A Vieux From Toulouse

Coming soon: Pirates of the Vieux Carre
(Art by Eric Styles)

“Those Bourbon Street bar owners must make money hand over fist.” We as employees ring up thousands of dollars every night, take home wads of cash from our tip buckets and read about how we are part of a $9 billion-a-year industry. We roll our eyes when our employers bitch about us wasting cups or over pouring shots. All they have to do is just open the doors at 10 a.m. and the money just blows in the doors.  After Mardi Gras, they must be sitting on six figures easy, yet they whine.

Sit down and really listen to the bar owners. “We’re working for the landlords” is the common theme. Every year rents go up, often by thousands. About six years ago, I heard from a reliable source that one of the biggest businesses in the Quarter was forking out over $45,000 per month for their very large footprint. It’s well over $50,000 by now, probably. The vast majority of commercial properties are owned by a small number of families (er, I mean “Property Management Companies”).

They bought up the Quarter decades ago when it was seen as a gritty worn down section of town. Families and businesses were moving out to the vast expanse of the suburbs. The French Quarter was investment property purchased by revenue from other lucrative endeavors. All of the deeds have been paid off long before most of us were even born. Even those who own the property face enormous tax bills annually.

Look up property tax in the Quarter if you want to pick your jaw up off of the ground. Details of leases are dumbfounding.

Often, the renter is responsible for paying for repairs and up keep. Imagine as a residential renter, your water heater goes and it’s up to you to pay for its replacement. Now imagine holding a lease on a 250-year-old commercial property. Every year facing a leaking roof, a rotting dormer, deteriorating brickwork and all of the upkeep to a building that you don’t even own. Not to mention the appliances such as coolers, freezers, stoves and the like. Money goes out the door as fast as it comes in.

This shut down is draining bank accounts faster than a homeless guy drains a pint of Heavens Hill. Expect to see some of our favorites never to reopen.

All of those dollars made over Mardi Gras were earmarked to cover expenses this summer. So if they don’t reopen, who will fill those vacancies? I doubt if you will have many entrepreneurs thinking “I have a million to invest in a business, let me buy a Bourbon Street bar that just went under from a pandemic shut down that may happen again next year.”  

A few owners may just say “Fuck it. Let me cut my losses while I still have a little money to retire on.”

If you were a huge, multinational corporation with lots of capital for expansion and could weather long term storms, you might see this as an excellent opportunity. A chance to get a piece of that lucrative $9 billion dollar pie. That’s how they function and succeed. With the capital to take a loss over a few years they can drive out competition that can’t. The smoke clears and a handful are left holding it all.

How do I see the French Quarter in a couple of years? A gentrified, family-friendly atmosphere of corporate names that occupy every American strip mall. Starbucks and T.G.I. Fridays on Bourbon Street, Outback Steakhouse and Baskin Robbins on Decatur Street. Mr Binky’s sex shop replaced by a Disney outlet store, Big Daddy’s Love Acts becomes a Hooters and Johnny’s Poor Boys turns into a Panera Bread.

They go nicely with Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s vision: “This is the city’s time to re-imagine just how we live, how we move about, how we enjoy, and how we get to know and learn the fabric of our city.”  

A kinder, gentler French Quarter. Environmentally friendly hipsters on bikes cruise car free streets dotted with outdoor diners enjoying genuine New Orleans cuisine shipped in frozen from a factory in Michigan.

Licensed Disney costume characters posing for pictures with tourists instead of Uncle Louie. Unless he can come up with a $500 annual street performer permit, that will surely be part of the new and improved vision.

Do you think that all this sounds hyperbolic and unfathomable? Compare Times Square of today to that of a few decades ago. Disney cruise ships are just the landing craft for an invasion force.

A Vieux From Toulouse

(Art by Eric Styles)
If an economy crashes and there is no one there to hear it, does it still make a sound?

As much as I want this shut down to end, I’m going to kind of miss it. The French Quarter is like small town America now. Mayberry like. Sparsely occupied sidewalks with familiar residents, little traffic. No litter or feces to step around, none. Quiet, eerie quiet. No music or barkers, no revving engines of little dick assholes, no screaming bachelorette banshees, just silence. Do you know that we have song birds in the Quarter? We do. I’m really impressed by how much sex my neighbors have.

By nature, I try to distance myself from people in public. Now it’s not just socially acceptable, it’s mandated. The best part is, I can no longer be accused of “microaggressions.”

“Why dija’cross the street to the other side? You racist?”
“You’re shirtless, have a huge piss stain on the front of your pants, wearing one shoe and are waving a broken beer bottle. Fuck yea, I’m crossing over to the other sidewalk.”

Now it’s my civic duty to put as much distance between me and strangers as I can.

I’ve been on the receiving end of the stare. One early evening a couple of years ago while walking down Toulouse towards Decatur, a cliché Midwest family were walking towards me; a sitcom-looking family: mom, dad and two kids. A boy, around 11 years of age, and the girl, about 8 years of age, were taking up the sidewalk. I was on curb side preparing to pass by, when from about 8 feet away, the boy looks up at me and shrieks “STRANGER DANGER!” He grabs his little sister and pulls them both back in line between their parents.

The father at the rear looks at me, knowing half of the block heard his son. The dad’s eyes were huge with a look of panic and embarrassment. I glared back with my most animated expression of “REALLY?”

A half a block later, I chuckled to myself thinking that I should have gone Jake Blues on all of them.

