I admit that, before I went to New Orleans, much of what I knew about New Orleans came from the computer game Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers. I now realize that it presents a very touristy version of New Orleans, but it’s still a classic, and highly recommended to anybody who likes click-and-point adventure games. It does have some issues with race, but it’s also one of the few American computer games from that era in which two out of the three most important characters in the story are POC women (there is a love triangle between a German-American man, an African-American woman, and a Japanese-American woman). I just found out that there is a remake of the game – I just might try it.
As someone who grew up in San Francisco, I am aware how different a city can look from a tourist perspective and from a local perspective. I know that I do not see New Orleans from a local perspective. Most of what I saw was the touristy stuff, but I’m okay with that. At least I’m aware that what I saw was the touristy stuff.
When I was telling people that I was going to New Orleans, I usually got one of two reactions:
1) New Orleans is a good place to visit, you’ll have a good time.
2) Be careful.
Now, when people said ‘be careful’, were they discussing the dangers of being hit by a motor vehicle (seriously, that almost happened to me in San Antonio – the driver ran a red light at a very high speed while I was already crossing the street), or being caught on a train during a derailment, or me drinking so much alcohol that I randomly walk into the Mississippi River and drown? Nope, when people told me to be ‘careful’ they had one thing on my mind – street crime by strangers.
‘Safety’ was also a theme when I was reading about where to go in New Orleans. I did not know what to make of it since I had never been to New Orleans before. Not only did I grow up in a major city, I’ve been out in an impoverished and high-crime neighborhood in San Francisco (the Tenderloin to be specific) alone at midnight, so I was wondering if any of the neighborhoods I was likely to visit in New Orleans would be any more ‘dangerous’ than that.
I got out of New Orleans train station at night, and … it did creep me out, but not for the reasons I expected. First of all, the lighting was poor. Later during my stay, I talked to a local about this. She said the street lighting used to be better, but after the city installed new lighting, it’s been much darker at night, and that she does not feel as safe after dark as she used to. The second reason I was creeped out was that the streets around the train station were deserted. There were few cars, and almost no pedestrians. It was even more desolate than downtown Los Angeles at night. On the one hand, people and cars who are not there cannot hurt me, but … well, I think I would have felt more comfortable in San Francisco’s Tenderloin. When I finally reached an area with SOME people, I felt better.
Anyway, I was not the victim of any street crime in New Orleans. I also did not get so drunk that I walked into the Mississippi River. I was alert – just as I would be alert in other places. Travel is not entirely safe, but neither is staying at home – there was a murder just a block from where I live last year (it was so close to my home that, if I had been awake at the time, I probably would have heard the gunshot).
Speaking of the Mississippi River, some of you might have noticed that I’m using a tag called ‘The Mississippi Journey’ for these travel posts. That is the name I chose for this trip because I am visiting five different cities/towns along the Mississippi River (six if you include Baton Rouge, but I don’t since I was only there for an hour). I might have seen the Mississippi River before from an airplane, but this trip is definitely the first time I have ever seen the Mississippi River from ground level. I remember crossing the Huey Long bridge on the train, which was my first real sight of the great river.
During my second day to New Orleans, I took the ferry from the French Quarter to Algiers Point, the second oldest neighborhood in New Orleans. The houses there weren’t much different from a lot of the other historic houses in New Orleans, but it was definitely a much less touristy neighborhood than the French Quarter or the Garden District, and there were a lot of cats.
I stayed at a hostel in an old yet very clean house in the Lower Garden District. It was excellent value for the money. There is even an orange tree there, and guests are allowed to pick their own oranges. I enjoyed mixing with the international travelers. Most of them reached New Orleans by airplane, a few arrived by Greyhound, one came by car, but I was the only one who came by train. Many of them are visiting a bunch of major United States cities. It was interesting to see who had heard of the other cities/towns I was visiting. One traveler from abroad had also visited San Antonio, but others not only did not know about San Antonio, they did not even know about the Alamo (which, given that they were not Americans, is understandable).
I knew that New Orleans was a cultural diverse city full of history, but it’s one thing to know that, and another thing to experience it. I don’t know if I will ever return to New Orleans, but I hope I do. I wouldn’t want to settle there permanently, but if I were offered a decent temporary job there, it would be tempting.