Oh you wide-eyed innocents who have come to this place believing the myth that you’re entering that Nirvana called The Big Easy. Woe unto you who have sipped from that goblet of illusion, that wine of delusion, and are now waking with the headache of confusion. Never fear, your Uncle Phil will give you the straight skinny about what you need to know about living here. And if you don’t need these words of wisdom, you can pass them on to friends who are deciding whether or not to make New Orleans their home
First: I assume that you already have a job. Now, get a good landlord. Fact one is that the majority of landlords here have gotten really really greedy in the last few years. New Orleans is the seventh least affordable place to rent in the country (proportionate to income), and, most important to note: tenants have zero rights here. You may get a one-year lease and then go month to month; that means nothing. Unless you register your lease at City Hall, a landlord can evict you with five days’ notice, for any or no reason (just ask former tenants of current Airbnb apartments). Point two: landlords are doubling and tripling rents here because they know that some fool will pay. Don’t be that fool, be prepared to take your time choosing your home, space and neighborhood. Also, if you’re a first-time home buyer—New Orleans is the least friendly place for you to try to take root.
Okay, so now you’ve found your digs. Here’s what’s next: you have to register to vote and you have to get a library card. You have to know about politics here. That’s really very easy. New Orleans is a blue dot in a red state and as far as politics goes, not much gets done without somebody getting/giving some money. You have to learn to and how to recycle: break down your boxes, don’t try to recycle glass or plastic bags, and no garbage in the recycling bin or it simply will not be picked up.
You also need to be aware that it is up to you to take your trash cans to the street (and tote them back). Become aware of when pickup day is, pull up your big boy pants and take the garbage out. And don’t put too much extra stuff out all at once (foliage cuttings, old furniture, spare tires), unless you want to see it sit in front of your house. “Free at Five” means pickers get the good stuff you’ve left by the curb. Metal pickers pick up anything that they can sell for scrap, including beer cans and bicycles.
Bicycles are a great way to get around and it’s almost like a rite of passage to have one or two stolen. A word about bike riding is, you take your life in your hands because of reckless feckless rubbernecking drivers. The alternative is to rely on motorized transportation. Public transportation, known here as the “Shame Train,” is an exercise in patience, humility, frustration and fortitude—not for the faint of heart, but sometimes necessary.
Cars are a way to get around, though parking around town is a bitch, with meter maids and boots costing you money as well as paid parking that costs as much as your child’s tuition. Make sure that you have a good mechanic who knows other professionals in the business. Set aside $1000 a year for shock absorber replacement because of our street conditions. Your windshield, tires, insurance carrier and nearest junkyard facilities will all come by recommendation. You’ll need a vehicle to evacuate from storms and to get you anywhere outside of the city limits, like over to Jefferson Parish where you can catch a show, shop or recycle glass. And yes, the First Amendment guarantees a person’s right to beg at street intersections; get over it, they aren’t going away.
Yes, we have storms here, rain, thunder and lightning. The streets will flood because the storm drains rarely are cleaned out and are used by construction workers to flush paint, cement and lawn debris to our lake. Also, there is a culture of litter-bugging here, you’ll see everything from cigarette butts, beverage containers, crawfish shells, plastic bags and even soiled diapers, try not to become part of it.
Wildlife, oh yes, we’ve got more wildlife than just you out for drinks and music with your friends: feral chickens, rabbits, possums, clowders of felines, lizards, snakes, turtles, frogs, stray canines, bats, alligators and every imaginable insect to bite, scratch, sting and frighten you; please don’t try to pet the raccoons. And yes, those are gigantic cockroaches (called palmetto bugs)—they fly and will nip you. Caterpillars will drop from oak trees and sting the heck out of you, and wait until the season when termites swarm into your house looking to relocate in your undies. There are also plants that will hurt you and some that drop seedpods that will poison your pets.
We also use chemicals with abandon here. We’d rather spray our way out of weeds and bugs than guard our health. Workers chip paint, grind sidewalks, and blow leaves with a gasoline-driven machine strapped to their back with aplomb and without facemasks. Our lake fluctuates between safe and unsafe for swimming. I would not recommend eating any seafood from our waterways or vegetation grown in any un-remediated yards.
And crime? It happens. I’m not allowed to furnish you with the variety, frequency and degree of that insanity and still welcome you to our city. I personally wouldn’t live anywhere else, they just ain’t civilized out there. You’re now living in New Orleans, don’t call it the Big Easy.