Weekend in New Orleans
I just got back from two days in New Orleans, and this was my third trip to the Big Easy since Katrina. The first two trips were Hornets-related. This was NCAA women’s basketball.
I was in New Orleans in March 2006, then again in November 2006. I didn’t see much difference in the city between those two experiences, but both were vastly different from the city in which I spent nine days around the 2004 Sugar Bowl.
The city in those two 2006 trips seemed a shell of its former self. Downtown was sluggish, the French Quarter stagnant. My favorite place to eat, Mike Anderson’s Seafood, was boarded up. Another New Orleans landmark, the Acme Oyster Bar, closed at 8 p.m. — 8 P.M.! — because of a lack of workers.
Here was how weird the place felt. In March 2006, the night before the game, me, Darnell Mayberry and photographer Nate Billings went to dinner on Bourbon Street, which was mostly empty, and passed a couple of guys walking past us on a mostly-deserted street. I didn’t know who one of the guys was; the other was Kobe Bryant. That’s how lifeless it seemed. Kobe could walk around Bourbon Street and not be noticed.
Seventeen months later, New Orleans has come back. Downtown traffic was a beast on Friday afternoon. Driving down Saint Charles Avenue, through the Garden District on Friday night, was tedious because of all the cars and people. And the Quarter was alive, both on Saturday morning, with a huge line at Cafe Du Monde across from Jackson Square, and Saturday night, on Bourbon Street.
Now, not everything is back to normal. Mike Anderson’s hasn’t reopened and I assume won’t. At dinner Friday night, we waited almost 45 minutes for a table at Pascal’s Manale, but when we were seated, the dining room was littered with empty tables. That’s the sign of a lack of workers, and bringing back the work force has been the biggest issue for New Orleans.
But New Orleans most definitely is rebounding nicely. I went to Mother’s on Saturday morning. It’s a New Orleans institution, in business almost 100 years, and the line was mighty. I went at 9:30 a.m., hoping to get a shrimp po’ boy; alas, they serve only breakfast before 10:30. So I settled for the breakfast special. Two eggs — I had them fried, and they were glorious; fried eggs might be the most underrated food of all time — biscuits with jelly, smoked sausage and grits. I don’t really care for grits. It’s not that I dislike grits, I just don’t see much to them. But I devoured these as a tribute to my dad, who loved grits. I stirred in a load of butter and ate away. As I finished breakfast, I noticed the line at Mother’s had evaporated. When I left, I figured out why. The line had moved outside, with dozens of people waiting on the sidewalk along Poydras Avenue. They were going for the lunch. Hope someone had a shrimp po’ boy for me.
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