Greater New Orleans may have had a population of over a million, but my friends and I always said it was just 500 people and mirrors; either they know your mom'n'em (family) or they went to Jesuit (High School) with your brother or you live right down the street from their Parran (grandfather) in Lakeview (currently underwater). Or something. It's a big small town.
There's nothing else to talk about, no context except Katrina: our own stories, those we've heard from friends, the rumors, the news, the scandals; and what our plans are for the future, where we're going, how soon we'll go back to town, if ever. I know better, but from here, I can't see a point where New Orleanians will ever talk about anything else.
We move on to the next bar, called the BluePoint, which looks like an upscale chain restaurant with a vaguely nautical theme, but has a fairly nice bar area and $2.50 pints. There's a frat-boy-looking guy with an amped acoustic guitar on one side of the bar. He plays a mix of Dave Matthews and Jack Johnson and the obligatory Jimmy Buffett tunes. Though it fits the atmosphere, it grates the nerves.
We're soon soothed to learn that this place serves Abita beer, from a New Orleans area microbrewery that's a great source of pride and inebriation around town. The beer is good memories, but this music reminds me of what we've left behind: long Tuesday nights at the Maple Leaf Bar on Oak Street, watching the Rebirth Brass Band, jumping and dancing crazy to the horns, sweat-drenched, shoulder-to-
shoulder in a writhing mass of 300 humans in a room the size of your bedroom till 3 or 4 in the morning, squeezing your way through that crowd to the bar for an Abita Amber and going out to sit on the curb to talk with friends and escape that funky heat for just long enough to be ready to dive back in. Sigh -- does that kind of thing happen anywhere else? I don't know.
After a round or two of Abita Turbodog at the BluePoint, the tone of conversations starts to pick up and people wax pleasantly nostalgic about their former lives and sound more hopeful than not about the future. That there's opportunity for us in this disaster seems to be the general feeling; time to get out of town and make a go of things in better economies, to make it elsewhere and then, eventually, come back and make New Orleans a better place than it was. Some of us think we'll be gone for years; some of us plan to return as soon as they let us back in. Not one of us expects to stay gone. New Orleans has always drawn people back, and that doesn't seem likely to change, especially now that the city needs us. New Orleans has always been a city that is comfortable with its ghosts, a place where every street corner has a historical and personal significance, and when we get back, well, it'll just have more.