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Has Change Come to the South?


On a recent Friday evening, I was walking down Bourbon Street in New Orleans when a man tried to sell me drugs by shouting the word "cocaine" into my ear. Then he didn't even stop to see if I wanted any.

I wondered if this uninspired narcotics trafficker were a symbol of how the Crescent City had changed since my last visit, six years ago. As I made my way around town, however, I was happy to find that much had stayed the same.

In the French Quarter, bartenders still look like strippers, strippers still look like prostitutes and prostitutes still look like, well, they also look like prostitutes. There is a similar timelessness at Arnaud's, a venerable purveyor of omelets that cost $40 and desserts that cannot be properly enjoyed until a man in a tuxedo sets them on fire.

And when you look for a seersucker suit like those worn by the members of Arnaud's four-piece band, you'll still go to Rubenstein's and say, "I want to look like a bald man with a mustache who plays a trombone," only to once again be told by the affable salesman that a gentleman of your physique would be better served by something with a "more European cut."

Then you'll head back to Bourbon Street for a night of bar-hopping. Bachelorettes on a mechanical bull? Check. Man shooting them with a fire extinguisher to make their skirts fly up? You got it.

If you don't mind pieces of pig turning up in all your food, it remains impossible to have a bad meal in New Orleans. I had a great lunch in a small park, where a church group was raising money with a crawfish boil. In no other city would I go to a playground and eat seafood out of a garbage can.

Neighboring Mississippi appears similarly resistant to change. Within 30 seconds of driving into the state, I saw a biker wearing Confederate flag gloves and a "Punisher" mask. When I write and illustrate a graphic novel of my nightmares, this man will be a character, right alongside a clown with a flaming sword and a bunch of dogs dressed like Nazis.

Here's a thing not to do at a hotel pool in Mississippi: get into a crowded hot tub and announce your support for same-sex marriage. This has nothing to do with Mississippi; it's just that getting into a hot tub and sharing your political opinions with total strangers is kind of a weird thing to do.