Succinctyly Describing A City

24 August 2002

Can you capture the essence of other places in so few words?

Ernie the Attorney says new N’awlins’ mayor Ray Nagin is ”truly working to make a change in this city.”
I hope so. I love that town—it’s my birthplace and I grew up there, even though I consider Los Angeles to be my true hometown. What I learned as a kid in New Orleans was that all politicians are crooks, priests are political drunks, unions are run by people who never worked for a living, police trouble can be easily fixed if you’re white and have a few dollars, blacks and whites will always battle, health codes are a joke, roaches run the town, nutrias and poorly planned levees are sinking the whole city about an inch a year, horrible violent crime is accepted as part of the civic life, and no World’s Fair or gambling or Anne Rice or Middle East oil crisis is going to save NOLA.
Last time I sort of lived in New Orleans, staying with my childhood friend P. Lindsey Williams, a bunch of famous people had bought houses in the Garden District and up by Audubon Zoo. Courtney Love, Bob Dylan, Tom Cruise … Trent Reznor already had his house/studio by Esplanade, east of the Quarter. Mick Jagger maybe owned a place around there. But they were all—with the exception of Reznor and Rice—absentee owners. They dropped by now and then. New Orleans was a freakin’ theme park for them. They were the most famous people in town, yet they didn’t live there. Their income came from L.A. and New York and London.
New Orleans is a small town compared to the big American cities. I’m guessing here, because I’m tired and don’t feel like doing the Google, but I recall the city having around a quarter-million residents. Jefferson Parish was thriving, to the west. The smart people with jobs were also moving across the lake to Slidell, where Ernie lives. Around the French Quarter and St. Charles and the … what’s it called, the Riverwalk? The MoonWalk? ...tourists pour a bunch of money into Orleans Parish. Dentists, nurses, ophthalmologists, middle-class S&M folk, they all come for the conventions. But way back in 1994, the city was losing its people. By 1995, it had the worst murder rate in the nation. Who the hell wants to live in an economically doomed death factory?
Anyway, I hope Mayor Nagin can change the centuries of corruption, graft and filth. It would be nice if people could live there safely and do business. They already live real fine, when it comes to food and drink and fun.   [Ken Layne]

Filed under: