We get fan letters quite often from people outside the city who have fallen in love with New Orleans and all that it offers. We think that Dan and Paula Johnson from Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, however, have taken their love affair with New Orleans and WWOZ to a whole new level.
Dan says he has three great loves in his life: "New Orleans, public radio and my 1960 Ranchero. About the time I bought and began to fix up the car we took our first trip to New Orleans. I fell in love with your city on that trip.
"You know that smell in the Quarter on a hot sunny day? I don't need to go into the ingredients, but a bartender at Flanagan's under the Hotel Royal told us it's known as Party Gravy. That's the license plate on my wife's car."
You can't miss the Betty Page sticker on the back of the Ranchero. Dan said that there is a connection between Page and NOLA, as well. Dan says, "The first time we visited the French Market, my buddy (an architect) was admiring a Betty Page shirt on one of the tables.
He explained that as a kid he and his brother would trace the Vargas girls in Playboy, which started his love of drawing, and eventually led him toward architecture. His wife said, 'Whatever,' took the shirt out of his hands, put it back on the table and we started to walk away. I thought about it for a second, went back, bought the shirt, gave it to my buddy, and we continued on. That's why Betty is on the tailgate of the truck."
Dan also knows another side of the city. "You'll also see the 'What happens in New Orleans STAYS in New Orleans' sign. This was the logo I created for t-shirts I had made when we brought 15 people down to New Orleans for Halloween a few years ago (pre-Katrina). The model for the photo used to create the logo shall remain nameless, but I would like to thank her for nearly 30 years of marriage and two fine sons. My wife Paula loves New Orleans as much as I do."
What would New Orleans be without Mardi Gras beads? Dan has a place for them, too. Dan says, "The beads on the mirror were caught in 2008 at two of the Easter parades in the Quarter. Our sons, nephew and a few assorted relatives managed to get out of Milwaukee as a major snowstorm clobbered the region on Good Friday."
Dan's love for all things New Orleans has even created a family riff. In Wisconsin, to root for any team other than the Packers might be reason to question one's sanity. Dan remarks: "We have had Green Bay Packer tickets in our family (my Grandfather to my father to me) since 1958. When I put my Saints flag up on the pole in front of the house, my brother-in-law refused to use the front door, and walked around the back.
"While I love both teams, I tell people this: when I walk out of the Superdome, win or lose, within 15-20 minutes I'm back in the Quarter. When I walk out of Lambeau Field — the most sacred of all football stadiums — within 15-20 minutes, I'm still in Green Bay."
August of 2005 was something that changed Dan's life, as it did many people's in the region. Dan says, "We had reservations for the Hotel Royal to bring another group of folks down for Halloween 2005. We watched in horror as the storm clobbered you guys. The feeling of helplessness to be sitting up here was terrible, but nothing compared to what you were living through.
"I heard how my favorite home away from home public radio station (WWOZ) was in danger of losing their music library. I bought a large piece of black ribbon and put it across the hood of the Ranchero that fall. For Halloween our display was Hurricane Alley, a fundraiser for Katrina aid. I hired a jazz band from the high school to play on the porch, bought 50 pounds of beads, and gave them to the folks who donated. We split the money (about $1,500) between the Red Cross and Trinity Lutheran Church in Algiers." Thanks Dan and Paula, we love you, too.
Dan and Paula's house also reflects their love for the city. A repainted 1932 GE refrigerator found on a junk pile became an ode to our favorite hot sauce, and the steps to the kitchen mean that the good times are always rolling in Wisconsin.
Dan says he's not a bad cook, either. "I make a wicked Crawfish Pie. My crab/shrimp/andouille/beef gumbo will blow you away. And my 'Category Five' hurricanes are the stuff of legend in these parts." We don't know about beef in a gumbo, but all of us at WWOZ think Dan and his wife ought to take the final step and get a home — even if it is a second home — here in the city. We'd love to have him as our neighbor.