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Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Guts And The Glory

This is what it looks like today and at game time.
 When I tagged this blog (as I do with all my blogs) I started to add all sorts of tags. Sports. Yes. Television. Yes. Politics. Yes. Commentary. Yes. Slice of Life. Certainly. It is a mixture of all that when you talk about the Super Bowl and where it is played and contested. And how it is contested. And why it is contested and presented the way it is.
Today is Super Bowl Sunday. It is a grand day when the NFL's best for 2012 will be crowned. Many parties (all over the world but mostly in the United States and Canada) will take place. Interesting commercials will be watched, debated and replayed over the next week or two. Some famous singer will sing a few songs at Halftime in a blaze of amazing lights and other fantastic displays of showmanship. If you like that sort of thing, it is a great spectacle.
I don't watch the Super Bowl anymore. That is unless my buddies invite me over to watch the game and eat some Tortilla Chips. I don't have cable TV anymore and even if I did, I probably wouldn't watch the game. It used to be about the game, but these days it isn't. We all know that. I might watch a video of the actual game in a week or two on the net. For today, my friend cancelled the get-together, so I won't do anything but check the score around midnight to see who won it. But really, football and pro sports is so overrun with commercialism these days that I have lost interest. I know it is the Ravens and the 49ers, but other than that, I barely even follow anymore. 

When it was the Steelers and Terry Bradshaw vs. the Cowboys and Roger Staubach, I really cared. That was totally about football. If there was a halftime show and great commercials back then, I don't remember either of them. People watched the game to see the game and possibly because they bet on it. Those days are long gone. I used to watch games every Sunday, from 1pm to 7pm,  solid. I haven't done that for at least 15 years, maybe longer. Commercialism has just ruined it all for me. I have no connection or attachment at all. Back in the day I was a huge Buffalo Bills fan. I still remember that as very fond times. But again, that is the past.
That isn't what this blog is about anyway.

This is what it looked like 7 years ago right after Katrina. While they cleaned up the Super Dome, much of the city still looks like this: A heap of garbage piled up but not taken away.

Back in December when I took a boat cruise from New Orleans to the Caribbean and back, I decided to drive to New Orleans instead of fly. The trip went smoothly and pretty much was a highway trip down. What I mean by that is that all we did was take one highway to the next and they all look the same. That is, until we got to New Orleans.

I had never been to New Orleans nor anywhere close to it in my 48 years. So, while I knew it was below sea level and swamp country, I never really comprehended what that meant. Until we got close to the city and there was a very long bridge that takes you over the total swampland and River that separates Mississippi from New Orleans. That was truly a sight and it highlighted just how vulnerable New Orleans is to the elements. My memory is that it is about 11 or 12 miles of just bridge. If you run out of gas or your car breaks down here, you are stuck for a long time. It is just swamp and river for as far as you can see.

Once you get back towards dry land, you begin to see the devastation that Katrina caused. While not all of New Orleans looks like the remnants of a war zone one of the worst areas of the city is the part that comes right after the long bridge ends. I had to get gas there and it was a dangerous area. In Los Angeles terms, this was "the hood". Graffiti everywhere, old, broken down buildings, just in a heap and getting worse, and many completely vacated apartment buildings and factories. It was a ghost town of concrete and rubble. But even so, I did not see any homeless. Not yet anyway. If there were they had moved farther into the city-the downtown core-where the Superdome is.

This was the Apartment complex across from the gas station just over the bridge in New Orleans. You can't see the worst part, which was much worse than this pic indicates. It was vacant and abandoned.

 As we drove into the city and towards the Port where the boat would sail from, it was extremely dingy and dirty. Sure, they had rebuilt part of the downtown and certain areas were modernized and clean, but for the most part the highways were falling apart and the buildings were old and in very bad repair. Still, many major cities are like that. The Port is only about 5 minutes drive from the Superdome, which you can see from the parking garage for the Port. We boarded the boat and didn't see New Orleans again until we finished the cruise.

“You can see it for yourself,” Weaver moaned to a reporter, staring Friday at all the vacant lots, overrun with weeds that are taller than he is, at all the abandoned shells of former homes, many of them still marked with the spray-painted “X” that became the grim symbol of a great American city nearly wiped off the map.
“I’m going to be honest with you,” he went on. “It sucks here. Just look across the street, nothing. Look over there, nothing.”

Shockingly, this is not the exception, still, 7 years later.

