In December of 2005, right after Emmeline and I had just moved back into the city (Kenny had been back and forth for work the whole time and living back in New Orleans for about a month), my husband and I got a much-needed, child-free night out on the town. Needless to say, it was a very stressful time in our lives. The city was in shambles. Most of our relatives were still living in other states and/or in FEMA trailers. We were living in the apartment Kenny had found for us, paying $500 more a month than the same apartment would’ve cost just five months earlier, before the storm. And we had a flooded-out house and were agonizing over what to do with it. Should we fix it up and sell it? Fix it up and rent it? Fix it up and move into it? Walk away from it altogether? Set it on fire and hope the insurance company wouldn’t figure it out? (Kidding, Allstate- -love you! Mean it!)
So yeah, we needed a night out. I remember we went out to dinner at an Uptown restaurant, which I won’t name, because I didn’t love it. (Having a husband who’s a manager at Commander’s Palace gets you spoiled like that.) After dinner, it was still early and we weren’t ready to go home yet, so we took a drive into the “dead zone,” the area of the city that still didn’t have power. When I look back on it now, it seems almost impossible—like something my mind made up. Were there really parts of the city that didn’t have electricity, four months later? But yes, there were—lots of them. (And there were neighborhoods that still had smelly refrigerators on the sidewalks, still had dead bodies inside of houses, still had flooded-out cars everywhere, still had massive uprooted trees resting on tops of houses and cars—but I digress.)
We ended up in mid-City, feeling the eeriness of a part of the city that was without power still, and drove by the Banks Street Bar & Grill. And even though the neighborhood was dark and desolate, there were cars parked around the bar, and we were drawn to the chance to be with other people.
Even though Katrina was the source, it is, I think, a memory of a beautiful night that I’ll always have. We walked into the bar, so enchanted with the fact that it was open despite the lack of electricity. The bar was full of people, laughing and talking by candlelight. We sat at the bar and ordered a couple of beers—beer was the only option and was served out of massive ice chests stowed beneath the bar, as there was no electricity to power the coolers or ice makers. Ingrid Lucia* and a group of musicians were playing in the corner—on acoustic instruments, of course, and the band was lit by one of those metal clamp-on work lights that you use in your attic or your shed. The light was plugged into one of those big orange all-weather extension cords that stretched out of the building and wound its way around the block, to who knows what power source. And Kenny and I sat there for several hours, basking in the glow of the candles, in the coldness of the beer, and in the warmth of the other people in the bar—these people who, like us, had come back to the city we loved (and sometimes hated), the city we wanted to help rebuild, despite all of the horror and heartbreak. It was a lovely night, and we sat there until the beer had run out before we made our way home. It was most definitely one of those New Orleans moments that make you realize why you still choose to live here. And I'm glad I had it.
*Incidentally, after the beer had run out and the band had stopped playing, Kenny inadvertently offended Ingrid Lucia by complimenting her on the last set and telling her that he thought that she and John Boutte were the two most underrated performers in New Orleans. He was trying to convey how talented and wonderful he thought they both were and how he was amazed at the fact that they weren’t both known on a national scale—but she was offended, nonetheless. So if any of you know Ingrid Lucia, tell her that my husband meant to say underappreciated.