The Hilton New Orleasn Riverside, the site of NHRAW's annual convention in December.

Don't feel bad about not being here for Mardi Gras, because everyday is pretty much a good-time, feelin' fine carnival on Bourbon Street. Jazz, quaint French architecture, great food and fun abound in this grand old city of the South.

NEW ORLEANS - The Northamerican Heating, Refrigeration and Airconditioning Wholesalers Association (NHRAW) meets here in the Big Easy December 3-6.

NHRAW's Convention Hotel is the Hilton New Orleans Riverside, located close to the Central Business District, historic French Quarter and Garden District, etc. A new attraction, opened in June, is the National D-Day Museum commemorating the World War II invasion of Normandy.

Louis Armstrong, better known as Satchmo, grew up here in Jane Alley, where Armstrong lived with his mother and sister (his father, William, abandoned the family when Louis was a baby), until the family moved 1.5 miles south to "the colored red-light district." A blue-and-white tile sign imbedded in the sidewalk before 427 S. Rampart marks the tailor shop and upstairs home of the 11-member Karnofsky family, which befriended young Louis.

The city and its somewhat carefree attitude began to thrive after 1908 when, ironically, dancing was banned. As a result, in Congo Square there were huge gatherings of slaves and free blacks, and it was at these public dances that the second line (dancers trailing the musicians in funeral parades) was born.

DINING: Eating is one of this city's favorite pastimes, whether it's the crab au gratin at Galatoire's or the shrimp po' boys at Mother's. Some local favorites: Chef Emeril Lagasse's namesake restaurant, Emeril's, serves contemporary Louisiana food (entrees $17-$35). Or try his French Quarter restaurant, NOLA ($16-$25) for American Creole. Galatoire's ($12-$22) is where local power brokers meet for excellent seafood (trout meuniere, soft-shell crab). For traditional and inexpensive fare, brave the long lines at Mother's for ham biscuits and red beans and rice, or head for the less-crowded Johnny's Po'-Boys in the Quarter.

ATTRACTIONS: Robert Florence of Historic New Orleans Walking Tours guides visitors through one of the city's elaborate above-ground cemeteries on daily tours ($15). Take a ride on the St. Charles Avenue streetcar , past the mansions of the Garden District. At $1 a ride, the 13-mile round-trip jaunt is one of New Orleans' big bargains. Brave the heat and venture into a swamp. One of the best tours is through Honey Island Swamp Tours ($20 adults; $10 children).

New Orleans has been flirting with catastrophe ever since explorer Jean Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville ignored the advice of French engineers and in 1718 founded what became the French Quarter. Fires twice leveled the city in the 18th century. Epidemics killed tens of thousands in the 19th century. Tropical downpours regularly drop sheets of rain and turn streets into rivers.

During its first 100 years, New Orleans was ruled by France, then Spain, then France again, before finally becoming American. Its multi-culture, multi-ethnic origins are readily apparent in this city that was never homogenized - or pasteurized. It's truly one of a kind.

Market Center distribution: an idea whose time has come?

Fear and uncertainty go along with the new economy, as robust and eye-opening as it may be. There are new ways of doing business, and some of the old ways in jeopardy.

Even the age-old term "two step distribution system" is under attack. The term itself sounds antiquated, and redundant. Why have two steps instead of one? Doesn't that imply extra time, extra cost, and maybe an extra step that could be eliminated?

The idea was championed by, among others, Jim Truesdell, Brauer Supply Co., St. Louis, and NHRAW president-elect Scott Nicholson, Empire Gas & Electric Equipment Co., Denver. To show their support for the concept, many wholesalers at the NHRAW summer meeting in Myrtle Beach, S.C., wore lapel buttons stating simply: MCD NHRAW.

Market center distribution gives a more accurate impression of the crucial role wholesalers and distributors play in an industry as vast and diverse as hvacr. This was a recurring topic of discussion at the two day annual summer meeting held here and is a continuing topic at this four day convention in December.