New Way Of Life In French Quarter

Some Stay Behind Helping Others

The ghosts of Bourbon Street are nothing but echoes these days.

But 48 Hours correspondent Lee Cowan found there's still a little life to be found in an emptied city.

New Orleans' French Quarter has never been this deserted.

"This is the quietest I've ever heard New Orleans in my life," resident Marty Montgomery says. "We can hear frogs at night. I've never heard the frogs. I've never heard crickets."

The Quarter's 78-square-blocks are the oldest and highest part of New Orleans. It was one of the last areas to evacuate.

This city-within-a-city bore the storm better than most. It may look empty, but the ghosts have a little company.

Montgomery has lived here for nearly 30 years. This is home and no one is going to make him leave.

"I love this city," he says.

Montgomery has become the Robin Hood of the French Quarter. He admits he robbed a little to survive and to help feed those who knocked on his door for help. No one has been turned away.

"Well, we had a gentlemen sleep on the couch. He needed a place to stay.
We loaded him up with water and food and the next day he was gone. He had to evacuate," says Montgomery.

He's helped countless people that way in his courtyard. During the storm, he sheltered more than a dozen people there — feeding them, clothing them and even entertaining them. He's now down to three.

"How many people do you think you've helped that way that you don't even know their name?" Cowan says. "Does it make a difference?

"As long as God knows, I'm sure," he says.

There's a spirit here that doesn't just come from a bottle, although they are inextricably linked.

A few blocks away on Bourbon Street is Johnny White's bar. It's what locals here call their living room.

The bar is never closed, especially during the storm of the century.

"This is when a neighbor you haven't talked to in 20 years, all of a sudden, (says) 'Hey, do you need anything?' Ya know? It's good. It's a good thing. It's a good thing," patron Chester Breaux says.

"This has become more than just a bar in the past few days," says a bartender. "It's actually become a hospital, a homeless shelter, soup kitchen, and a place where you can get drunk, all in one."

As with everything in the French Quarter, even humanitarian aid is offered in style.

"The people who live in the French Quarter are tongue-and-cheek French Quarter rats," says bartender Larry Hirst. "That's because hurricanes come, or storms, or whatever, and they disappear. But they always reappear."

However, not all the rats are welcomed these days. The French Quarter isn't only quiet, it's dark — pitch dark.

Every night, Montgomery sits on his balcony with a 12-gauge shot gun at his side. He named it "kindness." If anyone tries to break in, he reasons, he'll kill them with "kindness."

Montgomery has yet to level the shotgun, but if he does, he says he will shoot. So far, he has not come close to doing so.

While he's keeping peace on the outside, he's stocking up on provisions inside.

"Each one of us can last 30 days without none, no supplies," he says.

Some of his supplies are bought, others were donated. But it's upstairs where his most valuable stash is stored.

"This is our barter store. We do not drink alcohol ... we use it for barter," says Montgomery. "It's like money. Paper money means nothing, this means money. I can get someone to clean out that Port–O Let with, probably, a bottle of wine tomorrow."

It's a whole new way of living in a whole new New Orleans.

"It's made my faith stronger," he says. "People have come together that would never come together and band together."

It's a hearty community learning to live in a city of sober streets and silent sidewalks full of ghosts ... for now.