There's a thin line that runs throughout life, much like a river-sometimes straight, other times meandering, and, more often than not, vague and murky. Muddied by interpretations and prejudices, it is a line that barely separates good from bad, rich from poor. And the demarcation between love and hate is visceral and need not apply only to the ambiguous nature of romance.
As Katrina memories resurface this time of year, I think of that long, black line that marked the difference between life and death. Every day, I still pass the greasy black line on the glass door of a still empty building and know that those flood waters would have been waist-deep for someone my height. And for quite some time after Katrina, I would follow those oily bands that traveled the walls and fences of this town.
Some lines are not so visible, but the juxtaposition of opposites is stark, as in the haves and have-nots that make up this world of ours. Here in New Orleans, I am constantly aware of how close our culture runs alongside dysfunction. The other day, I was perusing an issue of Saveur that had a multi-page piece on Galatoire's Restaurant, and there was this one photograph of two young boys tap dancing in front of the restaurant. It spoke volumes of the disparity in this city, but most readers would never even notice. These kids will never dine there, and it's doubtful they'd ever be hired to work there.
The other infuriating thing was that this photo was meant to show the "colorful culture of the Quarter." Bullshit. These young boys should have been in school, but there was no truant officer around the corner; no concerned parent watching over them. Second lines and street musicians busking for tips do represent some of our local talent and uniquely New Orleans culture. Kids scraping for tips is not culture.
"One step over the line" is often an apt measurement for how near we come to danger or to crossing towards a point of no return. Veering too far into poor judgment or greed can change the course for many. I like to think that with extreme moderation (and enforcement), something like Airbnb has a positive place in enhancing tourism and the small businesses that our visitors support. But, no. Greed just has to jump right over that line and create a monster that strips away affordable and available housing for our citizens. The same goes for Uber and Lyft-a little can go along ways to improve transportation and shopping. Uber and Lyft have helped to bring tourism dollars to every corner of our town and certainly, and most importantly, has made a great impact on curbing drunk driving. Many things start out with potential to enhance but step over the line of fair play to reap the profits. In my opinion, Airbnb is out of control and detrimental to commerce.
Look about, and you will see how often someone crosses the line or sidesteps principle. Just look at Trump for daily examples of gleeful leaps over the boundaries of human decency. Yet, heaven forbid, he understand the need to cross a border from despair to opportunity. There are lines that protect, and those that arbitrarily deny.
Not all lines should be avoided. A Saints running back resisting tackles and gliding across the goal line to score a touchdown can lift an entire city. Waiting in line for Jazz Fest to open its gates, being in the line to vote election day, the check-out line at Canseco's as you chat with all your neighbors making groceries, the black strips that guide you in your swimming lane, waiting in the queue to cash that tax return check, and a short line at the DMV-these are lines that can elate, elevate, or simply make life a bit nicer, hope spring eternal. This city is a dichotomy, yet so much overlaps and intertwines. We are shaped, for better or for worse, by our contradictions. Take, for example, the Louisiana Shrimp and Petroleum Festival. Need I say more? But, wait, there's more: sunrise comes up over the west bank, a Louisiana Congressman fell victim to gunfire but remains an NRA supporter, our Democrat governor is pro-life, straight men wear red dresses, various petroleum/oil companies underwrite our environmental exhibits/policies/programs, and Louisiana is enacting strict pro-life laws while we rank last in the U.S. in education, health care, wages, etc. (so much for a pro/positive good life). Louisiana also ranks as the fourth highest in the rate of infant mortality in the country.
Yes, our lives and our world are always
aboard a roller coaster of contradictions.
I feel nowhere knows this paradox better
than New Orleans. And that stubborn line,
that arbitrary divide, is always present in any
mere walk down any street, through any
neighborhood, a montage of beauty and
filth, delights and despairs border that line.
What consoles me, and gets me through the
dysfunctions and flaws of my New Orleans,
is the mere fact that there is nowhere else
on Earth quite so unique. And god knows,
no matter what, at least it ain't boring. The
status quo is not what we aspire to adhere
to in New Orleans-regardless of which side
of the line we are on.