By Bill Simmons
Page 2 columnist

NEW ORLEANS (Wednesday, 9:15 p.m. CT) -- On Wednesday afternoon, I found myself thrust in a position that any writer hopes to avoid: I had become The Hot Local Story.

And it wasn't even an interesting story. Apparently, some of my comments about the Big Easy in Tuesday's column caused a stir on the local radio stations, and the local media -- desperate to find Super Bowl stories that tie into the area scene -- suddenly cast me in the dreaded "Evil Outsider Who Wrote Bad Things About Our Beloved City" role. Must have been a slow day on the media beat.

Here's how I found out about it: I spent much of my afternoon at the Media Center, shooting the proverbial Alexei Zhitnik with some media cohorts, reading the Boston Globe, chugging down free Dasani waters and procrastinating about writing Thursday's column. At 3 p.m., I joined Sean McDonough's radio show (which runs on 1510-AM in Boston) and spent the next 90 minutes discussing the Rams-Pats game with McDonough, Steve DeOssie and a couple of Boston Globe reporters.

Around 4:35, I was paged in the Media Center -- huh? -- so I put down my headset and scurried over to the front desk. Turns out one of the local TV stations wanted to interview me about the Super Bowl. Hmmmm. I told them I had already committed to Sean's show until 5. Could I reschedule something with them Thursday? They told me they had no problems waiting until I was finished; they wanted to get something with me for that night's broadcast.

  Without my even knowing how, I had, in fact, become the dreaded "Evil Outsider Who Wrote Bad Things About Our Beloved City" guy. When I returned to my room, multiple phone messages and e-mails from various local media outlets confirmed that suspicion. As Tony Montana said in "Scarface," "Say hello to the bad guy!" It happens that fast. 
  

Now the lightbulb was starting to flicker. I asked if they wanted me just to talk about the Super Bowl, or did they have something in mind? The producer admitted they were hoping I could discuss my New Orleans column.

Ahhhhhhhh. Now it was starting to make sense.

My imagination immediately ran wild with a disturbing scenario: They'd film me talking about the column for a few minutes, edit things to include only the inflammatory comments, juice the piece up with the most unflattering things I wrote about New Orleans in Tuesday's column, then run the feature on the local news that night. They might as well have flashed a graphic saying, "HERE HE IS! HERE'S THE EVIL GUY! FIND HIM THIS WEEKEND AND KICK HIS BUTT!"

So I told them something along the lines of, "What do you think I am, stupid? I'm going to have to decline." I wished them well and walked away.

Now ...

After returning to Sean's show, we were discussing the Pats-Rams matchup when I noticed the reporter and producer hanging around about 20 feet away from us. I searched for their cameraman but couldn't find him ... until I realized he was setting up behind a pole on the other side of Sean's set. In other words, even though I said I didn't want to appear on camera, they were going to film me without my permission. What was this, "60 Minutes"? I stormed over there and bitched them out, eventually leaving the building because they wouldn't leave me alone. Nice business we're in, huh?

Bourbon Street
The Sports Guy will be the first to admit that he hasn't seen the finer parts of New Orleans.

Now I'm walking back to my hotel and it's dawning on me ... uh-oh. Without my even knowing how, I had, in fact, become the dreaded "Evil Outsider Who Wrote Bad Things About Our Beloved City" guy. When I returned to my room, multiple phone messages and e-mails from various local media outlets confirmed that suspicion. As Tony Montana said in "Scarface," "Say hello to the bad guy!" It happens that fast.

Here's what happened: Apparently on Tuesday, one of the local radio stations started talking about the column and reading specific excerpts ... people started calling in ... suddenly an hour passed ... now other stations were saying to themselves, "Hey, this is a hot topic!" ... it compounded itself ... and when the TV stations became involved, they took things to another level.

One problem ... I wasn't willing to put on the black hat.

