National Geographic : 1995 Jan
Some old working-class white neighbor hoods are home to the "Yats." Through some linguistic quirk, the Yats talk as if they lived in Brooklyn, perhaps because of the similar com bination of immigrants-Irish, Italian, Ger man, Caribbean. "Where y'at?" (Where are you at?) means "How are you?" Several years ago, in the Mid City neigh borhood, a proper young Yat named John Blancher couldn't figure out what to do with his life. He had a strong faith, so he made a pil grimage to Medjugorje, Bosnia-Herzegovina, where the Virgin Mary is said to appear. "I didn't see an apparition," Blancher tells me, "but I wrote a petition saying, 'Give me some thing I can do with my whole family.' Three weeks later, someone asked me if I wanted to buy a bowling alley." Blancher took it as a sign. He bought the Mid City Lanes from the Knights of Colum bus, hung up a portrait of Mary, and painted the alley Blessed Mother blue. Blancher soon turned the lanes into a New Orleans institution-Rock 'n Bowl-a combi nation bowling alley and nightclub, featuring blues and zydeco bands and 18 lanes of equal opportunity bowling. Monday night is gay league, Tuesday is yuppies, Wednesday is a cadre of deputy sheriffs, and on Thursday a league of mentally disabled people. I arrive on Thursday night for zydeco, the rollicking black counterpart to Cajun music, played with an accordion and a frottoir, or washboard, worn on the chest and scraped with a spoon. By eight o'clock the disabled bowlers are gone, and a busload of rosy Tulane sorority girls rolls in. By nine, Rockin' Dop sie's zydeco band has set up, bringing in a mixed-race crowd. A brave woman, Evelyn Estes, drags me to the floor for a rousing two-step. "I had four monks here from Nepal-in their saffron robes," Blancher says. "Wanted to know if they could bowl barefoot. I said, sure! I wanted to put out an ad: 'When people are in search of the truth, go where the Bud dhist monks go-to the Rock 'n Bowl.' " Catholicism is blamed and credited for much of what goes on in New Orleans. A bogus pope, Lionel Alphonso of Chalmette, dresses as the pontiff to incite the crowd at Saints football games at the Superdome. "It started when the pope came to New Orleans," Alphonso tells me. "And now, if I don't wear the costume, the fans get mad." But Catholicism's greater claim would be Mardi Gras, literally "Fat Tuesday," the holiday before Ash Wednesday, born of the pagan rituals of spring and celebrated in New Orleans with much relish and deep tradition.