Bright Lights, New City
I was driving home from the West Bank the other night and just couldn't pass up a stop -- my second in as many days -- at Taco Sanchez, the tiny little wooden taco stand decorated in bright neon lights that sits just in front of Nine Roses, the popular Vietnamese restaurant.
It used to be a snowball stand, and while there was a long time there, post-K, when any reminder of The Way Things Used To But Never Again Would Be could make me all teary, I have to admit that this little taco stand - like its many competitors that have sprouted up in gas stations and Lowe's parking lots all over the metro area - seemed like a sign of Good Things To Come, or at least Good Mexican Food to come. We definitely don't get enough of either around here.
So I stopped, plunked down three bucks and entered into one of those tender little cultural exchanges where both parties are overly eager to use the four or five words they happen to know in the other person's language:
"POR FAVOR! TACO! POLLO! DOS!" (me)
"YES! YOU! TWO! OK!" (him).
When my order was ready, he proudly yelled out the ticket number in English, and the line of workers waiting for their orders all turned to smiled at me - I don't think it was condescendingly, but I can't say for sure -- and I smiled back and said GRACIAS!
I like to imagine that was what communicated in between the lines was the following:
Me: Hi! Please forgive my rudeness, I've been seeing you guys around for over a year and a half now and I know it's a little late to be politely offering an official welcome, and to be honest, I wasn't really sure how I felt about it at first, what with so many people who used to be here not being able to be here anymore and all that, and, wow, it must be weird for you, huh? -- but you seem to be happy to be here, and I hope that's true, because for the most part I am still happy to be here, too...
Him: Yes! You! Two! OK!
There's no place to sit in front of Taco Sanchez, although sometimes you'll see folks hanging out and eating in their cars, so I brought my tacos over to my friends' house in Algiers Point. My friends were hosting an artist pal of theirs, Jeffrey Marshall, who was making his second visit to New Orleans post-K. Jeff first came down to New Orleans in the early 90s to teach in the NO public schools through Teach for America and wound up staying for six years. He's now a landscape artist and instructor at The New England Institute of Art, and last year he received a grant to do some drawings in the Ninth Ward.
One of the funny things Jeff mentioned about working in the Ninth Ward is how surprised he is by how much people seem to appreciate him being there doing his thing. "All day I'm around all these people who are working so hard to rebuild, and I'm sitting there drawing," he said. "Sometimes I feel like it's not enough. But this is my calling, and in a lot of ways I feel like everything I've ever done in my life has been preparing me for this."
He said that he mostly likes it when people come hang around and talk to him while he's working - and God knows people here still have a desperate need to talk about all this. (He finds the National Guardsmen, on the other hand -- who are mostly just bored boys with guns -- to be sort of a nuisance.) One afternoon, a man stopped by to check on his progress; after they exchanged pleasantries, the man paused for a minute, and broke the silence when he offered, matter-of-factly, "You know, if you come at night, you can see the ghosts."
We all agreed there was no reason not to believe him.
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