As a Yankee, I fell in love with the City that Care Forgot (a.k.a. the Crescent City, the Big Easy and the Birthplace of Jazz) in my twenties and, like many a Yankee before me, moved there. (It was also called the Land of the Lotus Eaters because we forgot where we came from.) Like many a Yankee before me, I learned that a bald egg is a boiled egg, oysters are ersters, oil is erl and the plural of y'all is y'alls (not your). Who knew?
With apologies to F. Scott Fitzgerald, New Orleanians are different from you and me if you and me are Yankees. Difference number one is -- they socialize! They sally forth. They mingle. In New Orleans, unlike in Chicago where I now live, when you talk to your neighbor on the street, on the streetcar or in the park -- they talk back! In Chicago, your neighbor will first scrunch up his face, then move his seat or chair and then actually call security because you are obviously panhandling or mentally ill. Welcome to Chicago.
Contrast that with New Orleanians who actually say "Hi y'all," when they get on the bus and the other New Orleanians actually hear them because they don't have ear buds stuck in their ears! Hello!
This week, as I road the St. Charles trolley and the Magazine, Franklin and Elysian Fields buses, I saw only one or two iPhone addicts. Whether college kids, people on their way to work or tourists, almost everyone realizes it is a little unseemly, if not outright rude, to ignore your neighbor in favor of...a phone.
And speaking of the St. Charles trolley, it serves as a metaphor for how New Orleanians are different from you and me. The seats are as old and "comfortable" as a church's pews -- and made out of the same, unforgiving ancient wood. There is no air conditioning or heat. "Lighting" is courtesy of bald light bulbs which are screwed in. The trolley goes so slowly that bicyclists and joggers outrun it. Probably fast walkers, too. But who would change it?
This month they are repairing some of the trolley tracks and we riders are expunged at Louisiana street where we get on a bus. There is no announcement from the operator or in fact a P.A. system if he wanted to announce something. You just follow your neighbor who you have been talking to anyway and get on the bus. Then you follow your neighbor off the bus and back on to the trolley. The changes in public conveyance do not even stop our conversation. Unlike Chicago, no one is angry or indignant.
Almost twenty years ago, the city of Chicago phased out open windows on its commuter trains. Certainly open windows, when heads and arms protrude, can cause accidents. But another reason for no more opening windows on Chicago's trains is that, allegedly, low-level criminals would reach in and pull off people's gold chains as the trains were pulling away.
The St. Charles trolley is nothing but open windows. The windows open so wide, you could grab some of the Carnival trinkets still hanging from the wires, live oaks and magnolia trees we are passing. And lest anyone fail to realize that this is a city that is not litigation orientated, the trolley tracks are full of runners and dog walkers and sundry groups of adults and children out getting their air. There are no "get off the tracks" snarls from the operator. There are no "Keep Off The Tracks" or "Joggers Run At Their Own Risk" signs. Nor are there ads on the local news asking if you have been "injured while running along the St. Charles trolley."
Here's something else that would never happen in Chicago. This week I was walking down a country road in the hot sun with no shade or water close by, returning from a bird watching trip. It was a several mile trip. A car stops. The driver says "Get in" -- and I do. Imagine a motorist in Chicago stopping for a pedestrian who was walking in the hot sun for no other reason than the motorist had a car and the pedestrian didn't. And imagine the pedestrian getting in! Another example of how New Orleanians are different from you and me.