Chapter, “Neighborhoods Will Save Us”:
“We do know and own up our crazy.”
The Carllton neighborhood is bright and Mantis green on a warm summer morning. Tucked near the crook of the Mississippi River trees cover the narrow streets and create a dreamlike sense of place. Just don’t tell Kim Jones, a lifetime resident of Carollton, that it’s the suburbs. “I’ve seen it change. When I was a kid we used to hit the ground when we heard gunshots.” As New Orleans changed before and after Hurricane Katrina locals like Kim remained steady in their love of the city, past and present.
“New Orleans is a very neighborhood-centric place.” Kim says. That’s an important outlook to realize in a city struggling to keep its identity as the tourism landscape changes.“I don’t have a problem with how our city is marketed. My experience with tourists is that when they get here they are surprised at how intensely it is like the craziness they thought it would be. And you can really do these things. Shows like Family Guy and The Simpsons joke about how all of a sudden there’s a parade in the street and honestly, yeah,” her voice growing louder, “all of a sudden there is a parade in the street.”
Kim doesn’t sit still very often. Her motto might be, “If there’s a party, join in!” She relents, “I dance in some Mardi Gras crews. The Sirens of New Orleans is a dance crew and I’m in the Mary Antoinettes. Which is more of an ‘atmospheric’ crew. In the vein of Marie Antoinette: costuming and parties and champagne.”
Contrary to the quick cuts of film taken during parades, the krewes aren’t always filled with raucous, drunken, hell-bent performers. “With the Sirens we’re a dancing krewe. We take that very seriously. We don’t drink on the route. We want to show well when we show up for an event. It’s kind of a job and responsibility. When we started we were the only ones [who didn’t drink] and people thought we were crazy, like that was ‘the point’. It was intentional. They wanted a krewe that was a good example for their daughters and sons and was really focused on dance. And now I feel like there are a bunch of krewes coming out really focused on dance.”
Throughout the parades routes (large or small) Kim sees tourists, “It’s probably because more are staying not just in downtown hotels but throughout the city in short term rentals, B&Bs, and what not. It used to be that the Uptown parade route used to be just the locals and residents. You cross over Jackson and that’s where you start getting into your tourists.”
Among the masses lined up on St. Charles less people are camped out with grills and tables and chairs than previous years, but not through a lack of effort. There are still whole hogs on spits, umbrellas to shield missiled beads, and ladders for small children or blurry-eyed adults to climb on.
Her experience with parades has altered course slightly but Kim says, “When I’m not parading I’m Uptown near Louisiana or Napoleon, one of the two. And I still see the same people. We still have our friends we’ve known for 20 years going to the same tree. The crowds have gotten bigger for all the parades. I think that’s just because the parades themselves have gotten bigger. I feel like when I’m at a parade I’m in my own cocoon of people. Someone stands close enough to us and is friendly and doesn’t try to steal our beads they’ll end up being part of our group whether they’re from here or not. All y’all are welcome but you gotta act right.”
That is a summation of Kim’s attitude and character.
“Be cool and you can have some food, get on the ladder. I think people want to share it. I think that’s kind of cool. Even though there’s a lot of tension about it I think that’s what makes the short term rental thing here really kind of cool...is that our citizens…”, she pauses a brief moment to smile, “we don’t go home and live inside of our walls. We like to interact with our community and our neighborhood. So with having new people come in you always are wanting to share how cool your neighborhood is and how awesome your street is. And how great it is that you can walk down to whatever cafe and how awesome your Mardi Gras spot is. It’s a point of pride here to share that with people whether they’re out-of-towners or just moved to the city.”
As a real estate agent, Kim sees how neighborhoods are changing. She reveals, “The last couple of years I’ve seen an influx of people coming in from out of town [buying homes]. People relocating from other southern cities are coming for work. People relocating from the north are coming because they want to be here.”
Tourism has played a big role in that. By showcasing New Orleans during brief stints of vacation many return to try their hand as residents. “I think it has helped bring young professionals, entrepreneurs, and bringing new possibilities, and industries. I think we need to capitalize on that and make tourism a springboard for that. Right now we do a: ‘they come, they have fun, and they leave’. How much effort was made in encouraging these people to be more of a part of the city.” Kim laments.
