Chris Stall, Bell Captain

From the International Hotel School website:

A bell captain usually supervises the conduct of bellhops and porters. Generally working in a hotel, a person in this position is usually cross-trained to take on other hospitality tasks like concierge or desk clerk duties in addition to bell captain duties, depending on the size of the organization.

On the 600 block of Saint Ann, the seven-floor parking garage (yes 7 floors; you have to stand in front for a few minutes to see it) is the  “side porch” of the Place d’ Armes Hotel. The hotel which has around 80 rooms, caters to regulars and sophisticated visitors. That is indicated by the lack of all-night “whoo-hooing” balconies for rent here. The few rooms with balconies overlooking Saint Ann are told upon check-in to honor the neighborhood vibe and shut the outside party down at a decent hour.

The garage is not self-parking. You and your car enter (that is, if the valet guys have the sign turned around to the public parking allowed side of the metal stand or you’re a hotel guest or contract holder), and within seconds of you pulling in, the keys are in their hand and you are on your way out to the bright sunlight. Maybe you stop to watch them expertly pull your car into the car elevator, or maybe you don’t. Maybe it helps to hear that no one remembers any major garage accident or mishap from this system.

Chris Stall, the bell captain, has been on the bell/valet staff for 13 years. He is the senior member of that staff although outrank him in seniority in other jobs. Always agreeable, chatty, never flustered, he is extremely courteous about listening  and mildly commenting on a wide range of subjects.

His familiarity with hotels is long; his dad had a career in the food & beverage divisions of hotels at the Sheraton and the Intercontinental on Canal and also opened new hotels in Orlando, Las  Vegas, Nashville, among others. The four kids went along, but as soon as Stall was 18, he came back home for good, as did each of his siblings as they came of age. He lives with his rescue dogs in Chalmette where he was born and bred and where most of the family still resides. 

He started his own hotel career 15 years ago at the Hotel St. Marie, where his brother worked at the front desk, then to Place d’Armes 13 years ago. The Valentino family owns both hotels along with Prince Conti, the French Market Inn, and the Lafayette Hotel in the CBD. They also manage the City Sightseeing New Orleans Bus (the red, double decker Hop-On-Hop-Off) tours and the Basin Street Welcome Station.

That brother is long gone from hotel work and now a locksmith.  In turn, Chris has passed along the good fortune of a connection to other members of his family; until recently, his cousin spent five years as a valet at the hotel.

He works 40 hours but only on weekends, pulling two 16-hour shifts, and finishing with 8 hours on Sunday.  This allows for great flexibility for his off time, although as captain he is expected to handle any staff shortages. If you ask if he is in charge, you get a laugh and an acknowledgment shrug, befitting his self-effacing demeanor. He is, but the work is simple to understand for the staff. “It’s a great job for a young person going to school or getting started,” he says.

Along with spaces for hotel guests, the garage holds about 80 contractholders, with about 20 of those coming and going daily or weekly. If the regulars’ routines shift at all, he wonders what happened to them. Short chats with regulars, helping with unloading groceries, holding the dog leash, and passing along news of the area is all included.

Sometimes one of his sisters brings their family down for an event, but for his part, he doesn’t spend his off time in the Quarter. However, when someone talks about the Quarter, he mostly defends it. “After all, this is the bread and butter of the city.” 

The nuttiest thing he has seen while working in the Quarter? He says the list is too long.

I wrote this in 2020 for an online site where I had published similar stories but these were never finished by the editor; all of them will instead be published here.

Tourism and New Orleans in the Pandemic-Era

The 2014 book Desire and Disaster in New Orleans, looked at in the post Civil-War era New Orleans developed a white middle-class tourist economy that traded only on the French colonial and the antebellum history, and since 1980, has almost exclusively relied and expanded it to the exclusion of any other economy. That inertia certainly led to the emergence of disaster tourism after the 2005 levee breaks as the only plan by city leaders which increased dangerous and short-sighted construction like the doomed and deadly Hard Rock project – shockingly thrown up at the very site of the historic Woolworth lunch counter sit-ins.

From the book: “New Orleans post-Katrina tourism has promoted the type of political inactivism common with other forms of do-good capitalism and grassroots privatization that undermine democratic process, perpetuate social hierarchies and inequities, and reinforce the status quo.”

As I continue to dive more deeply into Professor Thomas’ and others work on the racial politics that developed those earlier eras of New Orleans tourism, we here are aware that the next round is already emerging and will have even more troubling implications for the future of New Orleans.

