Kind of New Orleanian Interview: Rachael Kansas, New Orleanian (Part 1)

Hey everyone! I’m so excited to launch a brand-new feature that I’ve thought about since I started the blog nearly a year ago. About once a month, I will feature an interview with someone I consider a true “New Orleanian.” In the interviews we’ll discuss their connection to the city, their opinions about local issues and how they think about city identity.

I recognize that the people I select for the interviews will be in a similar demographic, because it is based on people I know. However, that’ll change as the blog grows and I expand my network in the city. Eventually, I’d like to interview people I consider ~ians of other cities. I welcome all feedback and suggestions (unless they are critical, in which case I will spam you) (jokes).

Why I Chose to Interview Rachael
Rachael Kansas is the first person I ever met from New Orleans. We both had a fellowship with Hillel, a Jewish organization that is located at different college campuses across the country. I was placed at Tulane and she was at George Washington University in D.C. We met just after I moved here in 2004, at a conference for all the Fellows. She instantly embraced me and even hand-wrote a list of recommendations for all things New Orleans—not just restaurants and bars, but places to get my hair cut and go to the doctor.  Although she grew up here and has a large network of friends and family, Rachael always invited me out when she came home to visit. She’s a true New Orleanian—both in that she was born and raised here, and that she embodies the warmth, hospitality and charm of the city.

To this day, Rachael is my first call for anything related to New Orleans. She was the first person I thought of when I had the idea for this interview series.


About Rachael
Rachael grew up in New Orleans Parish and went to Ben Franklin High School. After graduating from the University of Texas in Austin, she lived in Washington D.C. and San Francisco. In 2010, she returned to New Orleans to earn her MBA at Tulane. She now works as a realtor with RE/MAX and was recently awarded RE/MAX’s 2011 “Rookie of the Year” award for the state of Louisiana.

How long has your family has been in New Orleans?

My mom’s family came before the Civil War. And my dad’s family came around 1910ish, I think. I don’t know. Both my mom and my dad’s side of the family came from Odessa, which is now Ukraine, and came straight to New Orleans—no stopping elsewhere. Except for my grandmother; I think her parents came from Czechoslovakia. I’m not entirely sure but we’ve been in New Orleans a long time.

After graduating from college you moved to D.C. Did you always know that you’d come back?

A lot of kids that grew up in New Orleans that were older than me had left New Orleans. That was the thing: you grow up and you move away. But I was always very close to my family and was always coming home. Even during college, I came home for Mardi Gras and Jazzfest every year. So, yeah, there’s probably something in me that knew that I’d end up here someday.

It was extremely heightened after Katrina. It was like, “Ohmigod, I can’t believe I’m so far removed from everything my family’s going through.” I also felt a little bit of guilt, but more just sadness for what was going on. At that point I decided I’d move back to New Orleans. The only thing is that I knew all along when I moved to New Orleans it would be my last stop. So, I kind of delayed the move back to here because I knew once I got back I would buy a house and I would stay and that would be the end of it.

My dad wanted me to move back right after college. He thought four years away was enough. He was like, “You know… New Orleans is really where it’s at.”

You’ve lived in DC and San Francisco and in Israel and Texas. Would you say people in New Orleans are different?

New Orleans has this uniqueness about it because we’re not just Southern, we’re not just that stereotype of  Southern hospitality. We have our own thing going on. We’re just big party animals and relax and enjoy life to its fullest.

There was some study done awhile ago that asked which state was the happiest in the nation. I remember talking about it with my brother. I was saying that people here are probably happier because we have so much to celebrate–we have festivals every weekend! There isn’t that competitive rat race. When you go downtown at 6:30, it’s basically dead, versus New York where people are in their office until 12 at night. My brother added that he thinks we’re the happiest because we are so family oriented. And so a lot of people that live here are with multiple generations of their family. We spend so much time together and that also makes our community stronger and happier. There isn’t that stress of having to be away from everybody. There’s people there to help you out and support you. I agree with that, too. My whole family’s here.

Rachael in San Francisco, with her mom, Lee Kansas.

You’ve seen a lot of people move here for business school, not like it and move away.

That’s not true.

Oh really? I thought a lot of your business-school friends moved away.

They came here for business school and left, but it wasn’t because they didn’t like it here. They liked it here, it’s just that New Orleans didn’t have MBA jobs for them. There’s a lot of people in my class that if they had been offered the type of salaries and the type of jobs that they wanted in New Orleans they for sure would’ve chosen New Orleans over the other places that they went. There were a number of people that wanted to be on Wall Street or wanted to be in a specific city, so they’re an exception.

