Though the Bywater neighborhood is best known these days for trendy eateries and out-of-town transplants, its geography automatically provides those newcomers with lessons in an elemental New Orleans skill: patience .

Because, at random times every day, traffic on St. Claude Avenue comes to a dead halt at the Press Street railroad tracks and the St. Claude lift bridge at either end of the neighborhood.

Just past Poland Avenue, Felicia El Mansura springs into action whenever she gets a radio call saying, “St. Claude, I want to open it,” from the person operating the lock that connects the Mississippi River to the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal, better known as the Industrial Canal.

“Roger,” she says the voice of efficiency and then puts down the bridges pedestrian gates. To be sure no one is walking across, she sticks her head out the window and looks, first left, then right.

But El Mansura is a child of the Bywater; she graduated from high school several blocks from the booth where she’s worked for the last 16 years. So her protocol is not without kindness. If pedestrians see the gates close but are in a hurry to get to work or to pick up children, they’ll start running and yell, “Hold the bridge.” And she will.

She’ll give them a few minutes to pass before walking to her stainless-steel console to push buttons and crank manual levers. Then she puts down one, then two sets of car gates and watches to see that everything has stopped. Finally, she swings open the circa-1919 steel bascule bridge.

Once the bridge is in the air, she blows the horn twice — a long blast, then a short one a signal to canal vessels to continue moving through the canal, which runs from the river to Lake Pontchartrain and intersects with the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, which goes from Texas to Florida. Mostly, she sees tugboats pushing grain hoppers or “red flag barges” carrying chemicals or oil. But the other day, the Steamboat Natchez paddlewheeled through. And during shrimp season, she might get 100 shrimp boats a day, their fresh Gulf catches stored on ice.

Nearby, El Mansura’s family listens to the horn and keep tabs on her. “You were at work today?” they’ll ask. “You had that bridge up all day.”

Long timers and new neighbors
Joanne Livacarri Cieutat, 77, still lives in the Bywater, in a row of family houses on Poland Avenue, but says that she and her family are almost relics in now. “We’re the only ones that are left that are New Orleanians,” she said. “And when I was young, there wasn’t anybody from out of town.”

The Bywater is full of talk about the influx of new people. With them came soaring home prices for Creole cottages and shotguns, the neighborhood’s dominant housing stock.

Singer Charmaine Neville, who has lived in the Bywater for 40 years, gets irked when people from elsewhere don’t say hello when she’s out walking her dogs, Wasabi and Sugar Cane. But like others who complain about all new neighbors, she doesn’t hate the newcomers as much as the phenomenon of their presence , in a city where 80 percent of residents were native Louisianans before Katrina.

In some ways, Neville says, she resents the newcomers who moved in, because they took the place of longtime neighbors, some of whom simply disappeared after the city was emptied in 2005. On Neville’s block, only her neighbors Selena, Railroad Bill, and Dorise returned after Katrina. No one knows what happened to others, including Ms. Williams, who used to pick mirlitons from Neville’s backyard and occasionally brought her a fish to cook. “It feels like a whole different neighborhood,” Neville said. On top of that loss, there’s the misguided woman who came to Neville’s door with a petition about noise. “You really picked the wrong house ,” Neville said, frowning as she recounted the moment, as she stirred a big pot of butter beans in her kitchen.

Neville is okay with some new arrivals. “I really have met some nice people,” she said. “But I tell them, â⒬œBe a part of what we’ve got. We’ll feed you.”

Several blocks away, at wildly popular Pizza Delicious, Michael Friedman and Greg Augarten are a constant presence in a kitchen that serves up New York-style pizza, a staple of their East Coast childhoods. Pizza Delicious sometimes earns its trendy label fair and square, like when they make pizza topped with peppadew, a sweet pepper from South Africa that few neighbors could likely identify.

But they’e also just a regular pizza joint. Because on that same night, when the door opened, in walked a mechanic, still in work clothes. A plasterer in dusty white clothes followed. Behind him was a group of female stiltwalkers. it is the Bywater, after all.

“My goal is to be affordable: $2 for a slice a pizza,” said Friedman. He feels like their formula is working when he sees the daily succession of mail trucks, squad cars and construction work crews pulling up outside. His weak spot is for the families who fill his booths early in the evening, he said, because it reminds him of his own childhood outings. “Those are great memories for me. It’s why I love pizza.”

At Jack Dempsey’s Restaurant on Poland, Sammy Baiamonte is a fixture in his kitchen too in. His parents took it over in 1979 when he was a teenager, and now he runs it, serving up lots of catfish and heaping seafood platters. He tried other meat, but it was a flop, he said. “I can’t give away roast beef here. People want seafood.” He was born around the corner and remembers when it was almost a given that if your car was parked in the Bywater, eventually it would get broken into. “The neighborhood’s changed, but it’s changed for the better,” he said.

With that said, Baimonte misses seeing elderly folks. “There are no old people around anymore,” he said. In their place are people who exercise, he said. “You see people walking and jogging now. You didn’t have that 10 years ago.”

Meanwhile, across St Claude
On the other side of St. Claude, Alex Anderson, 10, watched as the building down Mazant Street became an art gallery, bustling with people during Second Saturday art crawls. So he fills a plastic bin with grape and orange soft drinks on ice and prepares to sell them for a dollar each. His older sister Alexis Anderson, 12, says somberly that the money will help them deal with a family emergency. But Alex’s approach is all smiles. He writes “Very good!” onto a piece of paper, tapes it onto his bin and then walks through the crowd, offering cold drinks for a dollar. Before the night is over, the bin will empty a few times over.

And what the gallery leaves behind on the curb, Edwin Griffin will pick up. Griffin, 61, is known as “the can man.” Before Vaughan’s Lounge or Markey’s Bar has re-opened, and just as The Joint is getting its morning deliveries, Griffin leaves his apartment on Alvar Street and makes the rounds with his city-issue trash bin, collecting metal to sell to the scrapyard on Poland Avenue. The Bywater is the best neighborhood for him, he said, because there are “more alcoholics here than anywhere.”

As he passes, he exchanges hellos with George Reed, 68, a watchman who lives on Poland and spends his days sitting outside an old warehouse on a Bywater side street that he’d prefer not to name, though he’ll let you peek through the door for a minute so that you can feel the heat of the massive laundry inside and see two women folding a mountain of extra-white towels and linens for the city’s hotels. “It used to be a broom factory, now it’s a laundry,” he said, puffing on a cigarette. “Things change.”