I’ll be covering some of those specific indicators in these pages over the next few months including:

-City Hall allowing limitless short term rental situation by pointedly ignoring the enforcement of current rules, hampering the taxis while allowing gig drivers to operate with impudence

-the addition of beach-style amenities that encourage ever larger, more rowdy groups (such as unlicensed golf carts careening everywhere and huge loitering party buses endangering the airways of anyone within a half mile)

-the lack of official support for local musicians and buskers

-and the political pressure by the restaurant and hotel industry to end the COVID safety net for Louisiana food and service workers to get them back into the poverty wages and unrelenting schedules that is required in this current system.

Of course, the lack of concerted regional support for affordable housing, for public or human-powered transportation investments and enforcement, for accessible primary and secondary education choices, and the continuing massive prison pipeline that relies on a militarized police force using traffic stops to target black residents to fund and fill the courts and prisons, also ensure that tourism remains the choice for those few who profit from any and all of those issues.

As many locals have discussed on social media and in informal meet ups on what once were quiet residential corners, unchecked tourism is a public health killer for our residents, an ecological nightmare for the most fragile coast in the U.S., and is escalating conflicts among neighbors. Yet it also allows us to celebrate one of the few black and indigenous urban capitals left in North America, and could be a lever to increase political power and the honoring of the talents and skills among our Creole, Black, indigenous, people of color and their offspring.

With the next mayoral election not too far off, I am already hearing musings from long-time activists pondering a run, and even if not running, preparing to demand that all candidates come up with a more equitable and just plan for the future around these issues. I plan to contribute to that here and elsewhere and look forward to highlighting writers and activists leading the way.

Its gonna be a wild year folks.

Sobering Center

A proposed “sobering center” could hold 20 beds and serve up to 80 people a day. Police or EMS would deliver a person to the center, where staff perform a triage to determine their care. People can only enter the center if they don’t have any warrants and if they’re not facing other charges related to police placing them into their custody. Otherwise, the center is pitched as a way to prevent people from entering the criminal justice system.

The open-area space would separate men and women with a wall between it. If people need additional detox treatment, Odyssey House would connect them to a medically supported detox program.

Following a tour of the proposed space last week, Moreno tweeted that “it’s critical to explore creating a sobering center” in New Orleans. “This type of tool could save us [New Orleans Police Department] manpower hours while preventing unnecessary ER/jail use.

Royal Mule Team

One of the trueisms about living in the Quarter ( and different from even the experiences of our “almost-residents” aka storekeepers or other business owners)  is the scads of information that one gets from popping out on the sidewalk dozens or more times  in one day, observing the activities or even while still back in your space, hearing them happen and perhaps noting the time in the back of your mind while you put laundry in the washer before any commerce is even beginning. Those activities include workers arriving at dawn and standing in front of your door soberly assessing current tip levels; delivery trucks huffing and puffing outside from 5:30 am on, pulling cases of items out (which ramps up especially in mid-week);  knowing the tour guides who do their work with respect and gusto and those who do not;  separating the good hustlers from the dangerous ones and much more. One other  is learning the names and company of the sanitation crews and the identification of who actually works versus those who just walk and swipe at the ground once in a  while. One of the good ones is Royal Carriages. In case you didn’t know, all of the carriage companies are supposed to take their turn in the Quarter, cleaning up after their mules; however most do not bother. The one company that is consistent and conscientious is Royal Carriages.

Recently, they had an open house at their stables in the Marigny where they invited the locals via social media to see what was up and offered some free food and drink and music. I went by and was impressed by the cleanliness and attention they paid to their space. So when I saw the cleaner out on the cart today and that he was stopped right in front of my door, I thanked him for his work and we had a short chat.  His name is Roger and he is proud of his company and told me that the mules there get 4 months off per year and the place is kept “spotlessly”clean. He was as cheery of a worker as the modern world has and I am glad to have him around and to have a name to assign to his face.

The workers and residents of the Quarter acknowledge each other’s dependency on the other. We share a pride in our place and a willingness to play the hosts to the city’s millions of visitors. Royal Mule Carriages illustrates that truth.


French Quarter safety plan could include cameras that can spot guns through clothing 

This idea is so messed.

Potential constitutional problems as the FQ surveillance plan could include cameras that could detect guns and other objects under clothing.

“I think that this is a violation of people’s constitutional rights, and I cannot imagine that the public will accept that,” Esman said. “It really defies common sense because it presumes that everybody carrying a weapon is going to use it for an improper purpose, and that’s just not the case.”

There are significant questions about how police would use the information gleaned from the cameras and whether that information would be enough justification to search those believed to have weapons, Esman said. That’s particularly true if they would be set up on a public street, where standards are different than requiring people to go through metal detectors or body scanners at airports.”

Cameras that can spot guns through layers of clothing — using infrared or similar technologies — may be included in sweeping new security measures for Bourbon Street to be proposed.

French Quarter safety plan could include cameras that can spot guns through clothing | State Politics |