Oct 31, 201208:44 AM
Dispatches from a New Orleans Newcomer
An Ode to Go-Cups
This little cup has a lot of responsibility in New Orleans.
It’s Oct. 31, New Orleanians! Happy Halloween!
I have mixed feelings toward this particular holiday. When I was little, it was great. I loved frolicking around my neighborhood in the costume my mom made for me while I indulged on Jolly Ranchers and Tootsie Rolls. Who doesn’t like dressing up as Pocahontas and taking candy from neighbors?
When I got older, however, Halloween became a little more complicated. In middle school, I was too old for trick-or-treating. In high school, I realized candy has calories and eating piles of it is bad for you. In college, I froze my butt off when my friends and I wore skimpy costumes and decided we didn’t need to bring coats in the cold Indiana air.
But last weekend, I found a new reason to like Halloween as an adult—especially Halloween in New Orleans. On Saturday, I went with some friends to Frenchmen Street to celebrate Halloween weekend with some barhopping and people-watching. It was a fun night that included meeting Mitt Romney and Indiana Jones, exploring new bars I had never been to before and finding Brangelina’s New Orleans home.
The best part, though, came at the beginning of the evening when I discovered my latest New Orleans fascination: the go-cup.
Before I explain, let me set the scene. Chris and I got a little lost on our way to Frenchmen Street, so we were late meeting our friends. When we finally arrived, we met everyone outside the bar, since they were talking about moving to a different venue. Chris and I decided we each wanted a beer before we went to our next destination, so we walked inside to buy something. I was in charge of the ordering, but it was loud, so I couldn’t hear what Chris wanted. I decided to order a bottle of Newcastle Brown Ale for each of us.
“What did you get?” Chris asked me.
“Newcastles,” I replied.
“Oh. Did you get them in glass bottles?”
That was my rookie mistake. Chris told me we can’t take glass outside, and I knew that, but as a new New Orleanian, I completely forgot. It actually didn’t register with me that these beers were going to be consumed on the sidewalk. I am used to ordering a drink, finishing it at the bar, then leaving. I’m not used to this “we can take it outside” business. That’s illegal in most parts of the country.
“Let’s just risk it,” I said, and I led him out of the bar back to our friends, holding the beer bottles low so the bouncer wouldn’t see.
We didn’t make it very far before one of my friends stopped us. “Oh guys, you can’t do that here,” she said. She quickly directed us back to the door and showed us a long tube next to the door full of plastic cups. It reminded me of the tube of cups that sit next to a Culligan water cooler. She grabbed two cups and handed them to us .“You haven’t learned yet,” she joked.
And so there it was. The New Orleans go-cup—or the to-go cup, as I called it at the time. (Why is it called a "go-cup" and not a "to-go cup?")
I was amazed. I was even more amazed when we started walking away from the bar. This bar was actually going to let me put the beer in a plastic cup and leave the property? I could then take that cup and walk out in public without getting arrested? And then I can actually bring it into another establishment and drink it there?
Was this real life? My mind was boggled. The act of walking from one bar to another with an open drink in hand is not normal. While there are some areas in the U.S. that allow consumption of alcohol in a public place, such as Beale Street in Memphis, most cities do not allow this to happen at all, whether it’s in plastic, glass or a can.
There is one moment in my life that sticks out to me when I learned this rule. One weekend, when my parents were visiting me at college in Bloomington, Ind., we stopped to talk to some friends we ran into outside of a nice restaurant. While we were talking, a man and a woman walked out of the restaurant, each holding a glass of wine.
“Oh, excuse me sir,” we heard the restaurant’s hostess say as they walked out. “You can’t bring that outside.” The couple nodded but surreptitiously ignored her and continued to walk down the street with their wine glasses. My mom, a public school teacher, had been watching this exchange and she excused herself from our own conversation to scold this couple in her teacher voice. “Excuse me,” my mom said to them, as she stopped them on the sidewalk. “The hostess just said you cannot bring your wine outside.”
At the time, I was mortified because I hated it when my mom felt the need to scold random people like she did to kids in her classroom, but now I know that she was trying to protect this poor little hostess from the rule-breakers. Seeing these people walking outside with open alcohol in their hands was not allowed, and my mom felt bad for the hostess who was only doing her job. She could get in trouble. Yes, the man and woman were drinking from something made of glass, which wouldn’t be allowed in New Orleans either, but it was more the fact that they were openly drinking alcohol freely on the street. That was not okay. What were they thinking?
And this was in a college town, which is known for having lots of bars and lots of tailgating, as most big state schools' college towns are. But everyone there knows you finish your drink at the bar or in the designated tailgating section. You can’t carry an alcoholic beverage from place to place. You can maybe sneak it on gameday, but that's only for the risk-takers. Even if there is a lot of nightlife, you would never bring a drink from one bar to the next. Everyone knows that.
But in New Orleans, everyone knows the opposite. Everyone knows you can have alcohol if you’re outside as long as it’s in a plastic cup and you can’t be driving. (Drinking and driving is bad everywhere, folks!) This seems to be another one of those “only in New Orleans” things. Fleurty Girl has a T-shirt for it. A few New Orleans natives even made a business out of the "'go-cup' culture." The go-cup is just one more item to add to my long list of characteristics that set New Orleans apart from the rest of the U.S.
So on this particular Halloween, New Orleanians, enjoy your go-cups. You don't know how good you've got it.