Friday, August 1, 2008

Olympic views from New Orleans

Po Boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
Lost And Found
Hey June…
Boy, the Olympic torch didn’t stand a chance this year. It was a case of ‘Send in the next frothing self-incendiary activist!’ Talk about raining on somebody’s parade! Have you followed this? Harried all the way across Europe and then, get this, flown from Paris to San Francisco, put up in a major hotel with no less than six decoy/replacements and probably sent across the Pacific in a nuclear submarine, disguised as a pregnant geisha with garlic breath. If I was the torch I would have just said “drop me off in New Orleans, I’d rather sip a PBR at Parkway and shake my booty to Kermit!”
Paraskevidkatriaphobia is something you may have to deal with this month; however, Dr. Donald Dossey reports that when you can pronounce the word you will be cured. And I always thought the term was friggatriskaidekophia. Silly me, and by the way, those words are not describing exotic Greek pastries.
Well, optimism abounds (not!) here in the Quarter where the hurricane season kicks off with dire warnings added to an unreliable economic future. The convention arena participants will see their travel insurance double, gas prices will make it financially unreasonable for short trips in and out of the city, and the merchants will be jerked around by the city’s tourist agencies that promise pie in the sky and the next wave of free spending tourists that never show up.
In the face of all that, there are still new businesses that decide to buck the odds and stake a claim as a real French Quarter Shop owner.
As a bookshop co-owner in the thick of it, I can tell you about my neighbor shops that have hung in there, a lot of times working seven days a week for months on end. The Glorias and the Gingers and the Jasons who came back knowing how hard a row it’s been, is and by looks of it, will be to gain traction on the treadmill in the small merchant financial gymnasium.
Anybody looked around the Quarter lately? Shops that didn’t make it back from the storm still shuttered, old businesses that came back leaving for the promise of a better life on Magazine Street or just folding their tents, like the Arabs of old and slipping off in the night. Two small grocery stores gone, the only hardware store considering selling, the shoemaker that never came back, galleries having liquidation sales and restaurants still on partial operating schedules.
With rents either out of control or at least, unreasonable, it’s hard to find a small start up entrepreneur willing to risk their shorts to give it (business) a go. Unless you have a landlord like we do, most of them are unreasonable, illogical and/or immovable on their attitudes and concepts of what is best for the French Quarter. And I can tell you from firsthand knowledge, some are squarely immoral in their business philosophies. But that’s another story.
As far as living in the Quarter goes: the fact is that, with two thousand buildings sharing a mere square mile, it does seems a trifle weird that we have less than four thousand residents; that is, until you look up to see how little use there is being made of properties above shops and how many living spaces have been turned over to condominiums owned by out of state part timers. It’s all fun and games until you look for a real post office, a gas station, baby wipes, auto parts or anything second hand. You go up Magazine for that stuff (or out to the ‘burbs) where the placement of a plant, flag, sign or sandwich board is not taken as much of an issue, there’s adequate street lighting and the parking Nazis aren’t nearly so militant.
Well hope springs eternal, and here comes a newbie named Jen at the freshly opened Lost And Found who has decided to cast her fate, fortune and future to Chartres Street, the kindness of strangers and faith in the uniqueness of her inventory She is joining the ranks of us gamblers of commerce that have staked our claim to the successes of our enterprises. Welcome.
I am a believer in the value of neighborhoods and the worth of likeminded and like suited human enclaves. The areas that America, both corporate and political are trying to have us abandon. I feel warm when a person on the street is someone that I can hail, wave to…and/or hug. I’m a sucker for anyone who knows me by name, face or whatever little reputation that I have left. And so, I play my part as well… I’m real picky as to where I spend my money, where I purchase my gifts, where I eat my meals and who I deal with. Just like you, right?
Face it, the little guy in this country is taking a beating. Our economy is not geared for gifted starry eyed would be up and comers, and certainly not in the French Quarter if in New Orleans at all. Hell, us crusty hard nosers are being tested every day. We applaud newcomers for having faith and the willingness to keep it.
Economically the facts are: rents are through the roof, leases are generally short term, tenants rights are nil. You cannot afford to hire staff that lives locally because the working stiff needs to be able to pay rent (not easy for a ten dollar an hour guy to pay a thousand a month for rent) and with gas prices… well?
Say I was the most talented cook in the world, made my bones in some class joints and was ready to spread my wings and my message; what’s my next move? Not New Orleans. Back in the day it was affordable; I know because I did it--- not once but twice, because I could afford to do what I wanted to and not have to prostitute (yes I said that) my food because the landlord wanted a pound of flesh every month. How many businesses can say that today?
Your assignment this month is to pronounce paraskevidekatriaphobia three times and to pray for an infusion of sanity and a safe hurricane season. There’s no place like home.

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