Is this it? Parking Tickets?
But, for the first time, the lady taking my five dollar cover asked me where I'd parked. "On the neutral ground, like always," I said.
"You know they're out there giving parking tickets to the cars on the neutral ground, right?" Well, let's just say that I was a little stunned.
When I first found myself in New Orleans, almost thirteen years ago now, the very first event I attended was the Oktoberfest celebration at the Deutsches Haus. I already knew New Orleans was the place for me, but that first foray into the huge celebration in the tiny Deutsches Haus courtyard might very well have been the catalyst that set the cement on my feet here.
Since that time, the M.O. for Oktoberfest has been roughly the same: If you're driving up, rather than park throughout the semi-business-semi-residential area, simply pull your car onto the neutral ground in front of the Haus, so the detail cops can keep watch while you go have your good time. There were no tickets for this, for as long as I can recall... Just friendly NOPD watching over you as you went to your car, or, if you'd had one too many, suggesting maybe you ought to call yourself a cab.
But, this year, on both nights of the opening Oktoberfest weekend, city officials were on hand to issue tickets for parking on that same neutral ground, in the same way we always have. And, there was a fleet of tow trucks, idling, waiting to drag away any vehicle sufficiently out of line with local ordinance. At first I thought that we were just dealing with some very new NOPD, maybe hired since Katrina, who didn't really understand that people NEED to park there in order for this festival to be a success. .
Then, I remembered, New Orleans is trying to reclaim that neighborhood for use as an expansion to the downtown medical complex. Suddenly, the mass issuance of parking citations during a very popular event in the neighborhood doesn't seem so innocuous. It seemed, in fact, to be an effort sanctioned by the city to make attending the Oktoberfest a wholly unpleasant thing, and to undermine the strength of the Haus.
I thought that, at least after Katrina, the city government would have moved beyond such blatant tactics of public manipulation. And, frankly, I thought we as Orleanians would have evolved to a point that we can recognize and defuse such efforts. Not so, it turns out.
I spoke to several people about this and more than a couple indicated that they wouldn't be coming back to the remaining four weekends of Deutsches Haus Oktoberfest because they weren't willing to risk the tickets or they weren't willing to park around the neighborhood (frankly understandable, as uninhabited as it is) just to come to the Haus, which is, presumably, exactly the desired effect.
So is it this, then? Is this what it has come to? For our own city to turn against us for its own desires? And will we be defeated, after surviving 300 years of wars, disease, and hurricanes, by something as simple as a bunch of parking tickets?
Please tell me no.