Monday, February 22, 2016

Second line in the 9th Ward

I always think of my neighborhood as the Bywater, but really, that's kind of a newfangled name. Some say it dates from the 1940s, when, to distinguish the neighborhood, folks used the telephone exchange name for it.

But, really, where we are is in the 9th Ward of New Orleans. The 9th Ward encompasses much of downtown New Orleans, from the River to the Lake, from the border with St. Bernard Parish to  Franklin Avenue. But after the Industrial Canal was built, people talked about the Lower 9th Ward - the area downriver from the canal - and the Upper 9th Ward, the area uptown, which includes the Bywater.

While the damage from the flood that followed Hurricane Katrina hit almost all parts of the 9th Ward hard, the Bywater was spared, being on slightly higher ground. But the Lower 9th Ward was devastated.

St. Claude Avenue is the artery that runs through the 9th Ward, and Sunday it was full of life. Today was the second line parade for the Social and Pleasure Club, the Original CTC Steppers.

My friend Becky and I caught the parade at the intersection of St. Claude and Lesseps Street, just before they crossed over the St. Claude Avenue Bridge.

Built in 1919, it's a single bascule drawbridge, swung by a counterweight. It opens for barges and boats that travel from the canal to the Mississippi River, and the cheerful "toot-toot" of its horn is a regular punctuation of daily life here in the Bywater. But this bridge is the gateway to the Lower 9th Ward, and the neglect of deferred maintenance it displays is a reflection of the neglect and disregard that has been directed toward the Lower 9th Ward for so many decades.

Yet today, it seemed to me - What could be more magnificent than a carriage full of proud, beautiful queens of the community rolling over that narrow roadway, descending into the Lower 9th Ward, heralded by the accompanying brass band?

The colorful Steppers in their blue and yellow raiment were followed by throngs of people - many of them my neighbors.

For a moment, the band stopped on the bridge deck for a song. This is customary for second lines to stop at a bridge, but it's usually for the amphitheatre-like musical qualities found underneath a bridge's roadway. Surely the rusted steel beams and spans of the St. Claude Bridge don't serve an acoustic function?

Perhaps it's purely a ceremonial one. While the band played, one intrepid marcher climbed up onto a bridge platform, dancing while pumping a feathered parasol over his head.

Just this one time, Becky and I decided to stay on the uptown side of the bridge. When the parade had completely passed, we walked down the banks of the levee and headed back to Vaughan's Lounge.

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