One of the earliest memories I have of my father remains a wrestling match with a Christmas tree, trying to persuade it to stand just so. Come to think of it, that was actually an annual event. Flying nettles, sweaty brows, and errant gruntled pseudo-curses on par with A Christmas Story Darren McGavin battles with the home boiler. Years go by, decades really, a couple of kids get raised, a couple of marriages pass on, and in 2010 the world of medicine gave my pop a terminal diagnosis, only he proved them wrong. He’ll tell you he should be dead, but today he turns 73.
On a sleepy stretch at Loyola and Third in the heart of Central City amid a myriad of churches (some with an active congregation, some not so much), there sits a veritable historic housing preservationist’s dream, a 19th Century relic in what would otherwise appear to might have been a corner grocery or barroom. But not so fast, judges of book by covers! Look closer at the empirical data and ask some of the older area locals, and this hiding-in-plain-sight wood frame structure was by all accounts (or those willing to provide accounts) once upon a time a place unequivocally identified as the neighborhood brothel, dba The Dream Boat Inn.
I brought my kids to the park yesterday. As the temps are getting cooler and it’s a little overcast and drizzly this week, their boundless energy seems more so, and invariably the question arises: “Daddy, can I take my shoes off?” Okay, they’re 2 and 4, and yes, they should be asking “may I,” but no matter how hard you try, such corrective linguistic preferences breeze in and out of tiny ears, especially when all they want is to get toes to ground. I almost always answer “yes.”
As I wrestled over what I might pen this week I read over the transcript from yesterday’s CPC meeting regarding the rezoning request of 4877 Laurel so that it might become realized as a coffeehouse. And when I read the ridiculous decision crafted by the commission, my inner green apron got ruffled. That the CPC voted against a rezoning by 6 to 1 and with very little if any support from attendees on the matter, frankly baffles me. But then we are talking about a government entity in the City of New Orleans; maybe I shouldn’t be surprised? Le sigh.
Landmarks loom in high supply the Crescent City over as the landscape tends to change largely on a glacial pace. Many distinctive structures over decades have transformed from their intended utilitarian to cozy home spaces, mostly commonly seen in the ever rarer still in commerce corner grocery turned primary residence for an owner occupant. At auction tomorrow, if you’ve got the coin to spare, you may bid in what some may call a prime example of notable, public use spaces. Ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you for your consideration: the Jackson Avenue Ferry Landing.
Whether you realize it or not, now – right now – and through Thursday evening at 8 PM, the almost annual Orleans Parish Tax Sale is taking place via CivicSource.com. It’s a big deal for many reasons, but also it can be rather fascinating if you’re a fan of Crescent City dwellings as well as archaic governmental proceedings. Here’s why: you bid down.
It’s the same dollar amount to all bidders, but you bid down percentage of ownership. Therefore conceivably one willing to purchase 1% of any given property’s tax year(s) becomes the de facto winning bidder and cannot be outbid, however they are settling for the smallest possible amount of ownership. Very New Orleans, right?
New Orleans: if you live here, you’re married to it. Along with the betrothed come all the perks of city government with assorted departments therein, and Parks & Parkways, I’m looking at you. This is me, index and middle fingers extended, pointing horizontally into my eyes and singularly redirecting index finger in your general direction, P & P Music Factory. I. Am watching. You. You have 32 weeks to trim the tree across the street from me. Do it before and I’ll give you a gold star and curse less over the amount of property tax I pay annually. Do it a day later than yesterday, I will channel the spirit of Pulp Fiction‘s Sam Jackson’s Jules before he had his religious awakening, and I will figuratively eat your Big Kahuna burger. Why? Because of the time frame you conjured, a turnaround time of supposedly and approximately 7 1/2 months before an issue gains resolution. Only I won’t be saying “This is a tasty burger!”
With the annual replenishment of the Crescent City’s back to school population each August (read: freshmen, grad / med / law students, and transfers), my ears perk up over the newer voices one encounters and how they finesse our local vocab. My audio focal point will forever be the new crop of WTUL deejays who unmistakably take the crown for what I can only describe as interpretive “annunciation.” Between the butchering of street names, there are always the local musicians’ monikers that invariably twist tongues. I mean, is Torkanowsky really that hard to correctly pronounce? Le sigh. Let’s go over a few basics on the rue tip:
PROLOGUE: In 2009 on Freret St at an open house I held, a septuagenarian realtor I can only imagine being more local than local sneered in my general direction as she exited, “Freret’s never coming back.” Then being a believer myself, I felt at once insulted and repulsed, as if she’d purposely urinated on the floor and thought nothing of it. After all, in many ways I came to feel it was her generation that had largely abandoned the city proper, swapping distinctive neighborhoods for blanched strip malls and multi-laned thoroughfares, leaving behind a devil-may-care swath of once vibrant stretches, the very core that the surrounding region’s commerce and population sprang from. Now, in 2013, Freret crowns front pages, but without question there’s still much to be done.
Dave Thomas brought us the drive thru. The late founder of the fast food chain Wendy’s — beyond being the charismatic face of the company up until his death — in the fledgling days of the square-pattied empire devised a way for car-loving Americans across the country to stay put and nosh ever more quickly. (In-N-Out and Jack in the Box might stake earlier claims to the innovation, but find me one of those in the only metro area that matters.) It revolutionized commerce. I can tell you from my days in a green apron, drive thru locations easily produce two to three times the revenue of locations without this 20th century gift. As such, it employs more people and creates a better tax base too. All good things, right? Except when it comes to pollution and traffic congestion, those tick up as well. Faster, reliable and more often: the American way, no? Viagara, anyone?