There’s actually a lot of people from my class that stayed and tried to make New Orleans work. There are a couple of people that have taken not-so-great jobs just to stay in New Orleans. Or didn’t have a job and stuck it out in New Orleans, but didn’t get a job and had to go somewhere else. I don’t know anyone who moved here and, per se, didn’t like it at all and had to move away.

What can you get from living in the other cities you’ve lived in that you can’t get here?  

The Jewish community thing is a blessing and a curse because it feels like a small town. DC and in San Francisco are both very transient cities and no one is very invested in you. No one really tries to make an effort to keep you there, make you feel welcome and invite you and include you in things. But at the same time, there’s so many other young people that are Jewish and social and out. And so here we have less numbers, so if you want to get involved it’s a lot easier to get involved. People really reach out more and include you more than in the other cities–where they just kind of expect you to leave quickly. Here, the community gets excited for anyone that’s new. They want you to be at every event and invite you to every event. Maybe I just feel that way because I just know a lot of people from growing up.

I agree. I’m also a little bit biased because I worked in the Jewish community before so I’ve reconnected with it since moving back.

But I think when people here hear about a young, new Jewish person in town, they get excited. In other cities that doesn’t happen. People are like, “Oh, you’re just here for two years and you’re out.” So, I think New Orleans is really different in that sense. But that might be just a small-town Jewish community versus a big Jewish community difference. You know, that’s probably going to happen in a lot of other small towns too.

I didn’t realize that San Francisco was so transient.

It’s not as transient as D.C., but it is pretty transient. A lot of people do the “San Francisco thing” for a couple of years and then leave. When I moved there, we had a strong group of girlfriends that were all there and now only two of them are left from our big group. We all were there for about one to three years.

I think the emphasis on food and music is very similar with San Francisco. The liberal (well, for the most-part liberal) mentality in New Orleans and also the festivals and the emphasis on the people that actually live in the city is also similar. I think in DC there’s a lot of focus on the tourism. A lot of events are held at the national mall. The Cherry Blossom parade… things like that aren’t for locals. There isn’t an investment in the local community. It’s more about pride for the nation. New Orleans is like “we’re only proud of ourselves.”  We do things to enjoy ourselves, to please ourselves. I think San Francisco is a little bit like that too.

That being said, I feel San Francisco can sometimes have a slightly pretentious air like, “We’re greener, we’re smarter, we’re better.” And they are greener and smarter! They are very much more educated and more environmentally conscious in many ways. But, it doesn’t have to be talked about every time you go out to a bar. I was over that by the end. I was just like, “Let’s just hang out, have fun, and talk about football and not only about what new green start-up company you work for.”

How does New Orleans seem different to you after Katrina?

I think one of the bigger things is that New Orleans, pre-Katrina, was like a small, very tight social network. If you weren’t from here it was really hard to break in. Everyone cared about where you grew up, where you went to high school.

Now there are so many more people that didn’t grow up here and are in our local community and that are making New Orleans their home. How can you hate on them, how can you not include them? They chose your city, they love your city just as much as you do and they add so much more to it and change people’s outlook on things and bring new perspectives on things. I think that’s a major difference between the old-school New Orleans kind of cliquey-ness and the new New Orleans. Although, it’s not perfect. I know people who have come here and have first had a hard time because they’re not part of this circle of people who all know each other.

I think people are also more civically engaged and more involved. I have so many friends that are politically involved and running for local elections to be on some council, or trying to do this new company or this new idea. I mean, people are more engaged and more involved because we saw that we almost lost our city so we don’t want to just go back to the old ways. We have this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make it even better, so people are investing and more motivated, I think.

My mom was saying that when my older cousins were growing up–my cousins in their 40s–the norm was that kids from New Orleans would get educated elsewhere and they’d live elsewhere, because New Orleans wasn’t enough for them. They’d move to different cities, like Houston and Atlanta and New York and Philadelphia and wherever they could find a smarter, more modern community. But nowadays, it seems more kids are going away to college and moving back. But that also might be my mom talking about Jewish community, specifically, so I don’t know.

I’ve split the interview into two parts. Tomorrow, read Rachael’s thoughts about her high school, the Saints and what surprises her about New Orleans.

Is there a Jazzfest “Season?”

On my bike the other morning I noticed a house with a Jazzfast flag flying. Behind Rouses, a Miller Lite truck proclaimed itself “The Official Drink of Jazzfest.” (Granted, that sign could’ve been on the truck all year) With Carnival Season parading off into storage units does that mean we’re in Jazzfest season? And is there such a thing? Carnival Season involves costumes, king cakes, parties and parades. In the months leading up to Jazzfest are there related celebrations? (I should note that some years Mardi Gras Day is later in the calendar, so the time between Mardi Gras and Jazzfest is truncated.)

