Archive for February, 2006

23
Feb
06

NOLA Update: Mardi Gras Approaches

Unsurprisingly, one of my former office peeps is insufficiently motivated at his job, and has requested a Redstar New Orleans update to help pass the long 10-to-2 workday there. So here goes. This is a long one, for folks to wander in and out of at their leisure.
I’ve been down this round since 2/16, and spent 2 days in DC prior to that. DC was good – I saw titian-haired Shannon and newly curvaceous (sp??) Nikki, who is due in July. I also bought a Treo 650, and can now join the bureaucratic and progressive masses (World Bank, SEIU, etc.) who all own this phone. Look at me, I’m the fancy graduate student cum development worker. I have this fab DKNY black vest I bought in Soho years ago that fits the part wonderfully.
The professional life is feeling less novel w/each passing day and more like the good old economic development/disaster days of Lower Manhattan, Memphis and the places I worked when I lived in New York. The politics down here are pretty intense – race, gender, neighborhood, etc. – I’ve never been in a place where people assert their roots and an insider v. outsider status as often as that happens here. And folks just say shit – and often it sounds appropriate, but really it’s just political and a challenge and/or insult to the person sitting across the table. It’s weird being a “consultant” from MIT to so many nebulous projects and with different partners – I go to a lot of meetings with people from local organizations that have more formal ties to whatever it is we’re discussing, and I’m a somewhat random graduate student that no one quite knows what is up to, yet I keep showing up at all these meetings. And I don’t talk too much, but meet w/people separately after as if I’m this key person. Which maybe I am, if only because of the MIT connection? I’m not sure exactly what to make of my role here, and MIT continues to command respect and also suspicion, but it’s definitely pretty cool to feel like this floater and to have this big house to come home to at the end of a long day and have an advisor I like that takes me to meetings w/big shots that promise us lots of $$ if we write proposals. Oh, that last piece ain’t so fun. 🙂
So here’s a news flash – I’m a pretty aggressive driver. While post-Katrina NO certainly has a feel of mean streets in some ways, it’s not because people drive like maniacs, or similarly, Massholes. So I’m a bit out of place trying to cut people off and speeding up side streets. I’m working on curbing this since I got into a car accident on tues night, pretty minor – my gold Chevy Impala rental is barely scuffed – but I certainly dented the door on the other car, and delayed this woman from getting home (she was 2 blocks away) and unloading her laundry and having dinner w/her fiance etc. etc. It sucked; I felt like an asshole. She was unbelievably nice, in this Southern + I’ve just lived thru a ridiculously horrible hurricane where I was evacuated to Little Rock for a month and I had to put my grandmother in a nursing home because of Katrina and so you hitting me on a tues night is the least of my worries sort of way. She actually shared her dinner w/me on the trunk of her car that her boyfriend brought up from the house on his bike. She grew up w/the guy I’m renting from now – she said that he threw the best parties in high school. This place is one big small town.
Thanks to this crash I’ve also had my own personal experience w/the N.O.P.D. now. We could barely get a police report out of them, much less rely on them to evacuate us to higher ground and protect us from looters, likely their coworkers. You’ve no idea. It made me long for the local Boston Irish police patronage that would have sent two nice young girls like myself and my victim Colleen to the front of the line. We called the cops at 6pm on tues night when I hit her, they never came to the scene, we went to the police station to fill out a police report, were told we’d have to wait for the same cop we were wating for out on the street, waited another hour, went home (9pm), came back in the a.m. (8), and were told we couldn’t fill out a report because we left the scene. At some point I remarked to one of the cops what an unpleasant work environment she was in (please add haughty asshole to aggressive driver on the list of my desirable qualities), and she said, you must not be from here. She loves it here. She also carries a gun. So I’ll shut my mouth. Anyway, we were persistent pains in the asses and eventually a sargeant appeared and got the front desk cop to write us a police report, and we’ve lived to tell the tale. I won’t miss my time at the NOPD 2nd district, wanting to come across the reception desk in my navy track suit and pink Red Sox cap, anytime soon.
But this city is a different place at night, it’s like people forget they hate each other when the sun goes down, the music comes on, and the drinks are poured. And EVERYONE smokes. It’s hilarious to watch people bicker and politick their way thru meetings and then upon conclusion light up in unison like they were all just waiting to get outside together and chill out and gossip and smoke butts. It’s such a contrast.
I’ve come in awhile ago from a Mardi Gras parade – Muses. It’s all women and one of the best, they say. I did several parades on sunday – including an all-dog parade called Barkus (too cute, will try to upload photos soon) – and got LOTS O’beads, but not because I provided any footage for Girls Gone Wild, much to my father’s relief. The parades are neat; the floats are so clever and there is no shortage of material w/all the ineptitude following the disaster. The group I was with almost had the chance to be on MTV Making the Band (they had a float on sunday and my friend Jessie was stripping down to his boxers for some extra large beads) but no one but me was willing to sign the release forms. Hippies. Nothing would have made me prouder than for one of you to be randomly flipping channels and come across me covered in beads, Budweiser in hand, at Mardi Gras ’06. Good times, good times.
Following the parade tonight was more of the same – drinking and dancing (to Al B. Sure, no less) Popeye’s chicken and antics – with one of the women I do business w/ and a cadre of young black female graduate students (they call themselves the BeeGee’s – the “Black Girls”) and a random group of black men who appear to be following them around. One of the girls arrived and looked exactly like my godfather’s wife Rita McCorkle except that she was black. Turns out her mom is Irish and her dad is black and her name is Flannery Stevens and she wears a claddagh ring. She’s obviously my new favorite person. She’s from NY and talks like so, just to add to the beauty of it all. I talked one of the guys for awhile and we talked about whether or not they are going to re-open public housing in the city and he said, I hope they open some of it, I need someone working at Burger King so I can get a Whopper past 5 o’clock. (Right now there is such a shortage of workers in the city that the fast food places pay $9/hour and give $250 bonues every payday. Lines are miserable.) Can I mention this guy’s 28, lives at home, is writing a novel and playing poker for money. Fantastic. I love these moments. I also now have a temporary tattoo from the Pussyfooters dancing troupe in the parade.
Tomorrow night I am going to a semi-formal ball w/this great girl at Tulane Law school who is a friend of Kristina’s and Nikki. That should be a blast, I hope. There are more parades over the weekend and then I’m home on Sunday. Can’t wait! This place is nuts, in case I’m not conveying that effectively.
I leave you with this quote from my 25 yr old roommate Rachel from MIT: “I want to get into a fist fight before I leave New Orleans.”