Living in New Orleans, most rideshares I take last around fifteen to twenty minutes. In a city that loves small talk, that gives just enough time to capture a small, memorable anecdote from my Uber or Lyft driver before they drop me off at my destination. What starts as a polite greeting usually evolves into a brief city tour, a game of fun facts about New Orleans, or a unique life story. Sometimes there are drivers with so much character that I remember them more than my destination. The people of New Orleans make the city rich in culture, and these brief interactions offer a deeper understanding of the Big Easy.
The resilient spirit of New Orleans seeps through its residents, which becomes apparent after a few minutes of small talk. I remember riding in one of my first Ubers here as a freshman. Unfamiliar with the city, and anxious about navigating through it while also dodging Covid, I asked the driver how life in New Orleans had been during the pandemic. He looked at me through the mirror and said, “It’s not looking great right now, but you better believe this whole city’s gonna have a party once this thing is over.” That sentiment settled my nerves as I knew we were embarking on an intimidatingly isolating school year. The conversation introduced me to the community feeling of New Orleans. When the “unprecedented” occurs, New Orleanians reach out to one another to get through it. I remembered this again while being picked up from the airport, returning after Hurricane Ida. My driver Ricky, who runs a personal shuttle business, had stayed in the city through the Hurricane. I asked him about his experience over the previous few weeks, and he said that he had gotten up at 4:00 AM for about a week following the storm to drive people to the airport. Another driver I talked to post-Ida explained that he drove around his neighborhood offering sand bags to his neighbors before the storm. These stories speak to the profound commitment to community in New Orleans.
The best way to learn about New Orleans is through its people. One of my favorite interactions took place in my Uber driver Jerome’s car. Jerome’s vibrant jazz music set the tone for the ride. Mardi Gras 2021 had just come and gone, anticlimactically. When I told him that I had never experienced the infamous event, he shared how his family celebrates: they dress up to watch the parades on St. Charles on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. They rest on Monday, to make sure that they will be ready for the big finale on Tuesday. He went on to talk about the formal Mardi Gras balls that take place around the city, and while he’s never been to one, hopes to someday. While understandably devastated by the lack of traditional celebration, Jerome kept talking about his big plans for the years ahead. As we approached my drop-off point, which was downtown for dinner, Jerome offered more advice. I had known him for fifteen minutes, yet his tone reminded me of a concerned parent. He reminded me to stay alert, avoid dark areas, and to only walk around the city in large groups, especially at night. He then handed me a business card, saying that he offers rides at all hours, and that if I am ever in an emergency, I should call him. That card still sits in my wallet, and it reminds me of his positive approach to everything, which is so inherently New Orleanian. I could find any of his advice in a blog post or tourism catalog, but his enthusiasm and personal experience could never be emulated. One driver I had was a former school history teacher, and he asked my friend and me trivia questions about New Orleans from Metairie all the way to Uptown. I will always have more to learn about New Orleans, and these interactions introduce me to new aspects of the city, first-hand from experts.
Rideshare drivers, waiters, clerks, and other people I interact with for just a few moments contribute to my experiences in New Orleans more than I ever anticipated. I take drivers’ recommendations seriously because they are usually accompanied by personal experiences and memories. Whether it is practical advice, such as how to stay safe around the city, tips about the most authentic Creole restaurants, or simply memorable encounters, every anecdote teaches me more about New Orleans culture. While it may seem pointless to strike up a conversation that will only last a few minutes, the city’s personality comes from its people, and these interactions offer long-lasting memories.
Cover Image: Creative Commons