A giant football on display in New Orleans on Tuesday, January 29, 2013.
My friend Shyman keeps complaining that we're living in Superbowlistan. Understand, like many here, his business depends on tourists. He's a co-owner of a bike-tour company that TripAdvisor will tell you is the cat's pajamas, recently augmented by bicycle rentals and a knickknack shop. The ex-English major in me thinks the latter could brag a bit more about being located at the self-same street address Tennessee Williams assigned to Stanley and Stella DuBois Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire.
But Shyman's pride is that his customers will see post-Katrina NOLA as it really is. Not the theme park on temporary steroids that CBS, the NFL—and our own city fathers, in a position to kowtow to both corporate entities and make it stick—have been driving locals nuts with. That includes an NFL-prescribed "Clean Zone" prohibiting unsanctioned signage in the Quarter and environs, an edict that had to be modified once merchants howled. But modification ain't the same as rescinding.
Old hands at hype that we are, whether unjustified ("Heck of a job, Brownie!") or tactfully implicit (never forget that cautious Scarlett O'Hara had her first orgasm in New Orleans), we're pretty sure we'll live through this. But even leaving aside the NFL, traditionally as shy as Dick Cheney about sodomizing every goat in sight and then saying "I knew you loved me all along," nobody told us that CBS was going to "supersize"—TV Technology's term—the Super Bowl. It's one thing for every CBS sports show to plan on broadcasting from our back yard this Sunday, but Face The Nation? Are you kidding?
For the duration, we are in their power, not a comfortable feeling. Naturally, like any American city in our presumably lucky shoes, we've spent a fortune getting ready for this moment to arrive. I can testify to how my newly smooth bike rides up repaved Royal Street have a back-here-on-planet-NOLA counterpoint once I cross Esplanade Avenue on the return trip and I'm among tooth-jarring, sentimentally attractive potholes. The silver lining is the city's apparent assumption that none of our Super Bowl invaders will make it past the French Quarter to check out the Marigny.
On Tuesday, having delivered lunch to my baby as usual—she works in a bookstore on Pirates' Alley two days a week—I decided to stroll over to the former Jackson Square. This week, so a surfeit of placards and camera lights informed me, it's "CBS Super Bowl Park at [smaller type] Jackson Square." Multiple TV-friendly stages have been set up around Andrew Jackson's statue, which is fine, I guess.
I just wasn't expecting that half of the most fabled public space in New Orleans would be barred to intruders by a Merlin wall of the same Tiffany Network signage. However modestly, my tax dollars help pay for Jackson Square's upkeep. All I ask in return is the right to slouch toward the Mississippi without wondering whether the guards are armed. Though she may or may not have been packing heat, the one who told me "Yes, it's going to be blocked off all week" had a sympathetic air—and a gold tooth in her ready smile, reassuring me she was a New Orleanian and no hireling. Funny how I almost wrote scab.
Resentments included, is this the ordinary experience of cities hosting a Super Bowl? Yes but mostly no, I imagine. Multiple variables are in play. One is that our city fathers are boosting Super Sunday as the ultimate proof we've "come back" from Katrina, when even a post-Katrina newbie like me doesn't need to drive a mile to still see houses with the spray-painted 2005 quadrant hatchings indicating when they were inspected and if anyone was dead inside. Living in Superbowlistan, even for a week, triggers New Orleanians' fears that the powers that be would prefer a theme-parked NOLA so at odds with its roots that it would make Vegas seem authentic.
That's one side of local pride. A shallower but more colorful one is that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell—someone whose presence at this shindig would normally be as anodyne as Queen Liz snipping a bridge's ribbon—is the most hated Northerner in New Orleans history since Yankee general Benjamin "Spoons" Butler. Whether the penalties he imposed were justified or not—and sorry, but that's a whole other post—his punishment of our Saints over Bountygate is widely blamed for the fact that we went 7-9 this year.
Some restaurants have put his face on swiftly perforated dartboards. Other establishments content themselves with posters reading "Do Not Serve This Man." None of them are places Goodell would be likely to show up in, but it is a far from uncommon belief hereabouts that he set out to destroy our 2012 season because he didn't want the Super Bowl's host city to feature the home team. While that strikes me as far-fetched, the measure of how I've gone native is that I sometimes wish I were better at darts. Drew Brees isn't getting any younger.
Our city fathers, BTW, were concerned enough to Beg Us To Be Nice To Roger Goodell. Unless I miss my guess, we will be; hospitality is something we're famous for. Back when Boston was a stuffy hamlet with an ocean view—you know, around 2007—we were nice to everybody. We'd just rather do it on our own terms.