Six weeks ago I spent the weekend in New Orleans. It was my second time there and I was excited to go back. I was particularly looking forward to eating at a famed New Orleans restaurant called Galatoire’s, an institution in New Orleans, one of the best restaurants in the world according to some lists. Politicians go there, celebrities go there and no matter who you are, you cannot make a reservation … even Bill Clinton had to wait to be seated, so they say.
We took a taxi from the airport. The driver was elderly and black and pretty deaf besides. I asked him to turn on the radio. He said he couldn’t, the radio was broke, but he had a tape he said, “Jimmy Red,” and he popped that in and we started listening to some Blues. It was a lazy hazy afternoon in New Orleans and there was quite a bit of traffic heading into town but it felt good listening to the Blues in the backseat of a beat up jalopy, the warm scents of the South coming through the open windows.
The taxi driver didn’t seem that interested in starting a conversation with me but I was all about hearing it from the locals so I started asking him about things to do in New Orleans, the best places to hear jazz and so on. I told him that the only thing I knew for sure about what we were doing while we were there was that we were going to Galatoire’s and asked him what it was like. “I ain’t never been to Galatoire’s” he said … and it got me thinking. A New Orleans Institution and this guy had never been. Yes I know that doesn’t necessarily mean anything but I couldn’t help thinking it meant something.
That night, we went to Galatoire’s and what a fine place it was. A beautiful room, elegant, with mirrored walls, high ceilings, full of well-dressed people all having a fantastic time. Loud, raucous, a party at every table. The champagne flowed like water, the place was filled with laughter. We made friends with the folks at the table behind us. A group of undertakers out celebrating something. Across the room an elderly lady was being serenaded by the waiters with happy birthday. Everyone seemed to be delighted. Not a lot of diversity there though … and again, yes, I know it was only one evening, not fair to draw any kind of conclusions, but there it is, not a lot of African-Americans at Galatoire’s that night. Instead, white people like me enjoying a good night, not too concerned about the prices on the menu.
I’ve been thinking a lot about that weekend in New Orleans this past week. About how hard we partied in the French Quarter, about Café du Monde, about the House of Blues, about the expedition we took to find an Irish bar, how we got lost and ended up driving through the not so scenic New Orleans, the kind of area where instinct prompts you to lock the doors and not stop to ask for directions. I’ve been thinking about the headline on the New Orleans Times Picayune, that Sunday morning – “Nobody’s Safe,” it said, and went on to describe how “eight people were shot at a child’s birthday party.” And I’ve been thinking about Galatoire’s. I wonder about all the people who were celebrating with such class that night. Where are they now? I’m willing to bet that they all made it out. That they all had places to go, friends to stay with and the means to leave.
In all the reporting that I read from New Orleans, one thing is consistent. Amongst the worst affected, the ones who stayed behind, were the ones who served, the waiters, the porters, the maids who clean up after those of us fortunate enough to come down and party in the French Quarter. And so I wonder about that taxi driver. I remember him saying that his wife didn’t like it when he listened to the Blues … that she preferred Gospel and he had laughed. I hope that he got himself and his wife into that beat up jalopy and headed out of town. I hope he popped in his Jimmy Red and cranked it up real loud to drown out the noise of the wind and the rain beating against the windows. I hope he got the hell out of dodge … but I have no way of knowing for sure.