You know, sometimes I think we’re only here, in this crazy love affair we call “life,” to find our way home. Whether we’re idling at a traffic light, gazing with familiarity at the mighty Mississippi, twirling across a dance floor or rising up in our church pews, we’re all — all of us — on a journey “home”… to that place where we know and we are known.
It has been said that most of us die in the middle of that journey. And then, there’s Miles.
I met Miles at Lahan’s, my corner store, this past Saturday morning. Both of us were hungry. He for pancakes with a side of bacon, me for a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich. As we waited for the cook to whip up the cure we sought at that moment, Miles and I started talking.
“Beautiful morning,” I said. “Not too hot out there yet.”
“Nah,” he answered. “Already been a long one for me. I drove in from Houston.”
“When’d ya get here?”
“Just now.” (It was about 8:30 a.m.)
Miles went on to explain that he drove in to work construction on a rebuild off Claiborne in the Lower Ninth.
“When the weather’s good, I work. When it’s cold, I read a book,” he explained.
“They don’t have jobs in Houston?” I asked with a grin.
Out-grinning me, Miles said, “They got plenty in Houston. I just don’t want nothing to do with any of it.”
Miles went on to explain that he was from New Orleans. West Bank. Along the way, he met a woman, got married, and settled down. Still on the West Bank. Then Hurricane Katrina hit, the levees failed, and Miles and his wife fled a government’s incompetence for Houston.
“You like it there?” I asked as the bacon crackled and our eyes brightened.
“Hmmmphhh. You see where I’m standing?”
Miles had a problem with Houston. Actually, he had several.
“Their shrimp are pink. Now, what the hell am I supposed to do with pink shrimp? Shrimp are brown with a stripe down the back.”
“I tell people I can’t eat their food. My wife and her family, they tell me I talk too much. I’m too outspoken. I say, ‘I’m from New Orleans.’ We talk. We got a problem, we go outside and talk over a beer. We’re happy, we go outside and have a beer.”
Then he got serious.
“And you know something else? You and me? We wouldn’t talk in Houston. You know why? Cuz I’m black and you’re white. Man, I tell ya. There are places I won’t go in. My wife, she tells me I’m crazy. That I’m making $%&* up. I tell her I see how people in some places there look at black men. I’m not going there. We don’t have that in New Orleans. There ain’t races here, man. There’s one race: New Orleans. That’s what we see. It’s not about color. It’s about whether you’re from here or not.”
“I hear ya, Miles. I hear ya,” I said, patting his back. “How long ya here?” I asked as the cook scrawled $3.99 on Miles’s Styrofoam container (which will be spending the next 4 million years in a landfill) and $2.99 on mine.
“I’m here, man. I’m not leaving again,” he said before lowering his voice to add, “I left my wife this morning. She’s a good woman and all, but I can’t do Houston no more. It’s been too long. Got in the truck about 3 this morning and left.”
With that, Miles and I shook hands and he headed for the cash register, four singles already in his hand.
As I walked outside, I saw Miles on the corner to my left. Leaning against his red and silver truck, holding the Styrofoam container in his left hand, Miles was digging into his pancakes with all the gusto the tiny plastic fork in his right hand would tolerate. The sun’s rays surrounded him as his mouth chewed and his eyes gazed down St. Philip toward the river.
Yes. We’re all here to find our way home.
Some of us actually make it.
Brett Will Taylor is a southern Shaman who writes Love: NOLA weekly for NolaVie. Visit his site at ashamansjourney.net.