Ronald Shamlaty Jr. traveled to New Orleans this week by way of the Biloxi airport. As he moved westward in his rental car from Mississippi to Slidell to eastern New Orleans, he was arrested by the devastation that suddenly came into view from the interstate.
"As we went over the bridges," Shamlaty said, referring to the Twin Spans, "we noticed apartment complexes just destroyed, their windows all boarded up. What really got us -- we got that frog-in-the-throat thing -- was seeing all the trailers still there a year and a half later."
Shamlaty said he didn't know what to expect from New Orleans when he came to town this week for the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society's annual convention, which brought 24,600 visitors to the city.
What he found was two different worlds compressed into one city: a perimeter of devastation encircling neighborhoods like the French Quarter and the Warehouse District that survived Hurricane Katrina largely unscathed. For him, the divide between the city's tourist playground and its other neighborhoods was surreal.
"The French Quarter is almost like a mirage," Shamlaty said. "What we are seeing here is not what is going on elsewhere in the city."
The two different worlds most aptly describes the city as it stands now. But the lead of the story is that visitors can be our best ambassadors to the rest of the world. People need to know that the city is not as the media likes to portray it. The Lower Ninth Ward makes for good copy but that is not the entire city. The fact that I'm currently blogging from the CBD, walking distance from the Convention Center, should tell you something about the state of our city.