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Essential Tourist Traps, Part Five: Jazz National Park, New Orleans

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Sometime back in the early '90s, some congress-critter got it into his head that the Department of the Interior should promote music.

A few years earlier, in 1987, Congress passed one of those symbolic resolutions, somewhat akin to "National Turnip Day," declaring "Jazz is hereby designated as a rare and valuable national American treasure to which we should devote our attention, support, and resources to make sure it is preserved, understood and promulgated." This was harmless enough in itself, but how exactly does it go from there to one of the more misbegotten parks in the National Park System?

Well, in 1993, Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA), the guy who would eventually wind up in jail for having all that cash in his freezer, introduced H.R. 3408, a classic piece of pork designating something in New Orleans to be a National Park celebrating the history of Jazz. It had no boundaries, no land, no nothing. Just funding for some rangers based in the offices of Jean Lafitte National Park trying to promote what the city of New Orleans was doing very nicely on it's own.

Today, it has a few very modest venues around the French quarter and is getting some more, but that's why not why it's essential. The reason it's essential is that Jazz National Historic Park, and its sibling Jean Lafitte, cover the entire French Quarter of New Orleans.

So get this: The two Hustler Clubs on Bourbon Street, of which I've only seen the outside of, are inside a National Park, so's the rest of Bourbon Street (and if there ever was a tourist trap, it's Bourbon street).

The French Quarter, unlike, say Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco, is a source of pride for New Orleans-ians, and while the place is as touristy as Hell, the locals not only admit to frequenting the place, they can outnumber the tourists on occasion, and the area of Bourbon St. between Canal and St. Phillip, is Disneyland for Drunks.

The drinks are extremely expensive, although you can take them outside and go to another bar for a refill, paying $16 for a shot is a little much. But if you do it right, you can manage to hear some pretty good music, which is what the National Park is all about. While it's not always Marti Gras, they try to keep up the pretense.

One block south of Bourbon is Royal, which is full of art galleries and restaurants, all three levels of government, Federal, State, and Local, have strict laws regarding the preservation of buildings, and as the Quarter was one of the few areas that were totally unscathed by Katrina, and unlike the Ninth ward, the powers-that-be want this area to continue to thrive, and it does.

Most people in the Quarter don't know that they're simultaneously in two National Parks. Tour Guides Association of Greater New Orleans, Inc., who's membership doesn't appreciate the Federal Government taking over their jobs, has an agreement limiting the NPS to one fifteen minute tour a day. With tourism the areas largest industry, that makes sense.

The architecture is beautiful, the people are mostly friendly, and while everything is damn expensive, but you just have to see it.