How to Survive a New Orleans Summer

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Summer in New Orleans is a legendary affair. The heat is always intense, and the humidity is nothing short of unbelievable. Tourists know the drill and avoid the city for more appropriate environs like the beach, the lake, or anywhere up north. Plenty of mom-and-pop businesses in the city shut down and take a months long siesta. But some of us are stuck here, and we have to make the best of the card we are dealt.

Here are my tips for getting through a brutal New Orleans summer.

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Pimm’s Cup at the Kingfish Bar

Find Water

Some in the city are fortunate enough to have the time and resources to make it out to the Alabama and Florida panhandles for some quality time on the “Redneck Riviera.” Despite the tongue-in-cheek nickname, this stretch of beaches on the Gulf of Mexico is incredibly beautiful with sugar white sand and emerald green water. It flies under the radar to most Americans, but it is a destination worth experiencing.

For anyone without several days and a few hundred dollars to spare, Bay St. Louis and Waveland Mississippi have the same white sand, albeit with muddier water. Also, Bay St. Louis is the definition of quaint southern coastal town, and it’s less than a 1-hr drive from New Orleans.

If you are feeling a little more adventurous, there is great river tubing on the Bogue Chitto River, canoe trips go down the Wolfe River in Mississippi, and there are dozens of hotels in the city with great rooftop pools. I have heard of some people sneaking into said pools, but I have absolutely zero experience with such tomfoolery.

Find a Beverage

Find a cold beverage specifically. Daquiris are definitely the most ubiquitous chilly drinks in the city. If you are feeling up for one, I recommend skipping the standard sugary concoctions and heading to New Orleans East to the Daquiri Chef. Made with real frozen fruit instead of the high fructose corn syrup with food coloring you see at most places.

If you want to go a little more high end, I suggest grabbing a Pimm’s Cup at Kingfish or the ever changing Daily Punch at Cane & Table. If you must go the more traditional daquiri route, I prefer the drive through line at Daquiris & Creams in Bucktown.

Find an Air Conditioner

Seriously, though. After about 7:30 am in the summer, the heat becomes pretty oppressive. The only respite you will have in the city is to get indoors and let the modern magic of forced air and freon put their gris-gris on you. Watch your Entergy bill trickle upwards as you do your best to keep your core temperature below heat stroke levels.

 

Mayor Landrieu’s Proposed Budget

City of New Orleans from above

City of New Orleans from above

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu today released his budget proposal for the 2016 fiscal year. While this budget is not final, pending approval by the City Council, it generally lays out his vision of the priorities for the city. Here are my key takeaways.

NOPD

The lack of a police presence around the city is easily one of the biggest complaints against the city government. An understaffed police department means response times are embarrassingly abysmal; the recent Uptown restaurant heists saw the cops show up 10-hours and 8-hours after the crime. And from personal experience, sometimes the police simply never show up at all when you call.

With this budget, the mayor proposes a 15% pay increase for the NOPD and the hiring of more officers.  Crime is arguably one of the biggest problems preventing growth, and New Orleans police are paid less than the suburbs with worse working conditions. Hopefully these funds will help alleviate some of those problems.

Road Improvements

While everyone in the city agrees that the roads need to be fixed, I’m not so sure about this budget’s method for doing so. Here, Landrieu wants to sell off $100-milllion in bonds to pay for roadworks, effectively grabbing some easy money now while kicking the can down the road that will have to be covered by later administrations. The city recently put out a $65-million bond sale, bringing the city’s total debt up to a sizeable $549-million. Paying off this city debt will always fall on homeowner’s and our property tax payments, which are already among the highest in the state.

Programs for Lower Income Residents

Landrieu put forth two big changes to help lower income residents – 1) $1.2-million to both study how to connect minority job seekers with work and connect them with small businesses looking for workers, and 2) $17-million for low-income housing including a new $1.5-million homeless shelter. On a basic level, much of the city’s future depends on how our growth will trickle down to people of all incomes, education levels, and races.

