2021 was the pandemic sequel no one asked for, and yet those studio moguls in the sky pushed it on us anyway, along with a major hurricane for good measure. Will the COVID: Omicron variant be like that third Hangover movie? Only time will tell. But in the meantime, here is a look back on the highs and lows of a year that will leave us all licking our wounds.
TOP 5 CONTRABAND CASES
U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials seized 3,000 pairs of false eyelashes illegally imported from China at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport in July, proudly fluttering them upon a table for the press. “Unlabeled, non-FDA-approved fake lashes are frequently seized at the New Orleans ports, but officials say this was a ‘particularly large’ shipment,” WVUE reported.
That same month, Customs reported finding wood scattered on the deck of a cargo ship anchored near New Orleans. U.S. Department of Agriculture experts inspected the wood and reported it was infested with five types of pests, including an invasive beetle and ant, and ordered the ship out of the country. “If the wood had been offloaded into the U.S., it would have been put in a Louisiana landfill where the insects could crawl out and invade the local habitat, causing incalculable damage,” said Terri Edwards, CBP’s New Orleans area port director.
In August, CBP reported seizing fake COVID-19 vaccination cards bound for New Orleans. Connoisseurs at the agency, which says it seizes hundreds of the cards in Memphis “EVERY NIGHT,” described them as “low quality” and seemed to offer suggestions for better ways to smuggle them in the future. “They aren’t hidden in books, nor are they stuffed in the back of framed paintings,” CBP said in a statement.
Also in August, the Transportation Security Administration showed off a collection of objects seized at the New Orleans airport. Items included a variety of colorful brass knuckles, pocket knives, a knife that looks like a gun, a chainsaw, a hand grenade (of the non-potable persuasion), and a gas can. “Except for the grenade and the gasoline, these items could have been placed in a checked bag,” TSA claimed. “It was the passengers’ decision to leave them behind.”
In October, a New Orleans man learned he’d be getting his $28,000 life savings back after federal agents seized it last year at the Columbus, Ohio, airport. He had traveled to Ohio in the hopes of buying a tow truck to go into business with his son, and Drug Enforcement Agency officials apparently found his cash suspicious and seized it, despite not charging him with a crime. Now, he’ll be back financially where he should have been last year, after agreeing not to sue the government as part of a settlement. —Steven Melendez
TOP 5 FAILED RESPONSES TO HURRICANE IDA FROM LOCAL OFFICIALS
Waiting until it was too late to issue a mandatory evacuation
On the morning of Friday, August 27, two days before Hurricane Ida was set to make landfall, Mayor Cantrell said a “major storm” was headed our way and that if residents planned to leave town, “now is the time to start.” But in the same press conference, she also noted that the Saints would still play their scheduled preseason game, leading many to believe the storm wasn’t a serious threat. By Friday evening, Cantrell announced it was too late to take measures, such as establishing a highway contraflow, that could have allowed for more people to evacuate ahead of the storm.
Focusing more on looting than getting supplies to people in need
It took more than a week after the storm before food, water, and ice arrived in neighborhoods like the Seventh Ward. And even when supplies did arrive, they were only accessible to those who had vehicles to reach them (and fuel, which was also in short supply), leaving many vulnerable people reliant on the goodwill of their neighbors. But in press conference after press conference, Mayor Cantrell and NOPD Superintendent Shaun Ferguson kept the response narrative focused on stopping looting, even deploying “anti-looting teams” rather than using personnel to get supplies to people who needed them.
Abandoning the residents of senior homes
Across the state, 15 people died after being evacuated to a warehouse where they were kept without power, denied food and water, and given mattresses on the ground to sleep. At Boyd Manor, an apartment complex for low-income seniors in Algiers, residents who didn’t have the money or the means to evacuate (many of whom have chronic illnesses) went 11 days without power following the storm and relied on members of the community to get supplies like food, water, and ice to them. Allegations of abuse and unsafe living conditions prompted an investigation from the governor’s office.
Comparing the storm to Katrina
Despite both hurricanes making landfall on August 29, they are in fact two different storms, two separate things, two different disasters, and they should be treated as such. But in the aftermath of the storm, Mayor Cantrell and other public officials repeatedly said “this was not another Katrina.” Invoking Katrina to indirectly tell residents to deal with the lack of power and trash piling up in the streets is insulting to those who went through Katrina and diminishes the experience and the devastation that many in the region, especially in the bayou and the River Parishes, are still grappling with in the aftermath of Ida.
