At the risk of topical overload, here’s one more post about Jazz Fest, the city’s High Holy Cultural Extravaganza. But this time, I want to talk about something much bigger than the music, much bigger than the food, much bigger than the art.
I want to talk about more basic elements. About property. About possession. About land, propriety, ownership, community, civility, behavior, greed. About the depths and breadths of the human condition. And dibs.
I want to talk about: Parking. And what appears to be a little known but heartily enforced portion of our Constitution, which guarantees one’s inalienable right to a parking space.
What the hell, people? Why is Jazz Fest – which is supposed to be our most joyous shared communal experience, our most cherished and revered cultural tradition – so sullied by our most base and primal instincts of turf protection, exaggerated affront, enhanced dudgeon and bloated opprobrium?
What with music falling from the sky like a nourishing spring rain and the echoes of joy and laughter and circumstance reverberating off the sidewalks and the waft of crawfish boils and smoky grills inundating the olfactory senses – and all the happy loving couples dressed alike in their matching floral peacock beach ensembles – you would think that the world would be in tranquil balance, a harmonic convergence of peace, love, community and karma.
Until you try to park your car.
Then you are pitted against the amassed darker forces of the individual ids and egos of your civic brethren. Move on, pal. NIMFY. It’s Orange Cone Fever. Yellow Tape Fever. The Trash Can Blockades. Tow Truck Brigades.
Trump wants to build a wall? Here’s your wall, Mr. President. Saw horses, lawn furniture and absconded police barricades running the length of the block.
I don’t know if it will keep out “your rapists and your murderers and your very bad people,” but it will keep your 2016 Jeep Cherokee the hell away from my righteously possessed chunk of asphalt, that 12 by 6-foot plane of paradise where I park my car every day, an otherwise unimpeded sliver of earth from which I enjoy unencumbered ingress and egress to my home for the better part of fifty weeks a year.
And then comes Jazz Fest. And, well, for that matter, Voodoo Fest. And Bayou Boogaloo. And Endymion, whose massive and unbridled land grab rivals that of the opening of the Great Plains and the California Gold Rush.
If Woody Guthrie could only see us now. This land is your land? Like hell it is. This land is my land.
If you want to see civility and politesse disappear in the flash of a turn blinker, try and park anywhere within three miles of the Fair Grounds at Jazz Fest and witness the bleakest potential and yearnings of human nature, a landscape bereft of our better angels.
I live close enough to the Fair Grounds that I can hear the music from the Acura and Congo Square stages from my porch. So don’t get me wrong: I love my Mid-City neighbors, the folks here on the Esplanade Ridge and along Bayou St. John.
It’s a great neighborhood. Most every house has some funky piece of art on the porch or in the yard, lots of creative design and floral displays, just the right flourishes to indicate an artsy, educated, eclectic, welcoming vibe.
I often refer to my neighborhood as the Bywater – but with people who have jobs. There is vibrant sidewalk culture, convivial accord, the laughter of children and church bells and a strong sense of community here.
That is, until someone tries to park in front of your house.
Perceived infractions upon the paved outer environs of the Fair Grounds can set even the most benign and gracious of our species into a roiling, boiling fit of seething shame.
Cars are keyed. Tires deflated. Thy Lord’s name taketh in vain.
And for what?
Park somewhere else, jackass!
Hell, I didn’t find out until Sunday that I needed a permit just to access my own street. The street where I live! I told the cop: I live here. How do I get a permit?
She shrugged and waved me passed. Even our men and women in blue know when to stay out of a fight.
It leaves one a head-scratching mess. And leads to a fundamental existential conundrum about this city, a municipal planning puzzle, a residential riddle wrapped in a motorist’s mystery inside an engineering enigma.
It has been explained to me on many occasions (unsatisfactorily) why New Orleans houses don’t have basements or closets.
But why, dear God, why don’t we have driveways?
It’s some kind of test, isn’t it?
If so, we’re failing. At least, this week.