Right after I came to New Orleans 54 years ago, a date took me to get my first beignet. There were two places to go between the French Quarter and the river, and he chose Morning Call, a stone’s throw from Café du Monde.
We drove up, parked diagonally in front, and decided to ask for curb service instead of going in. I remember that as I took my first bites of the hot, delicious morsel, I sneezed, showering my black cashmere coat with powdered sugar. But that isn’t the point — which is that we had easily parked in front of the place and, with only a brief wait, gotten our goodies.
If you can remember parking in front of Morning Call, heck, if you can remember Morning Call at all (it long ago was moved out to Fat City in Metairie), then lucky you — you’re almost as old as I am.
The last time I went to the Quarter for beignets, to Café du Monde — with a van full of out-of-towners in for Jazz Fest — we went into the long lot behind the wall near the tracks on which red streetcars take our tourists to and fro from Riverwalk to the French Market, flea market and Old Mint. It took us awhile to find a space, and when we did there was a long hike back toward our beignets.
And that wasn’t all the exertion we could have been in for: The line from one of the openings to the canvas-covered café stretched clear down the sidewalk across Decatur street from Jackson Square and waaay into the distance, maybe even to the back of Canal Place, as far as I could see. (Needless to say, my five guests and I didn’t stand in it; I’ve discovered a maneuver — which I won’t share — that gets you seated almost immediately provided you walk up just as a table is being cleared. An old and slightly decrepit appearance may be a factor, however, in the success of the gambit.)
I got to thinking about all this the other day while reading about the numerous spring and summer festivals in the offing around town. Why is it that getting to them and getting around in them was so much easier back in the day? Remember when you could stroll through Jazz Fest without really rubbing elbows with anybody? Who are these people?
I got the notion that things have gotten crowded since my arrival in town because there are more people living here now, despite the population losses we suffered after Katrina. Wrong! The man at the Louisiana division desk in the archives at the public library told me that we’ve dwindled from a city of 627,525 in the ‘60s to one of 360,745 in 2010. I’d no idea Orleanians were that numerous at one time The city has been shrinking for decades, even before Katrina.
Meanwhile, since I graduated from high school in 1953, the population of the United States has grown from about 160 million souls to just over 300 million by 2009. These days, it’s crowded everywhere, not just at festivals.
It’s the visitors to our city who’ve swelled our festive lifestyle. Lots of folks who want to party, New Orleans-style, are heading our way, populating hotels we didn’t have 54 years ago. The ones who drive in are clogging up our parking lots; they’re standing in food lines and in front of stages at Jazz Fest and French Quarter fest; waiting for po-boys on Oak Street; queuing up for beignets at Café du Monde; snatching beads from our grasp at Mardi Gras.
Aren’t you glad? We need and should appreciate them. Tourists mean paychecks for the local folks. Next time I go out for beignets, maybe I’ll thank them by standing at the end of the line. I’m really not too decrepit yet.
Bettye Anding is a former editor of The Times Picayune Living section, for which she wrote Silver Threads until her retirement. Email her at email@example.com.