Monday, February 11, 2008

Miss Mary

On Friday, I took the streetcar down to the CBD to meet D. for lunch. As I sat on the smooth wooden bench, enjoying the sounds the lumbering streetcars make as they lurch forward, an elderly lady sat down next to me.

We got to talking, and she said, "You know, 40 years ago, I couldn't have sat next to you. I would have been arrested."

I replied that I was grateful, in a way, that I was not alive at that time, because my parents raised me to treat all people as just that - people. Humans. My fellow species. Yadda yadda.

As she recollected about segregation in New Orleans, I described to her some of the things I've noticed since moving here. Frankly, I told her, the most things change, the more they seem to change.

A cliche? To be sure, but the fact remains that when I walk my dog, or am sitting on my porch, inevitably someone will look at me uncomfortably. I'm fairly sure it's not because I'm particularly deformed or odd looking - I think it's because in many ways, race relations have a loooooooooong way to go here in the Crescent City.

When I moved here, I felt like I had entered a time warp back to the 1950's.

It still feels that way, nine months later.

Miss Mary chuckled and agreed with me. As the streetcar continued it's puttering trek down St. Charles and around Lee Circle, she started telling me her Katrina story. As it turns out, Miss Mary stayed in New Orleans when so many others evacuated. She's in her 80's, and most of her family is scattered around the U.S. She figured that with her dog as company, she'd be fine.

She thought she was fine, right up until the water started seeping into her house. She told me with something akin to awe that the entire time she was trapped in her house, she never lost the charge OR signal on her cell phone. Her brother, who lives in California, was so worried for her safety that he called CNN - and the next thing Miss Mary knew, she was being airlifted off her roof.

It broke her heart, she told me, to have to leave her dog behind. Later, she learned that her dog just stopped eating when she left, and eventually died.

I've met some amazingly interesting people on the streetcar. I've met a man who survived a shark attack. I've met World War II veterans with sharp memories and fierce intellect.

It's easy to conduct a love affair with the streetcar...even if they do periodically collide.

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