Last Autumn I took a sales trip across the South that started in New Orleans. I wrote about my stay there for Dirty Magazine (http://dirtylikestoparty.com/). It was a lot of fun and the beginning of a 10 day extravaganza of Mexican Jumping beans, An oceanside funeral, Strange times in Florida, roadside tourist stores, and alot of time in a car. After recently finishing up a 14 day sales trip across Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, and Ohio and heading back to New Orleans this week, I wanted share this piece I did and gear up for the week ahead! Enjoy……
It was a humid day in New Orleans when the plane come down fast, focused and ahead of schedule and I was feeling good about getting into the guts of this city and getting friendly with other parts of the dirty south. I was well aware that I had eleven days and around fifteen hundred miles in the rental car to see what the highways, byways and cities had to reveal. I knew there was going to be long days,short nights, and a whole lot of adventure to be had.
As soon as I stepped off the plane I knew I was in a special place. The happy go lucky ragtime was playing on the overhead speakers. Big Easy jazz was pouring out of every shop and bar. WHO DAT Nation was full of pride and showing it with more black, gold, and fleur de lys than one can understand with out seeing in person. The sounds of a spirit and culture that is deeply rooted and inseparable from the city seemed to be oozing from the ground with every step.
After getting checked in I get headed full steam into the rituals of a new town. I grab my camera and note book, get a map from the concierge, two large cups of coffee with one or two extra espresso shots for added umpf, and sunglasses. From there I was ready to wonder. The images of Mardi Gras and tits flashing like paparazzi ran through my mind. I honestly was only half interested in those things, and you can probably figure out what half. After walking about two blocks I was able to discover some basic truths about New Orleans most already know. Its fucking hot and sticky there. Not just a little bit. Huge amounts. New Orleans is humidity’s bitch no questions asked. The second is just how disgusting and rotten most of the French Quarter smells. It was like a large possum was just out of site and rotting in the bushes, but it is EVERYWHERE you go. One lady at a bar leaned over, and in a drunken slur and said “That my friend, is the smell of tourists. You can take that to the bank” A brilliant deduction and one spoke with true conviction and one I can relate to living in Philadelphia. The funnier part is that as soon as she said that her husband chimes in
“Aw what du fuck doyah know? Your from fucking Natches, Arizona”
“Don’t be an asshole. We are in public god damn it” she fired back.
“Well its true is all I’m saying that’s all” he retorted like a man who knew his place and hated where that left him.
I shook my head and said, “I think it is a universal stench that is hard to shake whereever ones finds tourists.” We all seemed to agree on that and I moved along
I wanted to find out what all the excitement was about surrounding one of the biggest party streets in the country, so I made my way to Bourbon Street. The smell of rotting food, stale beer, puke, piss, and bad taste seemed filtered into everything there. I didn’t know what to expect really, but it was a rather big let down. It was as if the Overlords of all public drunkenness sat down at their high council and said “Where can we combine Spring Break, Frat Parties, binge drinking, Beer League, tits, and daiquiris??” A heavenly light shined down from up on high and the result s the modern day Bourbon Street. It was like the Southern version of the Las Vegas Strip minus the glitz and glam. Its seemed like the kind of place amateur drinkers go to get some experience under their belt.
After I walked three more blocks I hear a Dixieland band jamming out a cover version of Stevie Ray Vaughn’s “Pride and Joy”. I phoned up my brother and told him of the discovery and added in it was in a place called ‘The Old Absinthe House”. He said it was a no brainier and be sure to eat something before it got to serious. The place was packed and alive with the disjointed movements of a tour bus full of retirees from Arkansas. I figured the old timers could be a fun group to have a few drinks with. I ended up next to two retired guys named Bud and Warren. Both are proud members of the Moose Lodge and Korean War veterans. Both had Budweiser long necks in their hands. Both had shots of Wild Turkey in front of them. I nodded my head in greetings and turned to look for the bartender. It was at that point I knew it was going to get weird. I find the bartender about five feet down and wearing a Hawaiian shirt and a porn star mustache. I said “I’ll have what these two are having” The bartender then nodded his head and turned to prepare my drink when I noticed he was only wearing my a black Speedo and flip flops. That’s not even the best part. He reaches into the cooler behind him, grabs my beer, and turns around and give me a big smile as he moves the beer dangerously close to what appears to be his oversized junk and pops the bottle cap off with the bottle opener attached to his Speedo that had gone un noticed. He puts the beer down in front of me and then pours me a shot of the kicken’ chicken and leans in real close and says slowly and with a twinkle in his eye and says “That’s four dollars kindly”
“Did you say four dollars?” I said in disbelief.
