Skreeeeechâ€¦my bike tires complained, stuttered, and skidded to a stop barely inches from the woman in front of me. We, as in a tour group on bicycles, were in a busy neighborhood of New Orleans dodging cars like kids playing a game of tag. Â In preparation for this yearâ€™s Super Bowl, New Orleans has decided to rip up its streets and repave. Itâ€™s looking ugly, feeling like theyâ€™ll never get it done on time, and makes getting around without incident a moment to moment prayer/wish.
My neck was getting a workout from watching for speeding cars, checking behind me to see where my lollygagging husband was, looking up at the Live Oaks and the architecture of New Orleans, and looking down to avoid gi-normous potholes.Â For the most part I was navigating well enough until a fellow tour-taker decided to stop and converse with an elderly man in a wheelchair. He was catching some sunshine near what I assume was his porch.
Jackie, a woman with more bubbles per square inch of her personality than a Lawrence Welk show, loves people. Even more to the point, she loves to talk with people, to get eyeball to eyeball with people, and to help people.Â I probably would have smiled and nodded to the elderly gentleman watching our group wobble by on our fat tires, but Jackie stopped. Which made me stop. Which made my husband stop. Stop really, really fast I might add. Meanwhile the rest of the group, well ahead of us, kept going.
Jackie asked the wrinkled old man how he was feeling on this fine day, and if he would like half of her lunch sandwich. He seemed delighted and accepted her offer. The exchange didnâ€™t take long, but I was reminded how beautiful an instant like that can be. I also wondered why it hadnâ€™t occurred to me to stop and brighten his day.Â Why was I so busy and distracted by the car devouring potholes? Â Jackie was riding her bike on the same tattered streets and yet had noted this man and responded with a gentle heart.
And, what really blew me away, was just how many kind and cheerful folks we met during our stay in New Orleans. You know, the New Orleans that has been devastated in recent years and is defiantly trying to find its identity once again? The New Orleans where people might have a reason to be downtrodden or cranky? Yeah, that New Orleans shines with good folks.
One morning my husband wandered a few blocks from our hotel to get breakfast. It was an open fry-cook sort of place, with old marble counters and a staff eager to find out who you were. My husband was so pleased with his experience that he ate breakfast there every morning of our trip except one.Â â€œYouâ€™ve got to go there with me!â€ he said. Not a big breakfast eater, I suggested we have dinner there instead.
Paul, the owner, greeted me with a playful look as soon as I walked in the door.Â My tourist ensemble was complete with the obligatory camera swaying between my breasts. Â â€œI see we have a photographer visiting,â€ he said.Â I tried not to blush and replied, â€œNaw, Iâ€™m just a novice having fun.â€
My husband and I took a barstool apiece and made our dinner choices. My mouth watered at the idea of fried catfish, fries, and coleslaw. A buffet of hot sauces stood at attention near the napkin holder, so I knew I was in a good place. Shortly, a waiter arrived and took our order. He was wearing white pants, shirt, and hat. A jaunty black bow tie made me think of an earlier era. â€œWhat can I getcha darling?â€ he said with a steady smile. We ordered and I sipped my Diet Coke while watching the parade of customers dance the almighty dance of the hungry. Paul kept glancing in our direction, but attended other customers asking directions.
Our meals arrived and were, of course, delicious. I swiveled on my stool and gave a thumbs up to the short-order cook standing in front of his sizzling iron kingdom. He smiled and nodded.
After we could eat no more, we reluctantly decided to head back to the hotel. Paul wandered over to us and wanted to know where we were from, why we were visiting, and when we were leaving.Â It was an easy and comfortable conversation. As I turned to go he took my hand in his. â€œIâ€™d love it if youâ€™d come back again and show me those pictures youâ€™ve been taking.â€ It was said in such a warm and sincere way I had to fight the blushing-thing once again.
There were so many more examples of warmth and kindnesses crammed into our few days that Iâ€™d take far too long to share them. What Iâ€™d like to leave you with is the image of an area that was ravaged by hurricane Katrina, an area that has held firm in its wildly divergent southern gentility despite the losses and isolation, and an area that gleams with the bright light of human spirit. It was a magical visit I wish all could discover and embody.