The current post-Katrina economic boom in New Orleans is being enjoyed almost exclusively by white middle and upper class residents. If the city is going to make the transition from troublesome mid-size city with charm into a regional powerhouse like Atlanta, Houston, or recently Nashville, we will need to do a much better job of making sure that our rising tide does indeed lift all boats. Poverty and inequality breed crime, lower quality of life, and high government costs, all of which are felt by everyone across the economic spectrum. Personally, I would like to see the government better prioritize education/job training and some sort of initiative to bring in more blue-collar labor work into the city.

As a whole, New Orleans continues to make smart moves in the right direction to take our city into the future. And for all the complaints against Landrieu and his administration, I absolutely believe that he has been the city’s best mayor for decades and understands how to help New Orleans grow into a better, stronger, and more complete city.

Uptown Under Seige

via Flikr user Roger Smith

via Flikr user Roger Smith

Uptown Bars and Restaurants Under Seige

First, masked gunmen robbed Patois, then Atchafalaya, and now Monkey Hill. Police are “investigating,” but do not seem to have any clear leads and no arrests have been made. Now, the New Orleans crime blotter is essentially always stuck in an infinite loop, so these robberies should be of no surprise. But this particular crime spree is notable because the perpetrators are brazen in their choice of mostly posh high-end establishments filled with patrons during the opening hours. If the NOPD had any semblance of quick response times, these criminals would likely have been caught by now. They are still on the loose, and we are all left wondering which Uptown business will be hit next, will criminals ever have any real difficulties in this city, and where is the response from City Hall to address our underfunded and understaffed police force?

Gleason Gras This Weekend

The Gleason Gras music lineup has been released, and the weather forecast for Saturday is looking to be around 80 degrees and sunny. This Mid-City area around Bayou St. John is, in my opinion, one of the prettiest and most overlooked areas of New Orleans. And with some live music including Flow Tribe and Better than Ezra, it should be a big turnout for an awesome event. Tickets are $5 in advance and $10 at the gate.

Will New Orleans Remove the Confederate Monuments?

Recently an anonymous donor offered to pony up $125,000 to pay for the removal of various Confederate monuments around New Orleans. Additionally, the city has reportedly incurred $4,000 in charges just to clean off the graffiti from the statues, which have become a target for vandals. Without going into the controversy over whether or not the monument should be removed from their current locations, the fiscal answer seems point towards removing them. The issue is headed for vote in City Hall soon, so we should have a final decision before long.

To Golf or Not to Golf? The New Course in City Park

The blueprint for the new championship course in City Park shows a smaller footprint than before Katrina.

The blueprint for the new championship course in City Park shows a smaller footprint than before Katrina.

Since the new year, City Park has started to clear out hundreds of acres of abandoned land and begin construction on the long awaited championship course. Many are excited about this development and look forward to enjoying the course. Others are pushing back against the project because the unused land throughout the park has become somewhat of an attraction to those seeking wilderness within the heart of the city.

As a quick history lesson, City Park opened its first golf course in 1902. Over the years three more courses were added, creating a network of four separate 18-hole golf courses within the park. In 2005, when Hurricane Katrina flood-waters inundated the city, the golf courses sat underwater for weeks effectively destroying them. One of the courses was rebuilt after the storm, and the rest of the land has sat fallow for nearly ten years.

During this time since Katrina, that unused land has somewhat returned to the wild. Tall grasses and weeds are occasionally cut back, but wild boars, coyotes, and alligators have seen a population boom. And many locals, using the old cart paths, stroll through the area regularly.  It is mainly these walkers and joggers wish to keep the space wild and undeveloped and are protesting the idea of the green space being turned into a golf course.

On one hand, I also like the idea of having a patch of wilderness within the city. But when I take a step back, I realize where my true allegiances lie. The park was never, at any point in time, supposed to be a wildlife preserve in the city. We already have one of those within our city; it’s called Bayou Sauvage in New Orleans East.