Failing to prepare for the trash crisis
Nobody expected garbage pickup to return the day after the storm. But many in the city didn’t have their trash collected until September 30, a full month after the storm. And as John Stanton, editor at Gambit, pointed out in an interview about the issue: The city could have emptied the cans ahead of the storm, so they could handle a city full of refrigerators and freezers that needed to be emptied after almost two weeks without power. —Drew Hawkins
TOP 5 PUBLIC HEALTH ISSUES TO FOLLOW INTO 2022
For obvious reasons, the COVID-19 pandemic has been and currently remains the top public health priority worldwide. With the highly contagious Delta variant and the newly discovered Omicron variant circulating as we move into Year 3 of the pandemic, efforts must be maintained to increase vaccination uptake and to ensure that other preventive measures are supported. However, the fact that there is a pandemic raging on does not mean that other public health issues have disappeared.
A secondary consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic was that many health care and public health services became harder to access. Testing services for HIV and other STIs were disrupted due to lockdowns and other restrictions, resulting in reduced access to testing services, prevention, and treatment, including pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). Though efforts were made to mitigate the problem, the disruption in services and decline in surveillance data could have major implications for HIV efforts in the coming years, particularly in the South.
Overdoses and Harm Reduction
Over 100,000 people died of drug-related overdoses between April 2020 and April 2021. There are many reasons that could contribute to this, including the increase of fentanyl, xylazine, and other synthetic substances in the drug supply; increased isolation, economic hardship, and mental health issues; and lack of access to harm reduction services in some areas. The overlying issue, though, is the racist and harmful War on Drugs and the regressive policies which came out of it. Though harm reduction has become more widely accepted, it is going to be important to make sure it is not watered down and that we move toward better policies and practices, including supervised consumption sites and safe supply. It is also going to be important to support the groups who have been there from the beginning.
In what should not be a surprise to anyone, mental health in the United States is on the decline and we are not prepared to handle this crisis. There is an increasing demand for mental health services, and not enough providers to accommodate everyone. The rise in telehealth has helped increase access. Increased funding and improved policies to address the many external causes related to the mental health crisis (e.g., the pandemic, economy, racism, climate crisis, housing insecurity, etc.) are also going to be necessary.
By the time this issue goes to print, the Supreme Court will have ruled on the restrictive and regressive Texas abortion ban, S.B. 8, and a Mississippi law which poses a major challenge to Roe v. Wade. These laws have major public health implications, including decreasing health equity even further.
Climate change may be the greatest threat to public health. In addition to an increasing number of heat-related deaths and more severe and frequent hurricanes, climate change is also associated with increased air pollution, water supply issues, and insect-borne diseases. The burden caused by climate change stresses health care and public health systems, worsening the problems. The recent COP26 climate conference may have focused on climate change as a public health issue, but unless drastic policy changes are made and implemented the problem will only worsen. —Mary Beth Campbell
TOP 5 PIECES OF HEAD-SCRATCHING ADVICE FROM CITY OFFICIALS
Bring Your Own Trash to the Dump
When trash wasn’t picked up for weeks following Hurricane Ida—and in some areas weeks before Hurricane Ida—and the stench became overpowering and inescapable, the City finally took some action: allowing residents to bring their own rotting trash to the dump “free of charge, temporarily.” This generosity won’t soon be forgotten.
Park on the Neutral Ground, But Don’t Damage the Neutral Ground By Parking On It
I’m convinced that NOLA Ready texts from so many different numbers to mask just how frequently it doles out severe weather warnings. You’ve been the recipient of these—“Flash Flood Warning in NOLA. Heavy rain could cause street flooding. Neutral ground parking is allowed until further notice.” There was a point in time over the summer that these came daily. But RoadworkNOLA wants you to know that all the times you’ve heeded this advice, you’ve actually been preventing them from planting more trees. Guess it’s time to ditch the car entirely! Hope the transit system can handle the influx.
Tourists Welcome, Locals Not
A Mardi Gras deemed “different, not canceled” seemed, at first, like a nice opportunity to try out the long sought-after concept of a locals-only Mardi Gras. But the mayor seemed to disagree. She announced that New Orleans “will always be welcoming” to visitors, while alcohol sales were drastically limited, vendors and performers were banned, and the Claiborne underpass was fenced off—an area where Mardi Gras Indians typically line up on Mardi Gras Day. It’s like the old saying goes, “Home Is Where The Tourists Never Leave.”
