Recently my wife and I had a chance to attend a wedding in New Orleans so we decided to make it a four day weekend. It was great, the weather was gorgeous. We stayed at the Indigo Hotel on St. Charles Avenue, the one with the street car. This was not my first trip to New Orleans. Back in 1972 while a student At North Texas, I drove there for Mardi Gras. That’s another story for another time. Suffice it to say that New Orleans looks much different today. There is not much litter, or graffiti. The exception is Bourbon Street which reminded me of the red light district in Amsterdam which we walked through last August. The people are friendly and the stately old oaks frame some of the prettiest streets and property you are likely to find east of Houston. I played golf one day at City Park. My Buddy Jim and I played with an attorney named Gerald, a middle aged long time New Orleanian. On the fourth tee box, the inevitable Katrina conversation came up. We were playing from the whites.
“Man,” Jim said. “Katrina really clobbered you guys.”
“Yeah,” Gerald said, teeing up his ball; he had the honor. He took a practice swing with his driver; it was a par five. “In a lot of ways Katrina was a blessing.” Gerald positioned his driver behind the ball, hesitated then WHACK, drove it down the left side of the fairway.
It was my turn. I walked forward and teed up my golf ball. “What’s the population of New Orleans now?” I stepped back and took a practice swing.
“About five-hundred thousand,” Gerald said. “It was just under a million before Katrina,” he said. “A bunch of them went to Houston.”
“You can have them back,” I said.
“No thanks,” he said.
“Ha-ha,” Jim laughed.
“Yeah, a bunch of those Katrina refugees were in my classes,” I said.
“Oh, really,” Gerald was curious. “What’d you teach?”
“I tried to teach them Biology,” I said. “I’m not sure they learned anything. Some of them were just stupid.”
“Can I tell you something?” Gerald said.
I took another practice swing. Nobody was pushing us. “Sure,” I said.
“Our schools are all charter schools now. Before Katrina, we had some of the worst schools in the nation. Back then we had public schools, now, we have charter schools. We are actually doing better than most schools in The United States. In fact we are a model for other urban school systems.”
“Interesting,” Jim said.
“Not only that, have you looked around the city?” he asked, “nice, huh?”
“Very nice,” Jim said.
I prepared to tee off. WHACK, I mashed one about 280 yards down the middle, watched it for a few seconds then picked up my tee. Jim walked forward and teed up his ball. “You sure you don’t want them back?” he asked, then chuckled. WHACK, he sliced it, off to the right.
Since we returned from New Orleans, I have been thinking about what Gerald said about charter schools. Given New Orleans’ success, maybe we should try that approach in Houston.
Another song from Izzy: