30 November 2008

One Man's Ceiling


What to make of New Orleans' recent designation as the most violent city in America?

"Based on what?" I wondered when the announcement was made. A little research revealed the stats and criteria and time frame and author of the study. All legit as best I can tell.

But the irony (or is it paradox) is breathtaking: the first and only place on the planet that's actually felt like home to me is the most violent city in the U.S.

I'm a woman living alone--and frequently walking alone, bicycling alone, eating out alone, etc... The most threatening situation I've witnessed was a swarming convergence on a chef by 6 police units down on Canal Street one night. Along with 7 or 8 other passengers, the chef and I were entering our 2nd hour of waiting for a replacement or a repair team for the Magazine St bus parked at the curb and the chef expressed his frustration loudly enough for the bus driver to hear. I guess the driver felt threatened and alerted NOPD.

I could understand if the announcement was that New Orleans is the most frustrating city in the U.S. The place is clearly wired for telephone service (look at the spaghetti tangle hanging over our little one-lane street) but just try to get someone in city government or the utility companies or the post office or the sanitation company or ..... to answer the phone. Or if you succeed in reaching someone (and when they finally answer the phone on the 14th ring, they sound surprised--as if a client was the last person they expected to find on the line), good luck getting any information or assistance or a callback.

Government and business have websites but most all of them are riddled with misspelled words, dead hyperlinks, and inaccurate information. Today I was trying to send the mayor an email. After composing my succinct but compelling missive, I was instructed to copy a string of characters at the foot of the page as a security measure.

What do you think? The security measure malfunctioned. Likewise for the webmaster link where tech problems were to be directed....

But I still love this place.

It doesn't make sense; usually I hate when things don't work due to human negligence. I hate lazy communication. I hate intentional misinformation. I hate when people just tell you anything to avoid saying "I don't know." I hate having my time devoured by someone talking long and saying nothing.

And all of those things go on here. In abundance. On a regular basis.

I've felt frustration more often than fear since coming to New Orleans. But my gasping and fist-clenching is diminishing. Sometimes I'm actually laughing through the frustration (usually possible if I've had a few drinks). More impressive, I'm developing some wiliness. I'm getting slick and learning how to slide through or devise a trick or a strategy.

Oh, I'm a novice for sure. I'm a rookie up against the charming, relentless Error Message that is life in New Orleans. But I like games.

And I love that people look me right in my face here.
And I love that people speak, even to "strangers."

And, in my book, those two features make New Orleans the least violent city I've lived in.

1 comment:

  1. That plate of rice and beans with cornbread looks yummy ... I can taste it from 1300 miles away!
    I lived in DC when it was the murder capital of the US, and in Paris in the summer of '86 when bombs were going off all over the city. I often felt in the crossfire of violence in DC, and was continually harassed by police in Paris ... where I am now, I feel quite removed from the violence in other parts of the metro area.
    That NO is in the south, and has the sensuality, and food and music going on, plus that lazy pace ... I think that would 'cut' the sting of violence. I can also understand why these factors would make it a particularly frustrating environment in which to conduct business.

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