A Different Reality
September 10, 2005

The following is rant copy for an episode of A Different Reality.
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1) The Place

We pulled out our pictures of New Orleans the other day. RoZ had some from when she was there in 1988, and we had a bunch from when we went there together in '98. Seeing these photographs while hearing the post-Katrina news coming from that city was hard, knowing that some of the things we were looking at were under water.

In a past life, I used to travel the country selling underground newspapers on the street, and in that life I worked in New Orleans several times. Most of my time there was spent in the French Quarter, which is the part of New Orleans that newcomers and outsiders tend to gravitate to. For most of us who have never lived there, the French Quarter is our image of New Orleans.

Fortunately, New Orleans first settlers knew where the high ground was... or at least the ground that was the "least low." At any rate, the French Quarter is dry... not a pleasant place to hang out, by any means. I mean, there's no water you can safely touch, much less drink. There's no electricity, which means no refrigeration, and no air conditioning, which in a city as consistently hot and steamy as New Orleans is no trivial thing. And working toilets are a distant memory. Some resourseful people are pressing on in spite of all this, and "the Quarter" is largely intact. It's the rest of the city that's in rough shape.

I've been to a lot of the other neighborhoods, and the signature image of New Orleans in my memory is the canopy of massive, sprawling hardwood trees over streets and sidewalks, and the lovingly-kept nineteenth-century homes. In the rich neighborhoods, you had the ornate southern mansions. In the middle-class neighborhoods, the mansions were scaled down, but they still had the porches and the lush yards. Even the poor neighborhoods had their splashes of color and style.

But my favorite thing about New Orleans has always been the people. Now New Orleans is not a very rich city, in fact, it has a LOT of people who are dirt poor. But that doesn't stop them from being nice. I've always found them ready and willing to share a smile and a good conversation. They're incredibly kind-hearted, they're totally unpretentious and they're determined not to let poverty get in the way of their enjoyment of life.

Culturally, New Orleans has always been a magnet for the creative class, and you can see how a city is transformed when you nurture spontaneous creativity. New Orleans is also a world-class music city. It has its own homegrown styles of music, and there's a long list of world-renowned musicians who come from there, from Louie Armstrong, to the Neville Bros, Buckwheat Zydeco, The Radiators, Dr. John, Fats Domino, and a lot of others.

New Orleans is a place that's easier than others to get by without a lot of money; and it's also an easy place to get around without a car. The transit system runs often and it runs late with everything from buses to historic streetcars and modern streetcars. And if you want to get out of town, there is direct Amtrak service to LA, Chicago, New York, Jacksonville, and lots of interesting places in between.

Yes, there are a lot of things to love about New Orleans......

But then came Katrina, and life got hard in the "Big Easy."

  Next page: 2) The Hurricane
3) The Outrage
4) The Hope
5) The Plan
6) Impeachment

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