Brandy On New Orleans

Brandy Pigeon

It's Time for the Future

By Brandy Pigeon

Tuesday night, after months of staring at the tickets in my kitchen drawer, the wait for the Billy Joel concert was over. My husband, myself, and three other couples decided to make a special "date night" out of the event. We went to the Napoleon House for cocktails, then headed to NOLA restaurant before the concert. It was so nice to be with friends enjoying great company and great food while looking out over the French Quarter. It had been a really long time since we'd done that. As the eight of us talked and laughed over our delicious meals, it occurred to me that we had all gotten through hours of conversation and not once were the words hurricane, or Katrina, or levees, brought up. It was a milestone. For the first time in nearly two years, it was as if a total sense or normalcy had come over us. It was truly like living in the Pre-Katrina days we were all trying to get back to. Of course this city has much to do before we can claim to have life back to those pre-K days; but the fact that this small group of people in restaurant getting ready to go see a concert, could unintentionally avoid the topic gave me tremendous hope and inspiration. 

I've never given up on the idea that New Orleans and her citizens would find a way to overcome what happened here; but I was beginning to wonder if we would ever be able to move forward emotionally. I wondered if we could ever walk past certain buildings without visualizing the water lines long after they'd been pressure washed clean. But there we were, walking past the Superdome, and the chatter amongst the concert goers pouring past the icon was filled with talk of the Saints magical season and the Hornets remaining schedule. It was happening. People were talking about positive events and joyous moments in these buildings; not the tragedies that had taken place in them. It was like a beacon of hope that I pray I wasn't the only one to see. I'm not suggesting that we forget or dismiss what's happened here; no one who lived through such events can ever truly forget; and in order to prevent such things from repeating themselves we have to be able to look back and avoid making the same mistakes; but in order to rebuild and recover we must be able to look ahead. We all have to make a conscious effort to stop victimizing ourselves and our beloved city. We have endured more than our fair share, it's true; but until we decide that we won't be identified by tragedy we can't become the city we once were. If the people of New Orleans can project to the entire nation that we're stronger than a hurricane, more determined than our incompetent elected officials, and have the willpower to do what needs to be done bring this city to new heights; we can become a role model to the rest of this country on how to overcome adversity and triumph in the face of despair. It won't be an easy task; God knows it hasn't been easy so far; but in many ways we're doing it. Look around - businesses are open, houses are being built, tourists are slowly coming back. It will happen; but it's going to take each and every one of us to get it done. 

In just a few weeks, Jazz Fest begins. This is a great opportunity to remind the world what makes New Orleans special. The food, the music, and the many different cultures that make our city so unique. People will descend on us from all over the world. They'll come to enjoy the things we take for granted. The media will, no doubt, incorporate Katrina into every aspect of their stories; but we don't have to. We want people to travel here and have a great time. We want them to return to Memphis, and Cleveland, and anywhere else they hail from, to tell their friends and family how great New Orleans is, and how wonderful the time they spent here was. So let's show them a good time. It's not necessary to remind them of Katrina... they remember. Just as we don't need New Yorkers to remind us about September 11th. We remember. Moving forward doesn't mean you've forgotten the past, it just means you recognize the future. And that future can only be as good as you make it. I just returned from New York, and I had a wonderful time. I saw Broadway shows, walked around Times Square, and had a great sandwich and cheesecake at Carnegie Deli... in other words, I did "New York" stuff. So when people come here to do "New Orleans" stuff, let's make sure they aren't disappointed. If you find yourself teaching a group of mid-westerners how to properly eat boiled crawfish at a local restaurant, or while waiting for Cowboy Mouth to light up the stage at Jazz Fest you end up chatting with a guy from New Jersey, or even if a lovely couple from Miami ask you for directions to Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie's new French Quarter home - thank them for visiting our great city, tell them they shouldn't go home until they've had at least one oyster po-boy, and of course, encourage them to come back again. Let visitors see that New Orleans can still deliver all the things we've become famous for, just as well as ever. We can still throw a great party, we are still full of Southern charm, and the food we dish out is still the best in the world. Our economy can't survive without tourism. We have the history, the arts, and the multiculturalism to impress even the most discerning traveller; but if we can't prove that we're open for business to a global audience, they'll opt to vacation somewhere else. 

When every story on the news coming from New Orleans is about the mishandling of disaster funds, or rampant crime, or politicians begging for more money while they can't account for the billions they've all ready received; it's not exactly inviting to Fortune 500 Companies and travel agents. We can not rely on local and state government to save us. It won't happen. It's up to the people who live here to change the image that is being broadcast. If we stop allowing ourselves to be portrayed as hopeless victims, and start projecting ourselves as a city worthy of success and growth, and ready to meet the challenges those things entail, maybe they'll come to fruition. We are all aware that much of our recovery is being stifled by our leaders; but the longer we sit around waiting for politicians to do what they've been elected to do, but have proven they are incapable of doing, the longer we all suffer. As individual citizens we can't create tax breaks to attract new business, or eliminate the endless red tape that goes along with trying to rebuild, or actually get the financial assistance the federal government has all ready given to the state to pass along; but we can do our part in helping our own communities thrive. Keep your money local. Shop here instead of online, support your local restaurants and schools, tell people you know who live out of town to come and visit. Take your kids to the zoo or the aquarium, ride the streetcar, try your luck at the casino, or just take a walk along St. Charles Avenue. Do things that remind you of all the reasons you love it here, and then remind others of those things. With all the negative things we hear about every day, sometimes it's hard to remember all the wonderful things so many of us love about this city. Refresh your memory, it can really help keep yourself motivated on those days you feel like giving up. 

If the people of New Orleans can't look past Katrina, how can outsiders be expected to do so. It's time. If we are to make progress, we have got to show the world we're back and we're ready for the future. If the epicenter of this city can thrive, the outskirts will follow. Neighborhoods will be restored, residents can return home, and progress will reverberate throughout the region. I truly believe this in the bottom of my heart. It will take time, and even though we're all sick to death of hearing that, it's the truth. Patience is becoming harder to conjure up; but the quicker the city's economy grows, the quicker the surrounding areas will feel the benefits. We're all in this together, and we all have to remember why we came back and why we're still striving to make this our home again; and above all, we must put forth a united front that will attract new business and tourism to this region as if our survival depends on it... because the reality is - it does.

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