Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Public Transit Tuesdays: Elysian Fields

Posted By Google on Wed, Sep 26, 2012 at 7:31 AM

I met a woman today who was (rightfully) suspicious when she saw me in the 7th Ward, digging under a house, snapping pictures and writing in my legal pad. After chatting for a while, she asked, "What are you going to write about? This article, what is it?" I said, "Well. I don't know. A little bit of everything, really. I can delete the pictures of you if you want." She looked at me for a little while, trying to see if I was legit, before saying, "Alright, sista, Imma let you have this one...But if you see what's going on and don't write about it, you're a part of the problem."

I agree. I've mentioned the issues that we were venting about (gentrification, euphemistic neighborhood names and discrimination) and others that would have come up in the conversation eventually (hate groups, homelessness, accessibility, the stigma in the black community associated with seeking mental health care, blight and the lack of love for New Orleans East), but I'll admit that I haven't really gone into detail as much as I can and should. She correctly guessed that I try to keep my power-fighting to a minimum because I don't want to ruffle feathers.

When I started this column, I was used to writing for CUE, our monthly fashion, home and beauty magazine. I love writing for CUE because I love glossy magazines; like CUE intern Angela Hernandez, I have stacks of glossy mags all over the house. (I know a girl who slipped on a magazine and broke her arm, though, so be careful and keep those stacks off of the floor.)



But writing for glossy fashion magazines is different, because there are advertisers that you don't want to upset and relationships with retailers that you want to build. Minus basic journalistic principles, the writing is so different that someone even called me out on it on the debut of Public Transit Tuesdays. And I was pissed. And hurt. Via Twitter, the guy accused us (me, really) of trying to disguise advertising as content. He wasn't mean, though, so I responded to him and he basically said he'd give it another shot.

I'm not linking the actual Twitter conversation because I know this person doesn't like to mix Twitter with his actual blog. I know that because I ended up getting really angry about his accusation later that night. Not because of him, but because I was venting to someone about the accusation who said that someone else said that my writing "sounded too much like ad copy" and that set me off. (The person who told me this was trying to be helpful, not gossipy.)

I didn't think the person who originally said my writing sounded like ad copy liked me anyway (well, I thought the person did at first but then I thought the person didn't), so I tried to brush it off, but I kept hearing it play in my mind: Ad copy. Ad copy?! I wondered to myself if the person had ever read a magazine; my CUE writing and glossy magazine writing are pretty damn parallel, which is a good thing.

I searched all over the Internet and found out who was behind the cartoon avatar on Twitter and was pretty happy to see that I wasn't the only journalist — not even the only Gambit writer — that he openly critiqued.

(Update: He liked the next installment, we follow each other on Twitter and he likes my Facebook journalist page and all of that good stuff. And I'm pretty cool with the person who didn't like me back then. We're not best buddies or anything, but we like and respect each other.)

Still, I wanted to cover hard news in addition to my CUE writing. That's a big part of why I created Public Transit Tuesdays in the first place — I could cover anything I wanted.

Riding the bus today with Apptitude founder Chris Boyd, we discussed the importance of doing things for your community, even when they are often literally more trouble than they're worth. He said, "It's a good motivation when you remember that you're doing something for New Orleans."

Steps in the 7th Ward, on N. Robertson.
  • Steps in the 7th Ward, on N. Robertson.

While riding the Elysian Fields route with Chris, a wonderful good luck charm of a bus buddy, I noticed I kept jotting things in my notepad that were more nostalgic than anything. I grew up riding the Elysian Fields bus and spent most of my time in neighborhoods along the bus route, so I sort of expected it. By the end of the trip, my notes looked like the results of a brainstorm session for an Ain't Dere No Mo' television show — or T-shirt.

Taking notes on the Elysian Fields bus
  • Taking notes on the Elysian Fields bus

Chris unknowingly helped get me out of my nostalgic trance by discussing apps and technology, specifically his New Orleans transit app, Ride, which he's submitting to Apple this weekend so it can be available in the App Store by October. Ride, which Chris is doing pro bono for a year, uses the newly released GTFS data to display both scheduled arrivals and perpetually updated, GPS-based anticipated arrivals. Riders can even list their favorite routes, which is especially helpful when more than one bus can get you to your destination.

Chris Boyd of Apptitude, demonstrating Ride.
  • Chris Boyd of Apptitude, demonstrating Ride.

We also talked about the issue with neighborhood names, people begging for money on Elysian Fields who are —according to their cardboard signs — "just traveling" and our confusion regarding the disdain for transplants who are from other cities in Louisiana. (Chris is from Baton Rouge.)

