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Missing Ditches April 3, 2012

Posted by Mark Folse in Fortin Street, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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I religiously keep the lid shut on my garbage can because I can’t imagine how I would deal with maggots without a nearby storm drain, and if you live this far south if you over stuff the can you know the flies are going to get in there and leave you with an unpleasant wriggling mess. Would I dump the remains of the little bastards after their bath in Clorox into the middle of the street? I’m afraid I might poison the wild parrots that live in the tree outside my house. My last can lost its lid in a windy storm while I was out of town, and I went to get a new one before I unpacked my bags. I got a newer, larger can now that my son is at my house every other week because two men generate a lot more garbage than one, especially with his teenage taste for Hot Pockets, and his insistence that bottled water tastes better than good old New Orleans tap through a Brita filter. The new can has a lid so tight I curse and drop the garbage onto the ground to get it off but that’s probably for the best.

Fortin Street is one of the last in New Orleans I know of without storm drains and lacks even the ditches I remember in much of the old Lakeview of my youth. I wonder how long this gentrifying edge of the fashionable Faubourg St. John will accept living this way, but I’ve never heard a neighbor complain. Complaining about the condition of New Orleans streets if a waste of breath better saved for important topics like the weather. I’m just glad not to have a water main leak like the one that’s been gurgling on South Lopez for so long I can’t remember, even if I’m sometimes jealous of the drain that swallows up the steady spring. At some point the leak is going to wash the dirt out from under the pavement and who knows how long it will take the Sewerage and Water Board and the city to figure out who’s responsible for the gaping hole where the street used to be. I called the city’s 3-1-1 line once to complain and after a long wait was dumped into a recorded message queue, and I dutifully gave them the location and condition. I think that was about a year ago, and since then the water has worn itself in channel down an expansion joint. Mule excursions into the resulting canyon will be the next step. Still, its almost a comforting feature of the neighborhood at his point, like having a fountain in your garden. On a hot day the sound of running water is a relief.

A good, steady rain is another matter.. The black-top on Fortin stands a good two inches above the surrounding ground, which is a rocky gravel and glass mosaic that can’t support enough grass to slow the runoff. If you want to walk to Canseco’s Grocery or to see Dr. Bob the pharmacist at De Blanc’s you need to walk down the street if you want to keep out of the puddles and mud. You can tell the neighbors (they wave) from people bound from the track (they glower and sometimes honk) just by walking down the street, which you mostly do anyway as sidewalks are a now-and-then thing on my street. Once you turn the corner onto South Lopez or Mystery you find good old storm drains, the kind you need at least two men with a very long pry bar and steel-toed boots to clean out, and given the amount of plant detritus from our extensive sub-tropical greenery and the ingrained New Orleans habit of tossing Coke cans and chicken bones out the window, you want to clean your storm drains unless you plan on practicing your Eskimo roll in the street.

In South Louisiana nature has its own opinions about such things, and thankfully provides a nice sag in the sidewalk between the doors of my double as a ponding area for the run-off, keeping it away from the doors. Its a little closer to my side that Jimmy’s but not close enough to puddle up in front of my stoop. If you let your car hang out into the street just enough to annoy those track-bound gamblers (again), you can step out onto the rocky shoulder, bypass the puddling and make your way down to the bit of struggling grass that manages just at the bounds of the puddle and make it to my house without too much mud on your shoes, just enough to make sure you have a good jute and rubber door mat. I imagine just about everyone on my street must have such a mat, which in a better paved neighborhood would be mostly decorative. Jimmy insists we should keep the mud that sloughs into our sidewalk under control and promises to take care of it if I could loan him a shovel. I told him I have one, but he’s never asked to borrow it. He’s about as likely to use that shovel on the sidewalk as I am to dig up the weedatorium in the flower beds in back and put in tomatoes. It’s not that much mud anyway, and people favor walking down the street even on dry days. The dog walkers either head straight for the middle of the pavement, as in early morning of evening the Fairground folks are mostly gone. Some dogs favor the slightly grassier strip on the Fairground side. I guess those are more particular about where they crap, preferring the spring-time fresh greenery the way people in newer houses than mine prefer a bathroom with an exhaust fan.

Maybe I’ll just take the shovel to it myself this time, even though Jimmy’s on disability and probably looks for things to do like furiously sweeping the sidewalk. Then again, trying to keep that sidewalk free of mud is like worrying about the leak around the corner. When South Lopez collapses into a gurgling crater I should still be able to walk around it on my excursions to the store. I can take the car down Mystery to get to Fortin. Mystery Street is well paved concrete (with drains) as Fortin is kept neatly blacktopped, I imagine for the benefit of tourists walking from their buses on Esplanade to Jazz Fest. You wouldn’t want to give them the wrong impression, having them turn an ankle crossing the heaves and crevasses of your typical New Orleans street, which is sliding roughly toward the Gulf of Mexico like a Greenland glacier headed for the sea. The tourists don’t care that Fortin lacks drains or ditches. They walk down the middle of the street like they were natives.

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