I never got the bumper stickers.
Defend New Orleans. Proud To Swim Home. Make Levees, Not War.
To me, New Orleans has always been the most beautiful of tortured souls. A thriving city in the wrong place at the wrong time. Always. The failures of three hundred years echo through the oaks in City Park and down St. Charles. New Orleanians just learned to live with it. Hell, it was always a good excuse to throw a party...until Katrina anyway.
It's funny to see change in something you always thought would never evolve. Ever since CNN moved the cameras to the "next great human tragedy," I had always been steadfast in moving back to New Orleans after college, settling down, and raising a family. It was non-negotiable. My kids would attend my grammar school. If they were boys, they would attend my high school. If not, probably Mount Carmel but that's beyond my point. I wanted that. Yearned for the continuity and tradition a place like New Orleans so easily lends to the transitory. Half of the city can probably trace their heritage to immigrant workers, slaves, or carpetbaggers. People forget that in the vein of the "Y'at" culture. We're all New Orleanians. Not Italians, Irish, Indians, or Inuit. That's what I loved about New Orleans. The togetherness. The feeling you get in the Superdome or on Orleans waiting for Zulu.
I don't know anymore. I just don't. At what point does childhood memories of trips to the zoo and walks through the Cabildo overtake murder rates and mortgage crises? Has New Orleans become a nouveau Venice, her culture and history bleeding through the X's on Marie Laveau's tomb? People want to see New Orleans when they get here, I understand that, but at what cost? It was all too easy being a kid, growing up with McKenzie's, Schwegmann's, and K&B. Our parents protected us from the decay lying too plainly to see. Sometimes I want the rose colored glasses back, but I know what I see will only make me sadder. When the Sugar Bowl arrives on New Year's Day, Fox will show TV shots of the staples. Bourbon. Cafe Du Monde. The Crescent City Connection. Millions will be enthralled, and more than a few thousand will visit in the near future.
So why am I worried? Is it because these "tourists" will sap the lifeblood out of New Orleans with their "The Bitch Fell Off!" t-shirts and drunken escapades sure to end up on YouTube? It's not that simple. When posed the question "Do you want to raise a family in New Orleans?" I now waffle worse than Bill Belichick on fourth down. I love New Orleans. It's who I am. Which New Orleans though? The one I knew as a child or the hardscrabble reality of Central City and overcrowding? The reality is nothing is getting fixed, just patched up until the next big festival. It hurts to say that. Every city has its problems, we just seem to raise the bar while other cities like Baton Rouge raise their profile. People from other places in Louisiana see New Orleans as a paragon of living, a big city with little regard for rules. I just see New Orleans the way every Saints fan has since 1967: a lovable loser of a town, with just enough charm to keep us in the race.
Until this year anyway. Now the hope's back. Told you I'm a waffler...