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Big Easy Living: 24 hours in New Orleans

We started with a high-school prom, and ended with panic in the streets in the CBD.

All in all, a great 24 hours in New Orleans.

Summer brings dog days and visitors, pretty much in that order. When my sister and niece arrived on Friday from Houston, they had only one item on the agenda: an appearance in “21 Jump Street” by Lauren, a junior and film major at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. She had signed up online at the Louisiana Film Commission ( to be an extra, and her casting call had come.

She (and 299 other young extras) reported to work at the InterContinental Hotel at 3 p.m. Friday; she wore a short, kicky blue BCBG dress and curly hair, a prom queen-in-waiting if ever I saw one.

Lauren sat with other prom attendees in a holding room, snacking on goldfish (not real ones) and tepid water, until 2 a.m. (yep, 2 a.m.), when she was ushered upstairs to a ballroom for filming. Five or six scenes later, at 8 a.m., we collected her. The blue dress wasn’t quite as kicky and the curls only a memory.

But who cared? She’d danced in front of the cameras with Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill in the foreground. And who doesn’t want to be in a movie in New Orleans? It’s not so far-fetched a summer outing, with a dozen productions under way at the moment.

Two hours of sleep and off we went on an abbreviated disaster tour of New Orleans – a quick recap of my patented foray through neighborhoods decimated by Katrina in order to take the pulse of the city as the sixth anniversary approaches.

Lakewood South sparkles; Broadmoor and Lakewood North are getting there. Lakeview is a patchwork quilt of new McMansions, rebuilds and vacant (but pristine – who mows them all?) lots. Gentilly is struggling, though the level of blight in all areas is down from my last tour, in January. Now, boarded windows and Katrina tattoos stand out, no longer the tattered norm.

Next up was lunch at the American Sector, John Besh’s retro ‘40s restaurant at the World War II Museum, followed by “Beyond All Boundaries,” the museum’s 4D movie recapping the war. If you haven’t seen it, by all means go: Where else does it snow in June in New Orleans?

It was midafternoon, and a shopping stop for a Father’s Day gift at the French Market flea market was in order — after all, where else can one snag a NOLA tee for a $10 bill? My favorite new t-shirt saying: “New Orleans, established 1718; re-established 2005.” Nice. Tarot readings were on sale, too (two for $20), but we passed.

By now, cocktail hour approached, so we opted for another New Orleans must: daiquiris from a drive-through daiquiri shop on Veteran’s Highway. For the under-30 crowd, it’s a mandatory rite of passage when passing through the Big Easy. The banana split flavor proved a fave (but be advised, there are no non-alcoholic drinks available at this drive-up bar – and we wonder why New Orleans has a party reputation).

Dinner was a no-brainer: pounds of boiled crawfish (at a season-low price), spicy potatoes and corn, heaped atop spread-out pages of Saturday’s Times-Picayune. We washed it all down with Abita Amber, which didn’t go so well with that pina colada daiquiri, but when you only have 24 hours…

Final outing of the evening was a trip to the Prytania Theater to see “The Green Lantern” in 3D. There’s something quirky about sitting amid Uptown matrons wearing plastic 3D glasses, in the city’s last single-screen movie house, with its silent-movie pipe organ onstage, watching a special-effects extravaganza shot right here in New Orleans. (It’s also really embarrassing when your husband sings along to the Prytania’s trademark concessions ditty, “Let’s all go to the lobby …”)

The art-deco Lakefront airport proved an artful backdrop for mayhem, and the CBD, with the Hibernia Bank tower prominent in the background, a great place for inter-galactic panic.

So there we had it: 24 hours in New Orleans that began with making a movie here, ended with a movie made here, and captured in between Katrina, crawfish, epic history lessons and several varieties of local drink.

Maybe you can do that in Houston, or L.A. But, unless Hal Jordan is around to conjure up some Green Lantern magic, I don’t think so.


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