Sunday, April 15, 2012

I Like People ... Pretty Well

A dollop of fresh egg orange fire shimmered a spring afternoon course through the ice blue sky while I partied at the French Quarter Festival yesterday.  A river cooled breeze chased off the heat and conducted arcs of squawking gulls high and low over their mile wide feeder flow.

Stages spotted on countless corners of closed streets and along lanes traversing blocks and blocks of the town's original settlement sounded the syncopated rhythms of sweet and soulful New Orleans.  Jackson Square, our original Place d'Armes and the first public center for Church and State, served as temporary headquarters for an army of open air kitchens and taverns crafting fascinating flavors and fare found nowhere but here. And the world squeezed in to get its fill.  I like people pretty well, but not all of them in one small place at the same time, however fun the occasion.

On the other hand, there are some significant economic effects which should not be overlooked.  This annual selling frenzy of small plates at big prices and overpriced booze is euphemistically said to be free.  But if you can spend more than two hours in attendance and leave less than fifty bucks lighter in the wallet, courtesy of the food and drink vendors, you are a master of self-restraint.  Hence, our civic and business leaders uniformly praise and promote this important part of the city's huge tourism industry. 

To me, though, its very enactment also serves as a clear example of the downside to relying on tourism as a key element in the community's economy.  The point of sale for every revenue producing item in this industry is always in our own lap.  Every customer has to come here to buy it.  For all the money it raises, it also takes quite a toll on our resources and private lives.  It can be a considerable nuisance.

A greater and too little remarked negative is the fact that, compared to almost every other  industry, proportionately more of the revenue generated through the tourist trade winds up as profit for the few business owners than as compensation for the legions of minimum wage, tip dependent workers. A fairer and healthier distribution usually obtains for workers in fields which traditionally require they be better educated or trained, so more highly skilled, and in which they are more likely - oh, my - to be unionized. 

It would be much appreciated if our business and political leaders would stop cheating on us by showering their affections only on tourists, and show some love for the average New Orleanian.  We should  focus on building an economy that builds things which can be shipped for purchase somewhere else.  Is it too much or wrong for us to think New Orleans belongs to New Orleanians?  This, at least in the sense that we should welcome visitors on our own terms, because we want to share our  beloved traditions, rich culture, and generous spirit with them, not because we are desperate for their money.

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