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Where Y’Eat: At the crawfish boil, a cell phone sanctuary

Boiled seafood is a tradition in Louisiana with many of its own rituals.
Ian McNulty
Boiled seafood is a tradition in Louisiana with many of its own rituals.

Making a good run at a crawfish boil is a two-fisted effort that might even require some juggling. There's the twisting, pinching and peeling, the sorting and rummaging for sides and the concurrent demands of beverage management. 

That also makes the crawfish boil one of the increasingly rare aspects of modern life that remains cell phone free.

All right, maybe make that “modern Louisiana life.” But still, the incompatibility of our crawfish compulsion and our cell phone fixation comes through with five-bar clarity at any backyard boil or seafood restaurant where people get after the stuff with gusto.

We have actively accommodated our devices into just about every other corner of the day. Wherever you look, it’s heads bent, phones out and screens glowing with what we need to do, what we want and what others want from us. I’m hardly one to wag a critical finger about this. Mine are busy pecking away just like everyone else.

But next time a cache of boiled crawfish hits the table, take a look around. Hands are busy turning a ridge of crawfish into a field of spent shells and people are socializing face to face, or at least elbow to elbow. Phones stay in pockets and purses, even if they beep, buzz and bleat for your attention.

Of all the responses a crawfish boil will conjure, restraint does not usually top the list. But in this case, resisting the phone comes by necessity.

Our focus is on the feast while it’s hot, and more to the point, we go wrist-deep into the dripping, spicy slurry of the boil. Just look at that beverage you brought to the table, all spotted with boil-red fingerprints and stray antennae. This is no place for a delicate digital device.

And by the way, that drink is looking a bit light, you’d better grab another. Now that you have a fresh one, raise a toast to the way crawfish enforce a cell phone cease fire.

It’s a temporary one to be sure, lasting only as long as you keep your hands caked in crawfish boil gunk. But while it lasts, what a valuable perspective we get from the humble mudbug.

So what if the phone makes noise? Is it worth breaking the ritualistic rhythm of peel-eat-and-sip? Is it more important than your spot at the table, and your angle on that seam of boiled mushrooms and sausage you just uncovered, still hot beneath the upper shells? 

Maybe it’s urgent. But you know perfectly well it’s probably just a text that can wait, an email you don’t need, something or other on social media or breaking news that has absolutely nothing to do with crawfish.

Eventually, the crawfish will run out, you’ll need a breather, your fingers will finally pucker. It’s time to wash up. And that’s it, the spell is broken, and all those red dots and notifications on your screen are still there.

As technology seeps deeper into our lives, there’s a cottage industry of advice out there on how to be more present. You can even look up solutions on your phone. Or, you can just go to a Louisiana crawfish boil, start eating and realize that the answer is in your hands.

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