While our current Evening Sun reporters are working to bring you our Progress Chenango 2009 special sections this week, Iíve asked five of my favorite ES alumni to fill in as guest columnists. I hope you enjoy catching up with them as much as I did. Ė Ed.
A serious mountain of half-spent nacho plates and Hungry Man dinner trays has to be left out on the kitchen counter or next to the couch for days, maybe weeks, before any cockroaches come around in Chenango County. Thatís always been my experience, anyway. Even then, the Upstate New York roach, usually no bigger than a thumbnail or a Siamese Raisinet, waits until the lightís off to scurry out into the open.
Cockroaches in New Orleans are in a whole other motel all their own: The damn things Ė known as Palmetto bugs in the south Ė can grow to the size of Shaquille OíNealís foot and will walk off with an entire unopened sleeve of Chips Ahoy in broad daylight, giving you a friendly ďHow ya doin buddy?Ē as they pass. I stomped the first one I ever saw. Big mistake. Not only was this roach not crunched to death under the pressure of a 300-pound manís size 14 shoe, it was unscathed, and angry. Mr. Palmetto immediately pulled out a homemade shiv and forced me at knifepoint to make withdrawals from multiple ATM machines until my bank accounts were empty, and then wrote me down for a half-dozen boxes of leftover Girl Scout cookies Ė figures, Shortbreads Ė to support its youngest daughter, who it turns out is a Brownie.
Welcome to New Orleans, where you learn to deal with big nasty cockroaches, and a few other messy things I wasnít used to before coming down here from Norwich five months ago. Hereís a short list:
†-- Humidity. Itís not even summer and Iím rolling through deodorant sticks at a clip of two a week, and on muggy days I still come home smelling like a Whopper with onion rings (Although I canít say I miss shoveling and scraping snow and ice off my car at 5 a.m., especially with the whoopiní you guys are taking this year).
-- Homicides: New Orleans is the murder capital of the United States and the third most violent city in the world (I wonder where Chenango County ranks, based on per capita numbers, in the murder rankings with its spike in killings over the last two years?).
-- Bad drivers. Many New Orleans drivers havenít figured out the gas, the brake or the turn signal yet, but they can simultaneously text message, cut off three lanes of traffic, stop abruptly at a blinking yellow light and then steer into a light pole with the best of them (If it werenít for those pesky four-way stops, Norwich drivers would epitomize driving excellence).
-- Bad roads. The pot holes are so deep, bats fly out of them (Makes me long for the bumpy ride of county Route 16, ruts and all).
-- Bad traffic. Bad drivers plus bad roads equals insanity and congestion at all hours of the day. I sold my car, and am alive to talk about it (I rely heavily on street cars, buses and my feet down here. Saved a lot of money and gotten in better shape that way. Never crossed my mind to use the Town and Country Transit bus back home).
†For all its challenges, as perceived by an Upstate New Yorker who hasnít lived here long enough to make any qualified judgements, itís how this city handles those challenges thatís the beauty of New Orleans. When times get tough, The Big Easy parties. And by party I donít just mean Bourbon Street and the 24/7 bar rooms, although thatís definitely part of it. By party I mean the people here have learned to enjoy life in the face of great adversity. Itís how they cope with the heat, the crime, the floods and the hurricanes: being thankful for this beautiful place, knowing it could be taken away at any moment, and having fun here while you can. That means making and eating the best food you can; playing and listening to the best music you can; painting, drawing and sculpting the best art you can; and having an impromptu parade for no other reason than itís a beautiful day. Itís the small rewards New Orleanians grant themselves for making do in a place where itís tough to make do. And right in the middle of it all is little old me, working just enough as a landscaper and a stone installer to pay my bills and take in all the Crescent City has to offer. Most evenings, however, my roommates and I are content sitting on the front porch listening to music, drinking a few Budweisers and watching these two gray squirrels chase each other in the massive live oak tree out front (Not much different than home, really). Occasionally we get the itch to head to the French Quarter and watch the squirrels chase each other down there (Unlike its gray counterpart, the French Quarter squirrel typically stands at six five, is wearing heels, a skirt and a blond wig, and its real name used to be Larry).
So whether itís the French Quarter squirrel or the Uptown Palmetto bug, New Orleans is a living example in overcoming obstacles by being yourself, being patient and actively seeking a little happiness rather than be buried by the bad cards youíve been dealt. That said, hereís my advice to Chenango County: Times are tough. Make room for a little funk and soul in your life.