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New Orleans: Lo-Tech City of the Future

Big Chief Monk Boudreaux

There are two seasons in New Orleans: the six months before Mardi Gras and the six months after. The natives there either reminisce wistfully on their past holiday or plan enthusiastically for the next. This town loves its Fat Tuesday.

Many think New Orleans is in trouble. It stinks of piss and beer. People run around with no clothes on. If a hurricane doesn’t get this Sodom and Gomorrah, the oil slick will. And well-deserved its punishment, they’ll say.

Such malignment of this fine example of southern gentility and kindness of strangers is exaggerated. Well, except for Bourbon Street of course. Bourbon Street does stink of piss and beer and people are naked there. Not sure how God’s wrath, i.e. Katrina, overlooked it. Of all places in the city, Bourbon would be the least missed in such a catastrophe. My humble opinion, of course.

Beyond the loud, tacky, lewd, and stanky Bourbon Street, is the real, fine New Orleans. Music, architecture, Big Chief Monk Boudreaux, beads, mule drawn carts, and…

Yadayadayada. Skip all that. We don’t need picture postcards from a town that knows how to party. We assume they’ve got it going on. What about the important information about this holdout of Southern charm? The tech. In my opinion New Orleans is about the lowest tech place you’ll ever find. Is charm and tech mutually exclusive? Inversely proportional? Quite possibly.

Example: You rarely see cell phone usage. Yes, it’s true,  I was a tourist in a touristy area. Perhaps nobody goes on vacation with their cell phone. But Rome is touristy and the minute you step out of Rome Termini, you find yourself in a sea of yakkers, yak, yak, yakking their way to La Carbonara. So being a “destination” does not imply no wireless comm.

Here’s another one: GulfAid didn’t have the big screens that you see at those celebrity-laced save the world benefits. Certainly Mardi Gras World, where Gulfaid was held, didn’t have the facilities, and since Paul and Bruce weren’t scheduled, the Superdome wasn’t needed. Still a wide screen TV or two would have gone a long way. Maybe Lenny Kravitz, Ani Difranco, et al. (i.e. the nationals) had them, but I missed all that. I get the hives from headliners, so I stuck around until the local acts were done and then bagged it for Frenchman Street.

The St. Charles Avenue streetcars had seats made of wood and brass and they were air conditioned the old-fashioned way: with the windows wide open.

Truthfully, I saw some palmists working in WiFi cafes and one little restaurant had a tableful of computers for use by the patrons, but that was rare.

In New Orleans acoustic music is king. No stacks of Marshalls lining the backs of the showcase clubs like in NY. In NO, the high school band is the most popular gig around. It’s a viable track to a lucrative post high school career in the city that invented both blues and jazz. No self-respecting teenager in New Orleans carries around the status popular in the streets of New York: a guitar-shaped gig bag slung on the back like an afterthought. Kids in New Orleans proudly carry their uncased trombone on high. And you’re definitely getting laid if you’ve got a tuba. I know, I know, sousaphone. But in New Orleans, they call them tubas and who’s to argue with somebody that can articulate a rhythm pattern by blowing through a hole the size of an alarm clock and still sound as refined as somebody playing an electric bass with their fingers. These guys are good. And tireless.

Yes, New Orleans is definitely lo-tech, but don’t worry lest you think they will get left behind or run over by the neo-postmodern technological world. That lil’ ol’ oil slick currently invading the bayous and swamps is not going to win, nor is any other new tech substance, thought, or mode. New Orleans’ been handling corruption since way before Huey Long came to town. They got some badass voodoo for anything unsanctified that comes their way. Whatever the future holds, New Orleans go’ be there. Bet your sweet gumbo on that.

Sue Lange

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