How Dinner on the Porch Helped Me Love the South
I just celebrated my one-year anniversary of living in the South. My move here from Los Angeles — where I had spent the majority of my life — was quick, unexpected, and more than a little jarring. But I pretty much instantly fell in love with the slower pace of life here in New Orleans, the open friendliness of the people, and the feeling that the neighborhood I moved to was a real community, rather than simply a group of people living near each other.
I’m not going to lie and say I never get homesick for the city where I grew up and all the friends and family I left behind. But whenever I need a little reminder of why the place I live is so special, I just take my dinner outside and eat it on the porch.
I moved here in the searing heat of early September, when the best thing to do is stay inside as much as possible, venturing out only for trips to the swimming pool or maybe to eat snowballs. On slow walks around my new neighborhood with the dog, I noticed that nearly every front porch had a couple chairs or a swing, but they were always empty, baking under the hot sun. Suddenly in October, as the heat and humidity began to ease up, I started seeing people out on their stoops, chatting with neighbors, drinking a post-work beer, or just enjoying the cooler evening air. If they saw my husband and I walking by, they always said, “How y’all doin’?” in an easy, friendly way that I — poor city mouse! — never failed to be delighted by.
It looked so relaxing, sitting on the front porch. In Los Angeles, our front porch had been a crowded little alcove that we shared with an inconsiderate neighbor, who blasted loud music late at night and had sobbing speakerphone conversations with her ex-boyfriend outside our window. Even if we could have squeezed in a chair or two, we wouldn’t have done it.
Here, we hustled to get a little patio table and chairs and a few plants. And pretty much immediately, we started eating our dinner out on the porch as often as we could. We would pour a couple glasses of wine, dish up our dinner in the kitchen, and bring everything to our little table outside and eat slowly, watching the sun go down and our street settle into the quiet of evening.
We greeted neighbors watering their plants and strangers walking their dogs. We mused about the comings and goings of the often-drunk, always loud couple down the street. We saw the nurse who cares for the man next door hop into her boyfriend’s car, waving a goodbye our way. We spotted the gray-haired guy we call “Cool Dad,” cruising toward Magazine Street on his skateboard.
I felt a connection to the rhythms of our neighborhood and the people who live here, sitting out on the porch and eating my dinner during the cooler months of this past year. This fall it hasn’t quite gotten cool enough yet to resume our outdoor meals, but I’m looking forward to when we can.
The news this summer in my neighborhood has been more than a little frightening, with a rash of armed robberies at restaurants and bars during business hours, and car jackings in early evening hours. The impulse is to go inside as it starts to get dark, to lock up tight against the dangers outside. But I don’t want to do that because I can see that the strength of my neighborhood — this community that I am now a part of — is in the connections made between people. We get to know each other during walks around the neighborhood, in conversations over fences, and in greetings between the sidewalk and the porch. I’ll keep eating my dinner out there for as long as the weather permits. If you see me, don’t forget to say hi.