I moved to the 3rd ward in June of 2013 without much fanfare. I had left the luxury living on Bayou St. John, an address with a sense of an address, to join the urban riff raff who had been living in the dark, literally, for years after the 2005 Federal Flood.
My front strip of grass was an amalgam of stones, old cans and bottles, and Katrina detritus that stuck to the bottom of your flip flop like super glue – a clay mote existed between my house and the street. If you Google mapped my address you would see two young men coming out of the side door with long dreds, sagging pants and stained wife beaters on. My neighbor on the corner was a pretty African American transvestite whose hair was usually wrapped in a black silk do rag, and on the other corner was a squatter living with his two pit bulls who had a penchant for my front water spigot, which he used to collect his water and sometimes shower.
Within weeks of moving in, my street had three huge dumpsters on it. India House had bought the last house in its row between Canal and Cleveland and was fortifying it into its compound. The double across the street was being completely overhauled, and the other double next door where the woman had rented for 23 years was having its porch tore up and replaced with a fine wooden porch.
I had arrived at frontier living in New Orleans having come from the country land on the bayou all just by moving half a mile away. It was sort of jarring, but never you mind, it felt like home nonetheless.
This morning when I went to let the dogs in the backyard, a Hispanic man was peeing against the back wall of the corner store turned apartments next door. The transvestite has since moved (sigh) and been replaced by a young African American with a nice BMW that broke down a few weeks ago and has been parked out front still tethered to the yellow rope that drug it here. He has two fine dining chairs that sit outside his front door with a sickly looking house plant in a pot on them.
The man relieving himself waved me off as if to say he’d be finished in a moment, but my Shepherd was having none of it – she wanted him gone, NOW. And I must admit, I agreed with her.
The house directly in back with its see through walls has been completely renovated after being sold at auction for under $50k and now houses two young couples on each side. Both white. The church came a couple of weeks ago to unwrap its double two doors down and begin renovation after being cited by the Blight committee. The burned out house that borders my backyard has also been cited and is now boarded up awaiting its next phase.
Morris Jeff Community School has risen in steel and concrete from the empty lot on the corner. And yesterday as I was driving home, driving down Salcedo, I passed a porch where a middle age Hispanic woman sat on a wooden chair with a checkered table cloth tied around her while a younger woman wearing kitchen gloves applied hair dye. On the corner, an older African American gentleman wore a loud Bob Marley tee shirt with ONE LOVE scrawled across Marley’s forever youthful face.
The neighborhood is going to be squeezed by the Bio Med center that is on the back nine of construction and the school that now bookends it. Already there is a neighborhood outcry against blight, against crime, against noise. It’s happening here in real time.
When I first moved to Cleveland Ave, I picked up dog shit every day from the two pits living in the squatter house, and I waved hello to the transvestite as a morning ritual. Now a young white man approached me with a small Chihuahua and said that he lives around the corner and was introducing himself.
The neighborhood is changing – pretty soon we will have many transplants to feed the Bio Med Center – the papers say they need 850 housing units. Soon the Bob Marley tee shirt will be replaced with green scrubs so often seen in medical environments. They will be looking to park their BMWs on secure streets, they’ll want the trash picked up, and they’ll perhaps do away with the loose dogs and the army of feral cats that are everywhere.
Today I passed the woman who walks through the neighborhood with a plastic suit that looks like lawn trash bags. She always sports a long white scarf that hangs almost to the ground from her neck. It is the “sweat”suit of my youth, where those intent on losing a few pounds would do it by sweating them off. It’s certainly an anachronism but more importantly it’s absurd in this heat to think you need to wear that to sweat.
I want only one thing from those new people moving in – for them to make short work of the ride or die flies that populate my backyard – otherwise, I’ll take my oddball hood characters any day over the blank stare of a medical researcher who never learned social graces from the medical tomes his head has been stuck in for all of his young life.