In spite of hurricane-damaged buildings and countless new white government trailers on rail flatcars destined for people without homes, New Orleans is celebrating Mardi Gras again. It’s a slimmed down fête with only 70 floats, instead of the usual 200, following a single route to minimize police coverage and trash pickup. The New York Times reports people have been saying, “Get on with it,” and it has come to pass.
The hopeful theme of the 2006 Mardi Gras, “May God Bless New Orleans”, may be a call for those yet to return. The New York Times reports that less than half of New Orleans’ 465,000 residents have returned to their beloved city, although more are returning daily. The demographics of the city may be changing. For the first time in decades, the scale is tipping toward a white majority over blacks.
The city government has no money to repair the other half of the traffic lights that are controlling the growing traffic in the city. The government has no money for little else either. The refrigerators, putrid and abandoned, have been hauled away, but trash pickup occurs once a week now, instead of twice a week as it was before Katrina tried to defeat the hearty spirits here.
Businesses are reopening in areas. Many businesses are seeing their online business increase, as their people traffic isn’t what it used to be. Near Tulane University, Yvonne LaFleur has a shop selling women’s hats, gloves, gowns, and other accessories. She has seen good business in Mardi Gras hats, gowns, and long kid gloves that sell for $289 a pair but says, “I have not seen any of my black debutante business,” according to the New York Times. She said 80 percent of her business has returned.
Many businesses remain closed, while many chic restaurants are doing well. The city government is nearly $200 million in the red, has yet to resume full property tax collections, and is staying afloat with nearly $75 million in loans by the grace of sympathetic bankers. The criminal justice system is bordering on apocalyptic without real facilities to hold trials, or even provide the constitutional right to counsel, according to the New York Times.
Two weeks ago, a criminal court judge suspended all cases involving public defenders that have been representing 80 percent of all defendants in New Orleans. Only 7 of its 42 lawyers have returned. Defense lawyer Arthur A. Lemann III told the New York Times, “It’s a total breakdown of the state criminal justice system. It’s incredible. I think that have better facilities in Afghanistan.”
Only 19 of New Orleans’s 117 public schools have reopened and only three of the city’s seven hospitals are open. A recent survey shows that only a third of the doctors have returned. The number of beds available has gone from over 5,000 to below 2,000 in the city.
USA Today reports that Mobile, Alabama boasts the second largest Mardi Gras celebration. 850,000 attended in 2004 and they are expecting a 20 percent increase this year. Their fête was first celebrated in 1703. Galveston, Texas hosts a Mardi Gras with an ocean view and drew some 300,000 in 2005. Even San Diego’s Gaslight Quarter hosts a Fat Tuesday party and is expected to draw 50,000 this year. Norman, Oklahoma is honoring Katrina evacuees living there in this year’s Mardi Gras celebration, highlighted by the Norman Okra Queens. Described as “large and green,” they, and 30 or so other “unidentified rolling objects”, circle a downtown block of this small town on Fat Tuesday.
Back in New Orleans, there is hope. In the middle of all that is desperate and damaged, many residents feel Mardi Gras is an important tradition for the city to maintain. The Associated Press reports that families still migrate to the same corners on which several generations have gathered in other better times for the parades. Children still sit atop ladders waiting to catch beads, as in prior times when towering throngs made it more difficult to catch beads.
Karry and Deanna Causey have lived in their New Orleans neighborhood of Gentilly for 14 years, the New York Times reports. They and their three kids decided to rebuild their gutted home and the Federal Emergency Management Agency provided one of those white trailers while the electricians and drywall workers did their best.
The rows of deserted houses in their neighborhood could present a haunting future, but the lights in their new windows present a brighter future. They expect to see neighbors returning as signs are appearing in deserted front yards saying, “We’re coming home…” Deanna told the New York Times, “We don’t like giving up. Everything has changed, nothing has changed. Does that make sense?”