Sad but true: consistently blight attracts campaign signs. Why? Free and unregulated use of space. That’s why. If a property owner doesn’t care enough about the blight, then they surely won’t care if a campaign sign (or six!) get placed on it, right? Yuck. That’s wrong and disgusting. Aren’t our elected officials supposed to give a damn about blight!? Not adorn it to their own ends. Doesn’t this speak volumes about who we are electing, voting for, and expecting to enforce law? Or is The City that Care Forgot ultimately and only that? I’d like to think not. I’m guessing you’d like to think not also. I’d like to believe there’s some level of enforcement out there that punishes the offending. What about the Alliance for Good Government? Perhaps they only endorse candidates.
Graffiti. Street art. Tags. New Orleans has a graffiti culture, a well-documented and healthy one at that — which should come to the surprise of exactly no one with our moniker of ”The City That Care Forgot.” Webster’s says use of the word graffiti came into play in the early 60s and is Italian in origin. Um, okay, I can see that. Mostly we may define graffiti as “inscriptions, slogans, drawings, etc. scratched, scribbled, or drawn, often crudely, on a wall or other public surface.” But is it that easy? Isn’t calling something graffiti today a little like reclassifying a behavior exhibited from the dawn of time? Cave drawings. Wall art. Images telling us a story. Legally, illegally, or otherwise.
New Orleanians possess a presence that in my experience remains unparalleled, and we know our neighbors no matter what. By this I mean we all participate in the characterization of the city, and we do so seemingly effortlessly. Whether you’re John Goodman, John Georges, or John Fitzgerald. You live here. We know who you are and to a degree we don’t care. This remains one of the reasons the celebrity set can be drawn to the Crescent City. Anonymity in the light of day. We don’t care if you throw Super Bowl touchdown passes, win Grammys, or sautee garlic. It’s all the same, and you put your pants on one leg at a time like everybody else.
For years in my early days of slinging coffee at PJs on Maple I used to wait on this super nice guy. He came in generally in the late afternoon / early evenings and always ordered a cappucino. He was tall and real lean, salt and pepper hair usually kept under a beret or similar chapeau, and always a smile and a greeting. But I didn’t know his name or what he did. And it went on like this literally for years. One day, a co-worker said to me “You know who that is, right?” I didn’t. It didn’t matter really. “Charles Neville,” he said. “Oh. (pause) Oh! (pause) Oh, okay. Well,” I thought, “he’s a cool guy.” And good for him. He’s Charles Neville without being “Charles Neville.”
Years later after Katrina I moved to a new neighborhood, and I met another noteworthy saxophonist in my new neighbor, though like Charles, at the time I had no idea who he was or what he did. Initially Steve and I met while my wife and I began renovating the house next door. He and his wife Sharon were just as welcoming and warm as could be. And the more we got to know them, their presence became so ordinary and familiar, you could almost take it for granted. I knew Steve was a saxophonist, but I didn’t know much more than that. At home sporting a Monster Magnet tee or overalls or both and usually in Crocs, Steve comes across fairly unassuming, despite any distinctive eyeware or his wildish white mane a la Doc Brown.
So I began to wonder. I know those in his industry know Steve, but do his neighbors, neighborhood, and city on the whole? Maybe. Maybe not. But here’s a little insight into “the man in the purple house” next to me, a man my girls know simply as “Mr. Steve.”
It’s no secret. As the summer creeps to a close in the Crescent City, your favorite place to sidle up for a meal may well be closed for a substantial amount of time. Like weeks. Like from now til after Labor Day. Like a sign is posted on the door along the lines of we-know-you’re-hungry-but-try-our-friends-around-the-corner. Ugh. Really? Everyone needs a vacation though, right? And historically the remaining summer weeks can be so quiet. ”How quiet?” you ask. So quiet it’s less expensive for the establishment to close than to stay open. Business sense. But that was the old school, pre-K, if you will. There’s a whole new school that may or may not subscribe to the wisdom of the ages. But then the population of the city isn’t today what it has always been.
Slowly, craft beer has carved out a noticeable niche in an industry once dominated by “big box” beer: the Bud, Miller and Coors that for the longest time ran the beer game. Then came a shift. Like all industries, there’s an evolution that must take place, a course that is followed whereby ideas are born, tried, and either die away or begin to thrive. It’s the evolution of business. Successful, stable businesses really only remain successful and stable for so long, until competition forces their improvement or sounds their death knell. (OK, maybe it isn’t that dramatic.)