Our first stop was to Sammy's.

Chris Boyd, ordering at Sammys
  • Chris Boyd, ordering at Sammy's
I ordered a stuffed crab, gumbo and macaroni and cheese, while Chris ordered a hot sausage po-boy and chili cheese fries.
Gumbo at Sammys
  • Gumbo at Sammy's
Lil hot saus out da 7th Ward
  • Li'l hot saus' out da 7th Ward
I noticed a guy come in wearing a loud blue Hawaiian shirt. He looked like a senior citizen, so I thought it was adorable and wanted to take a picture. While taking his picture, I noticed another senior in an American flag shirt! You know I love American flags. After taking the pictures, the American flag shirt guy approaches me. I tell him I work for Gambit, and he asks me to help him take the pin off of his shirt. I do, and he gives it to me — U.S. Army pin! Neato! What a nice old man. I give him a hug and ask if I can take a better picture.

A woman comes up to me, ready to apologize for his behavior. But why? He's a nice old man, just like my Paw Paw.

Mr. John Sadowski, of Chicago
  • Mr. John Sadowski, of Chicago

"Keep that up and we won't go to the nekkid party!" she scolds him.

"Nekkid party?" I ask, thinking I misheard.

"Yeah! A nekkid birthday party at the Country Club for a friend of mine who's turnin' 26! She's gonna light her boobs on fire like a cake!"

American shirt guy's name is John Sadowski and his friend's name is Renee Hernandez. John lives near Holy Angels and is always getting into trouble, according to Renee. John told me to disregard everything Renee said. John kept rubbing my back, tugging on my shirt and thanking my Mama for my good teeth. When Chris got up to refill his Diet Coke, John told me, "Dump that son-of-a-bitch and come to the nekkid party!" I laughed and said I was busy — which I was. Renee assured me that I could go to the birthday party, even if I wasn't nekkid: "I ain't gonna be nekkid 'cause I ain't in that kinda shape!"

My new friend John and I
  • Chris Boyd
  • My new friend John and I

Chris and I wanted to tour the Old New Orleans Rum distillery, but we took too long eating our food and talking about nekkid parties to get there in time for the noon tour. We're going next Wednesday, though. I remembered one of my coworkers (either Carrie, Sherry or Linda) talking about how pretty American Aquatic Gardens was, so we headed over there.

Red hibiscus at American Aquatic Gardens
  • Red hibiscus at American Aquatic Gardens
American Aquatic Gardens glass
  • American Aquatic Gardens glass

The smidgen of fall weather that was present about a week ago is gone now, so Chris and I spent the rest of our time together staying out of the heat, in the shadow of buildings. I spotted a gorgeous cocktail cabinet outside of The Junque Shop, but $1,150 was a little rich for my blood.

Giggety, giggety, goo!
  • Giggety, giggety, goo!
I shared my '50s cocktail bar/Quagmire bar fantasy with Chris, mentioning the Hazel-Atlas pink elephant glassware that I want — and spotted on Royal! — as well.
Hazel-Atlas pink elephant glassware
  • Hazel-Atlas pink elephant glassware

Chris stopped at a restroom just past the French Market, and I noticed a Y.O.L.O. (You Only Live Once) t-shirt. Lawd today. There are Y.O.L.O. shorts next door, should you want to complete the look, because, well, Y.O.L.O.

Y.O.L.O. tee
  • Y.O.L.O. tee
Y.O.L.O. shorts
  • Y.O.L.O. shorts

NSFW "The Motto" by Drake, Lil Wayne and Tyga. This is where Y.O.L.O. comes from, as Y.O.L.O. is the motto, and I'm not ashamed to say I really like this song and "Rack City." Loving the Bay Area/hyphy movement influences in both.

Ran into Christian, my favorite pedicab driver!
  • Ran into Christian, my favorite pedicab driver!

After I walked Chris back to St. Charles Avenue, I returned to the Elysian Fields bus to continue the adventure, this time with genealogy in mind. As you know, I'm a research geek/New Orleans history dork with a photographic memory.

My Mom's Mom's family, the Dominiques/Domingues/Dominiquezes/Dominguezes/Dominicks/Denningals were all raised in the 7th Ward, only a few blocks from each other. Researching their side of the family is sometimes confusing because of last name misspellings — both intentional and accidental — and the whole hey-we're-in-America-we-speak-English-and-nothing-else-let's-deny-our-background-for-the-benefit-of-future-generations issue. That's evident in the pronunciation of last names in the 7th Ward too: Instead of saying Mar-TEEN-ez, we say MAR-tin-ez; instead of ES-teh-vez or Es-TEH-vez, we say ES-teevz; instead of Dom-ih-NEEK, we say DOM-ih-nik.

