way too funky to die
It was a great Mardi Gras yesterday because it simply couldn’t be otherwises. Not
even Hurrican Katrina’s aftermath could stop the party. The Big Blow wasn’t even
able to stop a Bourbon Street bar from closing. And that’s the grit of New Orleans:
it’s way too funky to die.
If you pay attention, you can feel the funk ooze into your bones when you’re there.
It hides in the humidity, which is sometimes thick enough to sit on. It sneaks into
the rain that can fall so hard it looks like it’s exploding from the pavement. If you
dare look at the searing sun, you’ll see it poised to land.
This funk is water-based. Most of the year you’ll bust a sweat as soon as you go
outside. In cooler months you’re likely to get drenched in a downp0ur. Sweat
and rain are the great equalizers in the Crescent City. Sooner or later, even the
richest folks there have to venture out and risk it.
You can ignore it at your peril. But if you stay there long enough — for purposes
of mental health — you have to give the city its due. There is no other place in the
planet like it. Not even Amsterdam is as funky. I think that’s because the Dutch
have that bizarre belief that sex and moderate use of psychedelics is healthy.
I can prove my point for $2.50. Go to the corner of Canal Street and St. Charles
Avenue in downtown New Orleans. Have $1.25 in exact change for the streetcar.
It goes from the commercial district past Audubon Park, Tulane University and
stunning mansions in the Garden District. It turns around in a residential area
and starts its 5-mile trek back. Exact change again, please.
It’s great fun to go faster than the cars beside you, and the conductor can change
the lights to keep going. But it’s leisurely, too. On one of my rides, the conductor
stopped in the median and said to the passengers, “I’ll be right back. I have to make
a phone call.”
St. Charles Avenue is a main cross strand of the city’s spider web street design. It
symbolizes the grand extremes of the Big Easy. Some of the most grinding poverty
in town is just a few blocks from the mansions. I had a delivery route in the area
that kept me interweaving through the two worlds all day. One day I saw a wedding
party and a funeral procession to accentuate the contradicti0n.
New Orleans is a Tennessee Williams character. Like the women in “A Streetcar
Named Desire”, it’s resilient like Stella and fragile like Blanche. It’s like your aunt
Gwen, who drinks too much but has the best stories of all your relatives. This city
has more secrets than any other city I know.
Watching Katrina’s fatal sweep through town was like losing a member of the family
to me. Watching the contortions of BP’s Tony Heyward to avoid responsibility for
the oil spill was just as painful. But yesterday, watching the streets jammed with
frolickers renewed my faith in the old girl. Stella/Blanche/Gwen, keep the good