Also lost on the protesters is that the new golf course actually has a much smaller footprint than what existed before Katrina. The entire area between Harrison and I-10, previously the South Course, will be untouched by the course, and Couturie Forest, the 60-acre hunk of park land that has never been developed, will always be left alone.

The economic impact of the $24.5 million course is also important for the city. City Park is self-funded, meaning they need to generate revenue to survive. The new golf course would be a huge economic boom for the park, providing revenue and jobs for the park itself and the city as a whole. Plus, the wild post-apocalyptic look of the land with coyotes cruising city streets at night is currently is a drain on the property values and development in the area.

And for anyone claiming that a new golf course would take the land from average people and give it to wealthy corporate types, they are missing much of the point. Currently, in New Orleans, if you want to play at a top-notch championship level course, you need a costly membership to a private club. Otherwise, your options are City Park North Course and Audubon, which are serviceable but are lower quality courses. Opening up a world class municipal golf course will provide access for average people in the city to play top-notch golf.

I, for one, plan on polishing off the old set of clubs and getting back out there once this new course opens up. As a resident and homeowner in the immediate area, I am extremely excited about this new development and its prospects for the park and the city as a whole.

New Orleans Smoking Ban – We Hate to Love It

New Orleans Smoking Ban

(photo from Flikr user Marlus Mellebye)

Despite our best efforts, New Orleans has slowly trudged towards modernity since the landfall of Katrina and reconstruction thereafter.  Throughout the 1900s, New Orleans was a unique case study of a once-magnificent city slowly devouring itself and shriveling away.  Corruption, an amazing inability to make any infrastructure improvements whatsoever, a government environment that was hostile to business, and a general malaise defined New Orleans.  As a child growing up in Alabama, our trips to the Crescent City were always like going to a strange museum frozen in time where nobody had thought to maintain the artifacts or curate new works.  After World War II, nearly all of America enjoyed unprecedented growth and prosperity.  Meanwhile, New Orleans was the rare city where the population actually dropped from nearly 650,000 in 1950 to well under 400,00 by the year 2000.

When Katrina hit, everything here changed.  People who previously never gave New Orleans a second thought decided that this town could be a great opportunity and a wonderful place to live.  I, along with countless other young professionals, moved here after the storm seeing hope and growth on the horizon.  The city has responded similarly and decided to do seemingly simple things like pave the decrepit streets, accept and embrace non-natives, and create a tax structure favorable to business.  All of which would have been unthinkable in the not so distant past.

Now we can add one more item to this list of surprising advancements towards the 21st century – New Orleans’ recently passed indoor smoking ban.  Whereas infrastructure improvements have been celebrated here in New Orleans, the smoking ban causes a somewhat more complex reaction from New Orleanians.  The general consensus among locals is that smoking is disliked and smoke free bars and restaurants are a good thing.  But there is also an underlying distaste for any government intrusion into personal affairs.  Here in New Orleans, we like our drive-through daiquiris, our go-cups, and our permit-free block parties.  We like to party however we want to, without big brother telling us no.  We may disapprove of you flashing your breasts on Bourbon Street, but we will defend to the death your right to flash them.

So with the smoking ban, we are left in a conundrum.  Many of us hate standing in smoky bars, allergies going crazy, hair soaking in the stench, and lungs swimming in carcinogens.  But we also don’t like a new regulation on our liberties.  We support the ban, but we hate that we love it.

French Quarter Crime and Opium Soaked Tampons

New Orlean Citrus Fruit

                                           Citrus Trees Thrive in Orleans Parish

Life in New Orleans is many things.  And boring is never one of them.

French Quarter Crime

Crime in New Orleans is never really news.  Yes, murders, burglaries, and beatings are always plastered on the front page of the local paper, but crime in this city is never surprising or unexpected.  To be a New Orleanian is to be surrounded by crime.  So why is the recent crime wave in the French Quarter causing such a stir?  I have a few reasons.

