KAI RYSSDAL: The New Orleans Saints are going to stay on in New Orleans. The team and the state of Louisiana announced earlier this week they’ve agreed on changes in their contract. It’ll keep the team in the Superdome through the 2010 season. And if they keep winning the way they did last year, it might lend some more civic pride to a city still rebuilding from Hurricane Katrina.
A lot of New Orleanians stuck it out after that storm 18 months ago. Others are settling there for the first time. New arrivals like Melanie Peeples.
MELANIE PEEPLES: Living in New Orleans isn’t easy. If you’re going to do it, you need to know certain things about yourself. Are you the kind of person who prefers cosmetic beauty over personality? Do you need bright, clean, cheery buildings? Can you wait three weeks for a phone?
That’s right, three weeks for a phone. That’s how long I waited. And I’m not living in a house that flooded or had to be rewired. My place stayed dry — and did I mention it’s right across the street from the phone company?
Then there’s the grocery situation. For whatever reason, there just aren’t many grocery stores in this city. Oh, I guess I could drive out to the suburbs, but then there’s traffic, which I also don’t understand. If New Orleans lost half its residents, why is there stop-and-go on the interstate? I drove out for milk once and ended up so irritated at confusing intersections and missing street signs, I decided we could just do without and turned around.
But dairy is important. So against warnings, I tried the closest thing to a grocery for us and a lot of New Orleans: the Super Wal-Mart.
[SOUND: Inside a Wal-Mart.]
It’s big, loud, and packed.
The floor is dirty and a third of the lights are burnt out. It’s depressing. No one makes conversation over cauliflower here. We do not linger over lima beans. We just want to get out.
This isn’t how it should be. Doesn’t Wal-Mart know what these people have been through? If anyone deserves a nice place to shop, it’s New Orleans. I start mentally composing a letter to the company’s headquarters.
[SOUND: Shopping car wheels.]
I’m feverish with injustice by the time I’ve navigated the trash and empty liquor bottles in the parking lot on my way back to the car.
Then I feel this nagging sensation, like I’ve seen this store before. This parking lot. Those doors. And then it hits me.
I know where I’ve seen it. This is the Wal-Mart I saw on television being looted just after the hurricane. The one where people were liberating televisions and DVDs.
I stop composing my letter to Arkansas, and mentally throw it in the trash, thinking, “I guess I’m just lucky to have a store at all.”
[SOUND: The car driving home.]
Then, on the drive home, the street just suddenly changes from one-way heading north to one-way heading south, and I’m staring at two lanes of cars directly in front of me. How weird is that?
Well actually, not that weird in New Orleans. I detour right and then left and pass the bank where I tried to open a new checking account, but couldn’t because the bank’s computers were down.
But I did get some good advice there. The bank lady warned me not to go to the DMV for a new driver’s license on a Monday, Friday or the day after any holiday. If I avoid these days, she says it should only take four hours to get a new license.
I think I’m just gonna keep my out-of-state license. The lady at Allstate, where I can’t get home insurance, says to expect my car insurance to cost twice as much here as where I used to live in Florida.
It wears you down.
[MUSIC: An upbeat brass band.]
But, oh, the history in this town. And the food. The way strangers call you baby. And the music.
Most days, I come away thinking this city’s hassles are a test. You have to prove your worth. And when you do, the subtle splendors of New Orleans open themselves to you. Where else in America do they name streets after goddesses of poetry and song?
In New Orleans, I’m Melanie Peeples for Marketplace.
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