 When we got off the boat, we had half a day to see whatever we wanted to see in New Orleans. That for sure included Bourbon Street and The French Quarter. That is still great, although it appears to have seen better days. There are still pockets very close to it that are very run down and not up to major city standards. However, that could get a pass. We spent about an hour there and then went on our way. We decided to tour the historic Garden District, where there were many high end houses from the 1800's and older still there. The drive there was shocking. The level of devastation there is not something I have seen up close in a very long time. Keep in mind, I live in Toronto, which is a city of more than 5 Million people and has its old run down areas. But, never would Toronto allow itself to get to this level. If it did, the federal government would step in and fix it. Toronto's big stadium, the Skydome (now Rogers Centre) and the Air Canada Centre are both very close to the older part of downtown. There is a concerted effort to make sure those areas are kept clean. There has been no such effort in New Orleans as far as I can tell.

In many ways, New Orleans has come back stronger than ever since Katrina. The restaurant scene is thriving. The hotels are packed. The Superdome has received a glamorous makeover. The French Quarter rocks into the wee hours night after night.
But, as the Big Easy prepares to host the party-slash-national holiday it does like no other, Super Bowl Sunday, it’s worth remembering that life has not yet returned to normal for everyone here.

Not even close.
“It’s like a tale of two cities,” said Mike Miller, who works with the homeless group Unity of Greater New Orleans. “It’s hard to believe that seven years later, it still looks like this.”

This was a very common site and right off the street. In many areas there are hundreds of these right off the sidewalk.

I don't know what it used to be, because I was never there and they say it was a fabulous vision, but now, New Orleans is an ugly, dirty, disgusting dreary town that looks like it was a war zone that nobody has made any real effort to rebuild. 
 The worst part of the damage is still very close to the Superdome area, and the homeless "village" is not much more than walking distance from the Dome. We saw that "village" as they were curbside and very close to the street when we stopped for a light. I don't scare easily, and we have many homeless in Toronto who approach you for money at stop lights, so I am used to that sort of thing, but this area made me feel very uncomfortable. It is for that same reason that I never travel to Detroit anymore, and New Orleans has attained that status for me as well now.
 Houses still fallen apart, but not demolished. whole areas vacated. Homeless people everywhere, in groups, in camps. It truly is very depressing if you have to live there. Just to see it for an hour or two left an impression on me. The President I am sure knows about this and he should be ashamed that he doesn't get it cleaned up. It is an embarrassment to him as the leader of the country. I would have to think twice if I were to ever visit New Orleans again and certainly I would have to avoid many areas. It has lost its tourist destination image because of the lack of effort it has taken to repair itself. Who is ultimately responsible for that I can't say, but somebody is.

 Miller estimates there are more than 10,000 — and maybe as many as 15,000 — abandoned structures in the New Orleans metro area. Many of them have been commandeered by the city’s large homeless population, who slip away in the light of day but leave behind evidence of their existence — dirty clothes scattered about, a bedroll where they slept, empty cans and plastic foam containers from what passed for a meal.

 I am certainly not saying that a city shouldn't host a Super Bowl, or any great event, just because they have some homeless and some urban issues. What I am saying is that New Orleans isn't a city anymore that can. It is so far gone that it needs to clean up its act first. And when I say clean up its act, I mean literally. The devastation of Katrina was truly never cleaned up. And it is fine if they don't want to. But if they don't, they don't deserve a spectacle and cookie like the Super Bowl first.

Back in the day, the Superdome was a very big deal. The Astrodome, Silverdome. Olympic Stadium. These were epic structures which seemed to go against nature. Baseball in April in shirt sleeves. Football in February with no risk of snow, rain, ice and horrid conditions, like some of the earliest Super Bowls. Because of that, the Superdome has now hosted its 7th Super Bowl. But while these structures could shield you from the outside elements, they can't hide what is just outside them. Mother Nature did its damage there, and no amount of light shows and sugarcoating is going to hide that.  Especially when cities like New Orleans and Detroit make very little effort to do that.
In fact, they used the Super Dome to house many of the homeless when Katrina first hit and left its devastation. It left an awful mess in the Superdome which they cleaned up. But they have not even begun to clean up the mess outside the Superdome, and until they do, they don't deserve a Super Bowl. If they can't even clean up their city, then they can't be world class enough to host a world class event like the Super Bowl.

Rewarding the city even though it has not made the effort to repair the damage is giving the present before the achievement has been done. In real life you eat your dinner first then you get dessert. That is what our parents taught us as kids and it still holds in my book.

 We love our city, man. We love to have a good time. We love for people to come have a great time with us.”

But, for all those Super Bowl revelers who might think everything has returned to normal in the Big Easy, Weaver has this message:
“Come on over here where I’m at.”
It’s not far away at all.

 You really have to see it up close to understand how bad it is there. New Orleans did not deserve a Super Bowl and they still don't. It isn't a world class city anymore. It is a borderline slum with a few nice areas remaining. It is a blight on the Super Bowl and the prestige it has to hold an event there now until they make even a remote effort to at least restore a small amount of dignity to a once great city that is now nothing more than a war zone that time has forgot.


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