Thursday morning. 6:30. I wake up and immediately check to see if the boil order has been lifted. I know it hasn’t been – I’ve been though more than enough boil orders by now to know the drill and the timeline – but I check anyway out of blind, stupid hope.
I take a bath but skip washing my hair because I don’t want potentially contaminated water anywhere near my face. I wash my face and brush my teeth with bottled water.
I get dressed and get my kids up and urge them through their morning ablutions with bottled water.
We leave the house at 7:30 to drive a half-hour to their private school. I drop them off and drive another 45 minutes back to work. I take a longer route to avoid the five speed cameras along the most convenient roads because the cameras always work but the flashers never do, and I don’t have the money in my budget to deal with camera tickets.
At the office, I make coffee with bottled water and pour it into a cup I brought from home, where I have a dishwasher with a sanitize cycle.
I got paid today, so I put money aside for our mortgage payment, which is about 40 percent of our annual income and which is about 30 percent insurance.
I check the neighborhood website and see that there was a carjacking a few blocks away.
And honestly, sometimes I wonder. I wonder what it would be like if I still lived in Missouri, as so many of my friends do.
In the 10 years I lived in Missouri, we didn’t have a single boil order – let alone 12 in seven years.
When you added in taxes and insurance on our three-bedroom house with a working fireplace and a huge backyard, we paid about $550 a month.
The neighborhood wasn’t the best; crime was still drastically lower in that neighborhood than in even the best neighborhoods here.
My kids would have gone to the good public school just a few blocks away, and no one would have had to sleep out on the sidewalk to get them in; they wouldn’t have to take entrance tests and complete spreadsheets on their extracurricular activities just to get into kindergarten.
I love it here. It’s home. But things that were easy enough to excuse or overlook when New Orleans was charmingly decrepit but affordable are harder to swallow as New Orleans remains both charming and decrepit and yet the cost of living skyrockets.
And believe me, I know I’m extraordinarily privileged, even though we struggle. My husband and I have two incomes. We own a home. We are able to send our kids to a good school. We can afford groceries and even the $240 monthly water bill that seems outrageous when the Sewerage & Water Board can neither drain our water nor keep it reliably safe to drink.
But if it’s this hard and frustrating for us, I know it has to be harder and more frustrating by an enormous factor for families without our advantages.
For me, it’s not a question of whether New Orleans is worth it. This is where I grew up and where I live. I’m not romanticizing Mardi Gras or Jazz Fest or casual alcoholism or second-lines; I’m not a transplant. I’m not making some kind of pro-con list in my head. I would never survive another winter in the Midwest, and I’m generally and passionately disinclined to ever even think about moving house ever ever again.
Whether it’s worth it is moot. I’m not going anywhere.
I just want – for me and for everyone else who loves it here – things to be more functional, more affordable, or (can you even imagine?!) both.
I have a bunch of complaints, but at the end of the day, I have no answers.
At least the water’s OK again. For now.