The Seasons of New Orleans
I’ve written about how I miss the changing weather of D.C. Growing up, I found the eternal spring-summer cycle in my hometown of Miami dulling. However, New Orleans makes a slightly more differentiated spring-summer cycle by creating seasons of its own, marked by festivals and extended holiday celebrations. My blog-post hypothesis is that these festivals and celebrations create a rhythm to the year and mark time in a way that the city’s slightly colder winter and brutal summers do not.

Fall through start of Winter: Football and Christmas
September in New Orleans reminds me of living in a college town in that the whole city is galvanized by a sporting event. People here are nuts about LSU and the SEC. As a Gator I am always ruffled by LSU-ness of the celebration around here, but am grateful to be around a community that enjoys college football (and the SEC!). It’s a welcome reprise from living in D.C., which is more of a pro-sports town.

I’ve written about the Saints excitement many, many, many, many, many, many times. But this year marked the first time I watched a LOT of the NFL. It feels like you have to here, or you’re left out of cultural conversation and references. I used to only spend Saturdays at the bar to catch my college team. Now it’s all bar, all weekend… and I guess that’s New Orleans in a microcosm.

New Orleans also does a great job creating a festive Christmas atmosphere. The French Quarter Festival and The New Orleans Tourism and Marketing Corporation organize Christmas New Orleans Style, an annual citywide celebration of New Orleans holiday activities. The festival started 27 years ago, as way to attract visitors to the city at a time when tourism traditionally dips. Throughout the month there are events around the city that remind you of the season. And even though we have had a mild winter, walking through the French Quarter in December felt like Christmas.

January-February/March
Carnival Season

March-May
March is marked by St. Patrick’s Day, April by the French Quarter Festival and then Jazzfest in April/May. That’s more than enough, but I point you back to my hypothesis: Is there something that unites the season?

Summer
Now that I’ve nearly lived here a year, I recognize summer as the city’s downtime. The summer, like the spring,  is punctuated by festivals and regular events, some of which I’ve blogged about here: 610 Stompers, Satchmo Fest and White Linen Night, but there doesn’t seem to be one element that captures the city’s excitement.

Update: Seasonal Beers 3/1/12
Upon relaying this post’s topic to my boyfriend, he reminded me of seasonal beers. We are lucky to have a number of great local breweries, including LA 31, Covington Brewhouse, Tin Roof and Lazy Magnolia. However, Abita is the line I’m really familiar with, and the release of their seasonal brews always mark the season for me.

January-March: Mardi Gras Bock
Spring: Strawberry Harvest
March-May: Red Ale
May-September: Wheat
Summer: Satsuma Harvest Wit
Fall: Pecan Harvest
September-November: Fall Fest
November-December: Christmas Ale

When my boyfriend and I moved into our Uptown sublet in June, our summer landlord was kind enough to leave us some Strawberry ale in the fridge. When we moved out we bought a pack of Satsuma ale for her– a remnant of the New Orleans summer she had missed.

NOLA Brewery also releases seasonal beer, but I’m not as certain about the seasons they’re out because they’re a relatively new brewery. As far as I can tell:

Fall: Smoky Mary
Winter: Irish Channel Stout
January-March: Flambeau Red Ale (for Mardi Gras)
Spring: Hurricane Saison

Memories of my Harrowing and Upsetting Amtrak Trip

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A series of posts from my four-day trip back to D.C., where I lived for six years…

When flying to and from Washington D.C. my preferred airport was always the metro-accessible Reagan National airport (more on that in a post to come). However, on this sojourn back to D.C. I flew into Baltimore. It’s a lot of travel to get from BWI to DC. You must find and wait for the ten-minute shuttle from the airport to the train station; wait for the train; ride 35 minutes south; and take the DC to metro to your final destination.

Friday’s journey from plane to city was lovely and uneventful. But as I stepped off the BWI shuttle into the winter air, I recalled the most harrowing and upsetting experience I had returning from NOLA to DC.

The Most Harrowing and Upsetting Experience I Had Returning from NOLA to DC
Two years ago I flying back from a New Years vacation in New Orleans in an emotionally fragile state. Things weren’t going so well in my personal life and I was eager to get home,

On a layover I switched to the smallest plane I had ever been on. I am not afraid of flying, but I am afraid of heights and the shaky plane accentuated our distance from the ground. It made such loud sounds that I couldn’t hear my iPod. I was also physically uncomfortable because I was seated next to a woman who requested a seatbelt extendor to fit her body, and my poor decision to wear a not-long skirt and tall boots left me cold with aching feet.

