I’m hanging out in a hotel in Nowhere, OH, where I stopped tonight as I travel back from New Orleans. I was there for the American Library Association Conference - it was the first big convention to go there since Katrina. With about 18,000 attendees, it was noticably smaller than last year’s in Chicago - there, I could barely walk the exhibit floor because it was so crowded. This year, you could take plenty of time to talk to vendors. It was still a respectable turnout, though.
I drove down, since I wanted to stop and see my parents in TN, not having seen them in a year. My dad looks great - he had his larynx removed in the fall, followed by radiation and chemotherapy, and despite the prosthetic voice box and some lost weight, he looks marvelous.
New Orleans, though, was nothing like I remembered. I had a job for a couple of years that took me there about a week out of every month. I made it into the French Quarter and checked into my hotel. I was told by the doorman, the bellhop and the lady at the checkin desk how glad they were that we were here. I still wasn’t sure. This wasn’t the city I remembered, and even though I knew it wouldn’t be, I was having trouble reconciling my memories with with the reality I’d seen driving in.
I did the whole conference thing. I went to Bourbon Street. I did tourist things, saw friends and had a good time. But I couldn’t really face the destruction. In that way, I think I failed New Orleans. Because she’s not just the tourist side of things. She’s a hurting city. She’s recovering. I don’t know if she’ll ever be what she once was, but she is recovering.
I had a good time, though. And the city set out to do right by the 18,000 librarians who were there. And they did. And hopefully this will prove to other conferences that it can be done. Thanks for the good time. I hope we do come back in 2011, as is currently scheduled. Although I wish it was for Midwinter in January, not Annual in June!