When the headline news of corruption and bungling in high places here in New Orleans gets to be too much, when the blog posts you're compelled to read add up to an ever-pulsing, always-growing outrageosphere -- it's time to sit down and eat with strangers. Or stand up and eat with strangers, for all the difference that makes.
I've wanted to enter a post about this for a while now, ever since the Night Out Against Crime event earlier this month. This is always a pretty big deal in my Mid-City neighborhood, but since Katrina flooded everyone here out for a while the people who have come back to put a shine on this part of town have really made this sweaty annual gathering something special.
I think that's because it's more clear now than ever that we're responsible for propagating the things we love about New Orleans its people, its neighborhoods -- and also that it ultimately comes down to us to change and fix the parts that have failed.
Enter food, particularly giant aluminum trays of cheap fried chicken, homemade jambalaya with plenty of grease and sausage of mysterious provenance and a Noah's ark collection of casseroles rippling with Blue Plate mayonnaise.
All of this was brought potluck and spread out on folding tables in the middle of the street beneath an oak tree. In coupled pairs, in family units or by ourselves, we filed past the tables and then chatted while swinging chicken legs around for emphasis. When the conversation ran out, we got more food and found some other group to talk with.
So we had an excuse to mingle and do more than just wave to each other from our cars, bikes and porches on the way to somewhere else, always late. We had a chance to tell each other which house we live in, where we're from originally, why we came back after the flood.
I met a dizzying array of people, all from just the nearby blocks, including a NOPD swat team officer recently arrived from Ohio, the Brazilian carpentry genius repairing every other house on my street, the lady with the fleet of tiny dogs who put up such impressive bluster each time they spot my frazzled mutt and stoic Lab on our walks and even the guy who knocked on my door a few days earlier and offered to cut my yard's tiny strip of grass in exchange for food.
A cover band was playing from someone's porch. Every other person had a cooler, so everyone had a drink. Kids and dogs were everywhere, and so were beer and chicken.
The high-level news feed from this town can make you wonder why anyone lives here. A meal with the people who are New Orleans always makes me wonder how I could possibly live anywhere else.
- Ian McNulty