Issue #11 September 2005

Knowing what it means to miss New Orleans

The view into the quarter from Café Du Monde.

We were just there in June. A ton of Red Hat employees descended on the Big Easy to try and pull off our first major conference: Red Hat Summit. The trip was two-fold thrilling. First, the promise and excitement of the job ahead. Second: New Orleans is a bit of a mecca for me. It's my parents' very favorite city, and a place my friends hold in the highest regard. They vividly described its beauty and friendliness. Ink drawings of St. Louis Cathedral and the French Quarter balconies hang in the living room of my childhood home. You'll love it there, everyone said.

The Summit offered an opportunity to go and I jumped at the chance.

It was all they described and more.

I visited mom and dad's favorite places: Café Du Monde by the waterfront, the tiny shops nestled in the French Quarter. Bourbon Street late at night with the streetlights flickering and neon beckoning from every bar-front. We drank hurricanes and had a parade and ate beignets while watching the statue-people to see if they were even breathing.

Beignets and café au lait

We met Goldie—who fooled us with his statue act, then talked our ears off about the quarter for the next hour and a half. Ba-roomba Zoop Zoop Zoom! he exclaimed, before showering us with gold beads; his New Orleans welcome. He was funny and sweet and charismatic with a newsboy hat and an enormously patient wife who waited by the curb to take him home.

We saw the sights that might not be seen again for months or even years--the great riverboats on the water, lush ferns dripping off iron lace balconies, the stately graveyards with their silent above-ground tombs. The street musicians and the bright facades. Art everywhere you looked.

It's hard to talk about the city now, remembering what it was then. Any celebration of its well-noted good times seems shallow, knowing that well-traveled strips of French Quarter and Bourbon Street are mere blocks from troubled neighborhoods, drowned homes. We spent hours in awe of the restored houses, the lovingly manicured gardens and gates, the colorful paintings, the wealth of simple characters. It's hard to fathom it all empty and abandoned. And more than that, to worry and wonder what has befallen the lovely people who live there.

Sculpture in the World Trade Center, at the base of Canal Street near Riverwalk.

Because New Orleans, on top of being a truly breath-taking place, is filled with some of the kindest folks I'd ever met. From our waitress at the Bon Ton (with 40-years-experience) to the pretty blonde proprietor of Boutique des Vampyres, from the hotel's wonderful staff to the entertainers hired to handle fire... without exception we found genial, friendly, funny people. They loved their city and loved to show it off. And we loved seeing it, from lowly editor to VP to CEO, all of us together in a way we aren't every day.

One of the Big Bosses, a N'awlin's veteran, stood on a Bourbon Street corner with me one night, just watching the people go by. He smoked a stogie as we sipped our drinks, and told tales of prior visits to the New Orleans of his reckless youth. Our community relations manager introduced the rest of us to po'boys and Dixie beer, and herded a lucky handful to Central Grocery for muffuletta. I took our IT guy to have his first beignet. It was my first beignet, too.

We feel the city's loss around here. For some of us, it's like mourning our family, or dear old friends. For us neophytes, it's more distant of course, but the ache is still there. It wasn't our city, but we did love it. It's a town that gets into your blood.

That's why it didn't surprise me to see what happened at Red Hat. As the news broke, people began posting to our internal list, sharing information, encouraging donations, wanting to help. We checked on colleagues, former colleagues, partners, and friends. Everyone is safe. We are lucky.

And we know that. It's part of why so many of us donated, and asked corporate to donate. Red Hat's executive board answered, agreeing to match our donations. It's not much considering the magnitude of the clean-up and restoration, but it's a small way for us to give back to a place that gave us so much.

And that's where the hope is--there's hope in the people that give money or material, donate blood, or simply take the time to volunteer through church or civic organizations. Many states, including North Carolina, are housing evacuees from New Orleans. People who, in addition to new clothes, homes, and jobs, also need new friends and neighbors.

See what you can do to help.

About the author

Bascha is a writer/web developer/creative-type at Red Hat. She found this essay incredibly hard to write, and, in fact, wrote approximately 5 different versions of it before it was done. The photos included here are from her personal collection, and more can be found over on ibiblio.