Putting My Feet Up in New Orleans
REBUILDING WITH STYLE
After buying food and beer, I walked back to Flo & Joe's, stepping high over all
the cracked sidewalks. The "infrastructure" of New Orleans is not good these
days. I don't know if it was ever good. But with Katrina it may be worse.
The federal response, especially in the black areas, has not been good, I'm
A couple of night ago, back at AAE Bourbon Street Hostel in the
kitchen, I had the start of an interesting conversation with a young woman. I had noticed
her for a day or so out in the living room, mostly slumped in a chair. She was
a curiosity. Most of the young women there are very lively, especially when
there are young men around. She was a good-looking young woman but seemed to
just slump in a chair no matter what was going on, young men present or not.
I don't know how the conversation began but I believe she started it. Most
conversation begin with some trivial comment that either ignites a real
conversation or doesn't. But I remember no trivial remark in this case, just the
"I'm really tired," she said, standing next to the
refrigerator with one hand on a counter.
"I've noticed," I said. "You just seem to sit."
me she was doing construction work—eight hours a day in
the hot sun. She was a Katrina volunteer worker.
She said she drank about eight bottles
of water a day while working but peed only about once.
evaporates through my skin," she said smiling.
Then she mentioned
the racial tensions. It was due to the rate of black-verus-white rebuilding
after Katrina. The blacks felt like the whites were getting all the help.
Maybe that had something to do with the dirty look I got from the little
girl over near the projects.
I don't remember what interrupted our conversation.
Probably a group of revelers,
returning from the French Quarter, made normal conversation impossible. It
is pretty hard to talk over five or six people all shouting "Hey, dude," "Ohmygod,"
and "what the fuke."
She was a nice young woman—dedicated, at least temporarily, to a cause—
and wore no makeup
at all. She was rather different from the other young woman there. I wished
I could have talked to her more about Katina rebuilding. But that is the way
it is sometimes with conversations. The long ones, the inane ones, you wish
you could have cut off sooner; the short ones, the good ones, you wish you
could have prolonged.
A few days earlier I had seen an
article in the Times Picayune about new, low-income houses in an
area not far from AAE Bourbon Street Hostel. In particular it mentioned
their design as including various classic New Orleans styles. I was curious and,
taking a walk, easily found the
address. Indeed, some of the houses were very nice, and they did not look at
all like the "projects" that I had seen in San Francisco.
guys on the porch of a nearby house, and I did my usual, although I had
only come to look:
"Can I ask you a question?" I said.
I felt like an intruder until one of the guys turned and
"Sure," he said.
Suddenly I had everyone's attention. They were all
I told them I saw an article on some of the houses
over this way and came to take a look. I held up the article. I said I
thought they looked pretty nice.
"What do you guys think?" I asked. "Like 'em?"
they're pretty good," one of the other guys volunteered.
"Might be a little more space
between 'em," said the first guy, "but they're good; I like my place."
"Everything works," said another.
I had the
feedback I needed, and not from a PR person but from people who actually
Although it was a "tract" of sorts, all the houses were of different
styles with different colors and had porches and grass and trees. I wouldn't
have minded living in one myself. I don't believe they were free; I think you
had to show that you were below a certain income level to qualify. Not a bad
They pointed down the street to some other houses that
were even better looking than the ones in the newspaper. I thanked them and
went on down the street to have a look.
So why was that little girls scowling at me the other
day? Who knows? Maybe because of deeper injustices from long ago that she
had heard about. Injustice can have a long memory. Some view it as "water under the bridge," like my friend Pierre
in San Francisco;
he just wants to move on. Others hold it tight and can't let it go.
Where Else But New Orleans?