Wear A Mask, Please! But No Worries If Not
As the Delta variant began ravaging Louisiana, and previous COVID-19 thresholds were blown by and ignored—schools and businesses remaining open—in late July the City finally did something: asking residents to voluntarily mask inside. This was not a mandate, as had been previously instituted, but rather a suggestion, one that Mayor Cantrell said “puts the responsibility on individuals, on themselves.” Meanwhile, the city had a positivity rate of over 10%. Perhaps seeing the negligible difference in mask usage post-recommendation, Cantrell reinstated the mask mandate for real just over a week later as numbers continued to soar.
If You’re Frustrated with New Orleans’ Problems, Maybe Just Leave!
Living in New Orleans takes dedication and a certain level of obstinance. I’m the first to admit it. In October, Mayor Cantrell told residents that if the problems facing New Orleans are too much for you, “New Orleans might not be the place for you.” It’s a piece of advice I’ve doled out myself many times, and it’s one I, in most situations, stand behind. However, I am not the mayor, and it is not my precise job to make New Orleans more livable so that we stop hemorrhaging residents, especially Black residents. There’s a strategy in the government tapping into a line of rhetoric that locals themselves feel pretty instinctually: If everyone moves away and stops demanding better from the powers that be, perhaps they can finally turn New Orleans into the giant, underwater hotel they’ve always dreamed of! —Marisa Clogher
TOP 5 MOST EGREGIOUS ACTS OF THE NEW ORLEANS TOURISM ELITES
Suing New Orleans Public Transit
When RTA Chairman Flozell Daniels wrote a letter in 2019 informing the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center that the RTA would no longer uphold the decades-old agreement to give up $6 to $7 million of their yearly portion of hotel tax revenue to tourism entities, most were shocked and horrified to learn it had been happening at all. Given the sorry state of our public transit, it seems more than fair to ask the Convention Center to make do with the $51.2 million of hotel tax revenue it already receives. “For two decades our service has been impacted by limitations on financial resources, while the resources available to the tourism and hospitality marketing agencies have steadily increased,” Daniels said in the letter, and shortly thereafter City Council voted to support RTA’s decision. But this year, the Convention Center decided to show just how little concern they have for the city’s crumbling infrastructure by slapping the RTA with a major lawsuit to get the revenue back. Of course, why should the wealthy elites on the Convention Center board care what a financial and logistical nightmare the pandemic years have been for this already underfunded city agency? After all, nothing says “I’ve never had to take a New Orleans city bus before” like suing the RTA for a bunch of money they don’t have.
Prioritizing the NFL Over New Orleans Culture Bearers
Right before the pandemic hit, Mayor Cantrell’s administration continued its previous efforts to redirect funds from the swollen coffers of the New Orleans tourism elites back to the City by moving the mission of the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation away from tourism marketing to supporting New Orleans culture bearers. So the resulting entity, the New Orleans Tourism and Cultural Fund, will be distributing the $3.9 million of yearly funding to the cultural workers struggling through the pandemic amidst skyrocketing costs of living, right? Not so fast. In May, they announced that their first grant of $1.2 million would be going to… the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation, to help the Super Bowl Host Committee fulfill its financial obligations to the NFL for hosting the Super Bowl in 2025. If this is any indicator of how Mayor Cantrell’s “fair share deal” to keep tourism revenue from getting funneled straight back to elite tourism is going, the future of city support for culture bearers isn’t very bright.
Fearing that national coverage of Hurricane Ida’s devastation might be a deterrent for the tourist hordes, New Orleans & Company created an ad to reassure them that “the New Orleans you love is back.” The ad featured a middle-aged white couple touring a city almost completely devoid of Black people. Public outrage prompted New Orleans & Co.’s chief marketing director Mark Romig to issue a mealymouthed apology on social media that did little to mitigate the furor. As one commenter wrote in response, “your racist and horrible organization needs to be defunded.”
Blaming Locals for COVID Restrictions
New Orleans & Company strike again! When Mayor Cantrell increased restrictions in the days leading up to Carnival, New Orleans & Co. CEO Stephen Perry was none too happy. In his response letter, he was adamant that despite the unmasked throngs of tourists participating in nightly Bourbon Street bacchanalias, visitors should not shoulder the blame for the Mayor’s “highly problematic” stance. “It wasn’t the small number of responsible tourists we have been hosting,” Perry wrote. “Our own residents created a dilemma for government.”
