No News, No Power, No Way


New Orleans  This is the way pre-industrial societies and social networks operate.

Somehow I opened in the darkness with the generator roaring, doors flung wide open, and by the light of a flashlight at 630 AM telling folks at Fair Grinds Coffeehouse that I had lots of choices.  I had “hot coffee” and I had “hot coffee.”  I had medium roast fairtrade Guatemalan or, yeah, you get it, “medium roast fairtrade Guatemalan.”  I started selling large and small coffees, but before long on a 40+ brewing cycle as the line got longer, I only sold small.  Eventually during the brewing cycle I sold “iced” coffee without the ice (later we got ice around 10 AM, but I had sold 3 or 4 gallons without ice).  I could offer cold bagels with no toaster or great cranberry oat bars we had found in the frig.  Our muffin man showed up about 8AM out of nowhere and asked if I wanted muffins, and, yes, indeed, I did, and sold them hot right out of the Tupperware from the counter.   And, people loved it, and I lost count of the number of folks who told me it had two, three or four days since they had a cup of coffee or the thanks for opening the door and being there.  A couple of the leaders of the Fair Grinds community produced a huge fan and canvassed an extra extension cord, so there was even a breeze somewhere out there.  I wouldn’t know by 530 AM, I was wringing wet and that didn’t change until I walked out at 1130 am to go and find more gas for the generator.  Lucky a wide coffee bar separated us!

It was interesting though how many people asked what we were “hearing” about power coming back on in the neighborhood.  We were a listening post.  We were reading smoke signals.  We really knew nothing, but we were passing on snippets of information.  An EMS worker had seen power trucks on Esplanade.  A cop had come in and thought it would happen today.  Someone had power a block over.  We all knew the French Quarter had power.  Never lost it.  We would hear a rumor that good parts of Uptown had power, but then someone would come in and say, nah, only around Tulane University.   The main room was a cacophony of conversation rising to climb over the din of the generator.

There was no internet.  People would plug their phones into the power strip I had connected to the generator.  Everyone coming in from the confusion, feeling lucky it wasn’t worse, but also trying to piece together what it might take to bring things back to normal, as they knew it.

Operating as a community center and a community service, the coffeehouse, like the first ones in London and elsewhere became a place where news was exchanged and created, where information was direct and traded.   It was hard not to stand there for a second and think, “damn, we’re doing a good thing here today!”