Stuffing on Thanksgiving Day

I knew the National Association of Realtors held their convention in our city last week, and that it was 30,000 strong–the biggest yet since Katrina–but until this morning, Thursday, had not heard how things had gone.

What makes this particularly relevant to Southern Baptists is that last June at our annual meeting in Greensboro, NC, David Crosby made a motion that the SBC hold its 2008 convention in New Orleans, and several leaders pooh-poohed the idea. “New Orleans won’t be ready for us by then,” one said to me. No amount of argument and reasoning from our corner did anything to dislodge that notion.

The realtors had second thoughts about coming here early on, and especially as the dates drew near. The shooting of five people in a French Quarter bar didn’t help. Convention-goers read in the papers about the National Guard patroling the streets. This did not sound like a place they wanted to attend.

The president of the Pennsylvania Realtors said, “The press outside your area is unbelievable,” painting a negative picture of a city in deep crisis. My own take on this is that we are in a crisis but not the kind that affects visitors who fly into the city, taxi downtown, stay in the hotels, and eat in the restaurants. Our crisis has more to do with the devastated residential areas and our stymied political leaders. By the way, the National Guard is here to patrol those flooded, sparsely settled sections of the city, freeing up the police for patrols where people live and work.

The realtors were smart and sent some members of their team in early as “mystery shoppers,” staying in downtown hotels and eating in the restaurants and walking the streets to see what conventioneers could expect. Then they put out the word that New Orleans is open for business–that the water is safe to drink, airlines are working to add more flights, top hotels are open, plenty of restaurants are running, and the downtown streets are safe.

I said the realtors were smart. Some of them came to town back in June and worked as volunteers when the American Library Association met, in order to see how the city was able to accommodate those 18,000 visitors. Then, in order to deal with the still-low number of airline flights in and out of Armstrong International every day, they urged incoming delegates to spread their arrivals over several days. Many came in early or stayed late and helped Habitat build houses or assisted in the cleanup of City Park. Are these people something or what?

The Times-Picayune says only Continental Airlines made adjustments for the extra numbers of passengers, adding 12 percent more flights. When convention-goers returned home and were debriefed, the only airport delays they mentioned were weather-related, due to the storms on the East Coast.

There were negatives. The airport was “dirty,” said one leader of the realtors, and definitely not ready for them. Some flights were overbooked. And it wasn’t mentioned, but I expect they found trash on the streets of the Quarter; it’s a complaint we keep hearing.

Most said the best part of coming to New Orleans was the people, the workers in hotels and restaurants. “They were just courteous and very, very thankful,” said one. “It’s the people down there that makes the place so special.”

Thanks. We needed that.

These days, when the Southern Baptist Convention holds its annual gathering, the number of messengers (aka, delegates) rarely exceeds 10,000. David Crosby’s idea was that Southern Baptist convention-goers could do exactly what the realtors did–come early or stay late and help rebuild this city.

Last June, the convention did not exactly say ‘no’ to his idea. But they did something akin to it. They referred the motion to the Executive Committee. Same difference.

Now we’re doing what we can to get the SBC here in June of 2010. That’s the next available slot. (The SBC last met here in 2000, and before that in 1996.)

Wednesday evening, I had this craving for turkey and dressing. The only place I knew some would be available was the local Piccadilly cafeteria. I phoned Margaret and she said to go for it, but she was not interested. I did, and while it was filling, it wasn’t very satisfying. If that turkey had a taste, I couldn’t find it. But today, Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, is another story.

We’re having lunch with Neil’s inlaws, Ray and Betty Gatwood, in Slidell, and their family. Neil smokes the turkeys, I’ll bring the honey-baked ham, and Betty and Julie do all the dressings and casseroles and such. We’ve done this before. I know what to expect. It’s going to be great.

I’m giving thanks in advance.

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