Thursday, July 30, 2015
The afternoon storm breaks
It was a hot afternoon, so steamy that I was glad I'd brought my cheap Chinese dime-store parasol to shield me from the baking sun as we walked out. On Dauphine Street, we turned into Vaughan's Lounge, soothed immediately by the cool darkness of the bar-room.
The place was almost empty. There were two TV screens. One was tuned to a sports channel; the other one to the weather channel, showing blue maps with swirling green and orange storms behind the cheerful announcer.
The bartender brought me a gin and tonic and a tall glass of water. It went down cool.
By the time we were ready for the next round (I switched to rum and lime on the rocks), we learned the bartender's name is Krinkle, and more people had arrived at the bar. To one side, three working men drank bottles of High Life and ate from a bag of pita chips. To the other side, a young woman in black read a magazine and drank a solitary drink. We nodded at the couple at the far end, whom we'd met a few evenings ago. A bearded man with a do-rag on his head came in and took the stool beside the young woman.
In the spring, New Orleans passed an ordinance outlawing smoking in bars, so periodically, someone would go out on the gallery, only to return a few minutes later. And so the afternoon went.
We chatted with the man in the do-rag, whose name is Craig and who works restoring historic properties. He's from Kansas City originally, and he spoke of that town with the boosterism and knowledge of a Convention Bureau. But, he said, "I'd never go back there, of course." When he went out for a smoke, we moved down and talked to the couple at the far end, who work for Habitat for Humanity, and have lived here since coming here in October 2005 after Hurricane Katrina to help rebuild the city.
A little later a grey-haired woman sat down with a glass of wine, and two little dogs by her feet. Her name is Linda and she works for the City - we struck up a good conversation about our mutual frustrations with municipal bureaucracy.
We thought we might make our way home, but there were rumblings overhead, and the air, which had been so still and stagnant, flowed in suddenly cool from the open door. When the storm broke, you could hear the heavy rain pounding on the tin roof of the gallery.
Craig started expounding his political theories, which are about 180 degrees away from mine, but whenever I thought he'd go off on a rave, he'd pull it back down and laugh at himself. Then he'd pat his dog Heather. Linda shared moments of her life history. We talked about our dogs and cooed at the photos of them on our phones. The rain poured down hard for over an hour; we were stranded there, although it didn't feel like a trap.
Somehow a storm brings out an exhilaration and a sense of belonging in a crowd of strangers. We sat together on benches around a cable-spool table and watched the rain pound down and the gutters flow. In the high, yellow-lit sky, lightning sparked and forked, and the tall cypress trees tossed their green branches. We talked, with the intimacy of shared experience and drunkenness, until the downpour eased and the storm passed.
As we walked through the streets toward home, the sky was heavy and dangerous, filled with the apricot light of the sunset filtered through thunderheads.