Wednesday, August 16, 2006

New Orleans is Alive and Well

It is always dangerous for a "research scientist" to report/comment on non-research topics, but that is exactly what I am doing. The most often asked questions I have received about my recent trip to the annual APA conference in New Orleans are about the condition of the city following Katrina. Most people who ask know little about the Ninth Ward or any of the other areas most heavily hit by the hurricane. But they do know the French Quarter and the Warehouse District with its museums, so these are the areas on which I will comment.

My first impression was simply the lack of people. Even with a convention reportedly 10,000 strong, there were far too few people, anywhere. The airport was all but empty (both coming and going), many gates obviously unused. There were no lines for cabs, no lines for check in at the hotel, no lines at dinner (without reservations, I might add). The National D-Day Museum (since named something else by Congress) was practically empty -- on a Saturday no less. I noticed these things because my last trip to New Orleans prior to Katrina was radically different. Even the bars of Bourbon Street were resorting to that old college-town trick of "three drinks for the price of one," hawked by aggressive tub-thumpers with just a bit too much eagerness in their voices.

There were other reminders of the most recent disaster too, subtle perhaps, but eerily present nonetheless. Wendy's on Canal Street had a sign in the window that read "Now Open Every Day." Perhaps they have been open every day for quite some time, but not so long as to warrant removal of the sign. I went to Radio Shack to see about a new battery for my cell phone (foolish as that might sound) and noticed that merchandise was only now returning to the shelf.

Despite these changes since Katrina, there were many things that reminded me of the old New Orleans. Mother's Restaurant , for example, was the spitting image of what I remembered. Arguably offering the best blackened ham in the U.S., Mother's seemed like the same place I have visited hundreds of times before (over a 20-year span). Wonderful chicory coffee, long lines with loud short orders and home town folk. The decadence of Bourbon Street is still there, if not more expanded, as too is the Old Absinthe House across from the Royal Sonesta Hotel, all stops I make when I am in town.

People wonder aloud if New Orleans is ready to resume its tourist trade and rejoin the convention circuit. Well, I have little pull with AERA, NCME or CCSSO (and perhaps even less influence on the readers of this blog) but I do know these conventions would succeed in New Orleans. The new convention center was a wonderful venue for APA and should be suitable for others as well. New Orleans is still a fun place to visit and the timing is ripe before all the tourists get back to town. I encourage y'all to visit and I will continue to lobby the conference planners as well.

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