Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Post-Diluvian Follies: Meals, Not Quite So Ready to Eat

I ate MREs everyday for lunch (and sometimes for breakfast) but quickly found myself craving food that would actually rot if left unrefrigerated. And eating food from a bag on a porch by oneself in an empty neighborhood was a lonely business.

My first evening in the city—actually, due to the curfew, late afternoon—I went looking for a hot meal and the sound of human voices. I wove a long slow route towards downtown: past countless silent businesses; past one open but particularly forlorn and dubious restaurant; past the firehouse brimming with extra trucks from all over the country (the city was plagued with fires); past the long row of firemen in motley uniforms seated in folding chairs on the sidewalk watching the sporadic traffic roll by. I continued downtown, crossing Canal Street, passing its cluster of news crews, then into the French Quarter where packs of off-duty guardsmen prowled for booze and naked women, then turned and meandered back uptown again, finally stopping at an open bar on St. Charles Avenue.

I ordered a burger. It took forever as the sole bartendress scrambled between grill-duty and drink orders from the long row of thirsty customers.* Finally the burger arrived, burnt, unadorned, handed to me in a styrofoam box.

Burnt burger in a box

The only condiments were a few sorry packs of mustard. I sat at a table outside and ate. At that moment, in that improbable place, with an ice-cold beer and the half-heard chatter of the patrons around me, it tasted wonderful.

The next night, I went out again. This time I found a newly opened restaurant. (Newly opened, not re-opened. It was a curious time to launch a business.) It had white tablecloths and vague pretensions to fanciness.

And it was crowded, full of Garden District well-to-dos in pastel and white summer casuals, hopping from table to table—everybody knew everybody—and talking loudly: Where’d you go? When did you get back? How’s the roof? How’s the wife?

I sat and chatted with the bartender (actually an owner—with hardly any population there was hardly any staff), sipped my wine (ah! the indulgence), and read my book. Finally my meal arrived, another burger (I doubted the more ambitious menu options) and a salad (to counterbalance my steady diet of nutrient-pouches). This time the burger actually was good. The food, the wine, the fatigue of the long day, and the bubbling excitement of the crowd commingled, and I settled into a quiet, blissful reverie.

Then, as the sun slanted in through the windows, the cop on guard at the door announced it was curfew, and we all had to leave.

The bar down the street was still crowded (bars seemed to enjoy a de facto exemption from the curfew), and I wasn’t ready to return to the silence of my squatter-camp.

I sat at the bar and ordered a bourbon, sipping and staring absent-mindedly at the television. The crowd was a mixed bunch, from fresh-scrubbed twenty-somethings to scraggly middle-aged bar-flies. And like the restaurant, an excited charge filled the air. People talked enthusiastically about when they evacuated, where they went, how much it sucked, how many days they’d been back in town, where they were staying, what their place looked like.

The first bourbon went down too easily. I ordered a second. It had slipped into evening, and the pitch of the crowd heightened. There were hoots and hollers. It got loud. Friends giddily chatted. People looked for apartments to rent—or beds to stay in. A stumble-drunk hippie-chick aggressively hit on me.


I declined and stepped out into the warm night air.

There were more people. I talked to my daughter’s pre-school teacher and then to a sour young man who was packing up to move to some much better place for some much better job.

Finally, it was time for me to go home. As I walked to the car, I realized the long day of hot work and the string of absent-minded drinks had come on fast, and I was something less than completely sober. I weighed the issue:

Problem:There were no cabs.

Mitigating factor:

There was no one to run into.

Problem:There were National Guard patrols.

Mitigating factor:“I’m driving home half-drunk from a bar,” was probably the only permissible explanation for why I was out after curfew.

In the end, lawlessness prevailed. I (very carefully) drove down the dark empty streets, safely returning to the solitude of my quiet little domicile.

I was drifting off to sleep. My phone rang. I groggily answered, “Hello?”

“Hey, David, this is Bill. Look, we’re on our way down they’re right now—yeah, we’re driving right now—a big SUV for the gear—should be able to handle any kind of terrain—and I’ve got a great team together—my best guys—but the film guy fell through, and we’ve got to find a film crew as soon as possible. Do you know anybody?”

“Um, I can ask around…”

* Bars were clearly leading the city’s economic recovery. They were often the only businesses open, and they were busy—lots of folks with lots of sorrows to drown and not a lot else to do.

1 comment:

  1. You are doing a good job no matter what they say about you;)