First of all, Tuesday's column was obviously tongue-in-cheek (like many of the things I write for Page 2). That was abundantly clear from the first paragraph. I was poking fun at New Orleans and the fact I was spending nine whole days in a place that, frankly, was like no other city I had ever seen.

Sometimes in my columns, I take a few observations, exaggerate them, and exaggerate them some more. By the time I had gotten to the section about having flashbacks of Lisa Bonet being covered in chicken blood, or homeless men turning into werewolves, I thought it was pretty apparent that this was one of those columns.

New Orleans
Temptations lurk around every corner on Bourbon Street.

And given that, it was obvious that I hadn't spent nearly enough time in New Orleans to make blanket judgments about the place, I can't imagine why anyone would take it seriously. I even mentioned that my experiences in the city had been confined to downtown New Orleans and the French Quarter, and that I hadn't enjoyed a single jazz experience. I mean, jeez, if somebody spent two days in Boston, walked around Faneuil Hall, Beacon Hill and the North End for two days, then made a bunch of blanket comments about the city, I would disregard them unless I felt some of the comments hit too close to home. And maybe that's what this was all about.

Three sections in that column seemed to ignite the locals:

  • When I wrote that "The natives speak in some sort of Creole jibberish that's nearly impossible to understand." Hey, I'm from Boston... it's not like people don't make fun of the way we speak. Lighten up.

  • The fact that my Big Easy experiences were confined to downtown and the Quarter. You know why? Because I'm a freakin' tourist! Where else would I go? Everyone who visits New Orleans is steered to a particular section -- the bread-and-butter, money-making section of the Big Easy, if you will -- and then when we complain about it, the locals pull the "That's unfair! You didn't get the full flavor of New Orleans!" routine. Gimme a break. If you care so much, make some changes in that section of town so that it better reflects New Orleans. Right now, it reflects either a college frat party or some of Snake Plissken's scariest moments in "Escape From New York."

  • When I questioned the sophistication of the locals and made the "I can't even imagine the collective SAT score here" joke about the people here. All right, you got me. There's a difference between poking fun at people and being mean-spirited. That shouldn't have been written.

      I'm having a fantastic time this week. I absolutely LOVE being here right now -- New Orleans is just a quirky, goofy, crazy, endearing place, something I tried to capture in Tuesday's column (to mixed results). As I wrote then, only three cities in America pass the Movie Test, and this is one of them. No small feat. I just couldn't stomach 52 straight weeks a year here, that's all. 
      

    Other than that, I stand by everything in the column. Walking around here at night doesn't make me feel safe. The weather is completely chaotic (the humid-chilly thing is confounding). The locals aren't very helpful. I still haven't figured out how this city survives when the only local laws are "Don't kill anyone" and "Don't sell drugs." It takes time to become accustomed to the food-drink scene (in a good way). There's a casino in the middle of town, which makes absolutely no sense whatsoever and flies in the face of everything any other major city other than Las Vegas or Atlantic City is allowed to do. Much of the downtown area is so filthy that it's downright disgusting, and for the love of God, I will not argue about this. And I still believe that Bourbon Street is always on the verge of a frightening riot-level incident.

    And yet with all of that said ... I'm having a fantastic time this week. I absolutely love being here right now -- New Orleans is just a quirky, goofy, crazy, endearing place, something I tried to capture in Tuesday's column (to mixed results). As I wrote then, only three cities in America pass the Movie Test, and this is one of them. No small feat. I just couldn't stomach 52 straight weeks a year here, that's all.

    So for all the local TV stations and radio stations in New Orleans, spin Tuesday's column any way you want, but don't ask me to slide on a black hat and play the "Evil Outsider Who Wrote Bad Things About Our Beloved City" role. For God's sake, it's Super Bowl week! There must be something more exciting going on, right?

    (Right?)

    (Ummm ... right?)

    Bill Simmons writes three columns a week for Page 2. He'll be filing "Postcards from New Orleans" every day during Super Bowl week.




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