City of New Orleans

From Other Lisa, cross-posted at the paper tiger

Other Lisa’s note: this is not the kind of thing I would normally post here, but I’m afraid that it’s all I can think about, right now…

The year I turned thirty, one of my best friends and I decided to commemorate the occasion (she had turned thirty six months prior) by reverting to our childhood tomboy selves and buying skateboards. My friend, also named Lisa (she is one of the reasons that I am “Other Lisa”) had skated as a kid. I had not. But neither of us had experienced this new generation of skateboards, with their shock-absorbing wheels and maneuverable trucks. We both bought lovely Lance Mountain boards, customized them with stickers and proceeded to spend our lunch hours cruising around grotty Hollywood streets, trying to master jumping off curbs.

The climax of this summer of experimentation came when we booked train tickets on Amtrak that would take us across the country on a three-week vacation. Our ultimate destinations were New York City and Washington DC, with a stop for me in Princeton NJ. Our itinerary was in part dictated by the presence of former relationships in several of these stops, guys who had played far too important a role in our lives (unresolved, ambiguous roles at that). So we called our adventure, “The Old Boyfriends Tour,” and set out with our skateboards and dufflebags.

It was an amazing trip in so many ways. But the part I’m remembering now is the 24 hour layover we had in New Orleans. Both of us had come from traumatic encounters with the aforementioned old boyfriends. Licking our psychic, and in my case, literal wounds (I’d had a truly spectacular, nasty crash on my board in Princeton, trying to keep up with the Blast from My Past, who was on Rollerblades), we pulled into New Orleans on an ageing Amtrak and plotted what we’d do for the next day and night.

We had that whole, starving students mentality back then. We weren’t going to spend money on anything so bourgeoise as a hotel room, not when we’d be in the place less than a day. Besides, wasn’t New Orleans a party town? Why not stay up all night instead, we reasoned?

You know how there’s that theory about how teenagers’ brains aren’t mature in the judgment centers? Maybe we were reliving that part of our pasts as well.

We spent the day wandering around the French Quarter, the river promenade, Jackson Square. We visited Marie Leveux’s Voodoo Emporium, the Absinthe Bar, drank Hurricanes from plastic cups, ate beignets and sipped chicory coffee at Cafe Du Monde. The French Quarter had a funky scent, mossy river mixed with stale water and just a hint of sewage. The wrought iron balconies, the flowers, the sense of tradition and secrets and decadence – all the tacky souvenirs on Bourbon Street didn’t take away from my impression that here, at last, was a place that lived up to my every romantic expectation of it. I took note of the “For Rent” signs in the Quarter – “check it out, Leese – this place is cheap! I could move here.”

I knew the reality of New Orleans wasn’t all that romantic, for many of her citizens. I knew that a huge percentage of them were desperately poor, that there were no jobs, that the crime rate was brutally high. But still. I knew also that this was a singular city, a special place. A treasure, really.

Some time after midnight, both of us crashed, big-time. The combination of sleep-deprivation, emotional stress and Hurricanes, I guess. All the chicory coffee at Cafe Du Mond couldn’t keep us awake any longer.

We parked ourselves and our skateboards on a bench in front of the Cathedral. It was about 3 AM. Our plan was, one of us would stay awake while the other slept.

Lisa fell asleep immediately. It fell to me to keep the first watch.

I tried. I really did. But my eyes kept closing of their own volition. My head would suddenly loll to one side, and I’d jerk awake. This happened several times.

Then, as my eyes drifted closed once more, I heard a soft voice next to me.

“Don’t you worry,” he said.

I turned to look. Standing there was a security guard, a young black man.

“Don’t y’all worry,” he repeated. “You go ahead and get some sleep. I’ll make sure nobody mess with you.”

“Thank you,” I said. We smiled at each other, and then I closed my eyes. I knew I was safe.

The Discussion: 7 Comments

The first night I was in the French Quarter, the humidity got to me. My stomach suddenly hurt, badly. Then I began to lose my hearing. I knew what was going to happen — I was going to faint. I have a condition that causes me to lose consciousness quite easily.