Developing a New Tourism Center as Pandemic Rages on
Despite public pressure to put development plans on hold until the pandemic ends, in March the Convention Center started moving forward on their plan to build a new entertainment district on riverfront property they purchased in 2000 for a since-abandoned expansion. The project will require a minimum of $26 million of public funds to prepare the land for development, and though Convention Center President Michael Sawaya acknowledged that “a lot of people are questioning if our plan is too aggressive to transform this entire district,” broad public support of the project appears to be as low priority as ever. Come what may—hell, high water, sickness, death, apocalypse—the Convention Center’s thirst for expensive construction projects cannot be quenched until there are no more tax dollars left to spend. —Holly Devon
TOP 5 TIMES THE RETURN OF LIVE MUSIC ALMOST MADE ME CRY
PEARS at Parisite Skatepark
The days before my first show back were filled with a mixture of nervousness and excitement. Local punk group PEARS hadn’t played in their hometown in almost three years. It took three generators for the outside DIY show to happen, but it was worth every bit of suspense. PEARS’ set was a moment of pure catharsis as everyone thrashed away their collective pain and sorrow. The band ripped through a cover of Minor Threat‘s “Straight Edge,” complete with sing-a-long vocals from Fat Stupid Ugly People vocalist Hollise Murphy. It was quite ironic when PEARS, none of whom are straight edge, shouted along with a crowd of mostly like-minded cretins. During “Naptime,” Zach Quinn, a mighty frontman, instructed everyone to fall asleep on the filthy concrete for a music video. Afterwards, my body ached in a way it had not ached for a long time. I found myself wondering how I used to do this multiple times a week.
Fat Stupid Ugly People at Creepy Fest
I and many others will forever remember Creepy Fest 2021 as the last time we saw Hollise Murphy, a cornerstone of the local underground music world. His powerviolence band Fat Stupid Ugly People performed their final show to moshing masses at Parisite Skatepark on July 16. Murphy shouted from the top of his lungs while the band tore through speedy numbers with razor sharp precision. Murphy began the set with a lengthy list of shout-outs to organizers and other bands, because it was never about him even when he had the spotlight. At one point during the set, someone put a Burger King crown on Hollise’s head. When I joked with him the next night that he was finally “the crowned king of the New Orleans underground,” he nonchalantly replied “We’re all kings.” After FSUP’s set, he convinced local horror punk vets The Pallbearers to play “Ripped To Shits” as an encore. Their only condition was that he sing it with them.
Fat Stupid Ugly People at Creepy Fest (Parisite Skate Park) on July 16 (Photo by Lenore Seal)
Eyehategod at Poor Boys
Death, major health scares, and, most recently, a pandemic have all failed to stop this sheer force of nature that is Eyehategod. Almost two years after their last New Orleans show, the masters of slow, feedback-riden nihilism were ready for their grand return. The show served as the unveiling for a giant mural of Hollise Murphy. Vocalist Mike IX Williams began the band’s set by dedicating it to Hollise, a gesture not lost on the many in the crowd who had watched him single-handedly start countless pits at EHG shows. It was difficult to escape the feeling that Hollise should have been there, but in a sense he was there, just as he is anywhere where people share love for their friends or sweat it out to loud, heavy music.
BAD OPERATION‘s first show at Banks Street Bar
Local ska punk group BAD OPERATION had initially intended to play their first show in the tiny back room of Hey! Cafe’s Magazine Street location (RIP) in March last year but the coronavirus forced them to cancel it that afternoon. While members tried to figure out their lives during those early uncertain days, they turned their efforts towards making an album that has since gone on to be one of the best-received ska releases in years. When BAD OPERATION finally made their live debut in October, it wasn’t to a few people in the backroom of a coffee shop. They performed in front of a packed bar room. Hoards of skankers danced around as members occasionally stepped down from the stage to sing or play trombone in the crowd. Clearly, the group’s positive messages have resonated with those facing dark times over the past two years.
