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  • People ask me about life in New Orleans a lot, but over time I've learned that no one wants to hear the honest answer. They ask because they want to have their own preconceptions about the city confirmed, and they get disappointed or lose interest extremely quickly when I don't provide that confirmation. It's just easier for me, and better for them, to talk about all the positive stuff.

    I usually start by focusing on the fact that it is, categorically, a really fun city to be young in. There are tons of festivals (way more than just Mardi Gras), bars don't ever really close, and as long as your party isn't hurting or endangering anyone, people (including the police) won't ask any questions. I'll throw in some anecdotes, like the time I ended up holding a cowboy hat full of women's clothing while waiting in line for a porta potty, or the time my friend nearly got his ass kicked by a six and a half foot tall transvestite. Sometimes I talk about the time I thought a prostitute using code words for her services was a waitress taking drink orders, and how I don't know what "bourbon on the rocks" stood for but it cost $120. I'll then briefly mention the music, architecture and food, then close with practical details about the city's low cost of living (I've noticed that little extra bit of boring detail helps sell the whole thing). If I tell the story just right, by the end whoever asked me about New Orleans will have glassy eyes and a faraway grin, and I'll know they're imagining the liquor-greased cowboy hat whore adventures that await them in this adults-only Disneyland on the Gulf.

    It's not that any of that is untrue, but it does omit a lot about what it's like to try to live a normal life there. For example, the cost of living really is low, but that's because so many residents are extremely poor, and it's nearly impossible to find a professional-level job unless you want to work in oil or hospitality. NOPD is pretty lenient about parties, but they're also doing fuck all about violent crime. I leave out the time eight people were shot on Mardi Gras day just blocks from my house, or the time a 16-year-old girl was murdered 100 feet from my back door because she was mistaken for someone else. I don't mention what that girl's grandmother looked like standing on the outside of yellow police tape, her mouth agape and twisted into a horrible, silent howl. I leave out the corruption that keeps the city government from acting effectively in most situations, I leave out the blighted buildings that burn down because squatters' cooking fires get out of control. I don't mention the laughably-bad education system that does disservice to the word "ineffective," and I always leave out the fact that huge swaths of the local population are so used to and jaded about all these issues that they don't even notice them anymore. The sad part is that, because I have to leave out all that negativity, I also have to leave out the small cadre of dedicated citizens who work hard and sacrifice to try to make the city a better place, not just because they feel it's the right thing to do, but also because they honestly, truly could not live anywhere else. I can't mention the new charter schools staffed with young, well-educated teachers, I can't mention what Mitch Landrieu has been doing about blight, I can't mention what Ronal Serpas has been doing about police corruption, and I can't mention all the new tech startups moving in downtown. Because I can't mention the work that needs to be done, I can't talk about the people doing it.

    No one wants to hear the real story, and when they visit, no one wants to meet the real New Orleans. They want to see what they've seen on TV; they want to experience the stereotype, and the city (particularly the French Quarter) is happy to oblige. Tourists don't want to know what's going on behind the city's purple, green, and gold curtains, they just want to know which stripclub has the lowest ATM fees. I guess I'm ok with that; it's just another part of living in the city. Still, I wish people would let me tell them about the real New Orleans, because it's so much more interesting than Bourbon Street.
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