First, the roaming gangs of goons are bold and successful.  They have been able to roll into the French Quarter, rob and beat their victims, and walk away.  Tourists and locals alike have been targeted, and there seems to be no end in sight.

Second, there has been no justice.  As a New Orleanian, one of my biggest worries is that criminals here frequently escape justice.  Even with extensive security camera footage, the complete lack of a police presence anywhere in the city, combined with the pervasive anti-snitch mentality of those who know the criminals, means that these people are getting more brazen with every unpunished crime.

And lastly, Mitch Landrieu needs to do more to step up the police presence in the city, especially the French Quarter.  The mayor seems oblivious to the fact that the NOPD cannot recruit new officers when the pay is lower than the suburban police departments and the demands of the job here in the city are higher.  We need more police officers, and we need them yesterday.  Until the city can get its crime under control, we will continue to be hamstrung in our growth and viewed as a third-world city within the US.

Fruit For Life

For those of us planting fruit trees here in the Crescent City (I have a blood orange, satsuma, and meyer lemon going in our yard), we tend to overlook the fact that in 5-10 years, our little trees will be cranking out hundreds of fruits every year.  And unless you are on a serious juice diet, you are going to need to find a way to dispose of your harvest.  Enter the New Orleans Fruit Tree Project, which will harvest your fruit and give it to various charitable food organizations around the city.  So basically, you get to avoid the hassle of plucking your own fruit in return for a tax-deduction.  Win-win for everyone.

Opium Soaked Tampons

The headline for this Guardian article about the Pharmacy Museum on Chartres Street here in New Orleans is pretty spectacular.  And the museum itself is also quite impressive.  If you ever have a friend visiting town, and you want to show them something completely unique and entertaining, take them to the Pharmacy Museum for a view into the strange and spooky methods of dealing with the illnesses of our forefathers.

History of the Po-Boy

Fried Louisiana seafood is delicious.  Crispy and crunchy New Orleans style French bread is also tasty.  So if you take a local french bun and fill it up with local fried seafood, smother it with mayonnaise, and dress it up with lettuce, pickles, and tomato, you are bound to have yourself a heavenly sandwich.  Welcome to the po-boy.

Seafood Poboy New Orleans

                                                                  New Orleans Shrimp Po-Boy

Most people agree that a good po-boy is wonderful.  Also, most people have a theory about the origin of the po-boy.   And, everyone can agree on one thing about the origin story…. that nobody can agree about the origin of this delicious sandwich called a po-boy.

There are three theories, all with varying degrees of believability.  The first theory is that the name was simply an evolution of the French term “pourboire,” which refers to the tip given to a waiter.  The connection here to the sandwich, to me, seems fragile at best.

The second theory, more widely held, is that local restaurant owners Bennie and Clovis Martin helped to support a labor strike by local streetcar operators.  The Martins were former streetcar operators themselves sympathetic to the cause and offered the striking men a free sandwich every day.  Whenever they would see a striking worker coming for their free sandwich, people would refer to them as “poor boys” because they were receiving no wages while on strike.  This theory is very plausible, and it has some good support and evidence to back it up.

However, I personally ascribe to the third theory.  This origin story, most common sense of the three, goes that restaurants and delis wanted to make some money off of the older stale baguettes (french bread) that would otherwise be thrown out.  So they took that otherwise worthless bread, deep fried any leftovers they had laying around, and put them together to make some cheap sandwiches to turn an easy profit.  Only less wealthy people originally would want to buy these low-end meals.  So naturally, people starting naming the sandwich after the poor customers who bought it, and hence the name “poor boy” or po-boy was born.  I like this story partially because it also helps explain the unique crunchy and crispy style to New Orleans french bread.  But I also ascribe to it because this was the story my parents told me when I was growing up.  And sometimes you just gotta stick with what you know.