This is all I can tell you about my Mom's Mom's people without confusing myself too much:

My Maw Maw had a brother with epilepsy who ended up being committed because of it.

My Maw Maw had a sister who died as a teenager when "her period went up instead of down." Aneurysm perhaps?

They were all musicians by night and cigar factory workers by day, with my Maw Maw's brother Don Albert moving to San Antonio and their cousin Natty moving to Chicago.

They are direct descendants of Dominique You, Jean Lafitte and Francois-Marie Guyol de Guiran.

Their ethnic makeup is Cuban, Puerto Rican and Hispaniolan but at the end of the day, they're black. Creole? Yes, certainly — but still black.

Anatie Dominique Sr., my Maw Maws great-grandfather
  • Anatie Dominique Sr., my Maw Maw's great-grandfather

1719 N. Robertson in the '50s

Maw Maws Mom holding my Mom with Cousin Lynette on the left and Cousin Leo on the right.
  • Maw Maw's Mom holding my Mom with Cousin Lynette on the left and Cousin Leo on the right.

(From front) My Mom, her brother, my Maw Maw, my Maw Maws Mom
  • (From front) My Mom, her brother, my Maw Maw, my Maw Maw's Mom

1719 N. Robertson today

One of two Dominique family houses, 1719 N. Robertson
  • One of two Dominique family houses, 1719 N. Robertson

1723 Urquhart today. Unfortunately, I lost all the pictures I had of that house.
1723 Urquhart, another Dominique family house.
  • 1723 Urquhart, another Dominique family house.

Maw Maw holding my Mom
  • Maw Maw holding my Mom

One of Maw Maws brothers, Don Albert
  • One of Maw Maw's brothers, Don Albert

After taking pictures of my old family houses, I noticed a house a block down on North Robertson that was for sale. Having spent many hours playing under houses in the 7th Ward as a child, I didn't hesitate to look under the house. I saw a piece of broken china and briefly wondered how I could go on Antiques Roadshow with it, before being called over by a guy on a bike and a lady in a minivan. I'm used to people questioning what I'm doing, running around with a camera and taking notes, but I usually get annoyed. I don't ask the people at McDonald's what they're doing when they make (and mess up) my hamburger and I wish people would stop asking me what I'm doing when I'm doing my job.

But something told me to calm down before I walked over; something told me that they were asking the questions I want to ask when I see strangers in my neighborhood taking pictures. Actually, before the house across from mine was being rebuilt, I saw a business man (using that term euphemistically) taking pictures of it; I didn't ask any questions, but I sure stared hard at him.

I introduced myself to Queen, Deshawn and Queen's sons Prince and King, letting them know what I was doing originally and that I sorta wandered off and started looking at the houses where my Mama'nem grew up. They softened up a bit.

Deshawn
  • Deshawn
Queen
  • Queen

"Oh I thought you were from Entergy or something," Deshawn said.

"No, but I saw 'em down over there. Y'all need 'em?"

"I just asked you what you were doing because we've been seeing a lot of that lately," Queen said. "People who don't look like us — and people who look like us — running around taking pictures of houses, trying to buy them for tax liens and foreclosure."

And she's right. About a month ago, Lovell Beaulieu and Beverly McKenna of the New Orleans Tribune wrote an article about gentrifiers contacting people in the 7th Ward whom they suspect would easily part with their properties for a lump sum of cash. McKenna and Beaulieu urged readers to hold on to their property, but anyone who's rebuilt a house after a disaster knows that sometimes that money looks so tempting — especially if you don't plan on moving back.

We discussed the sale of these foreclosed houses and properties with tax liens, agreeing that it must be a terrible feeling to buy someone's home for only a fraction of the cost and that it must be an even worse feeling to buy these properties and overcharge citizens to rent them, effectively pricing out the whole block.

Then, we talked about the differences between people who want to help a community and those who want to help themselves.

The topic of euphemistic neighborhood names and what Queen refers to as "the Mass Genocide of 2005" also arose in conversation, with Deshawn saying, "I don't know any of the Uptown neighborhood names and I'm from out the Magnolia — born and raised!"

Queen said, "I call Hurricane Katrina the Mass Genocide of 2005 because aside from what she did to the city, the aftermath and what's going on now in the neighborhoods are the real disaster. They're raping us."

All of pictures are on Facebook and most of them are in the slide show below.

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