“I did indeed. There is no charge for the view” he said with a wink.
“Wonderful, here is six” I said with a tad of sass.
I raise my shot glass and nodded over to the two fine gents next to me and in unison they pick theirs up, we all clink glasses and toss em back.
“Names Warren, this here is Bud” Warren warmly said.
“Brian, pleased to meet you” I mentioned as we all shook hands.
“He only charged us three bucks. Said it was an AARP discount” Bud leaned over to
“Good thing, cuz that whole cock bottle opener was kinda weird. But what the hell, its Nawlins”
“Well then game on good sirs, game on” I said with a smile escaping my face.
We make small talk about life, the economy, the differences between the Southern and the Northern way of life. One thing Bud said that struck a chord with me in particular. “Just like the heat and the long Southern nights, they always break eventually. You just godda know haw to deal withit, that’s all. That’s maybe one way to sum up us Southerners. We know the heat will break and the sun will also rise so just slow your pace and wait for that time to come kid”
“Isnt that a book?” Warren chimed in?
“Huh? “ Bud asked confused.
“That part you just said about the sun. Isn’t that a book ur sumtin?” Warren asked again.
“In the last forty years, have you ever seen me read a book?” Bud said almost insulted..
“Spose not” Warren agreed.
“I think your referring to Hemmingway’s ‘The Sun Also Rises’, Warren” I chime in.
“Ha! I knew it!” Warren said in relief as he took a swig of his beer
“Thank you Barnes and Noble” Bud said in my direction.
We all have a laugh and order another shot. We toss it back and finish off our beers. As the last drink of beer is washed down, Buds wife comes over from the pack of the other tour members and says, and I shit you not,
“ The doorman said to make it a true trip to New Orleans with out doing this!” as she lifts her American flag Old Navy tank top and her surprisingly large and well maintained tits pop out and jiggle around for what was about thirty to forty seconds. I felt bad for looking, but it was kind of hard not too.
“Darla, this here is Brian. He is from Philladelphia.” Bud mentions, being the Southern gentleman he is.
“Howdy” Darla says, tits still hanging out. In the background you can hear her friends laughing and carrying on from her brash exhibition. It was at that moment that Bud looked over and says with a stone cold expressionless face and tugged on my shirt to pull me closer and said as a matter of fact voice“Best thing that ever happened to the modern and aging man is Viagra. I can go out, drink till I forget my name, and still go home to Darla and play newlyweds. Look into it young man” He smiles, pulls Darla’s shirt down and the three of them wonder off to mix with the other cheep beer and blue pill popping folks they motored in with. I finished my beer and made my way back out into the heat to be one among many wondering, just looking for someplace to go as we try to forget where we all just came from.
It was my first time back to the Big Easy since Katrina and BP got their hands all over the place. For the most part, the Quarter, the Garden District, The Irish Channel and the highlands seemed to be business as usual. The recent Super bowl victory of the Saint’s seemed to inject some life into the heart of the city. I was struck how the overall reaction by those that were there that I spoke to was “Meh, it happened. We got fucked. We moved on best we can and get on with what we can” The people who live there LOVE their city. They don’t want to be somewhere else. They don’t NEED to be anywhere else. They have a perseverance to them that is to be envied. You can still drop by the locals favorite eatery Coops Place (www.coopsplace.net) and have a handful of local Cajun and Creole dishes, or stop by either Molly’s at the Market (www.mollysatthemarket.net) or a classic haunt, 13 on Frenchman Street which is a kick ass pub and restaurant that serves food and hooch until 4am.
While the drinking, cutting loose, and raise hell or go home attitude of the city is fine and well and important to its charecter, you can not forget about the THOUSANDS of people who died there. The THOUSANDS who we left and never came back because there was nothing to come home to. The huge families who owned whole blocks of houses for generations that no longer exsist. There are vast blocks, untold acres of debris, trash, rubble and left behind sections of New Orleans that still stand dead silent and vacant five years later. Yet many still are trying to stick it out. Just trying to make it work and start a new. There is a certain patience here that maybe hard from some to understand. Like the beads hanging from every wire and tree in the city waiting for the wind to blow them down some day, to the street dogs waiting by a cafes from door waiting from some crumbs from a leaving patron, to the unemployed families trying to stay sill during the day to stay cool and not sweat the energy they do have out before the sun goes down. Bud hit it write on the head, the Southern way of life just knows how to sit back and take iti all in stride. They know the heat will break one day soon, and the sun will also rise, and when it does, it will shine down upon New Orleans.