Kind of New Orleanian Interview: Rachael Kansas, New Orleanian (Part 2)

Hey guys!

This is the second part of my Kind of New Orelanian interview with Rachael Kansas. Check yesterday’s post to read my introduction to this new feature and learn what brought Rachael back to New Orleans, two years ago.

Part 2

You went to Ben Franklin High School. I know it’s a really big deal here which high school you went to and what that says about you. What’s the stereotype of someone who went to Franklin?

Nerdy.

Is it? It’s a public school, right?

It’s a public school, but it’s a magnet school. We were all over the news in the last 3 or 4 years—we were number 16 in the nation, so it’s a smart school. You have to test to get into it. It’s the best public school in the state, pretty consistently. We don’t have a really strong football team or anything, but we have some sports that we are good at. I know soccer is a big deal. But so is Mu Alpha Theta.

I know you’re a big Saints and Hornets fan, but there’s not a lot of Hornets fans out there. I feel like your family is really dedicated. What is it about the Hornets that you love?

I don’t know, it’s just something fun to do to mix up your week and go to a game. It’s really interactive. You’re a lot closer to the action. It’s a smaller, more involved experience to go to the game. Also, the sport is great, although I think the NBA shouldn’t have as many games in their season.

A lot of people say that New Orleans isn’t a two-sport town, it’s a one-sport city. But I’ve seen when the Hornets have been in the playoffs, how much enthusiasm people could have for it, so I don’t know—I think people are out doing too many other things to get excited. But, it’s a long season with a lot of games.

Speaking of the Saints, what do you think of the whole bounty thing?

It breaks my heart. On the one hand, I know it’s probably true that every team in the whole league does it to a certain extent. But it hurts that we’ve been doing it and got caught. It’s sad and I’m really upset that they haven’t been able to sign a contract with Brees. And, then, of course Sean Payton lied to everyone and Goodell.

In a perfect world I would love to see Goodell to have to hand over the Lombardi trophy to Benson in the Superdome next year, despite all of the scandal. That would just be the ultimate like, F-you man. We still did it.

Rachael loves Drew Brees.

It’s easy to see why the Saints are so beloved post Katrina and the Superbowl win. Do you remember it being as big of a deal growing up?

Growing up the rule was that if we didn’t sell out the Dome, they wouldn’t show the game on TV. It’s ridiculous to think of now tickets go for so much and we have a full, sellout season every year. But growing up, if we didn’t sell out they’d only play the games on the radio. It was like punishment if we didn’t buy tickets. We’d have to sit at home and like listen on the radio, which my dad always made us do. My family was always out fishing on the weekends so we didn’t go to games growing up until more recent years. But, yeah, we were always Saints fans.

What are some touristy things in the city that you’ve not done?

I’ve been plantations to before, for weddings, but I’ve never been on a plantation tour. I’ve never even been to Oak Alley. I know I’ve been to Jean Lafitte Park for something in elementary school. But I’ve never been on the traditional “swamp tour.” But I grew up going out in the marshlands with my dad on a boat and seeing alligators and nutria, and fishing and crabbing. It seems silly to pay to do something that I did all the time with my dad. But maybe it’s different to go on a swamp tour versus being out in the marsh.

There’s definitely a lot of places where growing up I never went to, but I go there now. Like, I never went to the Bywater growing up. And now I go there all the time.

One of the things I’ve been very preoccupied with is that New Orleanians have this kit of things they bring out with them, especially in the summertime.  They have a hat, their koozies and fold-out chairs. I know you keep koozies in your car! Is there anything else you don’t leave home without?

Bug spray. I am really prone to getting chewed up alive by mosquitos. I have one to two cans of bug spray in my house and my car at any given time. They come with me in my purse.

The bugs or the spray?

Both. If I were more responsible, I’d probably add sunscreen to that list.

Rachael's RE/MAX koozie.

What do you like about living in Mid City?

I love Mid City. I love that it’s a neighborhood that people are so proud of and a real community. I love all the little historic homes. The people that live here are just real local, been-in-Mid-City-forever types. When I moved in—and I’ve lived in a lot of addresses across the country— I got four housewarming gifts from different neighbors.

I love that I can walk to a couple places. I love taking the streetcar. I’m a big streetcar rider for Saints games, for Red Dress Run, for Running of the Bulls, for Mardi Gras Day. Basically any time I know I’m going to have a couple of beers, I’m going to take the streetcar downtown.

What do you do with your Mardi Gras beads?

I don’t bring them in the house. Every year I only physically walk in my car or my house with something unique. I’ll catch a lot of beads, but I’ll leave them at my friend’s house, or put them on other people or on someone’s gate. You know, the gates on St. Charles that will all have beads on them anyway. At my friend’s house she’ll put out trash cans and I think she recycles them.

What’s your favorite Mardi Gras parade?

I like Muses because it’s like the beginning of the big weekend. It’s fun to see women partying at night. My dad’s in Endymion, so that’s my favorite. It’s always a good time to be out at the parade or at the Dome. There’s something different because it’s such a big parade, the floats are incredible, it’s the only one in Mid City and my dad’s in it. I get like, real excited. Real crazy. Endymion is definitely my favorite.

What do you hope for the city?

I hope for the same thing everybody else wants… better education and less crime.

What about recycling? People in San Francisco would judge you for not saying that.

More recycling! How could I forget? And, also, I hope that real estate prices continue to go up and up and up.

Does anything in the city surprise you anymore?

Um, not really. Last year I saw a guy in costume in the middle of the day, in the middle of the week. He was waiting at the busstop and I just thought “Eh, New Orleans.”

Actually, I’m surprised when people are rude! I’m like, “Why are you being so rude? There’s no reason to be rude!”

I feel like people here are really assholes on the road. Why is that?

Yeah, they are. See, I’m not surprised by that because we’ve always been notoriously bad drivers.

I always wonder– if everyone here is so nice, why are they dicks in the car? If you put your signal on, they speed up!

I know, people are so rude in the car. It’s weird. But if you were stopped in traffic for two hours, you would roll down your window and become best friends with the same guy you were calling an asshole ten minutes ago.

This interview has been edited for length.

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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.