Okay Louisiana lawmakers, I give up! The pelican state’s recent but maybe not altogether surprising archaic approach to finessing legal uses of handheld devices while driving has me questioning the logic over in Baton Rouge. As of last week, motorists (and presumably bicyclists too) are prohibited from use of social media while operating their vehicles, and while texting under similar circumstances was recently banned, general use of handheld devices and / or the internet remains legal. Whiskey – Tango – Foxtrot elected officials and boo on you. Isn’t this a little like saying you can hold a cigarette while driving but you can’t put it to your lips? Or you can totally hit the drive thru and grab some artery clogging fare, and again hold it in your hand, but don’t eat it!
Tomorrow I’ll make 39. But that’s 24 hours away. Which in New Orleans ain’t the surest of equations. I know statistically warmer weather brings on more criminal activity, but temp wise we’ve had worse summers. Some might say it’s been comparatively cool over seasons past. Some might further say that might even explain away why here we are 2 months into the 2013 hurricane season with a thankfully uneventful record. Some might go on about climate change too, but I digress. As I creep into 40, the goal is to get there. Avoid the pitfalls of the Crescent City diurnal. Which again, doesn’t seem to get easier.
“Sometimes when I’m in the studio streaming ‘OZ, I hear the live wire music line-up for the evening, and I want to hop on my bike and take a ride into the Quarter and see what’s goin’ on,” says Andy Dahl. “I really miss New Orleans, but I’m really enjoying what I’m doing here too so – – -,” he adds. Woven into the fabric of most metropolitan areas are the working class – and often starving – artists. New Orleans possesses its fair share, and in the course of the last year or so, one such soul transplanted to Baltimore. On a recent road trip up east I briefly caught up with Andy and peered into what he’s been up to since having left (hopefully temporarily) the Crescent City.
Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard has been the on-again, off-again comeback kid for a few decades now in the Central City neighborhood of New Orleans. Originally a retail corridor known simply as another leg of Dryades, suburban growth and inner city decay atrophied this dusty avenue wedged between the Lower Garden and the Warehouse districts. In the years I’ve known it, none of the original merchants from yesteryear remain (unlike Freret where the street-namesaked hardware store boasts an unparalleled longevity of operations, over half a century and counting, yes?). But tomorrow another door opens toward the promising future in a not-so-little venture known as Casa Borrega. Here’s a quick Q & A I conducted with the owners via email to bring you up to speed:
“I want a safe neighborhood.” On any given day I must hear this a good dozen times from newbies (and parents of newbies) moving to New Orleans, less so from those that are returning or looking for a change of scenery already calling the city home. And the why is simple I think: if you’ve chosen to reside in the city proper then you likely engage on a level of “This ain’t Mayberry.” Yes, it is a Southern space that affords the stereotypes therein where neighbors and strangers alike trade routine pleasantries, comments on the weather, and the not so stray parallel park assist, but that doesn’t translate to lowering your guard or not following your gut.
Everyone wants a safe neighborhood, but arguably crime happens all over; there isn’t a corner in the Crescent City any one can point to and say ‘Here! It’s totally safe here in the Cemetery District. Unlock your doors, and leave your bike unchained and smart phone unattended.”
As the 2013 close of another JazzFest leaves in its wake a thankfully healthy trail of mud, sweat, and beers I find myself at once indifferent but pleased, however mostly curious with one eyebrow raised just so. You see, if I get to go any given year I generally only have the privilege of going one day, and I’m okay with that. As such I tend to take it all in, looking to maximize my experience, people watching, carving out set times, and noting what, if any, differences from years past. So color me dismayed this season when as I queued to purchase my ticket and then queued again to enter the fairgrounds, the security measures in place from previous fests seemed largely unchanged – or – maybe even exactly the same. Bags searched? Maybe. Strollers examined? Ha! And the coup de gras of all contraband concealers the chair tube: opened? Nary a one. Frankly my fellow New Orleanians in a post Boston Marathon bombing world, this is not okay.
Repeat after me and out loud if you like: the New Orleans rental market is not like other rental markets. And mantra or double down if it helps you: the New Orleans rental market is not like other rental markets. It is only the first week of March, and I wrote about this last April, but it has become my mission to educate the public on this. Since the beginning of the year my phone rings non stop abuzz with anxious returnees and largely clueless university parentals most all not even looking to rent till end of May and maybe August. Ready for some contradictory advice? Relax. But be ready to be ready. Why? Read on:
As the New Orleans metro area rises ever more steadily in popularity in terms of viability and visibility (hello yet another Super Bowl and mostly uneventful Mardi Gras season) as well as the 2012 numbers-driven title of fastest growing American city (somehow when I mention this in passing conversation nowadays a lot of people missed this), integral components to our cultural seasons just might need to be kept in check. In other words, are we nearing a tipping point of over abundant festivals this or any other spring? Or as I’ve come to call it, will we soon experience Fest Fest? And should we? And if we do, are we in danger of becoming a mockery of ourselves? Maybe yes, maybe no.
As recently as this past Monday evening as I walked home from work, I saw an older black couple gutting a house in my neighborhood, some seven-plus years after the events of 2005. No volunteers, no fancy apparatus, no wrecking ball. Just two people, a truck and flatbed, and work gloves, overalls and dust masks, the pungent mold wafting from across the street. Where this house is, it’s unclear if the water came up or the water fell in, as the raised-pier home may or may not have taken flood water, and the roof while appearing to be halfway past its useful 30 year life did not appear to be damaged or compromised. The how is almost moot. Water up, water down, it doesn’t matter (unless you’re dealing with some damned adjuster). Water damaged the home. Whereas the why is more than evident. So many years later some may ask Why now? Why not choose to sell or abandon it all together? This home means something to them, and now in 2013 they’re here, they’re able-bodied, and they’re doing it, seemingly unassisted.
One takeaway should be this: our journey in recovery is far from complete.