by February 20, 2008

By Khalid Salaam

Never been to New Orleans before but I can easily see
the charm that people always talk about. I’ve always been into historical information and NO
was always one of those places you read about in school.
In history class I was a beast and was open eyed when I learned about Creoles and Octoroons,
needless to so I was extra amped to make it down to New Orleans. The accent
alone has made the trip worthwhile. When the locals say baby they pronounce it with a drawn out “eh”
sound. Not sure how to type into words but its
something like behhy-bahhy. All I know is
that I’m fascinated by it and every time someone says
it I shake my head in happy approval. Not in mockery
though, I am really blown away by how dope it sounds.
I’ve obviously heard the accent on television and
movies and I recall a couple of New Orleans kids in
college. But it’s really impactful when you’re around
it all the time. A woman at the Marriot restaurant made me an omelet Saturday
morning and I almost fell out. Really. They seem to use more vowels than consonants
when they speak and every sentence in condensed down to a single word. There are no
breaths or spaces in between the words just rhythmic sound drenched in a supremely unique accent.

On Saturday afternoon my good friend and one the
smartest dudes I know Tino Pasquier, took me, Sam and Lang to
Uptown New Orleans and we ate at a restaurant called
Zea. Sam and Lang had Shrimp Etouffe and I had roasted
Trout with sautéed corn, mango lemonade and pecan
bread pudding. I’m a big fan of bread pudding, always
have been. I usually get mines from the Whole Foods
store but what I had on Sat was next level good. I was
smiling and eating at the same time. You guys have
already been briefed on the party scene that happened
on Friday and Saturday night but I’ll add one more thing. As I’ve come to expect during All-Star Wknd the ladies are very open to any dance floor ambitions I have. But it was even more so this time. I somehow
created a new way of entertaining myself by redefining
the term “makin it rain”

On Sunday after we had lunch at Napoleon House (I had a turkey po boy with creole mustard. Bangin!) before former Slam Radio Dj Toney Blare and Slam contributor Aggrey Sam took Ben and I to the real New Orleans. I knew I wouldn’t be able to go to the NO without checking out the still effed up areas. Because of travel delays we didn’t get a chance to participate in the NBA Cares projects on Friday but I felt obligated to at least acknowledge the real deal. So we go to New Orleans East first I was struck by the desolation. There are still huge buildings, warehouse buildings that can house a Target or Wal-mart that are just standing there skeleton-like. This went on for blocks upon blocks. There were windows blown out and walls crumbled enough to expose the guts of these buildings. There were countless front porch steps sitting there without neither a front porch nor a house behind it. We saw gas stations with pre-Katrina prices and plenty of destroyed stores and businesses and empty streets where there were no people. Toney told us that there are only a few hundred people living in this part of town and that its common to see one house on a block with no other houses within eyesight (we did see them. Weird). I’m like just take everything down. There might not be money to properly take them down but why not just burn it down? Safely of course but still burn it. These ruins must be hell psychologically, why allow people to live in constant reminders of what happened. As I learned from Agrrey and Toney, the city politics in place are keeping the city from totally recovering and that all of the money that the gov’t gave them was used in the clean-up but rebuilding will cost millions more. They simply need more.

Additionally, the money that was promised to people from FEMA has either not been allocated yet or if it was the amount was thousands less then what was promised. We also went to the 9th Ward and Gentilly a racially-mixed middle class neighborhood that was also hard it but didn’t get the attention of the poorer, Black neighborhoods. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, NO Mayor Ray Nagin and the city council have all seemed to drop the ball. It is both disgusting but also confusing as to why. We also stopped by Lake Pontchartrain, the body of water that flooded the city after Katrina destroyed the levee system. It looks like the ocean. Just a massive body of water that seems endless. It gave me a great perspective and remembering that the city is low-lying to begin with, you begin to understand the magnitude of what happened. Now, thats not to say I understand what happened in great detail at all, In fact I would say that I was blown away at times and struggled to comprehend what my eyes revealed to me. What’s going on down there in fantastically complex and will require the greatest minds this country has in order to fix it. I was humbled.

After the All-Star game I went to Bourbon St. Just walked it and reveled in all is debauchery. There were scantily clad women, really scantily clad women and then there were whores. The distinctions are not obvious but I tried hard not to mentally mislabel anyone. People drinking from open containers, music blasting (jazz, hip-hop and metal), men on corners playing instruments, people running around in costumes and police on horses galloping around. It was awesome. I went to the media hospitality suite in the hotel in hopes of grabbing a snack and winding down. Monday morning I was awaken to the thoughts of missing out on a Café Du Monde beignet. I had heard so much about them and wanted to get over there but hadn’t had time. So I got up and showered and went over there. Down mysterious side streets with eye-catching architechture it seemed like i was entering another world. But it was only the French Quarter (or Freynchh Quada) which was actually pretty close to where I was. They cost 3 for $1.82 and they are really really good. No joke, no bs. They’re donuts but extra soft and shaped like pastries. And covered in powdered sugar. Ridiculous. I sat down a bench behind the café and listened as a guy sang Amazing Grace. He was singing it like his life depended on it. I got caught up in the rapture of the moment and sang along with him. My face and beard was covered in sugar and i sang off-key but I didn’t care (“ how sweet the sound… to save a wretch like meee”….) it was chilly out but I didn’t care. It was a special moment. A couple of hours later I convinced Sam and Lang to go and I had 2 or 3 more (not sure really because I was eating them so fast) before we bought some souvenirs from the pralines shop next door. From there it was back to traveling and home.

I’m obviously skipping a lot of stuff. Only because so much happened that it’s hard to concentrate. I am still processing much of it but this was superior in every way to last years All Star Wknd. Vegas is exciting and modern but somewhat antisocial. NO is warm and complex and emotional. My life is different now.