No matter how to slice it, the po-boy is a delectably iconic New Orleans sandwich.  And the history is much less important than the flavor.  Delicious.

New Orleans – Four Things To Do For The Returning Visitor

by Ashton Rogers

A live oak tree nurtures spanish moss in Houma, Louisiana.

A live oak tree nurtures spanish moss in Houma, Louisiana.

So you’ve seen the French Quarter.  You’ve tasted a beignet, rocked out on Frenchmen Street, and dined at some of our finest restaurants.  You’ve ticked everything off my list of to-dos for first time visitors.  But now you are coming back to New Orleans again, and you want to experience our wonderful city in greater depth.  If you want to truly experience New Orleans like a pro and walk away one step closer to being a local, follow this list.

1. Listen to Music Like a Local

Frenchmen Street is a marvelous place, and locals enjoy it just as much as the tourists.  But if you want to get even more native, you should delve deeper.  The Maple Leaf Bar, a former laundromat, has a weekly Tues gig with the living legends Rebirth Brass Band.  Tipitina’s has a great rotating schedule of live music.  And Kermit Ruffins has a regular gig at Bullet’s.  These venues are a little rough around the edges, and some of these neighborhoods can be a little rough in general, but you won’t experience anything like it elsewhere.  The experience and the memories will be worth way more than the cab fare.

Live Music New Orleans

One of the great live music venues in New Orleans. Tipitina’s Uptown on Tchoupitoulas Street.

2. Peruse the Shops on Magazine Street

Magazine Street is the retail heart of New Orleans.  The commercial drag doesn’t truly start until you are a couple miles away from downtown, but if you take the time and travel the distance, you will find countless shops to indulge your inner materialist.  The best density of shops is perhaps near the Louisiana Ave intersection, with Modern Market full of amazing reasonably priced contemporary furniture options for sale, Funky Monkey for the high-minded thrifters among us, and Petcetera for our pampered four-legged friends.  Just make sure you also take some time to grab a drink and a meal at the many wonderful bars and restaurants along the strip.

Bayou St John in New Orleans runs along both City Park and the upcoming Lafitte Greenway.

Bayou St John in New Orleans runs along both City Park and the upcoming Lafitte Greenway.

3. Kick Back and Relax

Some would argue the best way to experience New Orleans is through it’s incredible bounty of green space.  Audubon Park off St. Charles Ave has an amazing jogging track, bordered by some serene ponds, and surrounding an 18-hole golf course.  City Park is great for families, with the choo-choo train, recently opened mini-golf course, and paddle boats on the pond.  City Park also sports a jogging track, and it is home to the New Orleans Museum of Art.  And in 2015, New Orleans will debut the Lafitte Greenway, a bike path that will connect the French Quarter to Lake Pontchartrain, via Bayou St. John and City Park.  New Orleans is home to some of the best parks in America, and it would be a shame for a visitor to not take advantage.

Oak Alley Plantation is only about 1 hour outside of New Orleans.

Oak Alley Plantation is only about 1 hour outside of New Orleans.

4. Rent a Car and Get Out of Town

Some of my best weekends as a New Orleanian have occurred when I’m not even in New Orleans.  Over the Causeway, the old towns of Covington, Abita Springs, and Madisonville are quaint and charming as hell.  Upstream of New Orleans along the Mississippi River, you can explore the old antebellum plantations, with Destrehan Plantation, Laura Plantation, and Oak Alley Plantation all within easy driving distance.  And if you want to see a little bit of Cajun country, Thibodaux and Houma are full of character, loving people, and great food.

You could visit New Orleans a dozen times and never tire of the French Quarter.  But if you want to venture farther afield, take these ideas to heart and create a trip full of amazing memories.

New Orleans – Four Things To Do for First Time Visitors

New Orleans - Where a visit can last a lifetime

New Orleans – Where a visit can last a lifetime

So, you’ve landed in New Orleans, dropped your bags at the hotel, and this amazing city with limitless entertainment is waiting at your fingertips. But, wait. You are suddenly spoiled for choice. You can’t decide what to do or where to start. Don’t worry, your handy tour-guide/superhero is here to help.

