LSJ Editors' Blog: Kristin Yiotis at ALA

18 July 2006

Kristin Yiotis at ALA

ALA Annual Conference, 2006, New Orleans: Arriving and Exploring the City

Kristin Yiotis

Wednesday, June 21, I flew into the Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans to attend the ALA annual conference. I arrived early in order to spend some vacation hiking around the city. I had made the commitment to attend ALA 2006 early and sent in my registration before January 1, to take advantage of the 50 percent discount to the usual student rate. Immediately I activated one of the United Mileage Plus credit card offers I had been receiving. The credit card came with a 20,000 mile bonus, which, when added to the miles I had already accrued, meant I had enough for a reward ticket, a free round-trip ticket except for the $10 tax. So I had all the logistics worked out for ALA except for an affordable hotel room, My roomshare at the NMRT hotel, the Pere Marquette Renaissance, came about informally through the NMRT Conference Group Room Wiki set up by Aaron Dobbs.

But the group room wouldn’t start until Thursday, so when I left the airport I took a city bus to the India House, a hostel located in the Mid City District, about 27 blocks up Canal Street going away from the Mississippi River toward Lake Ponchitrain. Another conference goer--a Spectrum Scholar--and I were happy to discover that all city buses were free. I would find out that bus and trolley services throughout the city were slow, but safe. and entirely free, though not all routes were yet in place. I was let out on Tulane Avenue at Lopez Street, an intersection that looked uninhabited, and told to walk over two or three blocks. I set out walking down the middle of the road, past rows of houses boarded up and obviously unoccupied. This street and others I passed seemed entirely deserted, without signs of life, and eerily quite. Refuse and wreckage lay in piles that blocked sidewalks. I took in the spray painted messages on doors and outer walls, just like I had seen on TV news--“No Animals, 2 Dogs, Dead Animal.” Some houses had FEMA trailers parked in the front yard. A few, very few, houses were newly painted, lawns and flower beds sparkling. Yet I saw no people until I neared Canal Street where a small, yellow- haired boy spied me and, seeing I was a stranger, lead me to India House.

The only good thing about India House is its price, $17.00 a night for a bunk bed in a room of six bunk beds, and its nearness to the Canal Street trolley line, which ran until 10 p.m. After getting situated with a bunk bed, I took the trolley down Canal Street, taking in the boarded up commercial areas, the store fronts, the more institutional-looking buildings, really everything on the street uptown. Further downtown, we went past the Financial District hotels that would become the conference center hotels, past Harrah’s gambling casino, clear to the River Walk that followed the Mississippi River. By then it was dark, the night bringing coolness and inviting breezes along the river. But I was tired having arisen at 4 a.m. Pacific time to catch my 6:30 flight, and so just stayed on the trolley as it turned downriver along the boarder of the French Quarter. At its end point, I simply stayed on while it turned around and headed back up Canal Street.

Thursday I had all day to explore New Orleans. Since I was already in Mid City, I decided to head toward Lake Ponchitrain to explore some of the famous cemeteries that were located near the City Park, the Metairie and St. Louis Cemeteries. In New Orleans, bodies are not buried underground but above ground in huge and ornate tombs that are now in a slow state of decay and disarray, from the hurricane? I couldn’t tell. At 9 a.m. it was already extremely hot and humid. I wore walking sandals, loose-fitting, pull-up, thin cottony shorts of a wild, jungle flower print in yellow, blue, green, and purple, and a thin purple tank top. “This is New Orleans after all, the Big Easy,” I rationalized, “don’t worry about overdoing it.” That morning I hiked through the City Park on a path that meandered on one side along a bayou of a river banked by tall reeds and lush brush and on the other opened up onto large green stretches shaded by ancient trees, rows of oak trees that dangled Spanish moss, and what looked to me like banyan trees. I passed children playing on massive tree limbs that lay along the ground before rising and artists set up with easels painting the scene.