So it went with beer. Locally, over 20 years ago Abita Brewing tested the waters of craft, and look where they are today. Other communities around the country have similar stories. Today, craft is just hitting its stride, with new breweries popping up in an unprecedented fashion. From a beer lover’s point of view, it’s nothing short of amazing. Locally, in the last few years we’ve seen the rise of Lazy Magnolia, Heiner Brau, NOLA, Bayou Teche, and Covington brews. The latest is Tin Roof. Maybe you’ve heard of it. And if you haven’t, now you will.
You know when you’re at a party and someone is telling a story, and you think to yourself, “That can’t be real. I mean, really, what they’re saying just can’t be true. Fiction. Fiction, I tell you. It’s gotta be fiction.” At a recent gathering I was half listening to a story about City Hall and “bumping” and these same thoughts clouded my head. Based purely upon seniority, city workers can take someone else’s job when the senior party’s present position becomes eliminated. OMG and LOL, what a funny story! That’s a good one! Hooo, you had me. I mean, you got me. Ahhhhhh. (Wipe a tear from eye). Only it’s true. (Pause). Wait. What? It’s true!? WTF? Really!? Though it reads like something out of Rocky & Bullwinkle, the bump is on the real.
As this 4th of July fast approaches I am reminded of many things apart from celebrating our independence, and they mostly have to do with gunpowder, matches, gasoline and other accelerants. As a boy fireworks were, of course, fascinating. Living in the city limits we would sometimes feel brazen enough to set off a few firecrackers at odd hours but never a full-on display. Plus, your stash was something you coveted. Were you really going to blow up all your M-80s in one go? No way! As such, we’d often find ourselves pulled over to the side of a farm road overlooking a ditch or some other waterway just, well, blowing things up. One such evening, as the sun had just slipped over the horizon, I was with my brother and his friends, and something ’bout the moon wasn’t right. Nonetheless someone cranked up Van Halen’s “Running with the Devil” and an array of explosions ensued. We all walked away with all digits intact, that day. But this one time…
I took my first honest to goodness road trip shortly after my high school graduation. Growing up in small town Texas hitting Houston or New Orleans even was no great distance. So the summer of ’92 myself and three others made a trek to Colorado, specifically to mysterious, mountainous, and possibly snowy Breckenridge. In my house we never really went on a vacation. Houston and New Orleans were the vacation. Some times Crystal Beach. I had never had the opportunity to head west or north of Texas so to me then this was a big deal — and something that was only going to happen if I made it happen.
I love coffee. No really, I love coffee. Proof: I happily worked in cafes for over a decade before finally retiring my green apron. Okay, they asked me to leave. No really, they did. But, another story for another time. Back to coffee. Good coffee. Where to get it. How to brew it. But when you’re away from your environs as summer months tend to bend our routines, what do you do? Pray to Kaldi wherever you are traveling there’s a halfway decent cafe? Or maybe you’re a full on coffee geek (like me) and you travel with your coffeemaker? See, as much as I love Kaldi, I’ve traveled enough to know that praying and gambling on a decent cup of coffee is a hope and a bet you’ll almost certainly lose every time. So beat the odds, and travel prepared. This is your morning cup of coffee we’re talking about here. Some things are sacred, and to me, this is one of them.
As my thoughts are wont to do, the other day my mind started musing, this time on bikes, and I began to wonder “When was the bicycle invented?” A Google search later, low and behold, turns out the pedals and cranks were first fabbed in 1861 by Ernest Michaux making this year, 2011, their sesquicentennial. Soooo, happy birthday (modern) bicycle! You’re 150 years young! Somehow I thought you would be older than that, because really you are. Dating back to Da Vinci, but then maybe not. Who can say? Nonetheless I hope Smucker’s and Willard Scott give you mad props on the Today Show real soon!
I don’t have cable, but if I did, I’d have HBO. And if I had HBO I’d watch Treme. No questions. What I do have is 4 kids and a subscription to Netflix. The former keep me pretty busy, and the latter keeps them pretty busy. And until we get some streaming action from any Treme episode a la Netflix I’ll remain somewhat informed of what’s what on Treme per the awesome and some might say over-the-top Monday-morning analysis of the previous evening’s episode on nola.com. I mean, have you read this? It’s like a molecular breakdown of every facet of those few minutes, from who recorded what song and why it was playing to why so-and-so said such-and-such. It’s a little over the top for my taste but allows me to live vicariously through it so I may almost experience each episode. And from everything I’ve read, not just on nola.com, my latest epiphany is this: because Kermit Ruffins is the only character to play himself, Treme is a nice reflection of post-Katrina New Orleans, but it’s moreso the writer’s version of events, not always wholly a true retelling of actual events. Kind of like Tom Petty in The Postman. Tom Petty actually played himself in Kevin Costner’s 1997 forgettable and so-so pseudo-futuristic tale. And Kermit, well, he’s the only cast member to do likewise thereby bending the allowable laws of storytelling. Wouldn’t you want everyone to play themselves? Or not at all? Having one “as himself” changes the whole dynamic. Steve Zahn is Steve Zahn. But he plays Davis Rogan. I mean if Davis played himself – and he could – wouldn’t the dynamic of the show be closer to what’s really real?