The answer to this question depends largely on whether you have been to New Orleans before. To make things simpler, I will break this down into multiple posts. In this first post, I will give my breakdown of must-dos for the first time New Orleans weekend visitor.

1. Take a Tour

Shameless self-promotion?  Somewhat, yes.  But honestly, I would rather that you take a history tour from a competitor than not take one at all.  New Orleans is too complex, too unique, and too interesting for someone to visit and without learning the back-story.  You need to know why the French Quarter has it’s unique architecture, what Creole and Cajun mean, and why they built a city in the middle of a flood-plain.  Please, please, take a tour.

New Orleans Jazz Venue

Frenchmen Street – arguably the best nightlife in New Orleans

2. Nightlife?  Forget Bourbon Street – go to Frenchmen Street

Everyone should (briefly) experience Bourbon Street at one point in their lives.  But you can get that done in about 15 minutes.  Here is how: walk a few blocks, get heckled by the strip club promoters, and grab a sugary neon colored drink in a plastic souvenir cup. Congrats, you’re now done with Bourbon Street.

For the real experience, go to Frenchmen Street.  Frenchmen Street is just a couple blocks outside the French Quarter, and it is chock-full of live music venues, with great local music, good people, and lively atmosphere.  If you want to hear a banging brass band, this is your new favorite place.  Often sold as the “local’s Bourbon Street,” the secret got out a long time ago, but the magic is still there.  And my strategy for finding the best bar for the night is simple: walk around, listen to the music coming out the front door, pick your favorite sound, and giterdun.

New Orleans Garden District Homes

The Garden District is filled with beautiful properties

3. Garden District

The French Quarter neighborhood is the heart and soul of New Orleans, but the Garden District is absolutely majestic.  The French Quarter is the oldest section of the city, and as New Orleans expanded over time, the wealthiest of the wealthy moved out to the Garden District and built their mansions.  The Garden District’s history isn’t nearly as dense as the French Quarter, but it’s definitely a rival in terms of sheer beauty.  The highlights are the Lafayette Cemetery #1, the McGehee House, the Anne Rice House, and the Buckner Mansion.  And also consider taking advantage of Commander’s Palace weekday lunch special with 25-cent martinis.

4. Eat!

Louisiana has America’s only truly home-grown comprehensive unique cuisine. Different regions in America may have a signature dish, but nowhere in the USA has the unique culinary depth and breadth of New Orleans. Everything from Pralines to Gumbo to Andouille to Souffle Potatoes to Oyster Rockefeller. My best advice I can give to anyone is to open your mind, be willing to try anything, and choose the weirdest looking thing on the menu because it is typically the best. My favorite restaurants in town are Commander’s Palace, Cochon, Elizabeth’s (brunch), and the Verti Marte (poboys).

New Orleans could entertain a person for a lifetime, but these four must-dos will get you through a weekend.  For longer stays or for repeat visits, check back soon for my follow up post on the more in-depth travel experiences in New Orleans.

Old Man River – How the Mississippi Has Changed Course Over Time

by Ashton Rogers

Mississippi River Course Changes

The Mississippi River Changing Course in Northern Louisiana

This map, produced in 1944 by a man named Harold Fisk, shows how the Mississippi River has shifted, gouged, and settled its way across Louisiana over the years.  This map starts at the top right near the Louisiana-Mississippi-Arkansas border in the northeast corner of the Pelican State.  The southern part of this map ends right near Vicksburg, Mississippi.

What is most impressive about these course changes, is that the northern part of Louisiana is significantly hillier and that rougher rockier terrain would make it much more difficult for the river to alter its course.  Down in the delta region of south Louisiana, the river changed its course much frequently and drastically.

Of course, none of this happens any more because the Army Corps of Engineers built the levee system which keeps the river locked in its current position.