Bourbon Street, Saturday evening, March 21, 2020
"...and suddenly there is a great split between now and then, and I wonder where the world where that day happened has gone, because we are not in it." -- Jessmyn Ward, Salvage the Bones
The French Quarter has gone quiet. It is by far the quietest time of the over twenty years that I have lived here. It is quieter than it was after Katrina. The doors are locked on the bars that never closed after that disaster. Perhaps it has been this quiet at some time in the past, maybe when yellow fever raged during the mid-nineteenth century summers.
Oh, you can buy beer. The store will feel unsettled, the cashier may laugh nervously or be uncomfortably quiet, but you can get your six pack. You can buy a po boy, if you don’t mind waiting for it out on the sidewalk.
It is the most uncharacteristic mood for this so social city. There may be cities that glide more easily into this stay-at-home mandate, but it is against nature in New Orleans.
It is even more striking due to the disturbingly slow way in which this mood took over. One week ago, Bourbon Street was busy with St. Patrick’s revelers. There were ghost tours, groups of people crowding the sidewalks as if they had never heard the term social distancing, which they probably hadn’t.
I remember texting some friends one week ago today, saying that I cannot believe how many people are out and about. In fact, I texted this, “French Quarter tours are going on like there ain’t no illness.”
On the following Monday, the city sent an official text stating that there were “95 presumptive-positive cases of COVID 19 in NOLA.” Today, Saturday, the text from the city says, “There are now 418 cases of COVID 19 in New Orleans.” Nothing is presumptive. It’s here, and the streets are quiet.
One week ago seems like a world away.