Before getting here, I wanted to experience some of the scenery between Mobile and New Orleans. I didn’t have time to take Route 90 the whole way, but I figured I could deviate from the Interstate a little bit. The car zooms out of Alabama … and into Mississippi. As I exit the Interstate to take Route 90, I figured now was the perfect time to play Don McLean’s “American Pie” album … my favorite song of all the time. I cross the newly renovated bridge before getting into Biloxi, only to realize that it’s a really tacky resort town … with massive casinos.By now, the song “American Pie” had ended … and the rest of Don McLean’s album is a series of very mellow and soothing songs. Just west of Biloxi, Route 90 now hugged the Gulf coast. After going to the Emerald Coast in Florida, the beaches here are far less impressive … but it was nice nonetheless. And it was truly magical and relaxing to look at the Gulf from my car while singing along to “Vincent” and “Empty Chairs.”
When Don McLean had finished, it occurred to me that I had yet to play a single Beatles CD on this road trip. So I put in the “Revolver” album, as Route 90 deviated from the Gulf Coast and I went to re-gain the Interstate to take a direct zoom into New Orleans. The drive on I-10 was longer than expected, as the Beatles eventually gave way to Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits — Volume 3 (the 70′s take.) The road got bumpier as I got closer to the City; and when I exited at Elysian Fields Boulevard, I realized I was almost out of gas. My first impression of New Orleans was not a good one. The roads are in awful condition, and there are lots of boarded up buildings and liquor stores.
I get to Eli’s house in the Faubourg Marigny (“the Marigny”) — a neighborhood directly east of the French Quarter, but where no tourists venture. I’m pleasantly surprised to find parking so easily, and he takes me to a local cafe to get a late lunch. The neighborhood has an edgy bohemian feel to it, far more genuine than any neighborhood in San Francisco … artists can afford to live here. I had always imagined New Orleans to be like New York or SF — a very compact city with great architecture that has become totally yuppified. But New Orleans is still a poor city.One of the great advantages about staying with friends is they tell you about places and things in a City you would never learn by staying in a hotel. Today is Samedi Gras, and there’s a parade called Endymion that goes through Mid-City. It’s the one major Mardi Gras parade that caters primarily to locals, and does not go through the touristy parts of town. Everyone is happy and cries out at the floats to throw beads at them. “I love Mardi Gras,” says Eli. “Because living here the rest of the year can be so miserable … this is the one time that everyone can celebrate.”
And the future of New Orleans doesn’t look bright for the locals. Louisiana is a very Republican state, and the city is still very much stigmatized and hated by whites living directly outside of it. Black families have tried returning to New Orleans after the Storm, but rents have now doubled … and the city demolished the St. Bernard Projects. On our way to Endymion, I was appalled to walk by a gorgeous 1930′s-era public school that was boarded up and abandoned. The school district doesn’t have the money to fix up these buildings … the city doesn’t have the money to really do anything.
Eli tells me something that gets me plain outraged. New Orleans will get less money (per capita) from the Federal Stimulus than any other Congressional District in the country. Of all places that could really use a stimulus, New Orleans should be the top candidate ….
The parade is now over, and it’s time for Samedi Gras revelers to stay up all night drinking and dancing. We go to Mimi’s, a local bar in the Marigny, staying until about 1:00 a.m. Unlike in California, where bars must stop serving alcohol by 2:00, they just keep going here in New Orleans. We then go to this party called the Maritime Ball … and underground punk-rock party. It is very loud and hot there, and it’s not really my scene. Apparently, the party keeps going until dawn … at which point everyone walks to the French Quarter.
It’s getting late, however, and I’ll be taking a side trip tomorrow to Cajun Country. I call it a night, so I can wake up tomorrow at a reasonable hour.