Challenger Logo by Alan White   A Science Fiction Fanzine   Winter 2005-6



Joseph T. Major

Mr. Blaylock the choir director at First Baptist Church must have been really convincing. Why else did the youth choir get to go to Panama City, to New York, to the Miracle Strip? But we went, and sang at a few churches along the way.

In 'seventy, though, we went south. It was summer, with all that entails in the south. We were used to it then. The bus took us through Tennessee and Alabama and Mississippi, and then across the great Lake Pontchartrain bridge.

There was a church there for us to sing, too. That wasn't the biggest thing we did. The boys were four to a room -- girls, too, I suppose. It didn't matter, we were young and full of life and joy. The Holiday Inn was crowded but we didn't care.

One afternoon we actually got to go to the French Quarter. The notorious places were off limits, of course. I've never seen pullers at strip joints elsewhere. There were enough "acceptable" places for us to ramble along and enjoy ourselves. (The one place that stuck in my historian's mind was Le Petit Soldier Shop, a place full of books and tin soldiers and all that militaria. I wanted to go back.)

It was fun, walking along and seeing the signs of history, the street signs in French and Spanish, the mossy walls, the old brick streets. In a world where the past is *BANG* *BOOM* parking lot, seeing something older than myself that was still used, still living, was reassuring. Or standing on the bank of the river and looking across a great flowing inland sea. Even then I couldn't enjoy the food, unfortunately. But I wanted to go back someday.

I read about the place from time to time. John Dillman's true crime stories (the best one is Unholy Matrimony (1988) about a woman who was dying to get married or was it the other way round?) brought back a little of that. There were the stories of NoLafandom, from the Elder Days in Room 770 to the regular doses of now in Challenger.

Sometime, I figured, we'd go back. I had actually hoped to go by on the way to (or back from) LoneStarCon, back in 1997, but things happened. It'd still be there.

I have to wonder. An entire city has been dispersed, with all that means; communities broken up, homes washed out, neighborhoods scattered. Such broken things seem beyond our power to put back together, with so many other demands. Even if some of them do come back, if the water gets pumped out, if the dead are buried, will it be enough?

What will we have? A world without the exotic flavor of Creole, the mystical vodun; without the glorious excess of Mardi Gras, the glitter and wonder of the French Quarter. The history of Jackson Square and of Jean Lafitte, the blockade runners and the autocracy of Ben Butler. This can never be gone, but it can be destroyed; there can be facts without a place to keep them. Where will the memories go, when there is no one and no place to keep them?

If there is a new New Orleans . . . will it be a mere port, a place for pumping oil into barges, with a ticky tacky town for the workers tacked on behind? Or will they finally give up the ghost, let the Mississippi pour down the Atchafalaya as it's been trying to do for most of a century?

What will happen if the workers and the livelihood go away? Will this exodus leave the remnant to become a "NewOrleansLand"? A tourist attraction where paid employees go through the motions of being the lively place that was?

If I were fifteen and vigorous again ...


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