Connections Make Community – Part 1

I cherish my connections with people.  This is true to the point that I don’t know how much is normal, and how much is due to my spot on the spectrum.  I have shared in an earlier post, Not Seeing Fast Enough, how much I wanted to play baseball.  Maybe some of that was wanting friends, wanting to be on the team.  The deeper blues find their way into my soul when I think about people that I’m no longer connected to — for any reason.  I start to stew inside, muttering to myself, “What did I do wrong?  Why are they no longer around?  Are they just uncaring?”  Or the new one, since my diagnosis, “Am I that off-putting?”

Then there is New Orleans.  I spent almost 5 years there, and it was the most friendly place I’ve EVER been.  Corruption, yes, crime – even against me personally, yes; but there’s something magical about the Big Easy.  People talked to me everywhere.  People joked with me anywhere. I had never been called “Dawlin” by a complete stranger until my first full day in New Orleans.  Everyone has a story, and they would tell it to me just because I was standing there.  Unpaid entertainment from a whole city of storytellers, instant connection with people who may or may not be sharing a struggle, and the joy of animated conversation with strangers over more than just the weather – this was my life while I was there, and I loved it.  I miss the food, but I miss the “wide-open” people more.

What are the connections there that make this friendliness so pervasive?  Food?  Oppressive humidity? Hurricanes – weatherwise or the alcohol variety?  The Mardi Gras Mambo and other great jazz stomps?  On a recent trip, I think I found a clue.

Whenever we go back to visit family, we have to get po’boys.  Crunchy French bread, sloppy fillings, portions that put me under the table – just like a lot of New Orleans attributes, I haven’t found anything like them anywhere else.  DiMartino’s restaurants have great po’boys, and one of their locations is about 2 blocks from my wife’s uncle’s home on the Westbank in New Orleans. 

On one of their back walls is a painting of THE blocked punt.  Steve Gleason, during the Saints’ first game after Hurricane Katrina, blocked the Falcons’ punt. That one play changed the game, and many believe the whole season for the Saints that year. The author of Canal Street Chronicles describes the play as, “a moment that symbolized the rebirth of a city when it seemed unfathomable.”  After Katrina had hammered New Orleans to the point of almost death, the Saints breathed life into shaken, displaced, and momentarily despondent people with that play and that win in 2006.

Alvin Kamara is the MAN…I’m just the FAN.

When I moved to New Orleans in 1987, it didn’t take long for me to catch Saints fever. They had been the “Ain’ts” for a long time, but had started to turn things around that year and went to the playoffs for the first time in a long time.

There’s something about a home team that builds camaraderie in a community.  It becomes one of the common bonds between strangers – and then suddenly, no longer strangers, but connected people.

Case in point:  I had never met one of my wife’s cousins until the aforementioned visit to the Crescent City.  Her parents had more brothers and sisters than mine did; there are probably many more of her cousins that I’ve still never met!  But he and I got along fine – especially when he found out I was a Saints’ fan.  Even though we had very different dialects (New Orleanians sound more like people from the Bronx than the deep south), we now had a common language – that team.

If I see a Saints’ logo here in Virginia, I want to ask the wearer how they got here, or how they started liking the Saints. Only after learning a little about myself and my diagnosis have I paused to think – does this stranger want to be bothered by me? Usually it seems acceptable, but that is only my opinion.  Is it my lack of filters, or my hindered ability to read a social situation, that causes me to think people wearing a logo that I appreciate want to be recognized?  I love it when someone stops me to ask about my school or my favorite teams.  Maybe all sports fanatics are also a little autistic when it comes to their teams.  We “aspies” do have our enthusiasms. 

Connections make community!  I hope to explore some other areas of our community life and how they connect us – even the autism community.

Opinionated?  Definitely.  Enthusiastic about some things?  No question.  Characteristic of autism?  You tell me.  I need more data.  I feel like it’s normal, maybe even neurotypical, but I realize I often don’t get the picture until much later.  It is more fun being enthusiastic, so I’m okay being a fan.  Hope you can put up with me in the meantime.  I’ll try not to honk my horn at your bumper sticker, but I can’t make any promises.  Keep shiftin’.

Published by Bart Shoaf

Blogging about victories and challenges as a middle-aged man with a late diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder.

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