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Point of View

A desire named streetcar

Sunday, February 18, 2007
Bruce E. Fleury

I want to ride the streetcar down St. Charles Avenue. Is that so much to ask?

I understand that the recovery of our once fair city is a long and arduous process, and we have to restore the corpse to life before we can dress it up and take it out to party. First things first.

We have to set the right priorities -- police, fire, power, water, the Camellia Grill. . . . I learned all that from playing Sim City. But enough is enough.

I've been a good boy, I've eaten all my vegetables. Now I want cake.

I don't mean king cake, though the season is right, and it isn't really Mardi Gras until you've broken a crown on a plastic baby. I don't mean angel food cake, though we Katrina survivors have certainly earned that.

And I don't mean the devil's food cake that the state and federal governments have dished up to us instead.

I mean a good old-fashioned well-deserved treat, the lollipop that follows the tetanus shot.

Recovery is about more than infrastructure, crime, employment and getting by with less. Some quick fixes are in order, like the recent debut of the pothole killer.

We need to put a bow tie and a clean hanky on the image we project to the world, especially if we want to keep fooling George Bush into thinking everything down here is just hunky-dory. The St. Charles streetcar should have been right at the top of the very first list.

Few things about the Crescent City are more memorable than those quaint green trains, rumbling down the avenue past the stately mansions and towering live oaks.

We should have put it right back together, to show ourselves and the rest of the country that a skinned knee wasn't going to keep us from getting back on the bicycle. At a time when the state of our urban spine is so central to our economic recovery, as well as to our continued mental health, doesn't it make sense to put our very best effort into bringing back the little engines that can?

And while we're on the subject, shouldn't the street lights, and stop lights, and stumps, and shrubbery, and church steeples on our grandest avenue also get top priority? After all, this is the face we show the world.

I've left my gutted shell on the edge of Broadmoor for more urban digs near the Garden District (OK, if you lean over the porch you can see the Garden District way off in the distance). I'm not only within walking distance of the big parades, I am finally in a neighborhood where the streetcar is more than a cultural icon, more than a cheap thrill for visiting friends and relatives. It would take me right to my office door, or whisk me away to the border of the Quarter. And what better way to start the day in the city that time forgot?

Instead, I huddle on the bus, peering through ad-plastered windows at what passes for progress on our once and future streetcar line.

I used to be a member of Phunny Phorty Phellows, and I loved that wild ride down the streetcar line on Twelfth Night when no one else had figured out that Mardi Gras was once again upon us. I did almost everything you can legally do on a streetcar, and perhaps a few things you shouldn't. Now I want the opportunity to do it all again.

I know that somebody out there is ready to tell me all the legal, financial, political, and technical reasons why the St. Charles streetcar remains in limbo.

The parts are custom made, the power boxes are expensive, the moon needs to be in Aquarius -- I'm tired of excuses. Where's my cake?

. . . . . . .

Bruce E. Fleury is a professor of biology at Tulane University. His e-mail address is bfleury@tulane.edu.

 




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