Remember that children need praise and positive reinforcement

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 5, 2008

By Harold Keller

The wife and I headed to New Orleans on Friday night, just to have a quiet evening alone.

I decided that we would drive down Veterans Highway to find somewhere to eat, and then just see what else we ended up doing in that area before heading over to a movie at the Elmwood Theater by the Huey P. Long bridge.

Stopping at a pizza place to grab something simple for supper, we decided to dine in…as they like to call it…and settled inside to order and wait for our meal.

But something just didn’t feel right.

We picked out a table, only to wait for the waiter to come by before we could get the table cleaned. He was a little unusual for a waiter at a place like this, since he was probably somewhere in his mid-40s, and was the only waiter or waitress in the place.

But we didn’t stay in that long to watch him in action since my wife wanted to leave. She just didn’t have a good feeling there, and I had to agree that the place seemed dark and somewhat depressing.

My wife reminded me about the way a lot of pizza places were when she was growing up, and they were actually a gathering place for teens on a weekend night. I can remember many a night that we would go out on a Friday or Saturday with some friends, and we would all congregate at a local pizza place in Slidell where we were teens.

But for this night, and for this particular pizza joint in New Orleans, we just got a bad feeling. It wasn’t exactly the waiter, or just the fact that the place was very dark inside. But to me, it was the feeling of where New Orleans is, and where they are going, as they are now three years since Katrina.

Just figuring out this waiter had me somewhat mystified. My wife and I decided to just wait in the car for our pizza, which I must say was delicious when we finally got it. And when I went back inside to pick up the food, I finally got in a couple of questions for the waiter to try and see what he was doing.

I mean, come on. Most middle-aged men aren’t still waiting tables at a pizza place. And for that matter, I think that most eating establishments probably don’t hire that type of person, even though they could never publicly admit it or they would be sued for age discrimination. The simple fact that he was hired probably said more about the labor situation than anything else.

No, the fact is, most restaurants are looking for younger, prettier faces to wait their tables, and the fact that this particular place had to take a guy like our boy was very telling to me.

I eventually found out that our waiter was a guy who probably had some issues of his own, since he was in New Orleans after living most of his life in Florida.

“You mean you CAME to New Orleans for this job, rather than leaving for somewhere else as so many people have?” I asked him.

He shook his head yes, and didn’t seem to want to give me too many more details, other than saying he was sick of Florida.

Hmmmm, I thought. Most people I know are not “sick” of Florida, so our waiter doing this for a living was probably a whole different story I wasn’t that interested in getting. He admitted it was his full time job, and not just a part-time thing for the weekends.

But the point of my story is to say that I think New Orleans is still a big mess and does not have a great future working for it.

Look at some of the political stuff that’s coming out of the city. You are having one scandal after another with public officials. The latest has to do with a board appointed to handle millions of dollars for people getting houses gutted and rebuilt, but now they are finding out that—imagine this—that millions of dollars have been paid to contractors, yet a whole lot of work was never done.

I remember so clearly after the storm when there was so much talk about having a great chance to rebuild the city, and make it something really wonderful.

Instead you have crime running out of control, one scandal after another involving the millions and billions of dollars that were sent here, and a general feeling in much of the city that it is depressed, and has a poor future.

Personally I’m not that interested to go to New Orleans. Yes, I know there is still plenty of good to be found there, and I know there are going to be plenty of good things going on.

But for me, I would just as well stay away. My experience at the pizza joint seems exemplary of the labor situation to be found in New Orleans, which obviously leaves the service at so many stores to be lacking. I can think of numerous other experiences I have had in the city where the service was worse than just bad.

To me, it shows what a great opportunity there is here in the River Region, where many people are still electing to pick as their new place to relocate. It shows me why it is important for us to clean up and fix up here, and put our best face on for the public.

It also shows me why we desperately needed that bond issue the public recently voted down, which would have brought some major improvements to our region. Hopefully the parish administration will bring the issue back for a second vote—without the Garyville incorporation issue weighing it down.

So the next time you go to New Orleans, if you have an experience such as I did, remember that the best place to be is right here in the River Region. Thankfully we have a much brighter future to look forward to, and a much better handle on keeping it the way it is.

Kevin Chiri is Publisher of L’Observateur and can be reached at (985) 652-9545 or at