AB's car had broken down, again. In fact, everyone's car had broken down. In the final couple weeks at my job, every single person in the office, except our boss, at one time lost the use of their vehicles for one reason or another.
Luckily, TC was still at the office working after hours, Everyone did there. We walked in to the cinder block building and sat down in the cool air. TC consulted his watch. "Where do you need to go?"
"To my place. It's in the Irish Channel," AB said.
"Oh, that's great. I have to be Uptown, so I can just drop you guys off and go right to the meeting," TC started to shut down his computer and gather up his manila files and plastic binders.
"Do you have to meet a client?" I asked.
"No," T said. He bowed his head sheepishly. "Happy hour."
We went to his car and I sat in the passenger's seat and AB in the back. Inside, before we opened the windows, it was an oven. How did people in Louisiana survive before air conditioning? All the old pictures of politicians and gentlemen, ladies, business people with their layers of wool and elaborate fabrics smothering them, temperatures rising to unbearable levels to generations raised in shorts and central AC.
People, they say down there, have figured out ways of escaping the heat. The high ceilings are one method. All the heat rises so that your surrounded by relatively cool air. Shade, too. You learn how to find shade in the South. Nothing much gets done. Everyone admits defeat for a few months and waits until October, when the oysters are good.
Pulling out of the drive and onto the long road leading from the Parish back to Orleans, Judge Perez, TC asked me about my plans.
"Don't have any right now, really. I'm applying for jobs and waiting to hear back from Tulane. If they give me a job, I'll stay. If they don't, I'm going back north." This is more or less what I told everyone verbatim in the second to last week I spent in New Orleans.
"I hope you get it," TC said.
"So do I," AB said.
We talked about job prospects and whether we would stay in New Orleans or not. Both AB and TC intended to stay another year. TC wasn't sure if he'd stay where he was, but AB wanted to find a case management job, which is what she'd gone to school to do in the first place.
"What if you can't find a job?" TC asked. "Do you have a back-up plan? Can you stay with family?"
"I can," I said. "I mean, I want a job and an apartment and it makes me nervous that I haven't found anything yet."
"That's good, though," TC said. "You're lucky. I know some people who don't even have that. They live pay check to pay check and some of them are even helping their parents out. If someone can't come up with a couple hundred dollars that month, then everyone's screwed."
"Yeah, I am lucky," I said.
"We all never really know how lucky we are," said AB, looking out the window at a two story building with a partially collapsed roof and vines growing out between the slats in faded and peeling shutters.
"I won't starve and I won't be homeless," I said. "That's more than a lot of people have."
Sitting in IB's living room with CS one night talking about jobs, CS said, "I tried and I'm still trying to find case management work, but I just can't find anything. No one calls me back. I have experience. I even had a master's degree. And I work on projects and volunteer all the time. It occurred to me the other day that I'm lucky to be a petty cab driver..."
TC asked me if I'd do AmeriCorps again.
"Not if I can help it," I said. "I like the program. It's great for service and supporting good nonprofits that need the help. But I want something more stable. And where I'm actually earning money."
"I hear you," TC said. "I think I could do this another year, but after that I'll move on to something else."
AB said, "I may, I may not. I haven't decided."
"I promised myself," I said. We were on the I-10 elevated interstate driving through the 7th Ward and curving in to follow the unseen river toward Uptown. "That I would spend my twenties going from one to two year obligations from one to the next. But I'm already sick of that. I want stability and I think I'm ready for it."
"You have to do what's good for you," said TC.
"But, isn't it arrogant?" I asked. "What privilege I have that I feel like I can choose to get a stable, salaried position and move wherever I want to? And can I really? That's what I've been told my whole life. That it's just a matter of trying."
"Last summer," said AB, "I applied for everything I could and eventually just needed a job. So I applied for waitressing and bartending jobs figuring that I could at least get that, but I couldn't. And, I mean, I have experience. I've worked as a waitress and a bartender for years and nobody even called me back. There are no jobs out there. None."
"I miss working in a coffee shop, actually," I said, "But I don't feel like I can go back to that if I ever want to get out it."
"I know," said TC, "It was great being able to leave work at work."
"And the tips," AB said. "And people are made to feel that not wanting more than that isn't right. That what they want isn't worthy."
"Yeah," said TC. "I mean, my grand father worked every day of his life from the age of eighteen. He got married and had kids at nineteen and got a house and that was enough for him. I sometimes wonder why that isn't enough for me."
"Maybe it was enough for him. But that shouldn't mean that you need to live the same way."
TC pulled up to AB's house. "Good talk," TC said. "Good talk, you guys. Have a good night."