Just before noon Friday, during my first few minutes in Alabama (state motto: Great at football, even better at obesity), I stepped up to the Hertz rental car desk at the Mobile airport and was asked where I was headed.
“New Orleans,” I said.
“Ooooh,” the clerk said. “Don’t go down any back alleys.”
“And don’t park anywhere where you can’t see your car,” she said.
People love to say this kind of stuff, particularly when they’re trying to tack on an extra $30 per day for insurance. (I declined.) A decade ago, when I was looking to move to the Valley, a helpful former Youngstowner took out a map and showed me the places I should avoid. After listening to him rule out 98 percent of Mahoning County, I half-expected to see bushy-eyebrowed goombahs walking down Federal Street wearing pinstriped suits and pinky rings, brandishing violin cases in one hand and envelopes stuffed with cash in the other.
But as anyone who works downtown knows, you only see that a couple of times a month. Tops.
New Orleans is hosting its seventh Super Bowl this weekend, and even if you’ve spent only a few hours in the Big Easy (which I have … literally), it’s easy to see why.
It’s walkable. It’s memorable. It’s not 17 degrees outside.
Where else in America can you walk past sinners in Saints gear listening to bull-horn evangelists accomplishing the exact opposite of their intent?
Where else can a drunken 49ers fan interrupt a TV traffic reporter’s live remote, then become world famous when the irritated reporter tells her she’s doing a story on STDs before asking, “How long have you had an STD?”
“I don’t have an STD.”
“Oh, then why did you want to talk to us?”
(This really happened. And the drunken fan, who apparently was incapable of being insulted, just yelled out “Gooooo Niners!!!” )
Where else can you eat alligator for the first time (which I did) just before walking past Shaq’s limo (which I did) in a city where the parking service goes by the acronym PMS? (It stands for Parking Management Services.)
Where else can you be just one of 5,200 credentialed reporters with the same access to the same 52,000 press releases that killed the same 520,000 trees and still feel like you’re a big shot, even though your Super Bowl game credential lists your seat in section ZZZ, Row ATB (Above The Blimp)?
Where else can you be in the same room when musical royalty like Beyonce is asked to name the color of her toothbrush? (“I love that question. It’s truly multi-colored. It’s blue, and white. Blue and white, I think. Blue and yellow, maybe.”) Or when she is asked maybe the hardest-hitting question of the week and didn’t flinch.
REPORTER: “Are you excited to perform at the Super Bowl?”
BEYONCE: “Oh my God, I’m so anxious, yes.”
And where else can you see Youngstown’s Eddie DeBartolo Jr. inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on the same weekend his sister’s team matches the Steelers for most Super Bowl championships?
Exactly. New Orleans.
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