Virtual Visit to Bourbon Street

Ah, New Orleans' Bourbon Street--the stretch of strip clubs, adult "novelty" shops and daquiri window service where frat-boy yahoos shout from balconies for women to expose themselves . . . and they do. It's a year-round Mardi Gras of fleshly indulgence, accented by the fragrant mix of rotted beer and you'd-rather-not-know-what-else.

But lately, on the corner of Bourbon and St. Peter, people have been observing some rather strange behavior.

"People stand at the corner holding signs and call their friends on cell phones and wave," says Dane Lemoine, entertainment director for the Cat's Meow, a karaoke bar perched on that buzzing intersection.

The cause of this outlandishness: BourboCam, a camera mounted outside the bar that puts pictures of the street scene on the Internet. The device, which takes a new shot every four minutes, was installed about two years ago as a cooperative venture between the Cat's Meow, the New OrleansNET Internet site and the Times-Picayune newspaper.

The notion of a Net camera is hardly unique, but few are in as colorful and touristed settings as this. And in recent months, word of it has spread internationally, and more and more of the visitors who flock to the French Quarter have been using it as a way to check in with the folks back home. Hey, it's cheaper and less work than a postcard.

And for homesick ex-pats and other N'Awlinsophiles, it's become a great way to peek in on one corner of the place they love, whether to watch the beaded, costumed crowd of Mardi Gras or spy on the soused revelers who pass by (or pass out) on any given day.

Of course, it's not always so entertaining.

"Main thing going on right now is beer deliveries," says Lemoine, describing the scene as he speaks. "Just big trucks, beer being delivered."

Plans are currently in the works to add another camera inside the Cat's Meow and to upgrade to a steady stream of video rather than single frames. Sound also may be added.

But in the meantime, check out at 8 a.m. PDT on April 26--the first weekend of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. We'll be the ones stuffing our faces with muffalettas and beignets.

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