Saturday, March 31, 2012

A Streetcar Named St. Charles

Posted by Deirdre Oakley, NEW ORLEANS, LA -- One of the great things about New Orleans is its streetcar system. But the other thing about New Orleans is that when it rains, it really rains. Combine the two and you have one big adventure, particularly as the evening darkness descends upon the St. Charles route from the French Quarter to Uptown. I took this route a few weeks ago and was able to get some pictures, although even with an umbrella, both me and my camera got drenched. Yet the ride was indeed an adventure -- not only because the street car was crowded with people either going home from work, or scouring the city looking for a place to eat outside the drunken sidewalks of Canal Street -- but because you just never knew when you would actually get on one of these streetcars.

Once on with a mostly-seated crowd of equally drenched people, the streetcar slowly jerked forward making loud screeching noises as the driver steered with its few controls. The streetcar itself was interesting because it looked like something out of the early 1900s. Stops would come up and the driver would yell out to the soaked crowd expecting to get on to wait for the next car. This happened repeatedly and I decided I was lucky to be on the car.

But more importantly, through the rain-spattered streetcar windows I got a unique look at this famous city's streets. From what I could see it was beautiful and alive on a Wednesday night. It was almost magical. I also got to see what was ahead from the streetcar driver's perspective -- one rainy city with bright colorful lights and low visibility. This made me think of all the heroes and victims of Hurricane Katrina, as well as the fact that there is no streetcar route to the Lower Ninth Ward. I wondered if I was seeing some Katrina ghosts mysteriously embedded within this beautiful but precarious scene.

Then, very abruptly, the streetcar stopped and the driver announced that this was the last stop due to construction. "There's a bus across the street," he yelled.  I heard surprised expressions, resigned moans and groans, and even a few explicetives among the riders.  My colleague and I walked across the street only to find no bus waiting. Then I turned around to take one last picture of my streetcar named St. Charles adventure only to find that the streetcar had abruptly left.  "A ghost streetcar?" I dismissed this thought quickly as we continued on our way to dinner, walking in the rain discussing Ernest Hemingway of all people, and deciding to take a cab back.

Deirdre Oakley is the Editor of Social Shutter and an Associate Professor of Sociology at Georgia State University. You can contact her at

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