Change name, Bourbon’s same
My first visit to the natural cistern between Lake Pontchartrain and the meandering Mississippi was way back in May 1977 for a senior class trip.The memories are mostly fuzzy mental snapshots of oddly dressed carbon-based life forms stumbling down Bourbon Street, babbling incoherently to themselves or anyone that would listen (being Hicktown Texas boys, we weren’t sure at times if we were gawking at males or females or what), while we were busy listening to Boz Scaggs and wearing disco clothes trying to come up with valid reasons for female classmates to earn those “beautiful strands of colorful beads” by showing us their buds, so to speak.None of them did that I can remember, but I don’t think it’s something I would have forgotten.We stayed at a hotel (a Best Western, I think) that sat on the original site of the Old French Opera House on the corner of Bourbon and Toulouse, which had burned to the ground in 1919. There was an “All-Nude” joint across the street with a pair of fake legs swinging out over the sidewalk 24/7.Fast forward a few decades to 1997, and my wife and I visited for a close friends wedding held at a beautiful three-story mansion along Canal Street. Riding the streetcars to the French Quarter, I think I saw some of the same people, or at least their unfortunate offspring, and remember feeling very old at the time, although I was only in my late-30s.We stayed at a B&B across from the mansion, and my wife wouldn’t let me even think about buying any “of those damn silly beads.”In the summer of 2002 we returned for my 25th high school reunion, and were lucky enough to book rooms at the same hotel, which now had miraculously become the “Inn on Bourbon” Hotel, complete with remodeled 3-star rooms at 5-star prices. There was still an “All-Nude” joint across the street with a pair of fake legs swinging out over the sidewalk 24/7.Not very many in the class could actually make the trip, but those who did never regretted it for a second. In fact, during a weak moment of spousal submission, my buddies and I were allowed (albeit temporarily) to act like underage idealistic twits again, and provided permission to buy beads. We had booked connecting 2nd floor balcony suites overlooking Bourbon Street and, well, let’s just say it was better than a night at Shotgun Willies.Anyway, I have an hour or so of wonderful digital video recorded during that time (the actual trip, not any of the bead entrapments), and as I reviewed it today, with my perception towards New Orleans being regrettably forever changed, I was overcome with emotion for a place I have never called home, yet a spot on America’s map that is stuffed full with as much or more historical and cultural significance to this nation as many cities twice its size.And now we’re supposed to believe it’s gone? Forever? Just because of a little hydronics issue?No more staggering around Jackson Square in the late morning while the wives wait in line to sit at Cafe du Monde for those little donut thingys that taste so good with a hangover? No more cocktails at Pat O’Brien’s, followed by dinner at Brennan’s or the Pelican Club and a quickie visit inside Papa Joe’s Female Impersonators?Now that the “bowl” is full of toxic soup that makes even the strongest gumbo pale in comparison, we’re supposed to listen to resume-padding good ol’ boys like Michael Brown of FEMA (Failing Everyone, Managing Aught) and feel sorry for Trent Lott’s house while watching Sean Penn pat himself on the back and Celine Dion claim “These people have never touched things like this before. Let them!” in reference to their looting?Just breathing the same air as these nut cases on both sides of the political fence makes me feel like Mike Myers standing next to Kanye West on national TV.But let’s face it, New Orleans cannot fix itself by handing out debit cards to the poor while having a day of prayer led by Pat Robertson and playing the game of blame with the Bush administration over their lack of an entrance/exit strategy. They built a city surrounded by levees in a flood prone setting ripe for a plethora of disease and located along a well-worn pathway for hurricanes using only leftover funds from Huey Long campaign contributions.What’d they expect?Trust me, they will be back. The Saints will play somewhere and Mardi Gras will return down Bourbon Street. Transvestites will again roam the French Quarter alongside convention-attending investment bankers from New York with too many hurricanes in their bloodstream (no pun intended). Only they cannot, or should not, continue to call it New Orleans, as that would now be even more confusing than calling it the “new” New Orleans. Return to your Creole roots, stick with the subjects you folks know best, take heed with the themes that have brought you this far.Let’s just have the new maps say one word – Nawlin’s – and leave it at that. I’ll be happy just as long as they still sell beads. Richard Carnes of Edwards writes a weekly column for the Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This column, as with all personal columns, does not necessarily reflect the views of the Vail Daily.Vail Colorado
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