Through the years, I’ve spent a considerable amount of time in New Orleans – the Big Easy – perhaps the most enchanting, yet enervating, city in the world.
In fact, my wife and I were married there – on the muddy, swift-moving Mississippi River aboard the authentic Paddlewheeler Creole Queen – amid the chaos, craziness and incredible pageantry of Mardi Gras.
I have seen New Orleans at her best – and at its worst – and have grown to love it, warts and all.
Despite the spectacular beauty, antebellum charm and almost electric energy of the City that Care Forgot – there has always been an element of real danger – there were 424 murders in Orleans Parish the year we were married (one shooting occurred within 25-yards of us) – and there is an overriding sense that it is a place that doesn’t suffer fools.
For instance, one of the first things an uninitiated tourist learns is – when a stranger with a cigarette tucked behind one ear and a pint of warm gin loitering on any corner of Bourbon Street challenges, “I’ll bet I can tell where you got them shoes, and what street you got them on!” – it’s best to keep walking.
You know the scam, after the rube accepts the bet – the street hustler quickly exclaims, “You got your shoes on your feet, and you’ve got them on Bourbon Street.”
Don’t argue – just pay the man the $10 you owe him. . .
If you’re brave enough (preferably in a group) and you amble into areas outside the French Quarter, you may come upon a guy in a ratty pinstripe suit with slicked-back hair tucked up under a dirty fedora, gathering a crowd for the shell game.
The idea of the sport is simple – a pea is placed under one of three identical walnut shells, and you simply try to keep track of it while the shells are quickly rearranged.
Usually, there is one guy in the crowd laughing about how bad the hustler is – while another keeps ambling up and placing $100 bets – winning about half the time.
Members of the audience are persuaded to place bets and guess which shell the pea is under – and a player might even win a few bucks. For a while, anyway.
Then, the grifter will draw the lucky player in ever closer – usually with the help of an encouraging shill working the audience – then rapidly increase the amount of the wager – even allowing the person to place his or her finger on top of the walnut to secure the pea under the exact shell everyone in the crowd saw it placed.
Using wizard-like slight-of-hand, the shark will quickly fleece the unsuspecting dupe – always with a very polished “Awwww, that’s too bad” mock pity – while raking in money hand-over-fist all night long.
It always amazes me that otherwise intelligent people will keep believing, trusting their eyes and failed instincts, even when it becomes apparent they’re being scammed.
You see, a good hustler knows that with the right prompting most people will respond in predictable ways. Unless you’re the one being hustled – it’s an amazing thing to watch.
I was reminded of this recently when I read the bold headline (frontpage/above the fold) in the Daytona Beach News-Journal entitled, “Rides to the Rescue,” touting the return of carnival rides to the scuzzy wasteland that is the Boardwalk.
“It’s great,” city Redevelopment Director Reed Berger said when he heard about the new rides.
“This is what we were looking for. It’s something to do on the Boardwalk.”
Great. Yeah. But why the surprise, Reed?
According to the News-Journal, about a month ago, Berger – perhaps the most ineffective redevelopment official in the history of that dubious trade – entered talks with a South Florida amusement company – Hildebrand Rides – who originally planned to set up Spiders, Twisters, and Rocket Flyers in downtown Riverfront Park this summer.
Apparently, the company works the fall and winter county fair and festival circuit (although the event schedule on their website hasn’t been updated since 2012) and, one assumes from the reporting, that they are looking for a convenient place to set-up shop for the summer months.
Berger convinced the amusement operator to erect a few rides at the Boardwalk instead.
“This is where we needed a catalyst to get that place cleaned up,” Berger said. “The timing all worked out.”
Well, that – and the unmistakable fact that some 10,000 Shriners and their families are breathing down the city’s neck, preparing to flock into town in the next few weeks only to be greeted by the abject squalor, malignant blight and horrific dilapidation that was well documented in a recent photographic tableau on this blogsite – and within clear and open view of anyone who goes anywhere near our core tourist area.
Christ. How fucking stupid does Mr. Berger think we are?
Please – stop pissing down our backs and blaming it on rain.
It is patently clear to me that the Chamber of Commerce set – and their redundant cronies in the various “convention and visitors bureaus” – who threw off the traces of ethical and moral conduct when they actively courted and encouraged Shriners International to hold their Imperial Session in Daytona Beach – a place hardly ready for primetime, large scale conventions – are getting nervous.
Look, it took a $24,294.25 taxpayer funded bar tab to get it done – but they did it.
Now, just days before tens of thousands show up to be entertained, Reed Berger and company finally get off their numb asses and throw a strategic coat of paint around, sweep some sand under the rug, and haul in a few midway rides to cover up the godforsaken mess that is the storied ruins of our Boardwalk.
Graciously, the “E-Zone’s” benevolent dictator – George Anderson – has entered a short-term “deal” with Hildebrand Rides.
If history holds, Mr. Hildebrand might be in for a ride more terrifying than any Tilt-a-Whirl in his inventory.
“We haven’t talked about anything beyond this summer,” Anderson said in the News-Journal.
Of course they haven’t. It is what it is.
A short-term – clumsy sleight-of-hand – designed to put something, anything, in that festering hole in the heart of the only tourist draw on the World’s Most Famous Beach.
I mean, after you’ve taken the wife and kids to the incredibly engaging, always entertaining, Main Street district – or fought off roving bands of aggressive panhandlers for the umpteenth time near the Bandshell – you simply must enjoy the unique sights, sounds and smells of the Boardwalk on a humid Daytona Beach evening.
Our tourist and redevelopment officials are beginning to get queasy – and their fear is palpable.
As I’ve said before, I’m no marketing strategist – but even a rube like me can understand the impact of negative word-of-mouth by 10,000 victims of a bait-and-switch scam on future convention and tourism business.
And this ham-handed attempt to quickly spruce-things-up on the virtual eve of a mega-convention – while attempting to convince long-suffering residents that a few temporary carnival rides represent a renaissance – is just mean-spirited and unconscionably wrong.
Too little. Too late.
Like I said, it always amazes me that otherwise intelligent people will keep believing, trusting their eyes and failed instincts, even when it becomes apparent they’re being scammed.
Awwww, that’s too bad. . .