Thursday, April 9, 2009

Rebuilding After Katrina? Not so much

[from an email I sent, 12Oct06, back when I used to use Gmail to inefficiently blog, 13 months after Katrina destroyed most of New Orleans]


the Re-New-ed Orleans is a juxtaposed place. To try and explain what
I mean, you can look at the 2nd map here:
...and page all the way down to the large map. On the large map,
you'll see a orange line. That line designates a recommended bike
route starting out near the river on Esplande Ave at the edge of the
French Quarter, heading NW towards Lake Pontchartrain, and touring the
city. It approximates the 12 mile bike ride I took Tuesday morning.

Now, open (in a new window, to compare and contrast) this 1849 map of
the city:

...and note the water level during "inundation" (4ft, 9ft, 6ft, etc).
The 1849 map predicted the water marks on the houses along the bike
route I took. The French Quarter was untouched by flood waters - the
French and Spanish knowing not to build on the swamp low-lands. The
high ground in the Metairie - Country Clubs and cemeteries, and
palatial mansions with lots of immigrant labor repairing their homes
and NOPD cruisers on every corner protecting the wealth - also
relatively untouched. However, most of Lakeview, Carrollton,
Broadmoor neighborhoods are DEVASTATED. I stopped and talked to an
Orkin man refilling his tanks with a garden hose in Lakeview, at one
of the only houses that looked inhabited, and asked him "is the city
about 50% back?". "Not hardly, more like 20% at best, 0% in some
areas", as he pointed to the green algae stain a foot below the roof
line on the surrounding houses. There are entire neighborhoods where
nearly every tiny front lawn or drive way has a FEMA trailer parked in
it, PVC now piped to carry away sewage and Digital TV dishes mounted
on tree trunks and fence posts, and then there are neighborhoods where
there's not a single soul to be seen... replaced by piles of stereo
equipment, carpets, beds, couches near the curb, broken out windows,
large Xs on the front doors or garages, denoting how many people
living or deceased were found in each house and on what day. Seeing
it made me think of 1980s downtown Hammond of Akron Ohio, with broken
out windows and boarded up businesses.... but multiplied by about 10X.
After I got to 6 closed Walgreens and Eckards, I stopped counting.
Working gas stations are rare. The few eateries that are open have
contractor vans and pick-ups lined up for blocks along the curbsides -
most of the vehicles are brand spanking new, shiny trucks. There's
alot of money to be made fixing up (gutting, rebuilding, or
demolishing) houses for those homeowners who can afford it.

Inside the downtown areas (French Quarter, and Warehouse District,
where our hotel is, near the convention center) - 50% of the
businesses and store fronts are boarded up. Those that are open, are
staffed 1 shift. At the convention center, T noted the Starbucks
closed at 4pm. The bike place I rented my bike from (Micheal's,
highly recommended, very nice people there, immediately next door to
my buddy Rick's recommended bar "DBA" ) is
closed on Wednesdays. The trolley that's supposed to take tourists
from the Convention Center to the French Quarter runs less than once
an hour... so it's a "lively downtown that's functioning at 50%" at

I am sick and tired of beggars asking me for money. Play a trombone,
be a mime, do a magic trick, tell a fortune, entertain me and I'll
give you a dollar... but ask me or money as you walk your tiny dog??
or demand from me that I "give me a dollar man!" and the beggar gets a
scornful "Désolé, je ne parle pas anglais" and if that does not deter them, a "Mordre moi!" .
The exception is last night, along the "Moon Walk" on the right bank
of the river, a very old man who looked like he had not eaten in
several days, asked feebly "if you can spare some change.. anything"
... and T and I had just ordered 2 coffees and 2 beignets [which
come in plates of 3 beignets per plate... oooof... too much after a
full dinner of crab casserole for T and raspberry and pecan
encrusted duck with a demi glazed reduction at Tommy's.. mmmm..
delicious!]... and I said to the haggard and gaunt old man "Sir, I
have no change, but I do have these beignets if you'd like" .. and the
joy and gratitude that washed over that old man's face "I Love
beignets!" he exclaimed, and thanked us profusely, as we walked up
river back to the hotel.

There's a "Riverwalk" mall, that is reminiscent of the Greenville
Mall, or of any mall you can think of where 1/2 the stores and 1/2 the
food places in the food court are boarded up.. many plaquards saying
"safe to reopen for business after Katrina, 29-11-05" and such.. but
very few open businesses at prime lunchtime.. deserted... and at
930pm... bedarkened and to-be-avoided by tourists full of crab and
duck and beignets, or anyone coming out of the IMAX or Aquarium...
stay on the well lit paths with lots of people around.

Bourbon Street... or as my first impression cruising down it on my
rented bike Tuesday afternoon made me think to call it... "Larry
Flint's Hustler show club avenue" is alive and well. Lots of drunks,
lots of too loud music blaring into the streets, lots of open
containers, lots of 'exotic dancers' parading on balconies showing off
their balconies. I do not believe I have ever seen such a
concentration of dive bars, and strip clubs, interspersed with walk-up
drink vendors, anywhere in the world.

One block south/east, and parallel to Bourbon, is Royale street.
Never have I seen so many art galleries, and jewelry stores, and art
galleries, and rare gift shops, and art galleries, and cafes... 50% of
them boarded up. One block south/east of Royale is Chartre street...
it's a misc gab bag of various strip clubs, restaurants, etc, about
50% boarded up. And one more block south/east is Decatur... 3.99
souvenir T shirts, or 5 for $20, head shops, costume shops, leather
shops, bars (New Orleans Bubba Gump's is there, but I am glad
my son doesn't work there).. again, about 50% boarded up.

Around Jackson Square where Shrub spoke after Katrina, are lots of
beggars and homeless people and tourists. Cafe du Monde is diagonally
across the corner from Jackson Square, with a toilette area there that
has been used by toute le monde (all the world) - quite nasty, but the
public rest rooms are out of order apparently.

So... if you are thinking about visiting New Orleans... bring alot
of money (food is expensive, cabs are expensive, hotels are
expensive), good walking shoes (to walk past the 50% of the closed
businesses), sun screen (it's going to be 85 today), lightweight
breathable clothing, and a good map of the streets (link provided

I did see DBA (going there tonight), the George Rodriguez studio and
all his blue dogs, Cafe du Monde, Wicked Orleans leather shop (Friday
the 13th sale tomorrow! lol), the Garden District, lots of cemeteries,
the Mississippi, the Bohemian Frenchmen Street district, drank a mint
julep (not a good drink for me, but try on for yourself), ate mediocre
and overpriced etouffe and alligator at La Mulates (not recommended),
listened to Entergy say again and again on the news that they won't be
able to restore service to the whole city (14 months after the
hurricane) without getting $525 million from the state and city, heard
how Bell South is providing their customers with Cingular wireless
because they can't run land-lines, seen many businesses that don't
take credit cards (as they have no land line) and accept cash or have
an ATM machine inside instead.... and got thanked again and again by
locals for 'coming to Nawlins'.

New Orleans... once had nearly 1 million people.. now reduced down to
about the size of Terre Haute... all the hoopla about "Rebuilding New
Orleans" is just that, hoopla. Casinos, hotels, and bars are back.
Everything else, is running at 20 to 50% of pre-Katrina levels.

Time to go lay out at the pool for a while, before meeting T for lunch!

A bientot!

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