Did you know that taxis did not go to the Bywater until December of last year? Neither did I.
Until yesterday when, while avoiding something I should have been doing (like writing this column), I came across a blog from the owner of Booty’s Street Food, one of the Bywater’s many new restaurants. The blog was highlighting a recent study that determined the Bywater has the largest bike-to-work population in New Orleans (who knew?). Buried inside was a comment that Booty’s had many bike-to-dine patrons and others who took taxis, a fact the owner found “especially astonishing, as taxis literally and uniformly refused to drive to Bywater for the year we spent building Booty’s.” That year would have been 2012.
I asked the owner to clarify his meaning. He told me that had been his experience. And that of many of his regulars, “without fail.”
I should point out that just last month Booty’s was named by OUT magazine, a national gay publication, as “an anchor in a formerly unmoored neighborhood.” After the owner had given the reporter a tour of said unmoored neighborhood.
Now, listen. My beef here isn’t with Booty’s, the restaurant. It serves interesting food you won’t find anywhere else around here and some of the best and most interesting cocktails in New Orleans. If you haven’t gone, you should. Let me know when you go and I’ll even buy you a drink.
My issue is with revisionist history. Which isn’t a Booty’s thing. It’s far bigger than one blog or one article or one restaurant owner (who, I am sure, does many great things for this city we all call home).
The fact is, there are many newcomers coming into our great city these days, including yours truly. Each of us arrives with a dream, just as those who greet us awake each day with a dream. Dreams are wondrous, beautiful things. Full of possibilities.
But, especially for those of us who are new here or newly returned, we have a responsibility to be sure our dreams are based on truths.
And if you are coming to New Orleans with a dream of saving a city or a neighborhood, then you are dreaming a false dream. Because New Orleans does not need saving.
An extra set of hands? Sure (who doesn’t?). Saving? No.
While I was not here for Hurricane Katrina, I’d suggest that, perhaps, New Orleans did not need “saving” even then. Why? Because she was never abandoned. Oh sure, people evacuated, some 350 miles to Houston; others 1,300 miles to New York or Boston.
But the vast majority of those people did not abandon this city. They knew they were coming back. New Orleans knew it, too. She knew that the love people had for her, people who were born here, people who had spent the majority of their lives here, people who had just moved here, she knew that love was the only anchor she ever needed. That love is the only mooring she needs.
If it sounds like I’m on a soapbox, well, then, maybe I am (and, if you want to chime in or disagree with me, please do).
But, c’mon, it makes me crazy when folks go all NOLA Disney and try to not rewrite, but flat-out ignore, the wonderful and too numerous to ever fully tell stories of our great city’s magical neighborhoods.
It makes me crazy when some national reporter blows through town for a day and declares the Bywater previously unmoored until a knight swept into town on a unicorn.
I have friends who have lived in the Bywater for 20 years. I know people who were born in the Bywater … 80 years ago. I’ve never heard them say their neighborhood was previously unmoored. When Robert Plant played an impromptu set at BJ’s on Monday, I don’t think he thought he was standing in an unmoored neighborhood. No, I bet he was thinking he was standing in an institution steeped in music. A neighborhood built on a culture and an energy that is far stronger — and richer — than any rise in property values.
Does the Bywater need a hand right about now when it comes to crime? You bet. Just as St. Roch does. Just as my neighborhood of Treme does. Just as our entire city does. And each of us, whether born here or new here, should follow the lead of good organizations like Silence is Violence and make sure our dreams include lending those hands.
But does the Bywater need to find its mooring? No, thanks. It found that a long time ago.