A Vieux From Toulouse

What happens to a city that depends on a sole industry? Look at Detroit in the 1980s when the market turned to Japanese autos.

Tourism, a recreation historically reserved for the decadent bourgeoisie with too much money and too much time. The ancient Greeks and Romans would travel to the Seven Wonders of the World to view the legends for themselves. Medieval Christians, Buddhists and Muslims would go on religious pilgrimages to find connections with their God. Eighteenth century robber barons could spend months on transoceanic luxury liners or in private train cars to explore the known world.

French Quarter tourists come here to binge eat, binge drink, gamble and cheat on their spouses. We have nothing else to offer to the world. 

Perhaps it would be best for western culture if we stop viewing tourism as an entitlement and a see it for what it is: a narcissistic self-indulgence. Just something to boast about on social media, glad you took lots of pictures because you don’t remember a damn thing that happened.

Some complain about millionaires, but then go into debt trying to emulate their lifestyles.  They hate the rich because they are jealous of them. Traveling is nothing more than an unneeded luxury that has been pushed on us by corporate manipulation. Airlines, hotels, cruise lines, resorts, local tourism committees and multinational theme parks entice us with commercials of good looking couples strolling hand in hand on beaches at sunset.  The CEO of a credit card company can afford to go on exotic vacations. He can do so by the money made from those who cannot afford it but think they are entitled to it.

“My car may not be paid off, but I’ll drop $5,000 on a week visiting a carnival of vice.”

Spare me the bullshit . “I love to travel and experience new cultures”; a ghost tour, buggy ride and perhaps a quick walk through a museum all with a ridiculous drink in your hand. I never hear people talking about wanting to visit Saudi Arabia or Egypt; there’s no booze there. Las Vegas or Amsterdam are usually at the top of the list. That’s fine, that’s how we make our living. Let’s not be pretentious about being culturally important. We are not needed, our industry is completely disposable.

Any city that depends on a sole industry is a stage set for economic disaster. New Orleans recovered quickly after hurricane Katrina, it may take many years after this disaster.  Anyone who squanders thousands of dollars on a vacation of hedonistic exploits are financially foolish. “I can’t afford to be unemployed!” No, but you could afford to take a week off to go to the Bahamas six months ago.

“I work oh so hard, I am entitled to a vacation!”

It’s only been the past few generation who have had this kind of access to tourism. Even now, it’s only just for a sliver of the population. Let’s visit this exotic third world nation and toss coins to the kids and film them scrambling to pick them up. We’ll feel like Hollywood stars as the service industries cater and kiss our asses for the pittance tossed to them. (But to those people, it’s a large sum of money.)

With so much conversation about changing to a Green Economy or a Socialist economy, we in tourist-dependent areas should be talking about a varied economy. It’s like a mill or mining town, all aspects of the local economy revolves around just one industry. The mill closes, the mine becomes barren and everyone is out of work. That’s what happened here.

A Vieux From Toulouse

Art by Eric T. Styles

Does anyone who endorses this closure realize that if it continues for much longer, we won’t have any jobs to go back to?

Each business is still paying tens of thousands in rent every month. Commercial landlords are not cutting any breaks to our employers, the water bills are still ridiculously high for empty buildings and there is still insurance, taxes and 12-month licenses that need to be paid for.

The only aid the Federal Government is offering to small businesses is to cover payroll for employees not laid off. That won’t help if your rent is $20,000 a month. The big bankrolls made by local businesses during Mardi Gras are eaten up by staying afloat over the long, slow summer months.

Now, that money is quickly being depleted before we even hit June. We now have a number of establishments that are gone and will never reopen. Every week that ticks by will add to that number.

“Let me sit out the summer collecting unemployment and stimulus checks, COOL!!

A short-sighted, selfish and stupid objective. We in the service industry struggle over the course of the summer; it’s the nature of the beast. A smart Quarter Rat does the same as their employers, saving up money from the busy times for the slow times. Longtime service workers down here know that simple strategy. Any one who wants to see the closure to continue probably is hoping for a permanent universal basic income to result from all of this. A complete lack of understanding for simple economics will place them back in their parent’s basements.

Let’s not ignore the effect of a heated and wide chasm of political divide in all of this. “The worst the economy gets, the worst Trump’s chances are for re-election. If he tweets open it up, I’ll scream keep it closed.” I hate the Captain of this ship, I hope it sinks. In fact, let me poke holes in all of the life rafts so he’ll look even worst. I would expect that from his political adversaries, Governors and Mayors whose lives really won’t be impacted very much by an economic collapse. They can exploit such hardships for political gain. It’s easy for a Hollywood celebrity to say keep the world closed from their $20 million mansion. It’s not a rational idea from the vast majority of paycheck-to-paycheck Americans.

The big corporate places may have the capital to tie them over for several months, but the mom and pop places WILL go under. We see the crowds and we ring up thousands of dollars every night for our bosses believing that they are rolling around in piles of money in the back office.

Rent, payroll, insurance, utility and supply costs per month is more than most of us make in a year. So when all of the free stimulus money from the government goes away, go look for your next job. All that will be available will be the huge corporate establishments who will treat you like shit and be able to do so because there are two dozen other Quarter Rats wanting your job.

Please spare us the posts about how much you can’t wait to return to work and then post later about how dangerous the virus supposedly is. Every time you share a hyperbolic fear meme about COVID-19 is, or an orange man bad narrative, you are digging your own graves.