Thundercat at the Civic Theatre
One of Thundercat’s greatest feats is how he lures kids to his shows with smooth R&B hooks, only to smash them over the head with some of the nastiest shredding known to man. The bassist’s mighty trio probably introduced many youths to Chick Corea when they paid tribute to the fallen jazz great with a mean version of “Got a Match?” When they played “A Fan’s Mail (Tron Song Suite II),” a song about Thundercat’s cat, someone held up their phone to show a picture of their cat. Thundercat enthusiastically praised the cat and demanded that more people show him their cats. A sea of cat pics, including at least one Garfield, quickly lit up the room while he continued the song, praising every cat that he could. I still brag to my cat that Thundercat called her “a nice calico.” After the show, I ran into the bassist outside his bus. Here I am with one of the greatest musicians of my lifetime and what do we talk about? Naruto. —William Archambeault
TOP 5 CHALLENGES OF THE PANDEMIC AND POST-IDA NEW ORLEANS’ RESTAURANT INDUSTRY
Over the past 18 months, few industries have faced the uncertainty of the service sector. Some of us lost our jobs altogether as restaurants and bars permanently shuttered. Some of us were cast into limbo, not qualifying for any aid, or having to wait too long. Or on the flip, getting aid and seeing how dysfunctional our lives truly were before the pandemic. But for many of us, we were cast into some modified purgatory of takeout service, working extremely short-staffed, and dealing with rules that changed by the day. As someone who lived it, I can’t begin to describe how draining it was (and still is): always waiting for the other shoe to drop.
We’ve Seen a Better Way
There is a common rejoinder floating around the business-sphere that “Nobody wants to work anymore.” I would challenge that assumption with, “When did they ever?” But for all the devastation of COVID-19, for many in my industry, it was the first time off we’ve had in years. And with that time came the understanding that we don’t have to sacrifice ourselves on this altar anymore. We were able to explore other talents and ways to live. It was like going to detox, and the newfound serenity was an addiction all its own.
Money and Benefits: Yes and No
It’s not necessarily that no one wants to work, but it could be that no one wants to work here. Understand the difference. There are easier ways to make a buck. And many of those jobs are now work-from-home or a modified flex schedule. No more missing important life moments because you had to serve Bob and Jane the duck special on Saturday night for a 10% tip. But for those who wish to stay in the industry, it most definitely is about money. We want to be paid our worth. We want health care. We understand that this will never be a cakewalk, but we need humane hours and time off. Those of us in the restaurant industry are pleasers by nature. Deep down we want to make people happy. But we no longer want to sacrifice our souls to do it.
Everything is Hard
Everything is hard right now, and it isn’t getting any easier. The pandemic has caused supply chain issues that have upended the industry. At one point, latex gloves, if you could get them at all, jumped from $45 a case to $175 a case. Chicken went through the roof, and there were shortages all summer. Then Ida hit and laid our local crab, shrimp, and oyster industry to waste. Oyster beds were suffocated and blue crabs became even more scarce. Check out the prices for crab and oysters right now if you don’t believe me. That is, if you can find them. And product scarcity doesn’t even begin to address how hard it is. As you may have heard, we have a massive labor shortage as well. Restaurants that formerly ran with 15 people are running with five. Everyone is doing the job of at least two to three people and we’re all stretched paper thin. We don’t know what or who is going to show up from one day to the next. And it is only going to get harder in the immediate future.
Patience is a Virtue
Except no one has it—patience that is—anymore. This is directed at you, my dear customers. Y’all need to chill. We are trying our best to provide a great guest experience, but please, temper your expectations to some degree. Most of us are barely hanging on. We’re overworked, in most cases underpaid, and are trying to do our job in addition to the person who just walked out the door because you yelled at them for having to wait 10 minutes. We’re sorry too. We don’t want it to be like this either. As frustrating as it is for you, it is more frustrating for us. So have a little empathy. Maybe leave a little more in the tip jar (something you should already be doing). Understand that eating out is a privilege, something that restaurant workers can’t often afford to do. We’re trying our best. —James Cullen
BONUS WEB-ONLY TOP 5s
Top Five Everyday Disasters
In September, the Superdome caught fire “as a result of work being completed on the roof.”
In April, an electrical fire caused flames to erupt from manholes in the Central Business District, leading to a notorious Twitter claim by someone whose location is listed as Cincinnati that “the city is in disarray.”
Apocalyptic smoke and flames erupted from the abandoned Market Street Wharf in October.
After weeks of garbage pickup issues, a dump truck crashed into an I-10 exit sign in September, blocking the highway and leading to additional crashes in the ensuing traffic snarl.
A Claiborne Avenue bridge malfunction caused two cars to fall 4 1/2 feet in September, sending one person to the hospital with minor injuries.
Five Least Appealing-Sounding Holiday Airbnb Options:
illustrations Sadie Wiese