I staggered in to a coffee shop and asked the owner, “May I lie here just for a second?”

The owner yelled, “NO! You drunk! Get out of here!”

Then my best friend caught me on the way down. She explained to the people around that I wasn’t drunk, just a desert girl who couldn’t take the humidity.

The owner couldn’t do enough for me after that. She brought me ice water and Sprite and put me on a bench and told me to take as much time as I needed.

So that was my impression of NOLA — a tough place, but a compassionate place at heart. I hope that comes through in the midst of the monsters who are tearing it apart.

September 2, 2005 @ 11:25 am | Comment

Funny. I did that same train trip from L.A., Grand Central Station to NYC with a stop over in New Orleans in 1991.

My stop over was only for about 7 hours. I went and stayed with a cousin of mine and her family. It was late at night when I got in but her 5 year old daughter stayed up to meet me. The daughter was really excited that I had a guitar with me. She wanted to be a rock guitarist when she grew up.

We chatted for a few minutes then we all went to sleep. I got up at 6am and Elaine drove me back to the Amtrak station.

I haven’t seen or heard from Elaine since then. I assume they’re all OK because they surely had the money and smarts to get out ahead of the storm. I suppose my Mom would have told me something if they weren’t.

September 2, 2005 @ 5:16 pm | Comment

I was moved by this post, Lisa. I’ve been thinking back to my two visits to New Orleans and feeling so sad.

I loved the part about you and your friend Lisa (it’s a regular Lisa fest here!) falling asleep in front of the Cathedral, and being protected by a security guard. I’ve had nothing but good experiences in my two short visits. The people there were so nice.

You definitely captured the sights and smells, as I recall! And I too enjoyed beignets and coffee near the Mississippi at the Cafe Du Monde. Oh, how I miss it already. I want to see this city returned to its graceful state. I too am FURIOUS that a disaster of this scale has been forecast and discussed for years, but that our PINO (President in Name Only) wanted instead to do a land grab in the Middle East. His attitude in his press conference came across to me as him being pissed at having to take his time to deal with this issue. Well damnit, that’s what Presidents are for. To PROTECT, not to kill. To LEAD, not to golf. TO SERVE, not to stand idly by while thousands of people not too stupid to leave, but too POOR to leave, suffer an unimaginably horrible fate of slow starvation amidst the stench of fecal matter and death. Sorry – it’s hard not to get graphic and angry thinking about all this.

I also couldn’t agree more with your post on “Waiting for a leader.”

I’d love to hear from the people in China what is being said there about our President, if anything.

September 2, 2005 @ 5:36 pm | Comment

I had watched TV for 2 nights in the hotel at Washington before I came back home. I believe those two days were the worst days for city of NO. The poor were left behind. No police and military presence at all. The government response was slow.

One thing that I don’t understand is that US announced that city of NO don’t need help (or donation) from foreign countries, which means my donation is not welcome? This immediately reminds me what Chinese government did initially in TangShang earthquake back in 1976. Look like US government is also afraid of losing its face. Help is help. As long as it can help, why you guys care so much about where it comes from.

Another thing: someone got to be fired after this disaster. Even Chinese military would have shown up much faster than the US national guard on the same kind of disasters.

September 2, 2005 @ 6:45 pm | Comment

Lin, you are right, the whole management has been absolutely criminally incompetent. The whole damn adminsistration ought to be fired!

I’ve never been a super-patriot kind of person, but the one thing that I’ve always thought America has done well is handle a crisis. This is the first time in my life that I’ve seen the American government so utterly incompetent and dysfunctional.

The ONLY silver lining to this is that people here seem to finally be waking up to to the way the Bush administration has hoodwinked them and sold them out.

September 2, 2005 @ 11:59 pm | Comment


September 3, 2005 @ 7:38 am | Comment

watch this Fox News clip:

September 3, 2005 @ 12:44 pm | Comment

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