Sunday, November 25, 2007

St. Charles Streetcar is Back!

Adapted from AP via

Amid a Carnival-like atmosphere, streetcars began rolling past the historic mansions of this city's Garden District for the first time since Hurricane Katrina halted the St. Charles Avenue line more than two years ago.

Many see the return of the 1920s-era green cars as a sign of progress in the city's recovery and a morale booster. Six of the 13 miles the cars once ran are now open on the St. Charles line, and officials hope to restore full service through by spring.

It's been slow going in large part due to the cost and scope of the storm's damage to the line's power system, due for an upgrade before the August 2005 storm. Mark Major, general manager of the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority, praised federal highway officials for providing $14 million that he said was key to the resumption of the service.

Politicians and local officials were on hand, as they were in December when an initial loop of about 1.2 miles opened. But the feel was different, more festive.
On Saturday, a marching band led the streetcars down to the Lee Circle loop. Revelers dotted the oak-lined avenue - some waving or holding up drinks, others, carrying signs that read "No More Bus" or "Welcome Back," or offering riders Mardi Gras beads or high-fives.

Councilwoman Stacy Head called the streetcars part of the city's identity - "everything from the noise, the clanging down the avenue to the lights at night."
The St. Charles line was the oldest continuously operating line in the world before Katrina shut it down in August 2005. It began operation in September 1835.

"It's what makes New Orleans feel like home," she said. "It's as important as red beans and rice and Mardi Gras, and it's hard to explain to people who aren't part of this city how important this is as an icon and a real-life form of transportation."

Karen Miller grew up riding the streetcar and took it to work before Katrina. It's not just for tourists, and it's far more fun than riding a bus - especially when the windows are down, she said. A warm breeze blew through the car in which she was riding.

Transit officials expect to run about five cars on the St. Charles line. The fare is $1.25. Four or five streetcars also are running on the Canal Street line and two are available along the riverfront.


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Population continues to rebound ...

By Becky Bohrer, Associated Press Writer

Nearly two-thirds of the city's pre-Hurricane Katrina population has returned, a new report estimates.

But Greg Rigamer, the demographer who compiled the report, said Tuesday that he expects the growth seen since July 2006 to plateau within the next year as the sense of urgency to return lessens.

Rigamer, whose company, GCR & Associates, has been tracking demographics in post-Katrina New Orleans, said an estimated 288,000 people were living in New Orleans in October. In July 2005, the month before Katrina hit and flooded 80 percent of the city, the population was estimated at 455,000.

Between Oct. 1, 2006, and Oct. 1, 2007, New Orleans' population grew 19 percent. But that growth rate may not continue, Rigamer said.

"Given the state of the schools and the criminal justice system, it's hard to understand why the trend has been occurring so long, this long after" Katrina, he said.

Rigamer's report, released late Monday, was based on utility hookups. Last month, the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center used Postal Service data to estimate that New Orleans' population has reached 70 percent of its pre-Katrina level.
The rebound appears to be "a bunch of decisions made independently by people," Rigamer said, and not driven by a single event drawing people back.

The rate of repopulation appeared to increase during the past few months, possibly due to families returning for the school year or people finishing their rebuilt homes, GCR senior planner Rafe Rabalais said.

"There's a tangible difference, if you compare now to a year ago, in terms of commercial activity, traffic on the streets, people walking around, cultural events," he said.

But some of the hardest-hit neighborhoods have been slow to repopulate — recovering, in some cases, less than one-third of their pre-Katrina populations. In the Lower 9th Ward, only 8 percent, or 1,054 people, had returned by Oct. 1. Even in Lakeview, widely hailed as a symbol of personal initiative and progress in the city's rebuilding, only 38 percent were back.

Some New Orleans residents may be in the suburbs until they're able to rebuild in the city, Rabalais said. An estimated 86 percent of the metro area's population is back.

Violent crime, meanwhile, is up from a year ago; New Orleans has recorded at least 184 homicides this year. The district attorney, Eddie Jordan, resigned last week amid criticism that included questions about his office's effectiveness in prosecuting major cases.


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Prostitute dishes on Vitter ...


Sen. David Vitter has tried move on after his embarrassing hooker scandal, but Hustler magazine won't let him.

In a magazine interview hitting the racks soon, a woman who worked in New Orleans brothel has given a detailed, and at times explicit, interview about a 1999 affair with Vitter. The Louisiana Republican made a very public apology earlier this year about "sins" in his past, but he has not acknowledged any specific activities. Vitter's phone number also came up in the phone records of the D.C. Madame case.

The Crypt has received a scanned paper copy of the interview, but the pictures and some of the quotes are totally NSFW (not safe for work). Discerning Crypt readers can decide whether they want to check out Hustler's Web site or reach for the row of black plastic wrapped mags at your local book store or newstand.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune first revealed some of the details of the interview today. In the interview, ex-prostitute Wendy Ellis claims that Vitter was a regular customer at a French Quarter brothel, paid $300 per visit, and demanded that Ellis wear no lotions, perfumes or any other scents so that no smells would be left on him after his visit.

Hustler says Ellis, who used to go by the name Wendy Cortez, passed a lie detector test before giving her interview and posing for X-rated photos. Ellis, according to the Times-Picayune, has a criminal record, including credit card fraud, a point made by some of Vitter's supporters who dispute her story.

Vitter's office declined to comment about the details in the interview.

"Sen. Vitter is completely focused on issues critical to Louisiana like WRDA [the water resources bill] and immigration and has already addressed all of this," Vitter's office said in a statement Thursday.


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Sunday, November 04, 2007

On Weather and Friendships ...

Winter has arrived in Cincinnati! It started in late October with the need to scrape ice off our car windows. In New Orleans, if you even have to scrape, this likely accompanies the coldest day of winter.

I know the calendar says fall. And everyone in Cinci says how mild the winters are. But this weather is the big chill to those of us with thin southern blood.

We posted a little early this week because we are spending the weekend in New Orleans. Expectations are for low temperatures in the mid-50s with highs in the mid-70s. Fall is probably the nicest season there, especially since it lasts through what passes for winter above the Mason-Dixon Line.

Our time in New Orleans is jam-packed with social activity. In three nights there we have dinner with a couple of friends on each. After one of these dinners we will have a late session with another couple for coffee and beignets.

On Saturday Susan and I separately visit dear friends. On Sunday we take my mother with us on a short “disaster tour” and to lunch. We then gather with my brothers and their wives for an early celebration of our birthdays (November 6th and 11th). On the agenda is planning for my mother’s 90th birthday celebration (December 15th). We will, of course, return for that.

One concern about this trip is that it may stir up some homesickness which is barely below the surface in Cincinnati. We do not miss New Orleans as much as we do the great friendships that we left behind.

Back in Cinci, we voted for our first time here, mostly based on recommendations of the newspaper, the Enquirer. We are late getting our Ohio drivers licenses; we have a booklet to study. We should also get Ohio license plates, but it’s cool to have Louisiana plates (I am not sure why). We still have our New Orleans numbers on our cell phones.

It seems like we are trying to maintain some ties to N.O. while committing to Cincinnati. Time will tell.


jbv's Competitive Edge