There are plenty of jokes about the work ethic in New Orleans and, sure, I’ve seen people goofing off or moving slow, but I’ve seen people goof off at work in plenty of cities. I’ve read that the average office worker in America only does 20 minutes of work per hour. So, yeah, you may find someone applying lipstick when they should be catering to you, but here are some work conversations recently overheard that you may not find in most cities. At Rouse’s grocery in the Quarter, I heard the cashier greet an obvious regular, “What’s on sale, Mr. Ryan?” It brought me back to my childhood when my pawpaw used to go to the bank and the Piggly Wiggly everyday. Dozens of employees came to his funeral to say goodbye to a regular customer. Have you ever gone to the funeral of a customer you waited on? Do you think any waiters will come to yours? When Albert Jackson, the Moses of Magazine Street passed, all the employees came out of the Walgreen’s to dance with our second line and pay respects. I liked that.
Later, I overheard a DirectTV employee trying to help someone get their cable back online. I heard them tell the customer without an iota of sarcasm, “I learned something new tonight. I feel whole.” I’ve lived in a bunch of big cities and they all have their own work ethic. Baltimore is very salt of the earth, hard working and semi-friendly. D.C. knows how to cater to the wealthy and powerful without shaming them. I remember hearing that Michael Jackson bathed in Evian and ate flowers while staying at the Four Seasons there. It was someone’s job to find edible flowers and prepare them as a meal, someone’s job to fill a tub with Evian (and heat it?). In New York, customer service could be like that for the right price, but if you just wanted a burger at McDonald’s, you might get cussed at, and eye-rolls came free with every purchase. L.A. also knows how to cater to the wealthy but many employees there are on constant lookout for an opportunity to become the rich and famous they’re supposed to be providing for. Many jokes in L.A. are about employees using every chance they get to slip a script to someone.
I will say that I usually had excellent service at Mel’s Drive-in on Sunset.
There was Old Goat (who passed a few years ago) who ended up coming into money off a baseball card collection found in his attic but who kept his job even so because he enjoyed it, enjoyed the people. Janet is certainly the kindest waitress I’ve ever met. Between her and Gaddiel, the busboy, there would often be a Diet Coke ready for me at “my” table before I even sat down. Even the valet there was a prince. Twice he washed my car for me while I dined and refused to take money for it. But, most of the people in the service industry in L.A. would rather be the people they wait on than be good at their jobs.
Maybe it’s not a fair fight. There are 10 million people in L.A. (all fighting for the same parking spot). In New Orleans, there are only about 400,000 people. When I’d go to a movie in L.A., I’d have to leave the house with plenty of time to sit in traffic, find parking, wait in line for tickets, wait to have my ticket torn, wait for popcorn and hope to find a seat. Here, I just go to the movies. There’s a new theatre in town, recently remodeled, The Theatres at Canal Place.
We walked there, waited in a line of 1 to buy a ticket, were led to an assigned seat and handed a menu. A waiter explained how the moveable table and cushy seat worked, pointed out the button to page him and returned within seconds of me pressing it to take our order. I passed on the food and wine and went for traditional popcorn and soda. It was a thoroughly pleasant experience.
After the movie, I spotted a giant flock of birds flying in odd blobs folding in on themselves. It was like performance art. Standing on the corner watching, several people joined us. Only one tourist said something about getting pooped on, all the rest of us enjoyed the random beauty of it all. The birds, thousands of them, eventually all landed in a clump of trees, shrieking and chirping as we all marveled at where they must have come from, where they might be headed. Just then, the familiar beats of Halftime (Stand Up and Get Crunk) emanated from down the street. We all found positions on the corner as a police car blocked the intersection for the impromptu parade. It was actually a single float filled with businessmen who’d paid to throw beads for no special occasion. Turns out anyone with serious cash can do this. Who knew and what fun!
Earlier in the day, I’d spotted a woman carrying her cello on her back like a turtle shell. Only the cello was far larger than the petite woman. Between the uniforms, the instruments and the costumes, I love watching people go to work here. And, walking down an alley behind the shops on Decatur, I stumbled onto a Halloween fair filled with kids in costumes trick-or-treating for a variety of fruits and doing crafts. We even stumbled onto a Zydeco band and people dancing while we were looking for coasters down at the Farmer’s Market. I’ve always been able to find joy wherever I’ve lived, but in New Orleans, you don’t even have to look for it.
And, yes, game day was sad this week. The Saints lost from the start and never found their way back. But, the entire city was in Saints shirts and there was still singing inside every bar and barbecue grills out front. After the loss, we headed uptown to SnoWizard for the last sno-ball of the season. It had rained and the shop was out of food and toppings but we weren’t the only ones who wanted a treat. I savored my last SnoWizard wedding cake sno-ball until 2011 and remembered that I used to be able to go years without the sweet treat – I can make it until Spring.
And though the Saints can’t win every game, they still inspire. Here’s our version of a jack-o-lantern, the Boo-Dat pumpkin.