Reflections on the Big Easy

I wrote the following while I was on my way to New Orleans last Thursday and thought I’d throw it out to the Internets to see how you like it. It’s been edited, but mostly it was my gut reaction as we flew toward the Crescent City…

My Hotel Room View

I oftentimes forget that people travel to New Orleans because of its history. And it is a city very rich with history. Unfortunately, that’s been tainted by years and years of poverty piled on top of the effects of Hurricane Katrina.

The first time was in 1993. I remember the year because we went for the Final Four. Kansas was playing in one of the most stacked final weekends of the tournament ever, with Michigan, Kentucky, and North Carolina. Kansas lost their semifinal game to the Tarheels, who were led by Eric Montross.

North Carolina went on to win the National Championship, defeating Michigan in a game that would go down in infamy as the one where Chris Webber called a timeout at the end of the game that the Wolverines didn’t have, resulting in a game-sealing technical foul.

What I remember of New Orleans from when I was 16 was really more the spectacle than anything. I remember traveling to the Tulane campus with David Rowe and visiting Frankie & Johnny’s for my first experience with crawfish. We saw Bourbon Street and the debauchery in all its glory on the first night, the streets packed with fans from all four schools milling around from bar to bar, from strip club to strip club, drinking and generally just making asses out of themselves.

We toured the French quarter during the day, which is really when people should see it. Bourbon Street is too much to take, but the rest of the quarter is intriguing, filled with art shops and tarot card readers along the streets.

I was reminded of this New Orleans today as I sat on the plane returning to the city that I’ve grown to dislike very much. It is rich with history, sure, but the smell of sewage in the city casts an overwhelming. I’ve not been back since Hurricane Katrina hit and I’m interested to see what’s been done to overcome that tragedy.

The woman across the small plane from me was sifting through her “Walking Tour Guide” and other assorted New Orleans tourism maps and such. She reminded me that some people (myself not included) still visit this city at the mouth of the Mississippi because it’s fascinating. There really is a lot to see if you want to find it. You just have to ignore the smells and the other negative things that go along with a city that has endured what New Orleans has.

This is my fifth trip to the city. While my first experience was amazing, being led around by a former native, going to the Final Four, etc., my following experiences (outside of the amazing food) have been less than stellar. There’s no reason I could point to particularly…I just remember the city being dirty and less impressive with each additional viewing.

Now I realize that like I said earlier, what I don’t like about New Orleans is that it seems like a city with a lot of potential, but it just can’t get it together. Something horrible happened to the city, but the government has thrown TONS of money there, but it still is a ways from being right again and I don’t know if it ever will be because the people in charge have about as much of a clue as to how to run a city as those running Kansas City, Missouri proper.

Either way, I just don’t see myself ever going back there to visit. I’ll go when I absolutely have to for a conference or whatever, but I’m not going to voluntarily go back. It would take some serious motivation for me to do so.

Back from The Big Easy

I’ve was in New Orleans Thursday through Saturday for a conference. As we drove back to the airport, I summed up the trip as such:

“I just can’t understand why anyone would want to live in New Orleans. I barely ever want to even visit here.”

And it’s the truth. Sure, the food is great (it really is) and the music is good, but the negatives vastly outweigh the positives there. The town has been very slow to recover from Hurricane Katrina, but frankly, I didn’t think it was that great before the disaster. Any major city that situates itself 2 to 6 meters below sea level isn’t making good decisions, if you ask me.

Add that to the overwhelming smell of sewage, the high violent crime rate (4 times the homicides of Kansas City), and the vast poverty and you’re looking at a city that isn’t really appealing to me.

The food is pretty darn good though.

The first night, we ate at Dickie Brennan’s Bourbon House, an upscale seafood place right on Bourbon Street. I ate raw oysters (teetering on the edge between gross and intriguing) and an absolutely amazing entree of crawfish-crusted Gulf fish (see below). That meal was by far the best I had, although the Shrimp Po-Boy I had at Landry’s for lunch the next day was pretty tasty too.

Crawfish

I’m glad to be home. We flew ExpressJet and had to actually walk out on the Tarmac to get on our plane. To call it small is an understatement. One seat, aisle, two seats. That’s it. The Bose QC2 Noise-Cancelling Headphones made the flight a lot easier. It was weird getting back from the 80 degree weather of Louisiana to the high 30 degree weather in KC. You gotta love the midwest.

New Orleans: Cesspool of the South

I have to admit, I’m kind of a homer.

I love where I live, Kansas City. I think it is a terrific town with terrific people, great food, strong sports teams, and lots to do. The Country Club Plaza is one of the premier shopping attractions in the country. Kauffman Stadium (where the Royals play) and Arrowhead Stadium (where the Chiefs play) still are amazing facilities, despite being built together in the [late 60s – early ’70s] – whenever. If Question 1 (Bi-State II Tax) passes, we will cement their place in the city for 25 years to come.

I’ve spent the last few days in this toilet called New Orleans, or as many like to call it “The Big Easy”. I like to call it “The Big Smelly” because that it is exactly what it is “a giant cesspool of trash and nastiness”. Part of this is due to the fact that it sits well below sea level, protected mostly by levees from the Gulf and the Mississippi River. That’s why the city was so threatened by the hurricanes that pounded the South this summer “once the water would have come over the levees, it would have had nowhere to go, but straight into the city. That’s why all of the cemeteries in the city are above ground – they can’t dig. Same reason that there are not basements in Florida.

What’s worse…it’s been raining here since Monday, so the humidity and garbage have festered and combined together to coat everything with a thin layer of stank.

Good food, though. Excellent meal at 201. Steak something on lobster/potato somethings with wilted spinach something (much better than it sounds).