When traveling I opt for comfort over style, but on this trip I wore a not-long wool skirt and tall boots because sometimes I like to imagine I like to I’m the kind of girl who dresses up for flying. My feet ached from running through the airports and I was cold. Tears rolled down my face as I pressed up against the window to give myself space from my neighbor. I wanted to be in my bed, cuddling my cat.

BWI was quiet when we touched down. I didn’t know when the trains to DC departed and there was no one around to ask. The ticketing office was closed when I got to the MARC station and a display said that the next train wouldn’t come for 30 minutes. A few cab drivers offered to drive those of us waiting back to DC, but it was expensive and I refused.

A group of about ten people huddled in an enclosed walkway that connected the train platforms to wait for the train. Someone checked their phone and it was 19 degrees. We watched the electronic train schedule as it counted down and all of a sudden the next train’s arrival time disappeared. Another train appeared on the schedule, one that was to arrive in 50 minutes.

To keep warm I alternated between pacing the coved overpass and sitting in a seat, bent over towards my toes, all the while cursing my outfit. I wondered if the train would ever come. I was lonely and it was late so I couldn’t call or text anyone. (This was before I had a smart phone, so I couldn’t search the Internet, send an email or social media– small measures that make the world feel smaller.) My only company was the assortment of shivering strangers and the lone podcast on my iPod I had not yet heard– a conversation about an ESPN documentary with sportswriter Dan LeBetard.

The next scheduled train never came. One of my companions called Amtrak and relayed the message that a train was on the way…soon. Someone lent me their jacket (damn outfit!) and we continued to wait.

When the train finally arrived I curled into the corner of a seat and defrosted, shuddering each time we reached a new stop to pick up passengers, who themselves all greeted the train with boundless joy.

This memory seemed so far away in the pleasant and accomodating light of late Friday. The train arrived on time, and travel went off without a hitch.

But I didn’t forget.

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Where Y’At, Kind of New Orleanian Blog?

I have been a bad, bad blogger. It’s been two weeks since my last post. Shame, I have it.

But I also have a good excuse–moving. My boyfriend and I said goodbye to our lovely Uptown sublease, traveled to D.C., packed up my life there, drove  south in a 15-foot truck (with my cat) and arrived back here to a new place in Mid City. I’ll write up some of my thoughts from those events in upcoming posts, but for now I’ll update y’all* on some things I’ve blogged about before.

Recycling
Recently I wrote about recycling in New Orleans. A few days after the post went up, the Times-Pic published the article New Orleans Recycling Efforts Not a waste, but Has a Long Way to Go. The article is optimistic, and says that NOLA has diverted approximately two percent of its waste from the landfill.

In my recycling post I mentioned my disappointment with the city for not recycling glass, especially because Abita (arguably the most consumed beer in the city) comes exclusively in bottles. Well, big up to this Big Easy brewery, because it announced on July 25 that three of its most popular flavors will come in cans, starting in 2012.

Austin Updates: My Questions Answered
In June, when I wrote about my experience driving through Austin. I quote myself (how narcissistic) “I don’t remember hearing much about Austin in the 1990s. I am also curious as to how the city became what it is. A friend said she’d send me a link to a set of stories NPR did on the city’s growth.”

Lizette made good on her promise: Austin, TX, Growing Pains. It’s from this rad site called “State of the Reunion,” which explores how American cities and towns create community and cultural narratives about the uniqueness of these places. Basically, I’m going to read and listen the hell out of this site… as soon as my boyfriend and I get internet in our new place.

*trying to use “y’all”


 

 

Lagniappe: Mardi Gras Float Storage

Hi everyone! I’ve been in New Orleans for a few days now. More thoughts and posts coming this week, but I’ve been quite busy settling in.

I was walking around yesterday and caught a very New Orleans site: Mardi Gras float storage. The doors were open, so I snapped a few pictures.

I’m featuring the pictures here as part of an occasional series I will call Lagniappe, which means “a little something extra.” Lagniappe is a very popular term around here.

Catching the float storage facility made me smile. So quintessentially New Orleans! Once, when I used to live here, I got caught in traffic  behind Mardi Gras floats that were being transported downtown at about 10 mph. I cursed and shook my fists at them, until I reminded myself that driving behind Mardi Gras floats is something that could only happen in NOLA.

That serenity lasted about five minutes and then I went back to cursing them.

When I first moved to D.C. I thought it was charming to  get stuck on a street corner because of a motorcade. How quintessentially Washingtonian! But then I learned that most motorcades aren’t for the president. And then motorcades just became something that made me late. They soon lost their charm.

Will I be able to call myself a New Orleanian once Mardi Gras floats do not delight me?