Last night the New Orleans Saints played their first home game since Hurricane Katrina in the newly remodeled Superdome. I think it is very important the world see that New Orleans is (slowly) coming alive.
I went to New Orleans over the Labor Day weekend this year; friends and I had planned to go last year at this time, and when Katrina hit, we all made a pact to come to New Orleans this year. What I found was a city that was (like NYC after 9/11) a bit conflicted. New Orleans relies on tourist dollars for a large part of its economy and it was clear that they really need us to come back.
- About 90% of the businesses/restaurants in the French Quarter are now open. Damage in the quarter and the Marigny wasn’t very bad, and some of these businesses took the time to remodel or otherwise improve during low traffic times. On Canal St. the ratio was more 50/50 and as you reached the outskirts, we drove for miles without seeing any businesses open (we saw a McDonalds in a pile of rubble, a frame of a supermarket and a Pizza Hut with the roof blown off). Other friends actually drove to East N.O. and the now infamous 9th Ward and reported seeing miles and miles of devastation. But, truth be told, when you visit N.O. you would never have visited those areas anyway.
- I arrived on Thursday night and found the French Quarter to be relatively quiet. Bourbon St was pretty empty and I could imagine businesses are suffering. I found many stores had little signs “open only Fri, Sat, Sun”. As the weekend progressed, the quarter came to life, but it was still less than when I’ve been there in the past. For example, finding restaurant reservations was really easy.
- I met a guy who’s been living in a FEMA trailer with his parents, and his brother and sister-in-law, 5 people in a teeny metal box. He described it: “it’s like one of those trailers you go take for a weekend camping trip, except that we’ve been living in it for a year”. The surprise was that he was resigned to it without being sad about it “it is what it is”. The good news for him and his family, they were in the process of painting and furnishing their home. Probably as I write this they are moving into their rebuilt home.
- My favorite story was talking to someone about Halloween last year. All around New Orleans, all the buildings have spray painted X’s on them marking the date the building was searches, survivors found, and any animals inside. (BTW, we spent a lot of time drinking in a place that had 3 cats after the storm). So, this guy and his friends all dressed as houses. They got T-shirts, dipped them in brown dye (to about 1/3 of the way) to look like a water line and then painted the fema markings on them. A fun costume that made light of what had to have been a very difficult time. It was this spirit I found in a lot of people, and it makes me believe New Orleans will come back.
So, I’ll tell you what I’m telling everyone. The areas that tourists visit are back in gear or on their way back, but they need YOU. Without the dollars to support the businesses, they’ll go out of business.
Book a trip to New Orleans. Contribute your dollars to their economy. Go and have fun, listen to Jazz, have jambalaya and listen to people’s stories. It is still a fun place, the people are still strong and high sprited. But as we said about NYC after 9/11 – it’s time to come back.