Tuesday, August 28, 2007
Posted by Alan Childress
As the second anniversary of Katrina comes tomorrow, the national media will understandably focus on what has yet to be done. The deficit is a national embarrassment. What they never mention is how much of the city and suburbs is back to "normal," whatever that means for a unique place like New Orleans. The sense that all of the city is a post-war zone scares off prospective residents, students, and business, often unfairly because so many of the places they would inhabit are quite nice. One of our new profs, Elizabeth Townsend-Gard, writes vividly on her blog about her experience in Uptown New Orleans making friends and making groceries. She allowed me to guest-post a response about the forgotten but convenient suburbia where I live, which no one talks about. My point is that if prospective students want a Tulane (or Loyola) experience that is not about rebuilding, they can find that too. Here I reprint my post with hopes that people will recognize that Katrina fatigue in some parts of the metro area should not scare away anyone who otherwise finds their opportunity to exist here.
New Orleans Also Can Be Boring Like Suburban Virginia
I asked Elizabeth to let me guest-post on her blog this different take on New Orleans culture and community. I am a prof, since 1988, at Tulane. I don’t disagree with Elizabeth’s view of the charm and sense of neighborhood she is experiencing in uptown New Orleans. But it is not the community I know and love. Instead, I live in a suburb 10-15 minutes away from school that looks a lot like the familiar generics of my youth in Indiana, Ohio, and Mississippi, or even my grown-up days outside San Francisco and, last year when I taught at GW, near DC. That’s right: I am dull. I like my neighborhood to be equally dull. Hell, I don’t even know the name of the neighbor to the right of me. She seems nice enough, but she never calls me darlin’. (Marge, aged 91 and to the other right, does in fact call me that, but she also once climbed my fence to chop down my somehow-offending banana plant.)
Elizabeth’s sense of neighborhood is all well and good, and certainly available for students and others interested in Tulane or Loyola. Yet I wanted to say that the few of us who prefer a place that feels like our unadventurous youth in the Burbs will find a familiar home in or near New Orleans, too, if that is what they want. We have cookie cutter malls (that literally cut cookies) and Applebee’s, a Wal-Mart and 20-screen theatre (well, it serves dacquiris), Laser Tag and Chuck E Cheese. A bowling alley down the street has no rock band playing live, unlike the one in Mid-city. Plenty of students and a few profs find their sweet spot to be a quick drive out here at the end of the Earhart Expressway.
I have lived out in the boonies in apartments with big pools and houses with big backyards. I like the fact that it is well above sea level (as is, BTW, Tulane Law School and areas nearby); our area came back three weeks after Katrina and quickly returned, fortunately or FWIW, to normal. (Well, the Taco Bell became a Starbucks.) If anyone wants to avoid charm and uniqueness in their Tulane existence, I assure them that boring is available too.
Truth be told, my community has a great local restaurant called Zea’s and a sushi joint that allow me to avoid Applebee’s when the mood strikes. And the two-century-old oak tree shading my backyard is as big and charming as anything in Audubon Park. But the charm is largely accidental: Zea’s was built out of a Toddle House, and the realtor first showed me a house with a large magnolia tree -- but then assured me the owners could have it chopped down for me (perhaps borrowing Marge’s machete). My little Burb produced Ellen DeGeneres and David Vitter. Plus I admit my kids went uptown for part of their education -- great schooling at St. George’s (where Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt send some of their kids) and Newcomb Nursery (a worldclass preschool) before high school in Metairie -- so I am not unmindful of the strengths of the community Elizabeth has joined. I just wanted to say that all sorts of ways of life are welcome in Greater New Orleans. Even the predictable one I know best.
Welcome to New Orleans, Elizabeth! Sorry about the Chuck E Cheese.