Hansen's Sno Bliz is the iconic snowball stand in the City. If you live outside New Orleans, you might think I mean Sno-cone. You would be mistaken. These creations are lovingly made from the finest hand-hewn ice shavings on the planet, and are adorned with the sweetest and finest of homemade flavors (I said homemade, not natural), like Cream of Almond, and Orangeade, and the mysterious Snobliz flavor itself. And, behind the creation are three generations of the Hansen family, lately in the form of Ashley, "the granddaughter."
For years, my personal ritual has been to arrive at the stand about fifteen minutes before closing, sometimes with friends, sometimes alone, and try to get the last snowball of the day. Along with this treat came the sometime responsibility of closing up the front door, and allowing customers out, one-by-one, until no more remained, in club-bouncer style. The whole time, I'd be shooting the breeze with Ashley and, in years past, with the other family members running the stand. Eventually, it would just be us, and I'd eat my snowball there in the stand while the family cleaned up.
More recently, that ritual has been broken. In fact, I've only been into the stand a couple of times this season. Mostly due to a grossly inflexible schedule... But, in some part because Ashley's life and my life have moved on to a degree, and there's just not the closeness I once enjoyed.
So, lately I've not been the doorman. And, lately I've not been there when the last customer was in the stand. And I wasn't there last Friday.
The man had waited in line, patiently (you always wait at Hansen's... it's the way of the world), then ordered a snowball. Ashley made it, cheerfully, I imagine. She and her family are known for their incredible congeniality, no matter when you walk in, right through to closing the doors each day. Only after he took the snowball did the gun appear.
With a gun pressed into her stomach, Ashley was forced to surrender all of the stand's take for the day. (A take that is substantial, but arguably not enough to warrant a container stronger than the traditional cigar box). The man disappeared out the door, leaving Ashley physically unharmed, through the crowd of people who were still standing around enjoying their snowballs.
Nobody saw a thing.
I can only imagine that Ashley's a good bit shaken up, with thousands of questions, doubts and what-ifs running though her head. As for me... I'm just mad. Mad at someone who would take advantage of her complete kindheartedness and innocence. And, I'm mad at me for not being there. (I kid myself into thinking there's something I could have done.)
Days later, I don't know what she'll do about the stand. A detail police officer for security is likely to cost a significant portion of what the stand does in revenue, and the on-duty patrol is very clearly not enough. I don't expect she'll continue with no protection. I wouldn't.
The stand has been a labor of love for the family for years, not sustained for the profit, but for the sheer joy of pleasing its generations of patrons from everywhere in the world. And that's perhaps the biggest tragedy here. The stand wasn't just robbed of its money... It was robbed of its joy.