemed like just another group of people waiting for a plane. People playing around on their phones. Nothing to see here. It was the same on the way back, except for a few obvious college spring breakers. New Orleans, welcome to America. Hope it all works out.
From the BBC: