Hold the Gin
I’m in New Orleans. I’ve been before but so long ago that I may as well say I’ve never been. I’ve been on 2 occasions, both in the ‘90s and in each instance, I was under 21. A lifetime ago.
Last night, my Lyft driver from the airport spoke in such a low, slow drawl. Every time he spoke, it was like the deep, rumbling purr of a cat. He didn’t say much - occasionally sang along in monotone pitch to the oldies on the radio. At one point, he says something that sounds like he’s from “out east”. I perk up, lean in and ask, “Where?!” And he repeats the “out east” sound again, but he’s referring to some where in Louisiana. “Oh!” I reply, and lean back.
Today’s Lyft driver says he grew up, “in the bayou”. He sounds it - his voice a similar but discernible drawl. He tells me a Lyft or Uber will take you to the bayou, but won’t pick you up.
“Uber will say they’re coming - but they don’t. I will. I picked up 14 guys out there last night. Two had to ride in the trunk.” In this case, the trunk is like a hatchback space.
I think this has to be a tall tale. One prior visit, we drove to the bayou and took a swamp tour. The boat was low and the gators close. We were told to keep our arms inside. Solid plan.
I began my day with a cemetery tour. I think old cemeteries are interesting. We started with a Masonic cemetery and then headed to St. Patrick’s. Lots of Irish catholic buried there. They came over as ballast for the ship during the great potato famine. The tour ended at the Hurricane Katrina Memorial and former site of the Charity Hospital which didn’t reopen after Katrina.
Before I arrived yesterday, it poured here, flooding the streets. The levee system has held since Katrina. But two of 5 pumps are not working. Our tour guide indicated that these haven’t been fixed due to cost, adding, “But the roof on Super dome was replaced. Then again, this is a city that had an opera house 80 years before they had plumbing.” I haven’t fact checked the opera vs plumbing but it sounds plausible.
I then headed to the French Quarter which is always wild. I went to Voodoo Authentica - a store that wasn’t in operation during my prior visits. It’s smaller than I had imagined and crowded. But it’s as interesting as I imagined. I don’t but an actual voodoo doll with a white pin for pure intention and a black pen for ill intent. That’s taking things too far. I mean - who wants to fuck up and invite bad juju into their lives. I buy safer options, including a New Orleans Oracle deck.
I visit an amazing store that sells paper and ink and beautiful pens. And I happen to walk past Fritzel’s Jazz Bar. I ask for a Diet Coke at the bar. The old man behind the bar asks, “Gin and diet?”
“No. Diet. Hold the gin.” I say.
He looks almost annoyed by this request. I think it’s because he isn’t sure what to charge me. “2 dollars.” He says, looking uncertain.
I sit behind a woman who’s a regular. A group comes in that also knows the piano player. The regular woman leaves and is replaced by a table of 4 guys, one who requests “Hit the road, Jack.” As the pianists finale. He complies. I can’t believe how fast he can play. When I, like Jack, hit the road later, the streets are busier. I walk to a place called Mambo’s for a late lunch or salad topped with gator. It’s crowded but quiet and the AC feels amazing. I sit at the bar as it’s the only option available to me.
I ask the women seated next to me if they too are in New Orleans for the HR conference.
“My daughter is and she invited me to join her!” The mom says. In spite of the cocktail in front of her, mom looks fairly conservative. I learn they are from Vermont. I try to picture my own mom on Bourbon Street.
“Your staying on Bourbon Street?” I ask.
“Yes, right down the street.”
I try to picture staying on Bourbon Street.
I make my way to St. Louis Cathedral. A crowd is gathered outside awaiting the emergence of a new bride and groom. When they finally come out, the band plays and the bride, groom and bridal party head down the street, band following, in a parade.
Later, I can’t find a scrap of shade to stand in to wait for my Lyft back to the hotel. I buy water from a street vendor who asks if I am going to stay for the Pride parade.
“Ha. Nah. Maybe if I were young?” I wonder aloud.
“Yeah…it’s gonna be crazy! People naked everywhere. Who knows what’ll happen.” He replies.
I wait for the Lyft and admire the commitment it takes to wear a wig, heels and body glitter. It’s crazy hot. Sweat steadily rolls off of me throughout the day. The locals all tell me it’s a nice, cool day compared to July, August or hell.
When I get back to the hotel and catch a look at my face, I’m surprised it’s sunburned although I shouldn’t be. Sunscreen seemed to slide off early.
Tomorrow morning, I’m headed out on a steamboat jazz brunch with some rando group of people attending the same conference I am attending.