Singles Scene Blossoms, Thanks to Katrina Hurricane Katrina didn't just affect the poor and unemployed -- the Louisiana city of Lafayette is seeing an huge influx of displaced young professionals from New Orleans. That's led to a revived singles scene, and some young women say they're finding people to date for the first time in years.
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Singles Scene Blossoms, Thanks to Katrina

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Singles Scene Blossoms, Thanks to Katrina

Singles Scene Blossoms, Thanks to Katrina

Singles Scene Blossoms, Thanks to Katrina

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Hurricane Katrina didn't just affect the poor and unemployed — the Louisiana city of Lafayette is seeing an huge influx of displaced young professionals from New Orleans. That's led to a revived singles scene, and some young women say they're finding people to date for the first time in years.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

Coming up, a British duchess fills her garden with opium, coca and cannabis plants and invites the neighbors over. First, before Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit the Gulf Coast, about 100,000 people lived in Lafayette, Louisiana. That's about 130 miles west of New Orleans. Then as evacuees fled other Gulf Coast towns, as many as 30,000 of them stayed in Lafayette. That's something of a strain on resources, roads and schools, even grocery stores. But as NPR's Jason DeRose reports, there are those in Lafayette who say it's done wonders for the social scene.

JASON DeROSE reporting:

Just a few days after Hurricane Katrina struck, Lafayette resident Melanie Lewis noticed something was up with traffic.

Ms. MELANIE LEWIS (Lafayette Resident): I was meeting my mom for lunch, and I said, `Oh, I'll meet you at a particular restaurant on Johnson Street.' And I called her, I said, `I've been sitting in one spot for 20 minutes.' She said, `That doesn't make sense. We said we'd go early; it's 11:00.' I said, `I know.' And she said, `Melanie, it must be the evacuees,' you know, like it was some kind of huge deal. So that's when I first realized, `Wow, this is a reality for us.'

DeROSE: Traffic is truly overwhelming. The city has only three main thoroughfares. Lewis, who is also Lafayette's director of community development, says the region had to get to work figuring out what to do. Lewis says Lafayette experienced in about one week the growth it had projected for the next 15 to 20 years, and that's meant some quick venue changes for long-planned events.

Unidentified Man #1: Check. Check mike one. Check mike one...

Unidentified Man #2: Say some "Hamlet."

Unidentified Man #3: Yeah, it's pretty interesting.

Unidentified Man #1: Oh, that this too, too-sullied flesh would melt, thaw and resolve itself into a dew...

DeROSE: The Aquila Theater Company is in town rehearsing for its performance of "Hamlet." They were originally scheduled to perform at the city's one major playhouse, but that venue's currently being used to house emergency medical personnel. So now it's Shakespeare in the park, and the audience has grown from 500 to more than 800.

Unidentified Woman #1: Hey, these chairs have been through Hurricane Katrina. They're a little dusty.

Unidentified Woman #2: OK.

(Soundbite of a door closing)

DeROSE: On their way to the performance, three friends, Lafayette residents all, sat down just before the play began to chat about what else all these new residents might mean for their city. They agree about the frustrations over traffic, long lines at banks and lot waits at grocery stores. But university administrator Jill Lamere says there's also a decided upside to this population influx.

Ms. JILL LAMERE (University Administrator): New friends that are looking for nice places to go, looking for tour guides, if we may.

DeROSE: Jill's just being coy here, says her friend, management Professor Vanessa Hill.

Professor VANESSA HILL (Lafayette Resident): Let's just say I've been here for a year, and finding other single professionals has been like, "Where is Waldo?"--you know, looking through a "Where is Waldo?" book and trying to find the eligible young man.

DeROSE: Finally, Jill relents with a story about a recent evening out.

Ms. LAMERE: Get to the men! There were men. There were men, yes. We actually had a war on my attentions because we have had two hurricanes here. So I was pulled from the New Orleans men to the Lake Charles men and then back to the Lake--the New Orleans men.

Prof. HILL: Now that's what I want to hear about. That gives me hope; that maybe the `Dating Grail' really does exist.

DeROSE: But Jill and Vanessa's friend, science editor Jarita Davis, is concerned all this talk of the new dating scene is causing them to seem desperate.

Ms. JARITA DAVIS (Lafayette Resident): When I was trying to tell this story to some friends of mine from out of state, they were like, `I can't believe that you're--what are you doing? You're going to the shelters and you're--you know, you're taking people's phone numbers. What are you doing?' And they didn't quite understand that not everyone who's evacuated is staying in a shelter. A lot of people have evacuated, and they've bought homes or they're renting apartments or they're, you know, staying in condos or they're staying with family and are actually going to work every morning and continuing with the same firm that they were with when they were in New Orleans.

DeROSE: So far Jarita, along with her friends Jill and Vanessa haven't started any serious relationships with newcomers. But they all agree the fantasy of finding Mr. Right is at least something to think about while stuck in traffic, waiting in line at the grocery store or while serving the crowd before "Hamlet" takes the stage.

(Soundbite of "Hamlet" production)

Unidentified Woman: My lord, oh my lord, I have been so affrighted. My lord, as I was changing in my closet, Lord Hamlet with his doublet all unbraced pale at his shirt, his knees knocking each other and with a look so piteous in purport as if he had been loosed out...

DeROSE: Perhaps finding love in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita might just be enough to transform this tragedy into a romantic comedy. Jason DeRose, NPR News.

CHADWICK: I'm Alex Chadwick. Back in a moment with DAY TO DAY.

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