When I was first living in the French Quarter, many people would chat with me (especially old people), and ask me questions or share life advice. When this happened, I’d usually be out aimlessly riding a bike or rolling around on a skateboard just for the noise of it at what was at that time the derelict courthouse on Royal Street.
Just as often, I’d be sitting on the laundromat stoop on Burgundy for no apparent reason (full disclosure:I was a teenager.) There, you could watch people doing what has become an intimate task in the modern world. There, you could share news or tips for clean clothes or just eye each other and take note.
I thought I was invisible to the passersby but it turns out I was anything but. I wish I had pictures of myself from back then but then again maybe I’m glad I don’t; I was a scruffy, mid-sized, cigarette-smoking, American kid, one with serious anti-authority issues and a smart mouth who thought books were the best friends possible. Actually, meeting me now would not surprise you if you follow this description. Except for the smoking, but just substitute coffee or cocktail-wielding.
So, when the old people would beckon me to their stoop or stop me with a question, I was always startled. However, I did have a Southern mother and back then grandparents and even a great-grandmother, and therefore, had recent instruction on how to not be rude. So even though startled, I would go over to answer their questions or just listen to what they had to say.
One of those folks was a worker who washed stoops and sidewalks and did errands on Burgundy and who seemed very old. It is my memory that his name was George, but often I miss people’s names and then spend months trying to uncover the right name. I hope his name was George, but in any case I can see his face and hear his voice still, which seems more important.
So George would always stop his work and shake my hand very firmly and say,” Hello St. Philip” as that was where I lived then and the subject that had begun our conversation. He also lived on St. Philip but as he said, “I live on a part of it you ain’t ever seen” which was true back then.
George would always ask me if I had heard about any work, often ending his request with a shake of his head and “Girl, to make it in this world, you gotta have a job, a gig and a hustle.”
I immediately took that as my mantra for my work life but only recently began to share it with my friends and neighbors and found that it sparked a lot of good discussion about the nature of work and the nature of success and the struggle that many of us have to balance material and non-material needs. I know that in a place like New Orleans which relies almost entirely on the visitor economy (tourists, film etc) and has very few full-time employers, this seems especially true. I have asked some of my friends to begin this by sharing their version of a job a gig and a hustle here and will expand to other voices after that. I will say that I have my definition of those three terms and understand that others will have theirs and that’s fine. Besides those stories, I’ll also post analysis and criticism on the things that make up this sort of life: sharing networks, gift and barter economies, nomadic lifestyles, tiny houses, the underground or “illegal” economy,independent contractor rules, the world of government benefits, and so on. Please leave your comments as they occur to you and send a message to me if you want to participate.