Where have all the flowers gone were the lyrics that kept running through my mind as I walked my favorite old New Orleans haunts. As a business traveler, I had the great good fortune to work in New Orleans two to three weeks a month prior to Katrina. I looked forward to my trips to New Orleans with enthusiasm. I loved to walk down Canal Street and bump shoulders with the hordes of tourists who were always there no matter the time of year. It may have been a bit maddening to have to slow my gait to accommodate the pace of the gawking throngs but even that was worth it. People were excited about being in New Orleans and the city pulsed in unison with the excitement.
My time spent planning for another trip to New Orleans would be filled with thinking about the different restaurants I wanted to try out this time and which of my favorites I didn’t want to miss. I would also dream about and make plans for building into my work schedule visits to fun and sassy boutiques as well as time to tour my favorite art galleries which would have new showings going on.
My Post Katrina visit provided me with all of the fun things I loved to do. The fine dining scene was there. The sassy boutiques were still sassy and the art galleries have mostly returned but the hustle and bustle of people was gone. There was no shoulder bumping. There were small groups of people milling along Canal Street but there was no need to be careful or polite or any need to match my pace with the rhythm of the moving crowd. There were no crowds to speak of anyplace I went.
Now, there was one exception to this statement – there was a crowd in the lobby of the 4 Star hotel I had booked on Price-Line for only $65. I looked for 5 Star hotels but none were offered. So, a new lyric line was added to my musical reaction to New Orleans – “Where have all the 5 Star hotels gone.” I was amazed when Price-Line took my first offer. I know I could have had a 4 Star hotel room for less than $50. This was pretty unthinkable in pre-Katrina days during tourist season.
As I sat in the Palace Cafe on Canal Street and had dinner I couldn’t figure out what felt different to me. The service was still excellent, the food absolutely fabulous and the tables filled (no one was waiting but still the tables were full) but there was something different. It dawned on me, after I left and was lying in bed that night, that all of the wait staff in the part of the restaurant in which I was seated were Caucasian or Asian. Never before had I had this experience in New Orleans. What I was missing were the people of New Orleans who had made New Orleans special and unique. The African Americans and the Cajuns were few and far between in the parts of New Orleans where I visited. What a loss!
As I thought about my visit to New Orleans I began to see how it is my responsibility to write this article to say – New Orleans is ready and waiting for tourists. It is the cheapest vacation spot I have been to in many years and there are activities for the young and old and families as well. If you were not able to physically help out during the Katrina disaster and cleanup then help out now. Plan a weekend trip to New Orleans or host your next business convention in New Orleans. It seems to me that if the tourists do not return and help the city, then less and less of New Orleans will remain. Huge hotels and casinos need people. Take time to help out now.