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Andrew Fox
Posted on Friday, May 19, 2006 - 09:02 am:   

Back in 2003, when I purchased a home with Dara in Algiers on the West Bank and sold my home in the historic Jefferson City neighborhood on the East Bank of New Orleans, the one aspect that probably bummed me out the most was leaving behind the really funky, atmospheric coffeehouses in the old neighborhood, the places where I wrote most of Fat White Vampire Blues, Bride of the Fat White Vampire, and Calorie 3501. The only coffeehouse close to my new home was a dreadful little place called News and Brews in the Aurora Village strip mall, which had all the atmosphere of a Greyhound Bus terminal and the friendly service of the Department of Motor Vehicles. Eventually, News and Brews succumbed to poor management, and a few months after Levi was born, it was replaced by a franchise of the local P.J.'s Coffee chain, a sort of New Orleans Starbucks. An improvement, for sure -- the new owner ripped out all of the obnoxious TV monitors which had lined the walls and had made it virtually impossible to write or to talk -- but still nothing more than a somewhat serviceable coffee joint. Nothing to write home about.

However, since Katrina, my local P.J.'s has taken on a new energy, vitality, and neighborhood centrality that I never would've anticipated. It was among the first local convenience-type restaurants to reopen, and because it offered both hot coffee and free wi-fi, by last November it had become the defacto headquarters for FEMA, Red Cross volunteers from around the world, fire fighters from two dozen states, the Coast Guard, the National Guard, the New Orleans Police Department, the FBI, disaster mitigration contractors, builders, roofers, plus tons of local professionals and business people who'd lost their offices (like me) but who had a laptop with wireless connectivity.

Even though lots of other places have managed to reopen since last November, my local coffee shop has retained much of its eclectic clientele, now reinforced by students from the University of New Orleans and Holy Cross College. During the week, I'm generally over there from 7 A.M. to 8 A.M. before the office and from 6 P.M. to 7:30 P.M. after the office, working on various writing projects (and schmoozing, too. . . I make new friends there every week). Most interestingly, due to the fact that Algiers, a neighborhood once ignored by the majority of New Orleans politicians, now is home to almost 40% of the city's returned population, everybody running for office has been putting in regular appearances at the P.J.'s. Over the past month, I've chatted with both mayoral candidates, Ray Nagin and Mitch Landrieu, the two surviving candidates for the last Council-at-Large spot, Arnie Fielkow (my favorite of anybody running for anything this year) and Jackie Clarkson, and both candidates running for our District C seat, James Carter and Kristen Palmer (who has her campaign headquarters two doors down from the P.J.'s). Longtime residents of Algiers who come over for coffee in the morning are bemused by all the attention, after having lived through decades of being ignored. For me, it's just been a lot of fun. Plus, whoever gets elected in the runoff will remember having met me.

If I had to make a gut prediction as to who is going to be filling the mayor's chair the next four years, I'd have to say that Ray Nagin is going to squeek in past Mitch Landrieu. Very interesting dynamics in this race. Right after the primary election last month, Landrieu was figured to have a huge advantage, since pundits assumed he'd pick up the great majority of the 33% of the voters who'd voted for some other candidate than Nagin or Landrieu (the next two leading candidates had been Ron Forman and Rob Couhig, both conservative-leaning white candidates). However, what the pundits didn't count on was the intensity of the distaste of white conservative Democrat and Republican voters for the Landrieu political family (father Moon Landrieu was mayor from 1970 to 1978; sister Mary Landrieu is one of Louisiana's two U.S. senators; an aunt is a local judge, etc.). Even though Nagin supposedly spit in the face of his conservative white supporters with his infamous "Chocolate City" remarks on Martin Luther King Day earlier this year, most of those very same insulted voters will hold their noses and vote for Nagin rather than voting for a member of the liberal Landrieu dynasty. I've heard it said again and again from people I know who I wouldn't dream would vote to reelect Nagin. They don't like Nagin, but they HATE Landrieu and are willing to see Nagin as the lesser of two evils.