Tonight in New Orleans, two American iconic alternative bands will each play an album from their catalogue, back to back, and in its entirety. Camper Van Beethoven’s Key Lime Pie and Cracker’s Kerosene Hat shall shake the walls of Tipitina’s and provide an experience maybe no one might expect. It being 2011, not 1989 or 1993 respectively, it’s fair to ask “Why?” Recently I swapped emails with Cracker’s guitarist Johnny Hickman, and here’s what he had to say:
Ready or not, Kid Rock will open for The Nevilles as Jazz Fest draws to a close this coming Sunday. That’s right: Kid. Rock. And The Nevilles. Odd pairing? Unlikely bedfellows? Don’t be so quick to judge. On the surface, yes, this line-up would seem misguided or ill-conceived, like if Faith No More were to open for The Temptations. I don’t know; I’d go see that. And I may just go see Kid Rock too. Despite the headline, I’m actually not anti-Kid Rock. And no, he shouldn’t die, but should he play Jazz Fest?
Jazz. Fest. By themselves, these two words evoke generally positive elements within one’s frame of mind. But put them together and cataclysmic forces rip open a wormhole of decades of performances and experiences that run the gamut from the mundane to the sublime. Festival season crowns each April in Southeast Louisiana, and Jazz Fest reigns the highest of holidays in this vein.
In the marketplace and on the whole, Americans have too many choices. But, thankfully, when selecting housing, it usually comes down to two: buying or renting. You can only crash on a friend’s couch or play house for so long before an expectation of contribution surfaces, whether via rent or mortgage payment. And this time of year many are renewing their leases, but some are seeking new digs. Others are looking to invest in their future and buy their first home or maybe an income-producing multi. So what do you do? The real question is, “What headache do you want?”
I ride my bike. A lot. I always have. When I was kid I used to ride all over Beaumont, Texas, the towniest of towns. I collected comics then, and there were few places that offered the medium. I’d hit Parkdale Mall, or I’d venture out to mom and pop shops like Mike’s Coins & Books in old town. Between there, the mall bookstores and Jack’s Pak-It I fed my comics craving well enough, and years later we finally got an honest-to-goodness comics shop, Comics Kingdom. But as a kid we never conceived of the monolithic book emporiums that now litter America’s landscape. And litter in the literal sense. Some are closing. With more to follow. Big, big boxed behemoths once bustling with beaming readers, now lay in wait for the next highest and best use of the space.
Two weeks ago I wrote on the etiquette of tipping and festivals, and it lit a few fires. Apart from festivals I have an ongoing “discussion” with a friend about whether one should tip at a cafe. Mojo’s, Rue, Starbucks, PJ’s, or CC’s, wherever you secure your crank: do you tip? And if so, how much? And if not, why not? My friend does not, and here’s why: most if not all cafes already pay their servers minimum wage or higher, while restaurant waitstaffs and bartenders still make considerably less per hour. That’s her rationale. She gives at the white linen table cloth but not to the green apron. “It doesn’t make sense to tip at a coffee shop,” she says. But I disagree. Why? Because it (almost) evens out, that’s why. It does make sense.
If you know anything about New Orleans in its post-Katrina journey you should at least have heard something – or some things – about Freret Street. Good or bad. Beyond bisecting the city from north and south as a fairly well-traveled thoroughfare, it’s been in the press for various reasons, too. There’s blight, but new businesses keep popping up. Shootings happen on occasion. Monthly there’s a market. And on. But what you might not know is that starting this Friday night, April 1st, a veritable Freret extravaganza is set to unfold over 24 hours of relatively epic proportions. No, this isn’t some sort of April Fool’s prank. It’s all a part of the engine that has been pushing this “little corridor that could” from relative obscurity to well, to quote Beck, “where it’s at.” And it starts with a delightful evening of (wait for it) – - – boxing.