Dear New Orleans: I'm Leaving You

Another View: Hope in New Orleans

Correspondent Greg Allen, who has reported from New Orleans regularly since Katrina, says that despite the many problems, he sees signs of hope that the city will come back. Read his essay.

Commentator Eve Troeh

Last summer I was the poster girl for New Orleans . My picture ran in the Sunday paper with the headline Generation K. I smiled, flanked by hot pink oleander and golden hibiscus.

In the interview I praised the city for its social warmth and tropical elegance. I declared my goal to tell stories about its stumbling, slow recovery. I'd quit busing tables at an Uptown bistro so I could report full time.

I've reported for this network and others on crime, housing, insurance and tourism. But unlike most reporters who fly in for a few weeks at a time, I've LIVED here. So, when I go to the drug store, and chat with the drug store clerk ...she recognizes me. Last year on Labor Day she was crying. In the past, she'd have thrown the family picnic. Her house flooded to the roof. Some of her family died; the rest, left. No more family, no more picnics. Then there's the family I met at the mechanic. They were waiting for an oil change. They were part of the crowd at the Superdome after the flood. A bus took them to Arkansas. That's where they live now. They had a cooler of andouille sausage to bring back. No more hot dogs in the gumbo!

I've taken fierce pride in being a local. When I travel I'm a junky for talk about the city. Someone will ask "So, how is it down there?" I launch into a litany. There are busted traffic lights, leaky sewer lines, mountains of debris, the skyrocketing murder rate, miles of desolation, and the levees still aren't fixed. But you should come, I say. It's like a battered beauty queen. Hard to look at, and messed up even more on the inside, but still so regal and charming. This is where the listener I've taken hostage turns away slowly to engage someone less insane.

They don't understand that I'm in love. I talk to friends about New Orleans like a dysfunctional romance. I gush over it one day, then call up bawling and heartbroken the next. Why can't it change? Stop being self-destructive and violent? It has so much potential.

Recently, my blinders started to come off. It was building for awhile. My friend Helen Hill was murdered in her home;other friends have been mugged. We don't go out much any more...

But then there was this hot Friday night last month. I went on the perfect date with New Orleans . Saw live, local music, danced with friends on the stage, then headed home through my neighborhood of craftsman cottages and angel trumpet trees.

A block from my door, I was attacked from behind by a stranger. I escaped, with the help of my roommate. The case is moving forward, so I can't say much more than that.

Now I'm a jilted lover of the city. I'm angry and confused. Which is the real New Orleans? The one that's violent and desperate? Or the one that coos softly, and caresses me? The answer, of course, is both.

I just hauled my things out of New Orleans in a big truck. I am still in love with the city, but it's hard to trust it. Maybe we'll both heal, and the relationship will rekindle. I don't know what - or how long - that might take.

Eve Troeh is a Katrina Media Fellow at the Open Society Institute.

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