I'm voting for Mitch, myself, mainly because I think Ray Nagin (whom I like, personally) has burned too many bridges and shot himself in the foot too many times since the storm to be an effective leader over the next four critical years. However, I'm predicting Nagin will pull it out with a 2-4% victory margin, propelled into a second term by a remarkable temporary coalition of black racial loyalists and white conservatives.
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Nathan Ballingrud
Posted on Friday, May 19, 2006 - 07:41 pm:   

Wow. Now that I never would have guessed. I always liked Nagin, but I don't know that I'd have voted for him again if I was still living there.

PJ's hm? My my, how much has changed. I'll never forgive the loss of Kaldi's, on Decatur St., which had to have been the coolest coffee shop in the western hemisphere. And to think they turned it into a tourist info shop ... ! Gah! It still pisses me off!
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Andrew Fox
Posted on Sunday, May 21, 2006 - 04:04 am:   

Hey, Nathan! Always great to hear from you. Yes, I mourn the passing of Kaldi's, myself. I made a decision when writing Bride of the Fat White Vampire to give reality the finger and have the place still open and a central locale in the novel. It was a fantastic community center for the Quarter and the Marigny; nothing has truly taken its place in the years since Kaldi's closed. Although there's a fairly new coffee joint at the corner of Decatur and Barracks that looks to be taking a run at it.
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Andrew Fox
Posted on Sunday, May 21, 2006 - 04:30 am:   

Regarding the election. . . sorry to say, I hit the target square on the bullseye with my prediction. Ray Nagin by four percent. If you want to find out how important the most conservative elements of the white electorate were to Ray's reelection, watch which insider postion Ray gives to Rob Couhig in the next few weeks. Couhig is the dean of the local Republican Party, who got ten percent in the primary mayoral election; Ray mentioned him glowingly in his victory speech last night, due to the fact that he'd endorsed Ray with a week to go to election day, giving Ray a huge boost.

In terms of the actual day-to-day governance on the ground here, I don't think four more years of Ray Nagin represents a disaster. He wasn't a particularly bad mayor before Katrina, and his administration has been remarkably free thus far of the corruption which seemed to plague nearly every one of his predecessors. Where the potential disaster comes in, I think, is in perceptions. I haven't looked at any opinion pieces from outside the New Orleans region yet, but I'll bet dollars to donuts that the overwhelming reaction among pundits, taxpayers, and many rank-and-file members of Congress is going to be:

"They did WHAT???????!!?? Those fool voters down in New Orleans put Willie Wonka back in office after he made their city a worldwide laughing stock???!!!?? They are too whimsical, self-sabotaging, and stupid to be entrusted with mega-bazillions of federal dollars. They made their moldy bed, now they can lie in it. The hell with them. They didn't want anything to change down there? Well, it won't."

Unfortunately, I also predict that a sizeable portion of New Orleanians who have already returned but who have been extremely ambivalent about staying will view this election result as a signal to get the hell out of Dodge. All the demographers and politicians are focused on the exiles who haven't yet returned. Right now, the people they need to be paying attention to are the 20% or so of the 180,000 people who have already come back who are going to be placing their properties on the market within the next month. This "echo exodus" is really going to hurt the city, because the citizens who I predict will give up on New Orleans in disgust are among the most economically flexible and resourceful, i.e., the kinds of workers and professionals who can relatively easily find jobs in other cities and states. As I stated above, it's not the most conservative and wealthy white residents who are going to move out, because a good proportion of them cast the anti-Landrieu vote to reelect Nagin. The residents who are going to flee are going to be the more idealistic, liberal-leaning whites who'd looked to either Mitch Landrieu or Ron Forman as a savior for the city. These folks voted for Ray Nagin four years ago and have felt both betrayed and dismayed by his performance since the months following Katrina.

