Published: January 2nd 2009January 2nd 2009
Greetings from outside of Tallahassee, Florida. I am staying in the Lake Talquin State forest which is gorgeous. Honestly, my favorite thing in the south is the trees. The Talquin state forest, abundant in towering pines, connects the track of land between Lake Talquin and the Ochlockonee River. It is a perfect spot to take a load off, reflect on New Orleans and look forward to more adventures.
We spent the last two days in New Orleans. Shaun Hollinger was able to join me to share the experience. It was nice to have someone to spend time with and share the experiences. New Orleans was the place to have a companion.
To be honest, I have been having a hard time trying to figure out how I can give you a feel for what New Orleans is like. To start, the city has very unique beauty. The downtown region boasts southern charm. Quiet street cars run along the roads in and out of the city. For a dolllar, you can see the whole city from one of these cars. In downtown, the southern style architecture, which has a downtown New York City Financial district feel with the tight roads
and towering buildings, is accented by the lush vegetation you can only find in a sub-tropical city. Around the Superdome, the streets have a festive feel and you can tell these people love their sports, especially football.
As I said, the street cars run you in and out of the city but beware, they are not labeled well and have no maps. You better know where you are going. It gave us a chance to see the city but we got on the wrong street car and road all the way to the end of the line before realizing it. When we finally found the street car we wanted, we took it out to Tulane University to try and find dinner away from the New Years buzz. The car clangs through downtown, the Garden District and up towards the universities. The streets are lined with sprawling southern mansions all boasting distinct features from large, impressive columns to wrap-around porches to southern villas. At the University, we found out very quick that there is nothing going on outside of downtown. And when I say nothing, I mean nothing. Out there, there we no restaurants. We found one local bar that
felt more like a VFW hall than a bar. Next door, we had to settle on grabbing a box of alligator pizza which turned out to be well worth it. The alligator meat is like spicy sausage.
Walking up town, once you hit canal street, you see the entrance to the French Quarter. The French Quarter is truly a sight to see. Gas lamps, iron porches and balconies, traditional shutters, unique courtyards, and narrow streets all create a feeling unlike one accustomed to an American city. All around you feel more in Paris or Venice or any other European city. And the food is incredible! From high class dining to pub fare with a Cajun twist, you can find it all. On Bourbon, you are overwhelmed with the noise and activity but a block or two off and the streets mellow out. Couples sit in courtyards sipping wine and people meander through narrow streets. The best part around here was dropping into tiny spots to sample their food or grab a drink.
This is the charm of New Orleans. But the reality is that people come to New Orleans for one reason. That is to party it up.
Said one guy we met from Atlanta who comes yearly, "Atlanta is a great place to make money and New Orleans is a great place to spend it." The partying starts early and ends early. In reality, some of the most ambitious bars and clubs will only shut down at 5am so they can clean up, restock and re-open a couple hours later. The street cleaners and crew will run up and down the street for an hour and then the people come back. It is quite a thing to see. The sad thing about New Orleans is it is a city in decline in every way. The population has been on a quarter-century decline. Crime and poverty prevail in many areas. The schools need help. Commercial interest outside of the French Quarter struggle profoundly. This city only has its party life to save it. The numbers will tell you that New Orleans is rebounding and the economy is growing while the rest of the country faces recession. That is true, the numbers are growing, but only because Katrina had displaced over half of the city. New Orleans is simply returning, piece by piece but is in no way flourishing.
Outside of downtown, the city sleeps. In some ares, homes remain boarded. Sirens can be seen all over. The homeless line the river and find shelter under docks, and across the river in Algiers. Prospects don't seem all that inviting.
One man we met was Howard. He is born and raised in Virginia but lived his life as an engineer in Alaska. According to Howard, in his grumbled drunken voice, he was a great engineer and had a full family. Whatever happened, Howard wound up divorced and alone. Once in the Navy, he has seen many places across the world and knows how to work with boats. In the end, Howard has lost it all. He has recently been diagnosed with brain cancer and has abandoned everyone in his life. His children do not even know he is dying. He refuses to be "taken care of by someone". Instead, he chose to travel down to New Orleans and live out the remaining months of his life striving after physical pleasures. Reduced to homelessness, this guy will die somewhere under a dock or along the river bed, alone and lost in a world of strangers. You feel for Howard but
you are wary of his decisions in life. He was a very nice guy looking to buy us a coffee after we gave him the time to allow him to feel connected to people again. But something tells me Howard won't change. There will be no redemptive phone calls or humble goodbyes to those he once loved. Rather, Howard will sit on the banks of the Mississippi as he does every night, watch the tide slowly drift out to sea, forever abandoning him as he has his world.
In the end, people are drawn for a taste of the fast life and a place to "have no consequences." Like Vegas, they say what happens here stays here. Its not uncommon to see a southern business man, probably well respected at home, stumbling down the street in a loose suit, with a hurricane in one hand and a beer in the other, beads draped around his neck looking for the next party. Its not uncommon to see a huddled group of frat boys high-fiving as they burst out of a strip club, laughing and pushing eachother. This is what many people crave and it is what New Orleans is willing
Walking up to the Hornets game...
That is a banner advertising the Sugar Bowl taking place here at the Superdome Friday. Utah and Alabama are playing bringing 80,000 fans into town.
to give them. Down on the bayou, they all come to let lose. They drop down from Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Texas, Louisiana. Down here, the parties never stop and anyone can be a "superstar" if he wants. Exhausted, New Orleans leaves you craving something deeper.
Some say New Orleans should have been left for dead. Others say its best day is yet to come. I would say the jury is still out on that one. The potential lies tucked away in tiny courtyards and quaint alleys. The potential is on the river walk and in the squares. There is much to celebrate from the rich music history but also much to deny. The final assessment- the assets of New Orleans have been profoundly overlooked. Like "that friend" that people are willing to abuse because its a good time, New Orleans remains the adult play land of the south where people can get lost in their own vice and excess.
Louis Armstrong sings "do you know what it means to miss New Orleans..." I think as the days and weeks go by, I will find myself getting caught in reflection at the quiet side streets, the wonderful food, the
distant sound of blues in the air, the lazy Mississippi and the surrounding bayou landscape. Lynard Skynard says "they're always having a good time down on the Bayou." That is a memorable experience, but one I expect will slowly drift off leaving nothing more than a reminder that the mass of people looking for happiness in the wrong places will continue to find themselves places that refuse to judge them.
All the best,
Day 8 Album Listing
Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald- Best of
Amanda Parker- Who Killed Amanda Parker
Rogue Wave- Asleep at Heaven's Gate
Jack Johnson- Brushfire Fairytales
Jack Johnson- In Between Dreams
Thicker Than Water Soundtrack
Less Than Jake- GNV FLA
Less Than Jake- In With the Out Crowd
Less Than Jake- Anthem
Less Than Jake- Borders and Boundaries
There are more photos below