Dennis Persica: Lady NOLA looked good -- until the lights went out

Though the people who really loved her told her it wasn’t necessary, the old lady put on some new clothes to impress her out-of-town visitors. Her friends told her she’d aged with beauty and dignity, but she didn’t agree. She probably spent more than she should have getting gussied up for the visitors, trying to hide what she wanted to hide.

It worked, too. It worked, that is, until that moment when the electricity went out on her big party.

Ah, New Orleans: The city America loves to love and loves to ridicule. At first, it was nothing but love for the city in the week leading up to the Super Bowl, with “free” publicity worth millions of dollars.

“The Talk,” CBS’s daytime talk show, aired daily from Jackson Square (causing a minor ruckus when it placed a sign on the base of the revered general’s statue). Craig Ferguson’s late-night show aired from New Orleans. So did the “CBS Evening News” one evening, and “Face the Nation” on game day.

“Face the Nation” also used Jackson Square as a studio. At one point during the show, you could hear police sirens in the background, followed a few minutes later by the sound of church bells. New Orleans in a nutshell, in other words. Host Bob Schieffer blew a big kiss to the city, praising it for its comeback.

Meanwhile, on NBC’s “Today Show,” Jenna Wolfe did a piece on the city, including the historic moment when she ate her first fried oyster. She liked it. And she liked New Orleans, too.

It went on like that all week, until the lights went out.

The blackout during the Super Bowl prompted the predictable Internet ridicule. Some pointed out that electricity is a constant in modern life and compared New Orleans with a Third World country. Ironically, however, the light failure actually was a byproduct of 21st-century complexity, not an indication of the city’s backwardness. A recently installed high-tech sensor may have caused it.

As embarrassing as that was, the outage will wind up as only a footnote to sports history, with no impact on the city’s ability to attract future Super Bowls. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell won back a small measure of local good will by saying just that on Monday.

Meanwhile, New Orleanians are wondering just how beneficial it is to host a Super Bowl. There was anecdotal evidence last week that many businesses felt left out. The event has grown larger and more corporatized since it was last here, and it may be that the Super Bowl now concentrates most of the partying — and the spending — into a smaller area, sucking the air out of the economic life of the rest of the city.

The Super Bowl windfall eventually may trickle down and out to other businesses around town, but it will be a while before we can measure that.

Then there’s the effect hosting a Super Bowl has when Mardi Gras is early, wreaking havoc on parade schedules. If the 2018 Super Bowl that New Orleans wants is held Feb. 4, it will have the same impact as this year’s game, coming nine days before Fat Tuesday.

But all of that is fodder for future worries. For now, the old lady has traded her new clothes for a bathrobe and some comfy, floppy slippers. She just wants to sit her aching body down in a lawn chair, watch a few parades and catch some beads.

Dennis Persica is a New Orleans-area journalist. In his weekly column he shares his thoughts and observations about people, places and issues in the New Orleans area. Persica’s email address is dpersica@gmail.com.