Any real estate speculators out there who read these boards? This is a super time to jump on lots of historic Uptown property cheap.
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Andrew Fox
Posted on Sunday, May 21, 2006 - 07:04 am:   

Perfect example. . . my wife Dara has been singing "Goin' to Carolina in My Mind" almost nonstop since 10 P.M. last night.

Hey, at least some of last night's election returns were cause for optimism. On the City Council, all of the incumbents who were forced into runoffs lost. Dara's and my favorite of anyone running for any office, Arnie Fielkow, won with 56% of the vote. Plus James Carter, our chosen District C candidate, made it in. He'll remember who we are when we call his office to give suggestions about stuff to fix in Algiers.
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Nathan Ballingrud
Posted on Sunday, May 21, 2006 - 08:06 am:   

Hey, Carolina ain't a bad place! Dale and I are up here! You'd be more than welcome ....
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Andrew Fox
Posted on Sunday, May 21, 2006 - 02:41 pm:   

Thanks for the invite, Nathan. Who knows? We may end up taking you up on it. We're both looking for other jobs, and given her druthers, Dara would just as soon start looking in other states immediately. But I've asked for one more year for us to try to make things work here in New Orleans. If things don't get better for us as a household by next spring, we'll start looking elsewhere.

Now wouldn't be a good time to put our home on the market, anyway. The housing market is being flooded with new listings even as I type this. I talked with a friend from Loyola University this morning while I was at the playground with the boys. He said a neighbor of his decided last night to put her house on the market. She called her Realtor this morning, and the Realtor told her it would be a while before she could place the lady's listing on the computer. . . because this morning, 200 other people had newly listed their homes for sale. And this is just one Realtor's story. For lots of folks, it seems, Ray Nagin's reelection was the signal they needed to make up their minds to leave.
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Lori Smith
Posted on Tuesday, May 23, 2006 - 01:56 pm:   

Hey, just move up to beautiful Hammond! Business is booming and houses are springing up everywhere! (There are, if fact, big debates in the City Council about minimum lot sizes because houses are being squeezed onto every available square inch of open space in town.)

From Hammond you can get to Baton Rouge or New Orleans in under an hour (traffic willing) and we have a magnificent new skateboard park (for the boys).

And, the best part is, we're 40 feet above sea level!

Yes, Hammond. It's where you want to be. (Or, at the very least, it's where a bunch of your former neighbors have decided they want to be.)

:-)
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Andrew Fox
Posted on Wednesday, May 24, 2006 - 07:12 am:   

Lori, thanks for the kind invite. I know the North Shore is a nice place with a lot going for it, but I'm pretty positive that if we get to the point where we decide to pick up stakes, a move an hour away wouldn't be an option. At that point, nothing short of leaving Louisiana entirely would satisfy, I'm afraid. I've never had any desire to live anywhere in Louisiana other than New Orleans, and Dara feels even less of an attachment to the region than I do.

But our fates aren't written in stone yet. We may yet be successful in finding better jobs and decent, affordable child care, and maybe we'll have a quiet hurricane season, and maybe the schools will finally begin to get at least a little better, and maybe the new City Council will make local government run more efficiently, and maybe I'll sell another book or two after my long, aggravating drought, and maybe the thugs will all be stricken with flesh-eating bacteria, and maybe Congressman "Dollar" Bill Jefferson (that bastard whom I voted for multiple times) will be stricken with flesh-eating bacteria. . . and all will be right with our little world here in New Orleans.
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Lucius
Posted on Wednesday, May 24, 2006 - 07:34 am:   

Andy, I just can't picture you anywhere but the Big NO, but I second Nathan's rec of the Asheville area. It's pretty nice. A friend of mind has a cabin in the mountains nearby and it's pretty sweet...
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Andrew Fox
Posted on Wednesday, May 24, 2006 - 11:48 am:   

