Eve: One thing that New Orleans and Columbia, Mo., have in common is a very high turnover rate. People are always moving in and moving out and moving on. The big difference is that when people leave Columbia, they generally don’t come back.
Oh, sure, I miss Shakespeare’s Pizza and the laidback vibe of Ninth Street in the summer and the simplicity of a town that only had four escalators – but I have no real burning desire to live there again. New Orleans, on the other hand, I missed like a family member.
When my friends in Columbia moved, I thought, “I sure am going to miss them.”
When my friends in New Orleans move, I think, “I sure am going to miss them until they move back.”
And so it is with great sadness – but utter confidence that she’ll be back – that I announce the departure of Jordan DeFrank, who took over as Web editor in February. Jordan has taken her dream job at Disney’s FamilyFun magazine, and I wish her the best, but I sure am going to miss her until she moves back.
And it is with great joy – and utter satisfaction that I was absolutely right that he wouldn’t be able to stay away from New Orleans – that I announce the return of Alex Gecan, our former intern, who has a brand-new master’s degree from the prestigious Columbia University but left the Big Apple for the Big Easy and is taking over where Jordan left off.
I will go ahead and let Alex introduce himself to you all. Alex?
Alex: Hi there.
I’m going to chalk this up to random chance, but I’m writing this two years – to the day – after I moved away. Well, the last time I moved away. I’ve been trying to leave New Orleans since 2003. Finally, this spring, I decided to stop fighting the current. And here I am. Fortunately, I don’t look quite as goofy anymore as I did in that photo to which Eve was…er…kind enough to provide the link.
And it wasn’t the job that made me want to come back. It made it possible to come back, sure. And I owe Errol Laborde a huge debt of gratitude for riding out six weeks shorthanded before I could take Jordan’s spot. But I was checking out sublets on Craigslist long before I even knew Jordan was leaving (or trying to leave—we’ll see what happens).
It wasn’t even the fact that I was sick of Manhattan and the doe-eyed sycophancy with which many New Yorkers revere the Big Apple—although that was definitely a compelling factor. In fact, I quite miss the colleagues and classmates I came to know in New Jersey and New York during this last tour, even if I don’t miss pizzerias with the deliberately misspelled name “Muzzerella” or imaginary neighborhoods like “Manhattan Valley.”
To be honest, it wasn’t even New Orleans’ singular character that brought me back – at least not in the sense that most people think. I think we all know what makes New Orleans great, because there is so very much of it.
When you think about it, and even when you don’t, New Orleans is a remarkably inconvenient place to live—lying between bodies of water, flat as a pancake and right in the way of a massive river (as Errol wrote recently, down the river we would have gone but for the providence of the Bonnet Carre Spillway). It’s hotter than hell and twice as humid in the summer and oh, yeah, every so often we have a hurricane. It’s hard to get here and once you do, it’s even harder to get out. It’s a baffling land where the West Bank lies to the east, Uptown to the west and don’t even get me started on central city versus Mid City.
In point of fact, New Orleans – at least, up until recently – reminded me a great deal of the cities around which I grew up. Camden, Trenton, even Newark to some extent – former port or industrial cities that slowly but inexorably fell into decay and abandonment. But unlike the cities of New Jersey, New Orleans was able to ride the momentum of character and reputation, even if those had begun to wear thin by August in 2005.
But in the last five years, it seems as though people have finally remembered that We’re Still Here. We’ve seen a massive influx of new bodies and businesses and we’ve thrown (a few of) the worst bums out of office. Oh, and there are now two triathlons held in town – IronMan 70.3 New Orleans and the 5150 New Orleans Olympic-distance race. As a once-and-future tri-jack, this is very good news, indeed – even if this year’s 70.3 had to go without the swim leg on account of wind.
Anyway, I’m rambling. While I was up north, three memories of New Orleans kept popping up uninvited. The first was of my first night here. I was 17, my father had just dropped me off for college and I became so…exuberant that night that I lost my phone. Whoever found it started dialing recent numbers, and woke my dad up in his hotel at 3 a.m. Having dealt with my shenanigans for almost two decades already, he figured I could sort myself out and, since he was already awake anyway, he started driving back to New Jersey. (I eventually recovered the phone and called him to let him know I was fine.)
The second was of standing in Audubon Park in October 2005. The grass had grown over my knees and the air was deathly silent—no kids, no dogs, no drunken students, no kickball or runners or cyclists. Maybe it was a side effect of having lived in five states in two months and my brain running on energy-saving mode, but what really bothered me about the whole tableau was that I had never wondered who cut the grass in the first place, and it seemed like a terrible oversight that I had never properly thanked the park’s groundskeepers for the years of their work that I had enjoyed.
Finally, I thought about the last time I had left, about how uncertain I had been. I had never bought into the saying “Wherever you go, there you are.” I had a very close friend at the time (and still do, although she lives and works in South America now) who was leaving town at the same time that I was. We spent our last four weeks here more or less in constant company. It’s not necessarily those four weeks that dominate my recollection so much as how Naomi described New Orleans the day I saw her off. To her, New Orleans has always been an orgy of “beautiful decay.”
Maybe it was that truth that brought me back. Things fall apart. They can’t help it—nothing lasts forever. But even in this hopelessly improbable, stubbornly inconvenient city, it seems as though things never fall apart completely. While I was up north, I would stare at the towering brick-and-mortar buildings, capped in green-rusted copper and wonder why anyone would choose to build something at once insanely unoriginal and also vanishingly superficial. But New Orleans always seemed to age by design rather than by default, as though it had been built to grow older and older, enjoying the life it is given instead of worrying needlessly about when it might end.