If you ever get stuck in a long grocery store line with a New Orleanian, you’ll end up hearing what they’re late for, why they needed that extra pound of butter and whether they prefer Rouses to Winn-Dixie (or the other way around) before you’ve even loaded your own items onto the conveyor belt.
This chronic over-sharing is one of my favorite things about this city — and it probably goes a long way in explaining how my family communicates. (We have at least four different versions of a family text message going at any given time.) And, it turns out, we never lose the urge to keep talking.
After publishing a story last week about a couple researchers who are investigating why and how the accent we most associate with New Orleans — Yat — is disappearing, I got a phone call from a Gentilly native, who found it particularly disheartening. The man now lives in a small town outside Houston, where he moved a few years ago after rising housing costs here came at the same time his step-daughter attended school in Texas.
“I’m from New Orleans, went to grammar school, junior high in Gentilly, and moved to Biloxi then came back to New Orleans to work for Shell,” Schultz said, starting in on a 90-second or so voicemail, during which I learned how proud he is of his Yat accent which persists even through a speech impediment. I also learned he’s teaching his great grand-daughter to say “Where y’at?’ and that he jokes around with his local grocery story attendants about how he’s “making groceries.”
“Have a good night, dawlin,” he said, in closing.
I called him back and we talked for nearly 12 minutes before I had to interrupt him.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “But what’s your name?”
His name is Howard Schultz, and he’s just a guy who loves New Orleans. He loves getting to say he’s from this city, and he loves all his memories of growing up here.
He wanted me to know he remembers the sound a frog would make at Schwegmann’s, when he would pick out a live one and the attendants would butcher it while he finished shopping. He talked about the Hub Hobby Shop before it moved out to Airline Highway, where on one visit as a child, the shopkeeper gave him his money back for a broken racecar part so he could take the bus home to Gentilly. He said he won’t eat any snowball that doesn’t come out of a machine from New Orleans. He loves listening to the oldies on WTIX, and he’s glad his daughter had a chance to see Pontchartrain Beach, now that it ain’t dere no more.
Schultz, who was a geological draughtsman for Shell, was one of the first people to clock in at One Shell Square. He also once moonlighted as a cemetery tour guide at St. Louis No. 1.
“That’s where they filmed ‘Easy Rider,'” he said.
Now Schultz, who turns 71 next month, said he’s got a lot of time on his hands between his morning swims, so he’s turned to making train tables for a hobby. Some of the expansive tables, he said, are recreations of local New Orleans scenes.
Eventually, our conversation slows, but though Schultz tells me he “could keep on talking,” he makes just one last statement:
“I’m proud to say I’m from New Awlinz,” he said. “Have a great day, baby.”