L'aissez Le Bon Temps Roulez!
Assuming you don't speak or read French (and I don't do either very well), you may be wondering about the title. It means, roughly translated, "Let the Good Times Roll!" And, it's the unofficial motto of New Orleans.
Last week, I took some time off and went with friends to New Orleans for a few days. It turned out to be a great stress reliever, and an eye opener about the current condition of southern Louisiana in the years after Katrina.
I had conversations with Curtis Schulze in the period shortly after the disaster, and he had clearly conveyed the level of destruction. However, three years later, it was interesting to see the changes to one of my favorite cities, and to also see how its people have fought their way back to a relatively normal life.
Having been a frequent visitor to the Crescent City, one of the first things that was apparent to me was the lack of transients and panhandlers on the streets of the French Quarter. In later years, it seems that every drifter and grifter had set up shop down on Decatur, and it was dangerous to travel alone. Walking around during the day, they were annoying; but, at night, they were threatening.
Now, they are virtually nonexistent. There are plenty of artists, musicians, jugglers, tarot readers, etc., but, the folks who make their living off of not working for a living have moved on to easier pickings. The people I saw were all engaged in various forms of commerce (some more productively than others), and they were proud of their endurance and survival.
For the first time ever in my many visits, I actually played tourist. Friends and I took a two-hour tour through the Quarter, the Garden District, Lafayette Cemetery #3, the Lake area, and other spots of interest. Our driver was a local boy, and he provided great insight into what it had been like trying to stay in New Orleans and make a living post-Katrina.
He talked about how his apartment had flooded, he moved to the second floor while his was being repaired, and now, since housing is short, the rent has tripled for the same unit he lived in prior to the storm. He showed us where the levees had given way due to cost cutting by the government, but he also acknowledged that locals had not been willing to give up the land necessary to enhance the levees. The compromise had been the metal panel topped levee system that overwashed during Katrina's wrath.
Our driver also showed us where some people have rebuilt, higher above the ground, next door to homes that still bear the marks of body counts conducted in the weeks and months following the devastation. Businesses closed and moved elsewhere; but, industrious businessmen have reclaimed the space and are building other things on the spaces.
Along the downtown streets, I noticed that everything is a little cleaner. A little better smelling. A little more tidied up than in the past. New Orleans has always had a charming sense of constant decay; but, now it also has a feeling of regrowth.
There is still a long way to go. The population remains at only one quarter of the 2004 numbers. Many people can not afford to rebuild and will never return. But, others will come. And someone will build.
And of course, other storms will come. With rising sea levels and eroding wetlands, the possibility of another catastrophic failure of levees, dams and diversion structures is a certainty, not just a possibility.
But, if you think the folks of southern Louisiana will let that keep them down, then you don't know those crazy, funny and hard working people. The ones who remain, and who have returned, are survivors. They will find a way to stay on the land they call home.
And I will keep dropping by for the occasional visit and leaving some of my money to help out their economy.
It’s all just my opinion, but it’s what I wish would happen.