Po Boy Views
Ten years On
Alright, we all know that the Big One was a decade ago, ten long years ago. We all know, that we who came back willingly and without hesitation, have reservations as to what and how much of a recovery we have been privy to. Sure, it looks good along the main streets and, it isn’t a lot of visitors that venture further than main thoroughfares. So, to the outside view, we’re doing pretty darn good. Even to the casual observer, we’re doing okay; there’s construction, there’s building, traffic is backed up on major streets and new shopping outlets are opening almost daily. But, that’s rat’s ass to the average Joe that used to call this “The Big Easy” because it was easy to make it here.
In reality what I see, and this may be a biased opinion, is that we have made it easier for those of the more comfortable set to get goods and services and for those of lesser means to get shunned and/or priced out. It’s almost as if there is still a “Whites Only Entrance” to aspects of town and I’m not talking racial exclusion, I’m talking economic profiles that exist and that are being put into a permanent placement in the NEW New Orleans. In many cases those newly arrived are as far out of the loop concerning our funk and flavor as Liza Minnelli would be at a Big Freedia twerk party.
The Treme hood is beyond racially mixed; Treme is simply no longer an African-American enclave. Corner groceries and shops are now new housing for the upwardly mobile and properties are being renovated (displacing long time residents) and upgraded out of financial reach of the average working stiff.
Let’s take a case in point and build on it exponentially, shall we? A hundred years ago in the French Quarter there were fifty ‘grocery’ stores, not convenience stores, grocery stores, The French Quarter now has less than a handful. There were also hardware stores, pharmacies, washaterias, gas stations, shoe repair and ‘fix it’ shops and that type of Mom and Pop enterprise concentration went for other neighborhoods as well.
Fifty years ago the French Market was a fresh vegetable, fruit and seafood Mecca with shops lining the streets from Jackson Square to the old Mint. Twenty years ago working stiffs could afford to live, frolic and mingle in the Quarter, rubbing elbows in restaurants, bars and art openings with politians and socialites. Now folks that don’t make better bucks are being economically excluded from the very places that the well heeled now exclusively enjoy. Local manufacturing is a thing of the past as well as the jobs that they entailed and the class structure of citizens that they created. Progress has proliferated New Orleans with hip eateries, box stores, mini malls and blighted properties.
This is not a rant, and I’m not just blowing smoke; I live and breathe New Orleans, I make and spend my money locally. On my days off I tramp the city with my camera shooting snaps of our failures and successes. Without exception, daily, I am confronted by places that I cannot afford to frequent and I feel a solidarity with people I meet who can no longer enjoy, on a regular basis, that funk, sass and feeling that made New Orleans the go-to place for the rest of the world to play in. Meet the Jones’ that are one paycheck away from under the overpass.
Wait. Wait. I correct myself; this IS a rant. I’ve got one on a number of things: education, gun control, human/personal rights, man’s inhumanity toward man, you name it. This is my New New Orleans one.
One gets weary, putting on the ‘Happy Face’ for visitors that say “Oh, New Orleans sure has come back, hasn’t it?’ or “Things are lookin’ pretty good here, aint they?” One wants to scream: “Go ten minutes from City Hall and see in the pure and abject poverty, the working class that just cooked your friggin’ breakfast omelet and washed your hotel bed linen and watch them argue with their kids about what a noble effort they’re making and the advantage of getting educated while little Johnny retorts with the economic fact that he can make more money on the street than they do, combined, working for ‘The Man’.”
One gets weary of watching civic improvements that are being made for the ‘haves’ while the ‘have-nots’ scramble for change for the bus. Or listen to another congressperson rail about the ‘Obamanation’ of the Affordable Health Care Act when it is they that have been able to ‘afford’ health care all along while your health care plan has been simply not to get sick! And politicians that kill bills that would give equal pay to women or allow former students to refinance their loans at a lower rate. One do get weary.
Okay, so ten years on not all that much has changed and that’s the rub; the common person is still common, the rich get rich, the poor have children and we all pray for a decent landlord and competitive grocery prices. One do get weary, because one did expect just a little bit more.