Saturday, January 23, 2010

Arriving New Orleans

It was April. 2002.

It was quite a break for me to leave Chicago in the "spring." At least that's what they call it, despite ne'er a daffodil in sight. Sorry, but being a son of the south, if I ain't lookin' at flowers in April. It ain't spring.

Seven months - post 9-11. I was still apprehensive about flying. Never used to be, but after a coupla' bad flights from Las Vegas and the September 11th tragedy, I had my white-knuckled reasons.

As I sat at O'hare waiting to board, I did some heavy profiling. I wasn't getting on the plane with anyone that looked middle eastern, had an accent, shifted their eyes nervously, or parted their hair in the middle. It was just that simple.

A few Asians, an Indian or two, three guys from the South Side with backwards baseball caps, and a dark-skinned business man with platform shoes. I said a few prayers to the four directions and boarded anyway. Praying mostly that the homies might help me kick some ass if needed. Confession - in the months following 9-11, I always wore tennis shoes and sweat pants on flights in case the requirement for more athletic endeavors ensued. And I never napped.

I couldn't really relax, but managed the flight. It was going to be great being in the South. Humidity is my friend. And New Orleans just has her way. If you have ever been there - you know. I hopped into a taxi and headed to the Hilton. I was beginning to get excited about this rendezvous. Red beans and Rice from Mike Anderson's or maybe even spicy Jambalaya from the old worn Acme Oyster Bar. Couldn't wait. But when I entered the taxi, I was greeted by a driver about seventy years old with a foot tall turban and a foot long gray beard. And I am almost positive his last name wasn't Kershaw. I felt annoyed.

In the months following 9-11, I found myself judgmental and prejudiced. I had never really felt those feelings before - especially, with any real conviction. Inside - I uttered to myself, "Who the hell is this guy? What has happened to the South? Sleeper cell out of Preservation Hall? Cafe Du Monde now serving beniets dusted with anthrax? Will I make it to the hotel alive?" Fear overtook reason.

And then, out of the blue, as if in mid-conversation, the driver says to me, "You know sir, I have saved my whole life so I could live my dream." I remained quiet. "My dream of coming to America." He peered in the rear view mirror for my reaction. What the heck just happened? Was he reading the lines on my face or my mind?

More silence and then I looked back at his flashing eyes cutting from the mirror. "I'm sorry, what did you say?" I mumbled back. "I have waited my entire life to come to America with my family." I asked if they were here with him. He replied, "Only my daughter and my wife."

So I bit. "Why did you want to come to America?" I asked. In his gravelly falsetto-ish voice He replied, "To be free. I have wanted to come to here since I was a boy. It took longer than I thought, but I finally made it."

Okay, so now I was completely busted and suddenly a student.
Who was this man? Was he sent to me? This was creepy. But in my introspective curiosity, I knew there was more to the story. There always is. It was obvious this man from another world, in all his wisdom and experience, was my teacher.

We didn't talk much after that. Lesson learned and I was thankful. He dropped me off, as if he were George Burns in "Oh God," at my hotel. I waited for another sign. Another nugget. I looked in his eyes as he gave me a receipt, and he nodded his head. "Thank you, sir." The moment was over. Or was it?

Eighty degrees and humid. Very humid. I loved it. It WAS New Orleans for sure. Red beans and rice would never taste so good and if I choke on the beniets - it would just be the powdered sugar. And, yes. Daffodils bloomed. Springtime in America.

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