If Gentrification was a Tourist: Carrying the Burden of Someone Else’s Free Spirit

The laundromat tops the list of places where I’m really not trying to make friends. Honorable mentions include the bus, the bus stop, the produce section, shows while the band’s playing, Ubers, and the ATM. Because there’s no wifi at my neighbourhood ’mat, it’s just a place where I can sit and reflect and not feel obligated to be working. Instead, I can read, listen to music, or just luxuriously stare into space (the most underrated pastime).

While I live several neighborhoods over from the core shit-show of NOLA, I’ve worked downtown and on Bourbon long enough to know when a tourist is asking me a legitimate question. “Is this the streetcar stop?” Debbie from Des Moines asks me. I nod without even removing a headphone. She thanks me and we all move on with our lives. It’s a routine to which I’ve grown accustomed, practically to the point where the hand of severe introversion doesn’t clench its fist across my arms and chest.

Unfortunately, there seems to be a new (or at least new to me) flavor of tourism that’s infiltrating not only my neighborhood, but my precious laundromat. On the other side of coin from Debbie, there is Rex the crusty who seems to multiply as the Quarter wanes. However, it’s neither party with whom I have qualms. I don’t know where this new tourist falls on the continuum, but what I do know is that it’s backpacking its way through my last ounce of patience, desperately on the hunt for a boy scout badge for venturing into the “real” New Orleans.

The first instance started slowly. I was sitting in a seat just outside the storefront hoping to catch a breeze and listen to Four Gold Chains on repeat. A man riding his bike on the sidewalk slowed down next to me.

“Can I ask you a question? I promise it’ll only take a minute of your time.”

Some Mountain Goats-sounding something-or-another was playing from the phone in his cup holder. I tugged a bud out of my ear.

“Uhh, sure.”

He was at least around my age, so I figured I’d give him the benefit of the doubt.

“Are you waiting for your boyfriend?”

I glared back at him. A whole three seconds, and all benefit had been washed into the storm drain with the water from his CamelBak.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” he said shaking his head. “Girlfriend?”

A rainbow enamel pin reading ally was fastened at the bottom of his denim jacket, but he failed to realize that the woke thing to have done was not immediately inquire into my relationship status in the first place.

“I’m waiting on my clothes,” I drew out low and slow.

“Oh, right, right,” he said as if I should have had doubts that I was.

Unfortunately, any semblance of coherent dialogue must end here. The rest of the conversation was a clusterfuck of his life story and questions about the neighborhood, bonded together by pregnant pauses of his determination to keep the encounter going when I was giving nothing.

He was just passing through on a casual jaunt from Austin. And so, he needed me to give him the street names of every location that could be found on that blaring phone without even having to scroll into the Google map. His bike was trying to propel him forward, but he kept anchoring his Vans back on the concrete as he started refuting my directions to Sycamore Street. I don’t know what’s more cringy—the arrogance of explaining someone else’s neighborhood to them, or the audacity to ask someone questions to which you already know the answer in the hopes that they’ll let you take them for tea and a tea bagging.

Regardless, with the well of filler flowers dead, he stared at me a bit longer before riding off into golden hour.

I was willing to overlook the situation as an isolated event—that was until this past weekend. Another man was back at it with the white Vans. Well, this time it was Nike Free RN’s, but he was just as willing and eager to pawn off the burden off his free spirit.

My load was about halfway done in the washer and my attention was halfway between my book of short stories and TV coverage of the “feckless cunt” apocalypse. It had been storming off and on all afternoon, so I stayed perched inside with just one other man sitting diagonally across the room. I paid him little mind until he slowly approached.

“You wouldn’t happen to have a smoke would you?” he asked, pantomiming the act. His grey Under Armour t-shirt was matted to his stocky frame in the AC-less rectangle. Dirty blonde hair fell on either side of his ears like a greasy, aged Jack Dawson. He could have passed for one of the men who liked to follow me to the bus stop after rehab had let out for the night. Nevertheless, my doubting benefit was extended like an olive branch.