Hey, Lucius, it's great to hear from you. I hope you've been doing and feeling well. I agree that the Asheville region is gorgeous; I've been up there a few times. North Carolina seems to have a lot on the ball. We'd have to check out the cost of living, of course; but in all likelihood, the availability of jobs will be a deciding factor. All the talk radio commentators around here say, "If you can't find work in New Orleans right now, you just don't want to get off your ass!" Well, sure, that's true -- if the kind of work you're looking for is in roofing, construction, house gutting, restaurant service, or retail. But a huge percentage of white collar professional jobs got blown away. The majority of our city's hospitals are closed and may never reopen. All of the local universities have seen major reductions in numbers of students and have been firing professors and support staff and dismantling academic programs left and right. City government laid off about half their workforce. Major downtown corporations, if they are staying in the region, are moving to the North Shore, an hour away. As much as I love New Orleans (and I feel like an abused spouse more often than not lately), I can't have my family go down with the Titanic.

Dara is pretty keen on the Portland area, as well. I can't say I know much about it, although I've heard it's expensive. . . no so much so as Seattle, but up there. Worth checking into?
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Lori Smith
Posted on Wednesday, May 24, 2006 - 01:11 pm:   

It is hard to picture you (or Jules, for that matter) living anywhere but N.O., and I'd certainly hate to see you and your family head for the hills, but if the hurricanes and the flesh-eating bacteria refuse to cooperate, I do have a friend in Portland I'd be happy to put you in touch with. She's an author too, and she has four kids, so she might be a good source of information for you.

But, while you're pondering new homes, I'd like to suggest you consider St. Louis as an option. I lived there for three years before I moved to Hammond. In St. Louis you'd still be near the Mississippi. You'd still have music, but it's blues instead of jazz. And they do have lots of great Italian food. In a lot of ways it's like New Orleans Lite. Of course, it might be just enough like N.O. to make you really homesick. Nahhh...better stick with Asheville or Portland.
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Andrew Fox
Posted on Wednesday, May 24, 2006 - 03:17 pm:   

Well, we're getting ahead of ourselves, anyway. I've given us a deadline of next spring to see if we can turn things around. By then, we'll have gone through another hurricane season, a lot of that "Louisiana, the Road Home Plan" money will have landed in town, and we will have had time to give finding other jobs here a good shot. I certainly appreciate your sentiments and advice, though. Come next spring, I'd hate to leave so many friends, relations, and wonderful people behind. I really hope it doesn't come to that, ultimately. But I have to be ready to move forward if it does. Actually, I'd appreciate getting in touch with your Portland friend, just for my and Dara's elucidation.
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Lori Smith
Posted on Thursday, May 25, 2006 - 10:58 am:   

I've just sent my friend's name and e-mail address to the address you have listed in your profile here. If that didn't work, please let me know at the address in my profile. (And darn the stupid spammers who make us be so careful about revealing our e-mail addresses these days anyway.)
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Andrew Fox
Posted on Thursday, May 25, 2006 - 12:24 pm:   

Thanks, Lori. And I echo, echo, ECHO your statement about spammers. Although I wouldn't have resorted to such polite language. . .
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Lori Smith
Posted on Friday, May 26, 2006 - 06:36 am:   

Well, I try to save the more colorful words in my vocabulary for incidents involving either broken glass or close calls with 18-wheelers.
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Lucius
Posted on Friday, May 26, 2006 - 08:39 am:   

Yeah, Portland's pretty good. But you better hurry while it's still relatively cheap. You can find some great housing options in SE portland, which is turning into the new arts district.
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Andrew Fox
Posted on Friday, May 26, 2006 - 09:45 am:   

Thanks, Lucius. I'll do some checking into Portland, then. I also have Lori's friend to write to there. I've read a few stories about how land use restrictions (anti-sprawl zoning) has led to a relative shortage of housing there, plus a matching rise in housing values. Is there much in that?
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Lucius
Posted on Friday, May 26, 2006 - 10:45 am:   

I really don't know, but if not Portland, there are quite a communities like Sherwood, Wilsonville, Camas, Vancouver, etc,. that have the advantage of being ten miles from Portland and out in the country a bit....no more of a drive than you used to have in NO.

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