Sunday, March 31, 2013

Tourist turns New Orleanian

New Orleans was such a nice place to visit, we decided to live here: Beau Tidwell

"Slowly falling in love with the city as an outsider, over years of visits, made moving in seem like the natural next step."
The recent announcement that New Orleans tourism posted its second-highest count of visitors on record in 2012 was unalloyed good news for the city and the people who love it. Reporter Mark Waller noted that 9.01 million tourists spent a record-setting $6 billion. According to the University of New Orleans, that's the third year in a row tourist spending has set a new record. And the trend lines are all headed in the right direction.
As a former tourist turned aspiring local, I can attest to the strength of the city's appeal to outsiders.
My wife and I made our first trip down here for our honeymoon two years after Hurricane Katrina. We were so enamored of the city, and were made to feel so welcome and at ease by everyone here, that we came back the next year on vacation. And every year after that.
Each time we had to leave, we'd ask each other, "Why don't we just move down here?" Last summer, our first child was born, and we finally elected to take the plunge and raise our baby in the place we'd always been the most happy -- in the city that care forgot.
Hurricane Sandy slammed into the Northeast just as we were trying to get out, and we did most of our packing in the dark with no heat and no water. So when we finally pulled into New Orleans last fall, we came as refugees -- camping in an empty basement apartment in Broadmoor while we waited for our furniture to catch up with us. We had no idea what we were doing or what we were in for, but we did at least know exactly where we were: right where we long wanted to be.
With a few months under our belt, we're starting to finally settle in. We've had our battles with Cox Cable (that has to be some sort of hazing, right?), we've gotten turned on to WWOZ, and we've discovered the wonders of king cake. We celebrated our first New Orleans Christmas, and we survived our first New Orleans Carnival season.
I paid a ticket I got for parking in front of my own house (on Mardi Gras, no less!), and I've paid local taxes since I started drawing a check.
But I still feel like a tourist.
It's been suggested, in the comments on Mark's article on and elsewhere, that New Orleans should put its efforts into attracting new residents rather than tourists. As my experience suggests, the two are not mutually exclusive. Slowly falling in love with the city as an outsider, over years of visits, made moving in seem like the natural next step.
But I'm learning that moving to New Orleans and being from New Orleans are two separate things entirely. For all that the city depends on tourist dollars for its lifeblood, there is a world of difference between making a visitor feel welcome and helping a new resident feel at home.
In our time here to date, I've been overwhelmed by the generosity and the kindness of our new friends and neighbors who have gone out of their way to help us settle in. The people of New Orleans have been patient and generous with their time, teaching us how to pronounce the names of streets so we don't sound like Yankees, and which areas of town you can drive through during Carnival (hint: none of them).
Born again in Black and Gold, it is sometimes easier to see the seams in the dream we sell to visitors. The French Quarter may be safer than it's ever been, but all over the city bodies are piling up at record rates. The area around the Superdome is repaved and revamped, but in some other parts of the city the roads are torn to pieces and the lights only half-work.
But for all that, the spell of New Orleans' allure remains unbroken, and the mystery of what exactly separates the city's 350,000 residents from their 9 million annual guests remains intact. What does it take to make a new resident a New Orleanian? Is such a thing possible?
I'm gambling that it is. After more than 1,300 miles on the road to get here -- and years of dreaming of it before that -- I'm more than happy to take my time learning exactly what it means to call New Orleans my home. I didn't move here because the food is amazing (though it is). We didn't bring our family across the country because the music scene is like nowhere else (it certainly is). We came down for good because something in the spirit of the city, its people and its culture, made us never want to leave.
Beau Tidwell works in digital operations at Times-Picayune. Read about his parenting experiences on the page and on Twitter @NewNolaDad.

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