Our New Orleans Job and Apartment Search
At first it seemed as if our luck in the Big Easy didn’t extend to practical matters. Our two-day hostel stay and week in a New Orleans suburb motel was expensive, while finding a job and a cheap apartment was a challenge. But we were excited about being strangers in a new city and determined to make things work. We would make our own luck and while we were at it learn a few things about how to break into a new city.
During our second day in New Orleans we took time out from sightseeing to stop in at the local public library. Most libraries we’ve found let you use their Internet access for free and here was no exception. We showed our drivers license as ID and logged onto their system fairly quickly. As people around us began to overhear our conversation they became intrigued and started to offer advice. They welcomed us to the city and gave us the local’s point of view about where to live and which parades to try to see. They also told us about the New Orleans online listing of classified ads called NOLA.com. (NOLA is short for New Orleans, Louisiana)
The library search provided a few apartment leads immediately. One sounded like exactly what we were looking for: a furnished one-bedroom apartment in the servants’ quarters of a 200-year-old terra cotta-colored house. The house was typical of most French Quarter residences. It faces the street, with tall shuttered windows, a balcony and a cooler courtyard set inside away from the heat and noise. Behind the main house is a second building housing the kitchen (to keep cooking heat away from the main residents) and the servants’ quarters. The available apartment was in this second building.
Deb called from the hostel pay phone to find out more information and liked what she heard. The room had low rent and easygoing landlords who lived on the premises. Unfortunately, the landlady told us they had already rented out the apartment in March. Having nothing to lose, Deb pushed a bit to see if they would be willing to rent in the interim, explaining that we were a couple of travelers who would only need a place to stay through Mardi Gras. The woman offered to consider the idea and asked if we’d call back in a few days but we didn’t hold out much hope.
The next day in New Orleans was a Sunday so we bought the area newspaper, The Times Picayune, to page through the classifieds over breakfast. Looking for a place to eat, we drove through Magazine Street, an area on the edge of the Garden District that is full of trendy boutiques, restaurants and cafï¿½s.
We settled on Cafï¿½ Luna, a quiet place that looked expensive and empty. It turned out to be just the opposite. As we purchased our coffee and started to settle into a small table, the cafï¿½ owner began to talk to us when she heard about our travels. She said she had a good feeling about us and suspected we might even try to make New Orleans our home. She also told us about job leads she’d heard of, talked to the other people in the cafï¿½ to see if they had any ideas and even made some calls to friends. We felt overwhelmed and lucky to have stumbled into her cafï¿½. The experience was something out of a TV sitcom “where everybody knows your name” and we were newcomers in the episode getting to know the “gang”. We left smiling and promised to come back to visit. We both agreed it was one of the best experiences of our first days in New Orleans.
Over the next few days we looked hard and wide for a place to live but had no tangible results. Instead, we were told temporary housing in the French Quarter was loud, unlikely and even illegal unless you were willing to rent hotel rooms for up to $500 a night during Mardi Gras. We didn’t listen to any of the discouraging advice and continued writing down landlord phone numbers on “For Rent” signs. As we walked the French Quarter wondering what we’d do, we marveled at the scenery. New Orleans is an almost ghostly city and past footprints of generals, servants, pirates and plantation owners were almost palpable to us.
Later in the week we finally found success in our apartment search. The owners of the terra cotta house in the French Quarter were willing to show the apartment and interview us as tenants. When we stopped by we found the apartment was even better than its description. At the end of St. Ann Street, it was close to Bourbon Street but away from all the noise and the crowds. And the inside was charming. It had brick walls, antiques, a four-poster bed with a goose down comforter and a balcony overlooking a lush courtyard where Tennessee Williams wrote “A Streetcar Named Desire”. We imagined sitting outside to write, relax or have a drink. We were thrilled when the owners approved our application and said they’d rent to us short-term. Within three days we received the keys and moved in.
Finding employment was more difficult. Mardi Gras and Super Bowl were in New Orleans during the same month providing plenty of work, but New Orleans has one of the worst unemployment problems we’d seen. Employers have the upper hand and we had few connections. We answered want ads, called temporary agencies and walked into restaurants off the street to talk to hiring managers. Usually we were asked to come back later or leave applications. Some bars didn’t like couples applying together and others weren’t hiring until the week before Mardi Gras. Our best chances for jobs seemed to be a scummy Bourbon Street bar and an ice cream shop. When even these didn’t work out, we resigned to take rent for our new apartment out of our emergency fund.
Although we had given up hope of finding work, every so often we would inquire about jobs in a bar we liked the feel of. One of these places – Silky O’Sullivan’s at 311 Decatur Street – was interested. We were hired fifteen minutes after we applied and asked to start the next day. Deb would be a waitress and Jeff would work the door and serve hurricanes (a New Orleans rum and tropical fruit punch drink) from a sidewalk stand.
It seemed like the perfect fit. “Silky’s” is an Irish-themed Memphis-style barbeque joint and a Beale Street classic. It had opened in New Orleans a little over a year ago in an ideal spot at the end of many parade routes between the hotel district and the rest of the French Quarter. Silky’s is known for “southern fun”: a little food, lots of drinking and great live music from local and regional acts. The staff was friendly and laid-back while the tips were expected to be good.
In the end, it took about a week and a half for us to find a job and an apartment in New Orleans. We put in some hard work, got lucky and were glad for what we’d found. After days spent trying to figure things out, it looked like our time in New Orleans would turn out just as we’d hoped.
Deb and Jeff’s Tips for Job and Apartment Searches in a new city:
- Tell people you’re looking for work and/or and an apartment. We found that people were intrigued when they heard about our travels. Often, they were more than willing to give us leads we’d never otherwise have found.
- Use free Internet access at U.S. public libraries. The Internet is free at many U.S. public libraries provided users show I.D. and adhere to a one-hour maximum usage time per day. We found a lot of great, free information at the New Orleans library including the city’s signature site, NOLA.com.
- Be creative when talking to potential landlords or employers. Our landlord didn’t want to have us at first, but we didn’t take “no” for an answer immediately. We offered suggestions for how we might be able to be good tenants for her and let her think them over for a few days.
- Don’t be afraid to walk into a place that looks interesting to ask about work. Many restaurants and bars don’t bother to advertise job openings and don’t mind in-person inquiries.
- Fill out one more job application once you think you’ve run out of options. We found our job by stopping in at a place we saw walking down the street. We didn’t have much hope for employment at the time, but we didn’t see how trying once more could hurt.