Eventually I wound up at the City Museum at Esplanade and continued on down this broad avenue that goes all the way to the Mississippi. The big, New Orleans’ style, white mansions, with their tall columns and second story balconies, the mansions of the white south, fronted the avenue, but soon it became obvious that I had wandered into a different neighborhood. Coming from the opposite direction, a caravan of humvees carried young men in uniform, cradling rifles in their arms. When they passed me they waved and I waved back. I figured it was a good place to flag down a bus, rather than go any further on foot. I remembered that President Bush had called the National Guard to New Orleans a few days before when five or six young men had been found in the Financial District shot dead. City police cars were in evidence at every intersection downtown, parked next to the trolley line on the Canal Street median. But in the neighborhoods the National Guard patrolled.

The bus took me near to within walking distance of the Public Library on Tulane Avenue. There I was able to check my email at a library computer. Half the entire first floor was converted to a FEMA service center, a big room fill of agents seated at desks, at least 10 of them. Patrons were asked once entering the building if they were going to FEMA or the library. It appeared that more people were there to visit FEMA than use the library

Not far from the library was the NMRT hotel, the Pere Marquette Renaissance. I checked in, got the hotel key, and viewed the room. I was the first one to arrive. I quickly went back to India House to get my bags and after depositing them in the hotel, continued with my travels. Following the suggestions of my tourist guide book, I took a bus to the Garden District, the Saint Charles Street trolley not yet running, to see more of the beautiful New Orleans homes and gardens. But after my adventure of the morning, the Garden District, though better preserved, seemed tame and less exotic. I wanted to get as far as the Audubon Park, but was just too hot and tired.

Quiet, cool, clean, lots of amenities like an outdoor pool with comfy lounge chairs, cookies and punch, an exercise room, and most of all convenient to the conference venues, the Pere Marquette was a welcome change from India House. For the next five nights we slept two women to a bed and our only guy stretched out at our feet on a portable bed made up on extra-big bed pillows.

Friday morning arrived. I still had until noon before any conference events would begin. So I took off down Bourbon Street just across Canal from our hotel and visited the French Quarter. It’s a small and really old place, quaint houses painted in bright pastels on narrow streets, lots of balconies with wrought iron grillwork. Again it was hot, up in the 90s, and humid; not much was open. I hate to admit that I didn’t stop in at any of the famous places my guide book said were musts, except for the Jackson Square Park, and even there I forgot to go into Saint Louis Cathedral, the famous, old Catholic church. While resting at Jackson Square, I struck up a conversation with a local, a long time resident, who spoke about his experience in the hurricane. All the local people I met and talked with were extremely friendly, helpful, even funny and light hearted. During my entire time in New Orleans I never felt unsafe, but felt very welcomed by the local people. ALA was the first big conference to come back and the people really wanted us there.

Around noon, I walked the River Walk upriver to the Morial Conference Center, a huge complex that is a mile long in itself. On the way, I detoured to Algiers on the west side of the Mississippi, hoping to catch some cooler breezes while crossing on the ferry. But not losing site of my final destination, I didn’t get off the ferry but stayed on for the round trip ride. Once inside the conference center, the cold hit like an icy shower after the heat of the natural air. I could hardly stand it in my sweat-soaked, tissue-weight clothes. But I came prepared with a sweater and jacket. I was able to pick up my registration packet and head out to the first sessions. So the conference had begun, and I had no more time for sight seeing.

More about the conference in the next installment!

Kristin is a graduate student in the School of Library and Information Science at San Jose State University and a member of the LSJ Editorial Board. Her research interest is in open archives institutional repositories, particularly electronic theses and dissertation repositories (ETDs). Her published articles are based on student writing awards sponsored by LITA/Endeavor (2005), "The Open Access Initiative," and the SLA Information Technology Division (2005), "The Open Archives Initiative and Eprints repositories".


Blogger burlapwax said...

So far it sounds like it was definitely an unforgettable trip...looking forward to the next installment, Kristin!

Blogger Eli Guinnee said...

Installment two is now up!


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