I started touring through New Orleans almost 10 years ago, playing clubs like One Eyed Jacks, House of Blues and Tipitina’s. Most of my experience of the city has been nocturnal. If I spliced all my waking hours in New Orleans onto a continuous reel, it would play like footage from an Arctic observatory in winter: 20-some hours of darkness, then a paltry bit of daylight before the next 20-hour night.
This time I didn’t have a gig. I wanted to see what the place looked like open, with kids and commuters, sun and sober pedestrians. I wanted to select my own meals and eat them sitting down, in a chair without a seatbelt.
Hawaii is notoriously nice, and unremitting niceness is what I do not want out of a vacation. This is because I’m cheap. I want a maximum memory harvest for my travel dollar, and a trip rarely sticks in my long-term storage cache without the sharp edges of mishap and discomfort to snag on. I do not, for example, remember nice meals I have eaten so clearly as the wet duckling I disgorged on a street in the Philippines, and the delight this brought the locals. I cannot recall the nice hotels I’ve stayed in half so well as the New Zealand jungle cabin where I inadvertently slept on the rotting carcass of a rat and woke up with a heart murmur.
But in a political moment so well supplied with nastiness, I don’t need to bunk with carrion. Give me a slack-keyed, macadamia-dusted holiday where things are pretty and people are smiling, if only because it’s in their job description. In a gesture of spiritual surrender, I have booked a five-day stay in the Hawaiian Islands with no greater hope for the voyage than that it may be merely nice.
Being a regular isn’t necessarily easy. It requires unwavering commitment and physical effort. A neighborhood restaurant is a convenience; a restaurant where you’re a regular is a compass. At first, getting to Bianca was a breeze — either by subway, when I lived at 50th Street and Second Avenue, or by foot, when I moved into a shoebox studio near New York University. Things got more difficult when I decamped to Princeton, NJ for two years for my first job as an editor — what was once walking distance became a trek involving a car, two New Jersey Transit trains, and two subways. When I moved back to the city, the downtown-bound B or D from Columbus Circle was quick and painless, as was the ride on the Manhattan-bound F from Downtown Brooklyn. Then, in 2010, when I was hired to launch the national edition of Curbed, Eater’s sister site, I was just as excited about the office’s location — five blocks due north of Bianca — as I was about the promise of a new professional challenge.
The best thing about being a regular, especially in a city that values exceptionalism, is that it allows you to be regular. You can embrace a truly unexceptional set of goals: show up, be nice, tip well. Whether you’re wearing gym clothes or a miniskirt, it doesn’t matter, because you are just a regular person. Cry at the table if something has made you sad, because regular people cry when they’re sad, or cackle loudly at a joke, even if your voice carries across the room, because regular people laugh when something’s funny. As a regular, you don’t need to put on airs; you can forgo the theatrical mannerisms of dining out — composure, anonymity, restraint — and just be yourself.
I’ve taken to reading old media criticism about television, the earlier and more hysterical the better. It helps me in gauging how much hysteria is in my assessment of social media. Any new medium seems to prompt similar fears, similar predictions of widespread dehumanization and authoritarian control, and who is to say they have been wrong? Much of what I mistake to be novel about social media is just an extension of aspects that critics had perceived about TV: the greater sense of intimacy and of participation that blurs and erodes traditional borders between work and leisure, public and private; the sense that “real” things are being rendered indistinguishable from their images or representations; the elitist fear that people are being widely stupified and rendered into witless automatons. No puppet. No puppet. You’re the puppet.
For all of its existential searching, “Edgar and Lucy” ends up being a riveting and exuberant ride, maybe best described by its young protagonist’s musings about his nascent life. “He was bound to this world by a chain of wonder,” Edgar thinks, “each link an unanswered question that surely only a long life would be able to undo. Always one had to ask: What happens next?”