“Oh, no. Sorry.” I said in caught-off-guard falsetto.

“No need to be. You’re the lucky one!” he offered up as kudos towards my smoke-free status.

We shared a laugh, and he returned to his post.

His Patagonia backpack was unbuckled as his clothes sat dispersed across the entirety of a big wooden table. He seemed to be making a hobby out of folding after growing bored of his notebook and latte.  

From feckless cunts to police brutality on the beaches where Snooki once got away with mere citations, my attention went back to the television set. My thumb slid out of my place in my book. The sound of tapering rain held all of it together like glue.

I don’t know how many minutes passed before I realized Patagonia Pennywise was back in my territory, silently staring.

“Yes?” I asked with a head-rolling blink.

“You wouldn’t happen to know of a couch I could crash on, would you?”

“Uhhh…Airbnb. Craigslist. Signs over at the coffee shops. Maybe you can try the one where you were at,” I said, gesturing to his cup.

“Well, you see, I was looking for something right now.”

Now I was the one staring.

“Maybe I could trade some of my massage skills. I’m pretty good,” he said, tapping on his left bicep and raising both eyebrows up and down.

“Okayyyyyyy.” I didn’t even try to muffle my disgust.

He backed away, but I wasn’t sure if he was there to stay. While his mind had fallen into his own personal gutter, mine was caught up in the coordinates of escape routes. I thought about zooming down the ’mat’s storm drain, but hell, he would have just pulled me down into the sewer.

Fortunately, he dipped on his mountain bike just in time for sunset. I was relieved that I wasn’t going to have to pull my sopping wet clothes into my arms and run, but still, I stewed.

It’s like if gentrification was a tourist.

It starts off with a problem I’ve experienced before as a young chick existing in public. They ask those questions that could easily be answered via Google, a gas station map, the centrally-located visitor’s center, or, you know, public street signs—simply for the purpose of gaining an “in.” I’m foolishly left having to entertain their inanities just so they can have their five minutes of stopping and staring in the hopes the conversation will turn into a tasteless organic compound.

However, it doesn’t seem to end there with this trust punk 2.0 tourism market. This breed wants to spread its wanderlust all over the manic pixie dream girls existing in their natural habitats. They’re intrigued, and by god, they want you to know it by banging on the glass when the sign clearly advises against it.

With hopes of intimidation backfiring, tattoos just end up being perceived as the underground railroad for weary male travelers. I’m sorry, sir—but I do not intend to pop out a kid named Dandelion with you and breastfeed the thing until it’s old enough to know four-letter words. You know, sometimes I wonder if I should have gotten this coffin on my face instead of my sternum.

Perhaps worst of all, this fugazi-ass solicitation of guidance and need becomes the wolf-cry belittling those who are actually seeking help. I recall a time last summer when I had run into a grocery store bathroom while running errands downtown. I departed my stall at the same time as one of the employees. As we hunched over the sinks, she broke the silence.

“Hey, you wouldn’t happen to know of any places for rent around here, would you? Or the cheapest place in the city to find a room? Me and my daughter…well, we’re about a week away from being on the streets and that’s just not how I’m trying to be.”

I saw her clutching her phone. It was clear that she had just gotten a call that she hadn’t wanted.

“Hey, well, I got my place through Craigslist…” I explained as she bookmarked the rooms / shared page for the next time she returned to wifi.

She withdrew quickly afterwards with a simply thank you. Maybe she was trying to run games. Who knows. It’s New Orleans. But if there was even a chance that she was being genuine—which seemed to be the case—then I was willing to give her one.

Like with most matters in the world, it’s an issue of basic respect. Sure, I’ll entertain you on Bourbon for dollar bills, but encroaching on my home…that’s another thing entirely.  

So, if you find yourself on my vacation—at my godforsaken, un-airconditioned, fried food-smelling laundromat—I beg of you; ask your question and go, assuming it’s even a question at all.

-Jenna

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