Monday, September 15, 2008
Post-evacuation, everyone smiles, says g'mawnin'
It is truly good to be back in the Big Easy, even with torrential rain, after visiting drought-stricken Northern California. I flew through acres of rain clouds and saw bayous below me on the plane's descent. Though Steinbeck's golden hillsides are lovely, I prefer the lush vegetation of Southern Louisiana. Two million people evacuated to avoid the fury and flooding of the "storm of the century," but they have almost all returned, glad to be home.
My second day back, I walked over to the hospital garage to retrieve my car where I'd left it. I passed doormen and just regular people, not in the hospitality biz, who smiled and frequently said, "Good mornin'." You have to love such a quaint custom, which costs so little and means so much. It is amazing how much it can help when you are feeling low, but a complete stranger meets you eye-to-eye and smiles. In the beginning here, I thought there might be something funny about my outfit - a label sticking out or my shirt on backwards perhaps - but it is just good nature. In other places, particularly when I was a younger woman, I avoided making eye contact with men on the street, worried I might invite unwanted sexual comments. Men do like women here and enjoy seeing them, but they are also just friendly. And so are the women.
When I returned to NOLA, over a year ago, I worked in a neighborhood not as gentrified as the one I'm fortunate to live in now. One day, I took a walk down Rampart to King's Po-boy shop to get a dressed oyster loaf sandwich. Passing one scary-looking man, I held my breath, wondering if it was safe to walk the neighborhood alone. As I passed, he called out loudly, "Beautiful woman! Beautiful day!" I had to laugh because there was no danger at all. On another noon-hour walk, I read an historic landmark sign on a house that was once the residence of Degas' divorced wife. When the door opened, the owner invited me to come back anytime to show me the inside.
I got to the Tulane garage Saturday and could not find my car. Convinced I'd parked it in a handicapped spot and was towed, I panicked and called security. A policeman was summoned to help me locate it. The cop found my car on another floor and wished me a good day. In Chicago, I'd have been towed and given a daily fine. He said they don't tow.
On Sunday, I visited the Aquarium and the staff was so friendly. When I was in San Francisco, the staff at the DeYoung Museum had been very discourteous. I thought: "This would never happen in New Orleans where they may be slow, but they are always nice."
It is good to be back in a forgiving place, even if it rains a lot or maybe even because there is always plenty of water.