I spotted his yellow cab several blocks away. It crept slowly towards the curb on which I stood until finally arriving right in front of me.
I stepped in.
“Dante’s Kitchen. You know where that is? In the Garden District?” A pregnant pause filled the cab, as the man behind the wheel reached up to start his meter.
“I’ve been driving for 47 years,” he said. “Of course, I know where that is.”
He merged back into traffic, I sat back in my seat. A few moments passed before either of us said anything. I was afraid I offended his street knowledge and way around the city.
“You in town for Jazz Fest?” he asked. “Yes, sir.” I replied. Back to normal, I thought. Back in his good graces.
I looked around the car: creamy white leather interior, Cartier panel details. Not a spot on any surface; no stains, no scratches. “This is a nice car,” I told him.
“People appreciate driving in a nice, clean car,” he said. “You pay for it; you deserve it.”
Before long, the cab lurched onto St. Charles Street, the main drag that connects the Quarter to the Garden District, and began cruising no faster than 25 MPH down. The driver drove as if Sundays were meant only for morning cruises, as if there was no other care in the world.
This laid back sensibility is something I struggled to adjust to since arriving in New Orleans. From the moment I stepped off the plane, I noticed how everyone takes their time doing things; no rush, no fuss, no “hurry up let’s go” mentality.
For someone used to the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles, I tried my best to slow to this pace of life; however, I wasn’t doing that well.
Today was a big test: I was running late for a 10:30 a.m. brunch reservation, and I knew I wasn’t going to get there on time. Not on his watch, at least. So I made the decision to sit back, enjoy the ride, and get to know the man behind the wheel.
“You from here?” I asked.
A New Orleans native, my driver was a married man of 50 years. He and his wife had 3 children and 6 grandchildren. He recently came back from retirement to continue driving people around and to keep himself busy.
He told numerous stories about the city, including some about the legendary Al Copleand, owner and founder of Popeye’s chicken, who recently passed from a rare form of cancer. He chuckled when he talked about Copeland having four wives and what they all inherited.
Envitably our conversation turned to Katrina. “I was away for 9 months,” he said. “We were moved to San Antonio because I had some family up there. But every night I closed my eyes and came back to this city. I visited these streets every night.”
As I listened to him express his love for the city, I understood why many people fought so hard to get back after the storm and why some of them stayed. New Orleanians love their city like it’s their first born child.
We turned onto the street, and I spotted the restaurant. I wasn’t on time for my Sunday morning brunch, but it didn’t matter anymore.
The time I spent with that driver, listening to his gems of wisdom, meant more than making my reservation.
Sometimes it’s better to slow down and enjoy the ride, I thought. You never know how it might change your view of the world.