Our flawed, beautiful, broken, wonderful city
Jane Sanders ILLUSTRATION
Why do we live here if the taxes are high but the schools are crap? Why do we live here when crime is so bad I feel scared sometimes just taking the garbage to the curb at night? Why do we live here when an actual headline from the newspaper was: “Four vehicles were moved to avoid flooding; then they were stolen”? Why do we live here when we are holding our breath every year from June to November hoping the hurricane gods pass us by? And why on earth do we live here when the pumps don’t work and the officials lie and the city floods, ruining our property and inconveniencing us all?
I wrote this seven years ago, and it’s still true:
I still remember that night late last year. It was mid-December, the night of New Orleans Magazine’s Best of Dining party at Muriel’s, and the Saints had just eked out a last-minute win against Atlanta, making them 13-0. My friend Vera and I were on top of the world as we drove to the party, and our collective jubilance was only enhanced when we found the perfect parking spot just a block from Jackson Square. She and I breezed into Muriel’s, helped ourselves to glasses of champagne and wandered out onto the balcony. The night was balmy, maybe in the low 60s, and fog was rising up around the banana trees. White Christmas lights were twinkling everywhere.
“Seriously, Vera,” I said, raising my glass. “Why does anyone live anywhere else?”
She shook her head, as mesmerized by the night as I was. “I have no idea,” she said, clinking her glass against mine. “I have no idea.”
Not to take anything away from that night –– it was an amazing night, culminating in live jazz at Fritzel’s at around 1 a.m. –– but yesterday morning, when I went to get in my car after a heavy summer rain and the floor mat squished beneath my feet, I knew why at least some people, practical people, people who don’t like living in a city that’s prone to flooding with pumps and drains that are prone to not functioning, don’t feel a burning desire to live here.
It remains to be seen if my car will have lasting mechanical damage, but I know for a fact that the upholstery is ruined. And instead of my usual pleasant morning routine of iced coffee and e-mail, I spent the morning pulling about 70 pounds of sodden books, toys, clothes and disintegrating Cheetos out of my car and taking it to the shop.
I was briefly bitter about the whole thing. “Why the hell do I live here? This city is such a mess. What a pain in the ass.” And so on. But then, when I was telling my friend in Omaha, Neb., about the situation, she said, “God, how can you stand it there?” And I got mad at her.
I have a beloved but dysfunctionally alcoholic uncle who has, among other things, drunkenly ridden his moped into a satellite dish –– the old-school huge ones –– and gotten his pants cut off in a bar fight. I make fun of Uncle Chippee, as he’s known, all the time. But should anyone outside of the Kidd family say an unkind word about him, I am hugely offended. And it’s much the same way with New Orleans. I hate that the streets flood to the point that my car may be destroyed, but when my sensible Midwestern friends express chagrin over this fact, I get defensive.
“Who cares if the stupid streets flood?” I think to myself. “Clearly they’ve never been here on a gorgeous December night when the fog is rising up around the banana trees in Jackson Square and white Christmas lights are twinkling everywhere and the Saints won’t stop winning football games. Why would anyone ever want to live anywhere else?”
And my love affair with the city begins all over again. Now, seven years later, the problems are more or less the same, but I see the city more as a child than a drunk uncle.
Sometimes it’s inconvenient. Sometimes it’s messy. Sometimes I’m proud of it. Sometimes I’m embarrassed by it.
When the lights went out in the Superdome during Super Bowl XLVII, I felt exactly the same way I did when Ruby forgot a line during the school talent show and froze on stage.
But my kids are what they are. New Orleans is what it is. I can expect better from them when they let me down; I can hold them to higher standards and demand accountability. But I also have to accept certain things that are never going to change. And I’m not about to move any more than I’d disown my kids.
Why do I live here? The answer is honestly not that complex at all. It’s ridiculously simple.
I live here because it’s home.
Excerpted from Eve Crawford Peyton’s blog, Joie d’Eve, which appears each Friday on MyNewOrleans.com