While I prefer not to travel as a tourist, that is exactly what New Orleans needs right now. I landed to the north on Lakefront Airport, going over New Orleans East for the approach. I couldn’t focus on the landing..the devastation below was overpowering.
The Soniat House Hotel was happy to have me and they want others to know they are open for business. (I paid $180/night). I walked the very familiar streets of the French Quarter and can tell you that it is different. No horse buggies riding passengers, no tourists, few cars, rarely a taxi, and closed businesses. Refrigerators line the streets, discarded with rotten spoiled contents inside. Thankfully, most have been securely closed with duct tape. Piles of trash are not unusual, but frankly less frequent than you would expect. Margaritaville was open, and a tall glass of their ‘Perfect Margarita’ hit the spot. Over and over, the bartenders would ask, “are you a local?” “No,” I said, “Just a tourist.” With that, you’d be treated like a rock star. They are basically only seeing and serving the locals and disaster teams of FEMA, Red Cross, or construction crews. A tourist is a rarity in a city that thrives on tourists. They need more of us.
Police from all over patrolling the streets with uniformed military soldiers and of course what’s left of the NOPD. Homeless people look like they belong here. The palm reader was worth the 10 bucks, the bartenders, street musicians and waiters the tips, and the locals the courtesy of a smile. Dinner that first night was going to be a challenge I was told. Galatoire’s, Bayona, Antoine’s, and NOLA were all closed. What a surprise to find the Rib Room of the Royal Orleans open! This tourist/rock star was served a glass of scotch that would widen anyone’s glassy eyes. Years ago, I met a former boss for dinner there when he was recruiting me in 1979 to move to Jacksonville Shipyards from Alabama Dry Dock and Shipbuilding. What memories I still have of that dinner! This time as most always, I ordered the prime rib just like a good boy should. Of course I found some wine to wash down dinner. A bottle of Priuere Lichine 1996 Bordeaux was outstanding. Yes..but hey, I wasn’t driving.
I ate lunch on Magazine Street with my friend Margi at a favorite place of hers called Lillette. The old codger next to us started his lunch with a Grey Goose on the rocks, and we saw him dining a bit later with a glass of red wine. Some things just don’t change in that city.
Margi drove me around after lunch..gosh, such a mess. Didn’t anyone ever think about that levee springing a leak? My theory of stress being 100% self inflicted might just apply here.surely most did.
Visiting my friend Greg Meffert, CTO of the City, was interesting. The stories are incredible. His book advance should be handsome as soon as the publishers get hungry for a Po Boy and travel on down there. I took him to dinner at K-Pauls. Big man Paul Prudhomme himself was outside on his little scooter smiling as the Dixieland band played in the street. They had only recently re-opened, and I trust them not to be serving Louisiana seafood yet as I doubt the sewage is having any resistance finding itself in the Mississippi river. Environmentalism must wait.
Go ahead, be a tourist. They really need you NOW.