Tourism is a prostitution of place. Why is New Orleans another beauty that attracts people? What is the magic behind hearing “New Orleans” and instantly smiling? Stephanie automatically grins with another word: “Brunch”.
“My favorites days really are meeting up with friends in the quarter, eating at a great restaurant, having amazing service, amazing brunch, drinking champagne, and cocktails, floating from one really swanky hotel bar to another. We go to Broussard’s a lot. It’s a really nice atmosphere, good food, roaming band. It’s just a good location. That and Sobou’s Legs and Eggs brunch. It’s Bella Blue [strip tease artist]….ummmmm it’s pretty…it’s not as rough as she can get. They interact with the guests, lots of scarves and blindfolds.” Kim says.
“I feel…this will sound a little cheesy, but I feel like every week is a little staycation. Between all the groups I’m in and there’s always some type of event or party or whatever I just always feel like I get a little vacation in the week. My favorite staycation might be when I just don’t have anything to do for awhile. Like….” - (dropping her voice to a soft whisper) - “I’m just going to be very quiet. Close all the windows and pretend I’m not home.” She throws up her hands and glances at the front door as if someone is about to walk through, “But inevitably something always happens.”
As New Orleans is pimped out for her easy access to food, drinks, music, and cordial residents it’s sometimes hard to figure out what to do next. There’s a plethora of excitement around yet at the same time the nervous energy of not wanting to miss anything.
“You shouldn’t over plan. The best days in New Orleans are the ones where you … cheesy but #FollowYourNola … That’s why I like brunch. Like you plan to go to brunch and that’s great and then the day just happens.” Kim says as her hands make a windy path motion. “It happens every time. And crazy things happen. There’s a band. There’s a parade. You pass by this place and just go in. Making a big schedule here usually doesn’t work out I think. No one’s ever on time anyway. Settle in. If you see something fun just stop and do it.”
New Orleans isn’t all New Orleanians get to experience. One suggestion Kim has is to travel more. “Getting outside the Quarter is always a good thing. My friends and I used to do this little Cajun-country road trips. Like to distilleries or breweries like Donner-Petlier [in Thibodeaux]. They have those Zydeco brunches in Breaux Bridge and Mamou.”
Speaking about Fred’s Lounge in Mamou (mam-o), where Kim found people drinking early morning crushed beside the live band, says, “It starts at 8:00AM. I’m from New Orleans and I thought I was pretty hardcore, but I was like you people…” pointing her finger in a mocking taunt.
Back in New Orleans Kim is very particular about her nightlife. She suggests, “A live music show. Frenchmen. I’m a big fan of the Jacque’s-Imos and Maple Leaf bundle. Pick an intimate bar, a small bar, with standing room only. Somewhere where you’ll get to see a big act up close. I think that’s the big difference. I didn’t grow up going to concerts. I grew up going to shows. That’s a whole different thing.”
“Every time I go to the Spotted Cat - no matter who’s playing - every time I go I have an amazing experience. And I think it’s just that people aren’t used to having that — everyone in this crowded bar, the band’s interacting with you, you’re right there, and then when they’re on the set break they’re weaving through you. You know it’s a whole different atmosphere. There’s something about being smushed against people and then just having to work it out.”
In a city known for potholes and floods people do just that: work it out. New Orleans survives because the neighborhoods bring people together. Through hell or high water. Kim says, “It’s the same thing for Mardi Gras. We’re all gonna have to share this three feet of sidewalk…we might as well be friends. It’s about letting go. About being comfortable with being uncomfortable.”
“Does our tourism reflect accurately on the city? I think it does. You see New York City in the movies and someone goes to become a star. You go to New York and those things don’t happen for you. But here, you see the things we portray and you can come here and 100% be apart of that. Everything just becomes a much more intimate experience. No one comes to New Orleans thinking they’re going to be the next Dr. John. They come to New Orleans to meet Dr. John and possibly smoke a joint with his nephew.”