Last night at the market provided another one of those hey-you’re-kinda-like-me moments that have become pretty commonplace since we moved to New Orleans.
I was working on straightening up the pop (excuse my Midwestern self –soda) aisle when I saw a woman about my age who was obviously not seeing what she was looking for. I asked if I could help her find something and she said, “Yes, please – I don’t see the R.C. Cola and I know I’ve gotten it here before”. I located the R.C. and handed her a two -liter bottle. “R.C. fan, huh? There aren’t many of us around here”. She laughed. “Well, I’m not from here originally”.
“Where ya from”?
“Buffalo, New York. I always drank R.C. back home but don’t see it here as much”.
“I know what you mean. R.C. was more prevalent when I lived in Minnesota” this happens all the time; I had to ask. “So, what brought you here to New Orleans”?
“Well, I had visited once a number of years ago, then came back after the storm to work on the recovery. I fell in love with the place and didn’t want to leave. Fortunately, I was at a spot in my life where picking up and going someplace to do worthwhile work just seemed to be my calling. Volunteering got me some good contacts, which once I decided to move, led to a job with the city. So here I am, and I love it”.
I nodded in agreement, briefly told the woman about Amy and I coming down here to teach, and we compared notes on the backwards nature (at least to us) of how things get (or don’t get) done in our respective bureaucracies , and how much more convoluted every process and project seems to be, and we laughed about the shared frustrations, realizing how similar our experiences had been. Then she got a more serious look on her face. “You know, I’ve decided that….” She seemed to be trying to make sure I wasn’t going to find her crazy. “…I’ve decided that I’d much rather be frustrated here, than back up there. Does that make any sense at all”?
I smiled. It made perfectly good sense. “You know, I’ve never thought of it in exactly those terms, but it’s as good a description as I can come up with” I chuckled . “Can I borrow it”?
She laughed. “Go right ahead”. She paused. “ It’s hard to explain to people, isn’t it”?
“Yeah. It is. Have a good evening, ma’am”.
“You, too”. She smiled and took off down the aisle with her cart.
As I went back to straightening the pop shelves, I thought about a conversation I had had a few weeks back with our neighbor Cary; he too, is a transplanted northerner (from Ohio) but has lived here for going on thirty years and is married to a Nawlins’ native. He was curious to see if we had any regrets about coming here, and asked if we were glad we would be sticking around. Assuring him that we were secure in our decision to be here for a while, Cary replied, “Well, that’s good. I’m glad you guys like it and are sticking around”. Then, much like the woman in the store, he got a look on his face that indicated he wasn’t sure if he should say what he was going to say what he was thinking. “You know, I know this place can drive you crazy, but don’t you feel more vibrant here than other places you’ve lived”?
That, too, was a way of putting it that I hadn’t thought of, but he sure nailed it. I had to laugh. “Hadn’t thought of it in quite that way, but yeah – ‘vibrant’ is a good way of putting it”.
Conversations like these happen on a regular basis, so I have stopped being surprised at their frequency or in the shared commonality of experiences and wildly intangible reasons for staying. It’s funny; I’m not used to others having to supply my words…but I’m always willing to utilize what works, and give credit where it’s due.
Its a sunny spring Sunday. It might a good afternoon to grab a cold R.C. and toast the vibrant city I live in.