Yesterday morning, I woke up mad. Cold and mad.
Just the night before, I’d been telling my Yankee friends not to even start with me about the South’s general unpreparedness for winter weather. “We don’t have to deal with this very often, and we don’t have salt trucks, and our roads are not safe right now,” I said defensively.
This is very much like how you can complain about your own mother but will be furious at anyone else who complains about your mother.
I don’t take kindly to other people insulting New Orleans.
And yet. I can’t deny that this city is broken.
I was planning all week to write some kind of New Orleans love story celebrating the fact that this week marks 10 years since I moved back home: a verbal montage of Jazz Fest and jazz funerals and beignets and Carnival and dancing and Monday red beans and swamp tours and sno-balls and joy.
Instead, I woke up in a 59-degree house to a boil order I knew was coming and requests from Entergy to stop running the heat.
It was maybe sort of charming to live in a dysfunctional city when it was cheap to live here. But now, between home prices and basic utilities and private school tuition because the schools are crap, combined with the awful streets and the high crime, I’m pretty frustrated in a way that all the beignets and red beans in the world can’t fix.
I’d already spent the first half of the month comparison shopping for insurance because ours has shot up dramatically (despite making no claims), and there’s nothing that makes you question your decision to live here quite like shopping for insurance.
Except maybe another boil order.
“Why do we live here???” I texted a group of friends. “It’s so expensive and nothing even works!!!”
“This is the conversation Nick and I have at least once a week,” my friend texted back. Her boyfriend lives in Portland, Oregon, and they are constantly trying to figure out where to settle down. “Cost of living is basically the same $$$ between NO and Portland, but Oregon has pristine roads, some of the best-rated tap water in the country, a top-20 public school system AND legal weed. Not to mention functioning hospitals, an outstanding social safety net system, a massive and reliable public transportation system, free and accessible outside recreation. Shall I continue? Basically the only thing we have that they don’t have is Mardi Gras. That’s still a deal breaker for me, but I’d be lying if I said the scales weren’t starting to tip. Portland has a high cost of living but a high living standard to match. New Orleans has a high cost of living and also go f*ck yourself.”
Everyone I talked to yesterday was likewise fed-up. We were cold. We were angry. We just wanted stuff to work. We love our home, but we wish it actually worked.
It’s maddening when the city is named the Best Place to Visit by the New York Times … but you’re not visiting; you’re trying to live here.
But the problem is, you can’t just call New Orleans like it’s your cell phone provider and threaten to move to Portland if they don’t fix stuff. New Orleans is not in a position to offer you a better deal if you don’t cancel your service. New Orleans is doing its best … but also, it’s home.
After five years away, I’m trying my best to get back there,” my friend Lauren, who now lives in Kansas City, wrote. “I long for that beautiful dysfunction every day I’m away and would totally give up a handful of days of no running water to have it again.”
“You say that,” I wrote back, “but the dysfunction is significantly more charming from afar.”
“There is dysfunction everywhere,” she said. “It took KC two months to fix a sewage leak in my backyard because it kept getting tossed to the wrong department. Dysfunction is never charming, but what it does do is reveal who you really are as well as who your friends and neighbors really are and in New Orleans there’s a sense that we’re all in this together. Outside, dysfunction can feel very isolating.”
It made me think. All of my friends had offered me food and company and wine. I’d offered hot showers to my friends without water. Our neighbors fed Ruby takeout Chinese, so we brought them some homemade hot sauce. Everywhere I looked, my friends and neighbors were offering childcare and food and shelter and sharing whatever resources they had.
It’s hard to remember that while I’m brushing my teeth with bottled water … but it’s important to remember all the same.
This is my city. This is home.
And no one better say anything bad about it.