Since early March we have all become accustomed to — and perhaps cynical of — phrases like “the new normal” and “these uncertain times.” Nothing quite describes what so many of us are experiencing, this constant hum of anxiety and powerlessness.
In contrast, we also see celebrations of creativity, of learning a new skill or reinventing yourself. But even this encouragement exhibits problems, as for many these past months have simply been about trying to keep it together, a constant struggle to preserve their sanity and well-being.
There are so many ways we describe the pandemic experience and so many ways we have responded, but there is one movement I have seen in neighborhoods that has not only captured my attention, but as of late, drawn my family in.
Early this summer, my wife discovered The Little Copa — fresh fruit daiquiris prepared right in our neighborhood, the Irish Channel. Over the months we have seen a steady stream of people pass through, all looking for a delicious relief courtesy of our neighbor.
We then experienced in Mid-City, now operating out of Coffee Science, fresh bagels from Flour Moon Bagels. Lucy Boone lit up our Instagram feed with beautiful images of homemade ice cream. One after the other, we discovered a litany of locally made fresh products, as varied as the neighborhoods they reside in.
I asked some of the folks I knew doing pop-ups why they did it.
Christy at The Little Copa: “The Little Copa was an idea I had long before the pandemic. The idea was to have a mobile cocktail truck. After losing my job in the film industry and a couple months into the pandemic, I decided it was at least a good time to test it out from my house.
“I love the freedom of making my own schedule, and my kitchen has always been a creative outlet for me. I have also found joy in getting to know more of my neighbors than ever and feeling like more of a part of my community.”
Lucy Boone: “We love making ice cream because it brings people happiness and brings people together. Growing up ice cream was a treat, we like bringing back that memory of getting excited for an ice cream treat.”
Flour Moon: “I grew up in Connecticut and went to college in New York, so bagels were a lifestyle. I’m very passionate about a properly made bagel, and I’ve yet to find one in New Orleans. I really enjoy the long, but satisfying, process of making bagels from start to finish.”
I love cold brew. I make way too much and consume far too much more. After seeing all these pop-ups, I jokingly said to my wife that I should start serving cold brew out of the house. By the end of the day, she convinced me to purchase a few dozen quarts and cups, some straws, and expand my capacity for brewing.
By the following Saturday we had a name, I C Coffee, we produced five gallons of coffee, and we sent as much out the door, all while our infant son rolled around out front with his toys. It was during that beautiful Saturday, after we wrapped up our 8 a.m. to noon “open hours,” that I believe I really understood the impulse to do these neighborhood pop-ups.
During this whole process, I had a singular objective: To make quality coffee for everyone who passed by my house. I wanted to make something I was proud of, but more importantly, I wanted a little control and structure in my life. Every day I was looking up containers, cups, straws, and most importantly, beans.
My wife and I built an Instagram account and created a shared folder where we began amassing photos and videos of the process and final product. We laughed at our own jokes and posts, patted ourselves on the back when we snapped a particularly nice photo, all the while making sure we included our 7-pound Yorkie, Thor, whenever possible.
The experience, to put it simply, was incredibly cathartic. I felt more in control and suddenly the blended hours since March felt like whole, complete days again.
Ten years from now I do not know if I will be enjoying the same fresh bagels, sipping the same fresh fruit daiquiris, or sharing the Lucy Boone’s delicious ice cream with my son, but for me, that is not really the point. It is not about asking “what is the new normal?” What matters to me, right now, is that every Saturday, from 8 a.m. to noon, I get to enjoy four hours of sharing something I care about with my friends and family, with my local community, and in those hours I feel something close to normal.
Greg Tilton is co-founder and cinematographer at inDEPTH Media and producer of the “Rumor Files” and “Jacks of Trades” podcasts. He produces “We’ll Be Right Back: The Future of Hospitality” along with Barrie Schwartz of My House Events and Elizabeth Tilton of Oyster Sunday.