NOLA pt. 3: On the people


I hold two general assumptions that the people of NOLA did not fit neatly into.

Assumption # 1:
Although I wasn't raised in the city, I've lived in mostly urban or inner suburban areas for years. And my mother was raised in the city. Therefore, somewhere along the way I've learned that when in a non-social situation, if approached by a person you do not know who then begins speaking to you, it is a wise decision to be on your guard.

Assumption # 2:
Residents of tourist areas tolerate tourists because we are major contributors to the local economy. However, many locals hold some disdain for tourists. One, because of us, the majority of the jobs available are in the service sector; these jobs do not pay well and aren't considered by most to be all that fulfilling (I'm making large generalizations here, so please bear with me). Two, I think locals also see tourists as slightly ignorant, as we tend to stick to the tourist'y sightseeing spots and neglect to seek out the "real" culture of the area. In a harsh nutshell, locals may see tourists as ignorant meal tickets.

My long held beliefs that out-of-the-blue advances from strangers are suspicious and that locals aren't all that fond of tourists were significantly challenged while visiting NOLA. I only wish I had come around to this idea sooner.

The people I met in NOLA were nice! Not a let's-humor-the-tourists-so-they'll-spend-more-money nice, but genuinely nice.

My first encounter happened during my trek to the streetcar that would take me to the Garden District, and was with a little old lady who perfectly fit my schema of "cat lady." She was older with long gray hair pulled into a messy ponytail, was wearing a housedress in public, displayed less than ideal hygiene, and was wearing eyeglasses so smudged and smeared I could barely see her eyes. I first witnessed her trying to cross the 6 lanes of Canal Street that happened to be closed for the filming of a car chase. The poor police officer was doing his best to chase her out of the way.

*Okay, to be fair--it also took me a second and about 2 lanes before I figured out what the heck was going on.

*Oh! And I got to see a car chase being filmed.

I ran back into the cat lady at the stop for the streetcar that would take me to the Garden District. Much to my surprise, cat lady started talking to me. And talking. And talking. She mostly told me all about the famous people who live in NOLA, and how it's so great for them because the locals don't bother them at all. She told me all about how the residents of the Garden District were so worried when they heard that Trent Reznor would be moving in. I must say, I was shocked that this lady knew who Trent was, and even more so when she name-dropped his "band." (Quotes, because, you know, Trent Reznor IS nin.) She also told me all about Brad and Angelina. She even helped me find my stop. She turned out to be a friendly old lady who was proud of her city and wanted to share some of it with an out-of-towner.

Another day, at the height of my foot pain, I took a break from walking to rest the dogs in Jackson Square. I was sitting very near a large group of locals who could have been musicians. Or homeless. Or both. Or quite possibly neither. They were a loud and colorful bunch, that's for sure! I was entertained just eavesdropping. After a few minutes, I felt a tap on my shoulder. (Guard officially up). It was one of the ladies asking me if I was okay. She appeared genuinely concerned. (I'm sure--I bet my face was purple from the humidity and effort involved in walking at that point. I could not have been a pretty picture). Once I assured her I was, indeed, not dying, she returned to her friends.

On my last day, I was walking down a major residential street when a slightly older man walked out of his house carrying a magazine and an instrument case. I think he had been lying in wait for someone to come along so that he could brag about the write up on him that was featured in the magazine he was holding. He greeted me and showed me the article, reading a little bit from it, as he stepped in and started walking alongside. My guard was definitely up by this point. But I could tell he was very proud at being the subject of a magazine article. He then told me that I looked just like his ex. Guard went up a little bit more. I made some joke about it probably not being a great thing that I reminded him of his ex. He then said that she wasn't an "ex" because they split up, but because she passed away in the hurricane.

His demeanor was so genuine, and I could tell he meant the looking like the ex thing as a compliment, that I let my guard down a little bit. But only a small bit, as he was still walking alongside me. I wasn't really sure where this conversation was going, or how long he was going to tag along. Just as I was wondering how I was going to politely get rid of him, he turned the corner, wished me a good trip, and said goodbye.

I still feel a little stupid for being so suspicious. I blew an opportunity to talk with a local musician, perhaps brightening both his day and mine.

I'm not saying NOLA is a place where you can completely let your guard down as a tourist. And all bets are off on Bourbon Street after dark. But I did learn that the next time I visit NOLA, I want to be a little more open to conversing with the locals without assuming they are going to pick my pocket or try to scam me in some other way.

Now that I'm typing this, I realize that most of my surprising encounters were with people 20-40 years older than me. Maybe it was a generational thing.


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