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Spoken by Blanche Dubois, as written by Tennessee Williams, came this classic line in “Streetcar Named Desire:”
“Don't you just love those long rainy afternoons in New Orleans when an hour isn't just an hour - but a little piece of eternity dropped into your hands - and who knows what to do with it?”
This blog is being written on a long hot afternoon in New Orleans when an hour isn’t just an hour but another uptick in the temperature.
Rain, at the moment, seems like a distant memory though the absence of it brings to mind how important it has been in the city’s history.
Irma Thomas’ equivalent of Tennessee Williams was song writer genius Allen Toussaint. In composing the New Orleans R&B classic, “It’s Raining,” he gave Thomas these words in 1961 when, according to Toussaint, the two were working on a song together at Toussaint’s parents’ house when it began to rain:
It's raining so hard
It looks like it's gonna rain all night
And this is the time I'd love to be holding you tight
But I guess I'll have to accept the fact that you are not here
I wish tonight would hurry up and end, my dear
Perhaps it was the fear of rain lasting all night, and not just an inning, that gave rise to an outdoor sports innovation, the rain check, that was devised in New Orleans to encourage fans to go to the ballpark despite the ominous skies. It was Abner Powell, a manager of the minor league baseball team the New Orleans Pelicans, who developed the idea of adding a perforated stub to game tickets. That way fans would be assured that if the game was halted by rain, they could tear off the stub to gain free entry for a future game.
Ultimately, the phrase, nurtured by New Orleans rain, became part of everyday language beyond sports as a way of opting out of a situation such as:
Q: Would you like to attend a lecture on existentialism?
A: Thank you, but I will take a rain check on it.
(Interestingly, New Orleans would be one of the early cities to create a domed stadium where a rain check would never be needed.)
On May 3, 1978, 10 inches of rain fell on the city. On the day before, Dutch Morial had been inaugurated as mayor. On his second day in office his city flooded, not because of a broken levee but because of an overburdened sky. There was more rain than the city's drainage system could handle.
Still remembered to this day as “The May 3 Flood,” the crisis triggered prolonged discussion about the inadequacy of the city’s drainage infrastructure. Over the next few years much of the city’s underground plumbing had to be redone despite the marvel of New Orleans’ ingenious system of pumping stations. Designed by engineer Baldwin Wood, the stations are seen around town with their pumps anchored into drainage canals. Other flood-prone cities have studied what New Orleans has done. Still ahead, would be Hurricane Katrina and a torturous lesson about levee breaks.
In 1984, the theme of the New Orleans Word’s Fair was "The World of Rivers: Fresh Water as a Source of Life." An exhibit by the Preservation Research Center was about RAIN, itself a source of fresh water and life.
In the summer of 2023, we have yearned for rain to drive the temperature down perhaps into the the low 90s. As for experiencing more days with the temperature hovering into the 100s, I will take a raincheck on it.
Have something to add to this story, or want to send a comment to Errol? Email him at email@example.com. Note: All responses are subject to being published, as edited, in this article. Please include your name and location.
SOMETHING NEW: Listen to “Louisiana Insider,” a weekly podcast covering the people, places and culture of the state. LouisianaLife.com/LouisianaInsider, Apple Podcasts or Audible/Amazon Music.
BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s books, “New Orleans: The First 300 Years” and “Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival” (Pelican Publishing Company, 2017 and 2013), are available at local bookstores and at book websites.
WATCH INFORMED SOURCES, FRIDAYS AT 7 P.M., REPEATED AT 9:30 A.M. SUNDAYS.WYES-TV, CH. 12.