I had a panic attack Tuesday afternoon.
It happened at about 5:30 while riding Boston’s Orange Line subway (or “T” as everyone calls it). I was trying to think of what to write for this week’s column and my mind was a complete blank. I broke out in a sweat and it wasn’t just because when you ride the Orange Line to Forest Hills at 5:30 you experience your fellow travelers in a manner more intimate than a TSA screening.
No. I was sweating because I had no New Orleans story to tell.
How could I? I was in Boston! The land of averted eyes, furrowed brows, and downward gazes.
People don’t talk to each other in Boston. And it’s not because they’re rude. It’s because they’re too busy thinking about what’s next. What they’re going to cook for dinner. What they’re going to say at tomorrow’s big meeting. Who the next Red Sox manager will be.
Bostonians have to live this way because, in Boston, there is never enough time. You have to calculate your every next move in order to improve your odds at experiencing it efficiently. So you can go on to the move after that! Such calculating and plotting and planning leaves little room for chats with your T seatmate or even a simple “good evening” to the neighbors you see on your walk home. There just isn’t….time.
Of course, New Orleans does not have this problem. Here, we just ignore time altogether!
Anyway, on Tuesday night, I was trapped in a sea of heads-down, silent sardines on a subway. A million miles from the place I now call home. The place called New Orleans.
Since no one talks to each other in Boston, I figured I’d put on my headphones, listen to some music and try to forget the fact that I had no story. Turns out the music was Kristin Diable’s latest, “Kristin Diable and The City”, recorded it at her apartment in the Pontalba. Somewhere between the Mass Ave. and Roxbury Crossing T stops, the song called “I’ve Been Searching” came on.
30 seconds in and my foot was tapping. 70 seconds and my shoulders started swaying. By the time Kristin sang, “good lord willing and the creeks don’t rise, I’ll walk with you straight to the end of time,” I had a huge smile on my face as I looked up to the heavens (or, in this case, the roof of the subway).
I had my story.
It goes like this: New Orleans is much, much more than a place. She’s a Spirit. And, her Spirit travels everywhere. It’s so strong that it can swamp and overwhelm just about any place…if you let her. Or need her.
And Tuesday night, I needed her.
So, there she was. The Spirit of New Orleans. Riding the Orange Line in Boston. With me. And my fellow sardines. Coming to me through the best way she knows: through her music.
Now, let me tell ya. I’m not sure if it was Kristin’s music or NOLA’s spirit (or if there even is an “or” there), but by the time those subway doors opened at my Stonybrook stop, baby, I half expected to hear Rebirth playing on the subway platform, to smell smoked sausages on the back of someone’s truck, and to see a daiquiri drive-through.
Alas, all I saw were averted eyes. Furrowed brows. And downed heads.
Not to be deterred, I bounded up that station escalator like it was a second line, fingers snapping and lips humming along to “Water Keeps Rising.”
And then I did something you just do not do in Boston. I opened the door leading out onto the street…and held it for my fellow travelers.
First, one passenger. Then two. Then five. Then, well, then I just stopped counting. I held the door. I smiled. I said “have a great night” (I did refrain from adding “baby” because, well, because I was filled with the Spirit, not stupidity!). I’m not sure anyone knew what to do with the held door or the smiling, speaking stranger holding it.
But I did it anyway.
Because all of us, even stressed out Boston commuters, need a little New Orleans love every now and then.