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Colorful welcome

New Orleans makes good first impression

Click here for more on this story

Posted: Friday December 31, 1999 04:15 PM

  Al Chippy Weston Big welcome: Al "Chippy" Weston watches as a giant banner is lowered along the side of the Louisiana Superdome. CNN/SI

By Brian Crane, CNNSI

I have never been to New Orleans before. I must admit, I was not upset when my boss asked me spend a week here to cover the atmosphere around the Sugar Bowl. One thing I learned quickly is that New Orleans has many personalities. Even though I've only been here about nine hours, I think I've seen almost all of them.

I'm writing this article on the Riverwalk, just outside the aquarium at the end of the French Quarter. Parents walk with their children down the red-bricked pathway. They pass a young couple as they stand on the river's side, waving to passengers on the lighted riverboats. Their two bodies form a silhouette against the red-orange backdrop caused by another beautiful winter sunset in the South.

OK -- OK, enough sap, already.

Is this sports Web site or a romance novel?

While the above is all true, a slight turn of my head yields a whole new image of the same city. Not 50 yards away from this colorized version of a "Leave it to Beaver" episode are the neon lights of New Orleans' new Harrah's Casino, complete with lighted palm trees. Craps tables, blackjack and slot machines are a far cry from family entertainment. But still fun, regardless.

But if the glitter, glamour and greed of the casino are not your game, there are hundreds of little shops -- as well as major shopping centers -- to meet anyone's spending needs. From expensive china flatware to a not-as-expensive plate that had both skinny and fat Elvis figures painted on the front, I saw it all today. And if Elvis were here (and who is to say he's not) he would go hog-wild over the thousands of great restaurants.

As I was walking out one of those restaurants at lunch, eight different beer trucks proceeded in a convoy toward Bourbon Street for some "last second deliveries" for what is expected to be one of the most wild and crazy New Year's Eve bashes in the country.

"We're using tonight as a warm up for tomorrow," says Steven McMahon, a college student from Chicago on vacation in the Big Easy. "We've been saving up all year for this trip. Tomorrow we're pulling out all the stops. We can't wait for New Year's."

On the second-to-last day of the 1900s, it may not be a surprise that the talk around town is not about the Sugar Bowl, but instead plans for New Year's Eve. But that doesn't mean the January 4th showdown between college football's No. 1 and No. 2 teams is not in the back of everyone's minds. I walked all over town today, and no matter where I looked I saw something having to do with the Sugar Bowl. Painted walls at the airport, billboards, T-shirts, street banners and even a Nokia Sugar Bowl customized RV. It was everywhere.

This town is ready. As soon as it gets past this little New Year's Eve get-together thing, New Orleans is going to be all about college football.

One of my on-foot excursions was up the Louisiana Superdome. I arrived just as they were putting the finishing touches on both the inside and outside of dome. Let me tell you, spectators here in New Orleans, as well as those watching on television, are in for quite a show.

"It is colorful," says Al "Chippy" Weston as he helps coordinate a crew to hang a giant banner on the outside of the dome. "This banner will be one of the first things they see. Wait until the people get inside. The atmosphere is electrifying."

There is bound to be excitement around a game like this. It could be played on a high school field in front of 200 fans and it would still be an exciting game. But to push it over the top and make the whole event something unforgettable is not an easy task.

A company named Flying Colors has made it their job to take giant events, like the Sugar Bowl, and make them even bigger.

"We're artists," says Bill Fischer, an account executive with Flying Colors. "We take a stadium and make it more pleasing to the eye. Our artists can transform a stadium into something totally different."

It may appear that the Superdome was repainted just for this event, but the California based company uses large banners to place all over the stadium to achieve this transformation process. Flying Colors uses this "painting" technique for such other projects as the Fiesta and Rose Bowls, as well as the MLB and NFL all-star games and the Super Bowl.

"We have about two miles of material covering almost every concrete area of the stadium," says Fisher. "We've been working for almost 10 months since being contracted by Nokia on this project alone. We're looking forward to the game when all this will come together."

This has been quite a first day. New Orleans has made a favorable first impression. From shopping, to food, to museums and sports, there is something for everyone in this town. I'm looking forward to hitting the pavement first thing in the morning. I'm really looking forward to see if New Year's Eve in this town is all it is cracked up to be. Go ahead, New Orleans, I dare ya.

Happy New Year everybody!

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