This is a tale of two very different cities: New Orleans … and Dallas.
I was born in Dallas and then immediately spent 18 years plotting my escape, which finally occurred when I high-tailed it to Austin for college. I have many wonderful friends who still call Dallas home but, to me, there’s just no “there” there.
I was reminded of this last night when I spoke with my mother, a woman who, aside from a rather terrifying two-year deployment to the strange land that is Orange County, has happily called Dallas home her entire life.
During our freewheeling conversation, Mom mentioned that she had just gone to the grand reopening of Dallas’ Texas Theatre.
“How was it?” I asked.
“Well, I tell you,” Mom replied, “it was just strange. Plain strange.” (I quickly poured a fresh gin and tonic, because I knew I was in for a treat.)
She then told me how the powers that be at the Texas Theatre had decided that the best way to celebrate their grand reopening was to show a movie about tiles. Toynbee tiles, to be precise. Which have “mysteriously” popped up in cities across the U.S. (and four South American capitals!) for about 20 years. The tiles all carry a message about resurrecting the dead (I did not know you could resurrect the living) … on Jupiter.
“Apparently,” Mom explained, “some poor fool spent 20 years of his life tracking down the origin of these tiles. Until he found some recluse who drove around in an old car that had rabbit ears on the roof and was missing the floorboard on the passenger side.”
“It what?” I interrupted.
“Well, Will, of course he couldn’t have a floorboard,” Mother corrected. “How else do you think he was able to drop those tiles onto the ground? Now, how this car got to four South American capitals I’ll never know. I don’t think it would make it down my driveway.”
Mom then went on to say that the aforementioned “poor fool” had made a movie about his quest … and won an award at Sundance.
“Whoever voted for this film must have been in dreadful shape,” she noted. “I must say, however, that the theatre itself was lovely. They had these heavy velvet drapes that you pull back to go in — just like the old days — and they had a very nice peach velvet settee. Aside from the show, we had a lovely time there.”
And that, my friends, is how they open things in Dallas. With peach settees and heavy drapes that you pull back to learn about …. tiles. That drop out of rabbit-eared cars.
Not so New Orleans (while we probably have more than a few rabbit-eared, tile-dropping cars here, I defy you to find anyone who would spend 20 years caring about such). When we grandly reopen, we do it in style. NOLA-style.
Like the Joy Theater reopening on Canal Street, which my friend Peter and I attended a few weeks ago.
There were no heavy velvet drapes and, most certainly, no peach … anything. Instead, the place gleamed all white and red and silver, a combination of “just new”-ness and utter confidence and pride.
And the powers that be did not opt for a program about tiles. No. They opted for Irma Thomas, the Soul Queen of New Orleans. Who came out fully tacked back in a special number made just for the occasion.
The audience didn’t sit there, either, eyes all glazed over, trying to make sense of some “poor fools” documentary. No, we were on our feet, dancing and swaying and shaking and clapping as Irma toured us through a celebration of her career and our city. She even passed out black napkins so we could shake our things and re-christen the Joy with a second line that even had my very reserved friend on his feet (it should be noted, however, that he did not shake his … well, any...thing).
At the end of her set, when Irma sang those first two notes of “At Last,” she stretched them out for what seemed an eternity, lifting the audience, raising the roof, and sending a message to our city, God and the Universe that the Joy … and Canal Street … were back. At last.
And I looked around at the rapt expression and beads of dance-infused sweat on each and every person’s face and I knew that I, too, was home. At last.
This column is dedicated to Major Bonner, Derrick Howard, Darryl Long, Ricky Randolph, Brian Williams, and Chris Williams. All are New Orleans residents murdered since last week’s column.