No matter where you go, there you are

Posted August 22, 2007 5:49 pm (about 4538 days ago)

Before gearing up for this next school I year I decided to take a few weeks to squeeze in some more traveling to catch up with family and friends down South and in the Midwest. The original plans included time down in the Yucatan, but Hurricane Dean squashed that idea, which freed up some time to write. So, in the interest of posting a blog more than twice a year here are some thoughts about the recent travels.

New Orleans
Although I’ve always wanted to visit, this was my first time. I was only there for one Saturday night, but did visit Bourbon Street of course. What can I say? In terms of late night, if you’re a teenager or in your younger twenties, I can see the appeal. If you’re from a small town, I can see why it’s amazing. But without trying to sound jaded, it reminded me of plenty of other sleazy entertainment districts in big cities. This isn’t just me being Puritanical. I’m still known to hit a club or two and get caught up in some foolishness but I’ve just outgrown the typical party scene. Truth be told, I was never into it. I just thought I was supposed to be, which leads me to my next point.

It was sad to see middle-age folks trying to party with the youngsters, complete with the tight clothes, tossing the beads, and vomiting. Forget the superficial observation that not all 40 year old women can still pull off the outfit of a 19 year old, but at one point does a person just look in the mirror and realize that it’s time to move on? I’m hardly old, but I doubt that you’ll catch me partying with most people under 25. I don’t think drinking till you blackout is cute, nor is driving around aimlessly looking for a party because ‘it’s the weekend.” I’m oversimplify things, but you get the point. Maybe it all comes down to what you consider fun and “living life.” I know there's history and culture associated with Bourbon Street, but that that's lost in the masses. Further discussions I had about the politics of Mardi Gras reiterated the superficial veneer I was feeling.

Also did the mule and carriage thing. I’m a nerd so I enjoyed the historical tour and won’t bore you with that, but figured I’d add that in case anyone wants to discuss the finer points of French colonialism or the cemeteries.

Finally, I went down to the 9th and 17th Wards to see the impact of Katrina. As has been well documented, the touristy areas of New Orleans are up and running, for the most part. However, I wanted to see some of the other neighborhoods. Driving into New Orleans from the Mississippi side I was taken aback by the number of abandoned buildings along the freeway, even though I’ve seen the videos. Apartment buildings, houses, giant retail stores…I mean, it just seemed to go on and on. You really have to see it to appreciate the devastation, even two years later. However, once we got down to the 9th and 17th Wards, it wasn’t as devastated as I had expected and there were more people around than I expected, including Mexicans. I mean, there were abandoned buildings, debris, blue tarps, and so forth, but I expected worse. Don’t get me wrong, things looked bad. But the reason that I wasn’t shocked was for the simple reason that I’ve seen too many neighborhoods that look this! Parts of Detroit, Gary, East St. Louis, St. Louis, Chicago…I mean, I could keep the list going. Obviously all cities have their good parts. I visit at least three of the aforementioned ones every year so I’m not just being patronizing. But what I found to be sad was how familiar everything felt. Yeah, they weren’t third world conditions, but to be in a country with so much wealth it’s unconscionable.

My journey to the South actually started back in Japan. I met some great people, including my new homie Gloria, who’s from Mobile. I could rave about her for days, but that’s for another time. After showing me a great time in New Orleans we headed to her turf. I hadn’t been to Mobile since I was a kid so this was basically my first time. In a nutshell, I was impressed. Beyond checking out the city itself I spent a few days at the high school where she teaches and was impressed with the students. I’ve yet to go to a place where teens aren’t intelligent and curious about the world. How that’s nurtured or neglected by adults is another story.

Overall, Mobile was more progressive than I had expected. While not as diverse as the Bay—how many places are—I was surprised with the diversity that I did see. On the ethnic side of things, there were multiple Asian and Latino grocery stores, at least one Vietnamese night club (although it appeared to be closed down), and a great Jamaican restaurant. Mexican and Japanese restaurants seemed to be quite numerous. I wasn’t really digging the food at the one Japanese spot we ate at, but I would definitely go back to the Mexican spot.

Beyond the food, we spent some time on the gulf, which had my wheels turning. Essentially, I’m sick of paying the ridiculous rent in the Bay and getting tired of the population density. I still love it, but the reality is that it’s too expensive to seriously think about staying long term and having a decent quality of life. As such, I’ve been thinking down the road about moving to some other areas, particularly ones by the ocean. I wouldn’t say that Mobile compares to the Bay, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I’ll definitely have to come back and check it out. Mind you, I’m very aware that my view of Mobile is clouded by the company that I kept. But as I told Gloria, if it could produce someone like her, it’s gotta’ have something going for it. Yeah, I can lay it on thick. Communities are about your personal relationships anyway. I also met an amazing activist, and all-around good person, Jessica Norwood, who I’ll be talking more about in the near future. Yay Mobile!


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