New Orleans ACORN bought a new national headquarters on Canal Street, the storied center line between the French Quarter and the CBD (Central Business District). We are twenty-six blocks from the River. From the window in my new office I can see the Superdome and much of downtown. We are hardly moved in on my floor with most of the moving from Elysian Fields, which will now be the ACORN National Training Center, so we are all getting our sea legs in a new location. Staff regularly gets locked into the building. Sometimes the elevator doesn’t work. We are still learning something new every day.
One thing we knew would be different is Mardi Gras. In Faubourg Marigny people would park all the way to the office on Fat Tuesday, but we were miles from the parade route. The biggest of all of the parades though is Endymion, one of the modern super-parades with 28 floats and 2400 riders, and this year it was returning to its classic route through Mid-City and then down Canal to its big finish when it rides into the Superdome itself.
Dine’ Butler, being an old New Orleans parade veteran, realized parking could be sold in the new location, and she and Jesse Rafert, ACORN International’s development coordinator, seized the idea of doing a fundraiser for the always dollar desperate ACORN International. Their plan was straightforward. Move parking spots in the back lot for $20 and have volunteers get there early enough to do the job.
Who knew what to expect in the “new” New Orleans. Some families had been marking their spaces along the streetcar tracks in the Canal Street neutral ground on Friday night. I got to the office at 8 AM and would look ever hour to see the neutral ground filling up, pickups being parked along the route with barbeque grills, coolers, and picnic tables filled with food, garbage cans materializing, and music playing on a warm early February day. At 11 AM the first shift in the back lot found no takers. I was excused from my 1 PM shift, because there was still no business. The parade was not scheduled to start until 4 PM, so this made sense, even though the church nearby was doing a land office business and locations directly on Canal were filling up.
It turned out that between 4 and 7:30 PM without breaking a sweat ACORN International raised $500 from parkers. Fantastic!
In New Orleans there is always a backstory. Three or four cars tried to bogart their way into the lot claiming that they had been parking there for 20 years and had permission, even though the lot was abandoned. Our tenants on the 2nd floor turned out to have a crowd come, but not having talked to anyone about anything were stranded on the elevator themselves and only rescued by the Fire Department later. The NOPD in its usual fashion tried to hassle the fundraising team by claiming they needed a permit even though it was our property and the signs said “donation.” One of the event organizers, being from New Orleans, took no lip from the cops and sent them stepping, knowing they were not going to waste time with a “parking” problem as Endymion was rolling. Even with everyone around some of the organizers managed to get trapped by a car blocking the exit to one of our lots.
Leslie Eaton wrote a piece in the Saturday Times about the parade coming back. Her slant was the rebirth of the bid houses in Mid-City and the fact that all of the people she was interviewing were having Endymion parties on their broad porches overlooking the route. More characteristic of the parking wars and jostling for position that is common for parades was the loudspeaker blaring out from the hot sheets “motel” not far from the office in English and Vietnamese to any car that seemed to be trying to park too close to the motel’s driveway, that they were going to be towed at the owners “personal expense!”
Endymion is back, and we were in the thick of it. Cash on the barrel and a Monday deposit to be made!