A Happy Evening At An Old Haunt in New Orleans, or Where Did All the Mean Old People Go?

Buddha statue in Audubon Zoo, New Orleans
Photo credit, Beabe Thompson

Many years ago I worked and lived in New Orleans, before Katrina, back in the day when the Crescent City had the meanest old people in North America.  I’m not kidding, and have witnesses and fellow victims of geriatric meanies who’ll back me up.  Whether you were in a store checkout line, on a NOPSI bus (now RTA), or on the highway, those ancient geezers were a force to be feared.

I was once on a Canal Street bus, not the express mind you, minding my own business when a pre-Vatican II habited elderly nun took a disliking to me, much to the amusement of my fellow young riders.  What parochial school dropout friends horror stories had taught me paled in the face of that wrathful religious.  No I wasn’t dressed like a hooker, but in a long skirt, long sleeves, buttoned-up blouse, but you would’ve thought I was the Whore of Babylon to that sister.  In reflection, I think she’d wandered away from her home and was not in complete control of her faculties, but the glee of which my fellow riders was like a circus audience.  After listening to the verbal abuse for a few blocks, I walked up to the NOPSI bus driver and told him to let me the hell off.  I thought he’d collapse from laughing.  Luckily the sister didn’t follow me off.

This December we took a pilgrimage to our former home and were standing in line at Casamento’s Restaurant, and I was struck at how nice everyone was acting, from the younglings from Tulane to the aged.  No one was prodding me with a gigantic purse, jabbing my keister with their faded, bent umbrellas, or shoving at my posterior to get inside the already crowded restaurant.  What the hell?

It was if New Orleanians were happy and feeling positive, something that seemed both weird and wonderful at the same time.  Like the Grinch in the Dr. Seus story, I felt my heart melt, and remembered how much I had loved that city and missed it.

Sitting with my back to the restaurant’s back wall, I watched happy families eat, couples canoodle, waitresses visit with long time customers, and it was a wonder to my eyes.  That night we had a very unremarkable meal in one of my very favorite old time New Orleans neighborhood restaurants, but I felt at home like nothing had happened in the twelve years since we’d left.  We drove back to our inn in the pothole ridden, dark as Hades streets, and I realized how much I wished it were possible to move back to where I truly grew up.

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