The Dirtiest City in America…But There’s More! Tuesday, Jun 14 2011 

There it was. Headline. First thing this morning: The Ten Dirtiest Cities in America: New Orleans Tops the List. Needless to say, I had to investigate. Not because I thought the charge erroneous, but because I knew there must be a back story.

For one, it is clear that cleanliness is not necessarily linked to popularity. As it turns out, New Orleans has some good company in the top ten of America’s dirtiest cities: among them are New York, Memphis, Las Vegas, and Miami. Not exactly vacation backwaters. They are all among the Nation’s favorite vacation destinations. But I figured there must be more to the story.

After a couple of clicks, I got to the Travel+Leisure web site. It led me to the requisite, attention grabbing dirtiest cities story. And there I found that source was the 2010 America’s Favorite Cities survey. There was more to the story.

Cleanliness was one of over 50 different criteria. And needless to say, New Orleans, a favorite tourist destination did equally poor on some and exceptionally well on others.

Sidney's Saloon, Treme, New Orleans.

The survey topics where New Orleans rated poorly were quite obvious: New Orleans is not a good place to visit in the summer; pizza is not a first choice for food in New Orleans; New Orleans is not a center for fitness freaks; New Orleans is not clean, quiet, or safe; and, New Orleans is not a choice for a family vacation.

And while all of these help make New Orleans a singular place, it is the positive stuff that leads us to go back again and again. In times to visit, New Orleans ranks number one for New Year’s Eve, which is quite surprising. Under food and restaurants, it ranks number 1 in neighborhood joints and cafes, number 2 in ethnic restaurants, and number 4 in big-name restaurants. Visitors also like New Orleans’ B&Bs and boutique hotels, noteworthy neighborhoods, and shopping for antiques and vintage items.

Of course, New Orleans excels in a number of other areas. It is ethnically diverse and ranks number 1 in people watching. And, it should surprise no one, that New Orleans is ranked highly for a place to go for a wild weekend, and for live music, and is number 1 for cocktail hour and for and the singles/bar scene.

So, it pays not to go  just with the headline. There is often a lot more to the story.

Leaving New Orleans Wednesday, Mar 31 2010 

This was my fifth trip New Orleans since Katrina and accounts of my annual departure have become somewhat cliche. Yes, the last cafe au lait and beignets, shopping for family, appreciating the vestiges of spring before returning to March in New Hampshire; yeah, it’s pretty much the same every year.

But some things are different: I didn’t get robbed my last night in New Orleans (2006); I didn’t get bumped from my flight and have to fly out two days later — from Jackson, MS (2007); and, I only got a little emotional about leaving the City. Clearly, I don’t miss being robbed or confronted with travel complications, but of more concern: am I losing some of the love? In the simplest of terms, the answer is “no.”

As my family is quick to remind me, I am getting be an old fart. But with old fartdom comes experience and some level of self awareness. And as much as I look forward to returning home to family and my normal routine, I’m increasingly aware that with each year, I bring a little more of New Orleans back with me. And conversely, a little bit more of me stays behind. And that’s not a bad thing.

So, let me present a scorecard of impressions from my recent visit:

Bad thing: corruption, inefficiency, and crime is still very much a reality in New Orleans.
Good thing: New Orleans seems to be finding its stride.
Bad thing: racism is still very much alive in New Orleans.
Good thing: people in New Orleans will talk to you at any time, in any place, about anything.
Bad thing: Bourbon Street.
Good thing: Frenchmen Street.
Bad thing: the elevated section of I-10 over Claiborne Avenue remains a blight
Good thing: the people in New Orleans are still walking about 18″ above the ground because the Saints won the Super Bowl.
Bad thing: while there has been some progress in rebuilding the Lower Ninth, it is too little, too late, and too strange.
Good thing: Musician’s Village is complete. Now, let’s do it again and again and again. Well, you get the idea.
Bad thing: For whatever reason, Super Sunday was postponed, and I missed it for the first time in four years.
Good things: New Orleans has the best live music and the most accomplished and engaging musicians of any place I have ever been and probably ever will be.
Bad thing: they don’t pay most New Orleans musicians a living wage for what they do.
Good things: I’ve learned that there are excellent po-boy shops besides Domilise’s (but it is still my favorite).
Bad thing: the food in New Hampshire is not near as good as that in New Orleans.
Good thing: I’ve lost several pounds since returning home.
Bad thing: I don’t live in New Orleans.
Good thing: I don’t live in Louisiana.
Bad thing: once again, I had a wonderful, fulfilling experience, but had to leave.
Good thing: I WILL be back.

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