We are livin’ the dream here in New Orleans. Sweet dreams, daydreams, and bad dreams. Our lives are a magical mystery tour peppered with more than their share of nightmares. This Jazz Fest season will bring familiar faces back to New Orleans along with many brand-new faces and, as often happens, there will be those who routinely fall in love with this town. I personally am proud to know that this place is forever able to cast a spell over our visitors, even enchanting them to move here. However, to those under the spell, a word of caution: she ain’t easy.
If you decide to move here, be prepared to move your heart, soul, and loyalty along with your furniture, pots and pans, dog, and cat. Because if your heart is not in it, you will wonder more times than not, “What the hell possessed me to do this?” Your car will not like New Orleans. Find a good mechanic—you’ll need one often. (We swear by Will & Lenny’s on Galvez.) Get ready to be towed and ticketed, even while you watch our police park illegally every day. If the potholes don’t realign and rupture your car, the flooding surely will be in the wings to assault your vehicle.
While covering the transportation issues, know that turn signals are rarely used here, and yellow lights mean speed up, red lights mean speed up even more, and green lights are when folks enjoy texting. Bikes are fair game, so don’t expect most drivers to even know what the flashing light at the Lafitte Greenway crossing means, and bike lanes tend to be useful for passing cars. “Oh, Debbie, how you bitch so.” Okay, it is true that great strides have been made to make this a bike-friendly town—seriously. Things are getting better and should continue to advance the health and environment of our people here. But wear that helmet and bike defensively.
If you fall in love with our town and wish to buy or even rent a home here, make certain it is under a termite contract. Boyfriend and I just got evicted from our dream house by termites (while it was the landlord who delivered the bad news, our tenant/landlord relationship was great until those little buggers won the war). And this brings us to the cost of renting or owning in this town. Expensive! The last report I read had New Orleans ranked as the seventh least affordable place to rent in the nation (based, of course, on median incomes). We have watched rents double and triple (highest in our neighborhood: $2,300) in the last eight years. The good news is that prices seem to finally be stabilizing and perhaps even reducing a wee bit. Airbnb drove prices up. Our newbies from larger, more expensive cities rolled with the inflated price tags ‘cause it seemed less than their former Brooklyn digs (and, therefore, they unwittingly approved rent hikes); and, of course, property taxes, termites, subsidence, the Sewage and Water Board debacle (google: flood of August 5, 2017), and the cost of building supplies/labor have put a real hurt on house owners.
Know too that the pay scale here is not in keeping with these rising costs. If you are in food service, the waiter’s (sometimes even bartender’s) hourly minimum wage is $2.13. Ya gotta earn a boatload of tips to pay that $1,200 (or that $2,300 around the corner from me). No rent control here and often only month-to-month leases—so be prepared to have moving funds ready.
Now, have I taken those rose-colored glasses from you and tinted them gray? Well, if you really feel this city, truly connect with her pain and her beauty, then allow me to welcome you, “new neighbor.” We could use some fresh eyes on this place and some enthusiasm. Are you ready to love her even during the tough times? Are you committed to give a care? Great, then I will, if you’ll allow me, give you my personal advice and wishes to make you and this city a meaningful union.
First, stand your ground best you can when talking rent prices with potential landlords. Many are great and willing to be fair, and it never hurts to request a lower price—negotiate. And when the asking price is over $2,000, do us all a favor: let them know this ain’t New York and continue your search elsewhere. And, when you do find that great place to hang your hat, treat it like your very own home and respect your landlord (let him know when termites are rearing their ugly little heads or if there is a leak that might cause rot). Also, own your new neighborhood! Clean those catch-basins so your street floods less. Pick up litter. Meet your neighbors, and say hello when you pass folks on the street. This is something our city takes pride in—no one remains a stranger for long!
Register to vote immediately. Get a library card and use it. Locate your neighborhood NORDC facility for their FREE pools and fitness centers (NORDC also offers free piano, sewing, dance, etc. classes). Listen to WWOZ and fund it during pledge drives (same goes for WWNO and WYES). Shop local, shop small. Find a neighborhood bar and meet people (overindulging is not required, but camaraderie is). Support the arts, fresh markets, pop-ups, and music. Oh, and tip like mad—our musicians and service industry people struggle like hell to make ends meet, and they deserve recompense for all they do! Jazz Fest—embrace it, and that goes for all our festivals.
And be a New Orleanian. I don’t care if you have lived here one day or 90 years—own it, be it, and above all, love her. She is a weird and magical city. You will need that unconditional love to get you through the hard times here, because she ain’t no Big Easy.