I just returned from a brief visit to New Orleans, my second since Katrina. The tourism sector seems very healthy, and the French Quarter, Garden District and as much of Uptown as one can see from the St. Charles streetcar were crowded and in good physical shape. However, the central business district seemed less crowded than before, and not completely repaired. In some of the less glamorous areas, there remain many boarded-up, damaged and abandoned structures, as well as vast tracts of vacant land, concrete foundation slabs being the only evidence of their prior developed state. The city as a whole, beset even before Katrina by poverty, crime and other urban woes, still has a long way to go. However, my friends and I had a great time, enjoying some of the country’s best restaurants, historical architecture and continental joie de vivre. It’s unique among US cities, and I hope its comeback continues.
One thing I, as a shoestring traveler, like about New Orleans is direct public transit from the airport to downtown. It’s a local bus that is slow and that follows the least scenic route imaginable, but with only a weekend bag to carry and no rush to get to or from the airport, I was delighted to pay two dollars each way instead of the cab fare (non-metered) of $33 plus tip. Why CDTA fails to provide similar service to and from the airport and rail station here continues to baffle me.
Another thing I like about New Orleans is the casino, which offers decent blackjack and video poker games, albeit at relatively high limits. The games overall are better than those its owner offers at its Las Vegas outlets, even though the New Orleans casino is highly taxed and has little competition. One negative for high rollers – if you hit a taxable machine jackpot, you will be subject to mandatory withholding for state income tax. How hard it is for an out-of-state visitor to procure a refund I don’t know, but I imagine that, in most cases, people don’t bother to try.