I don’t think New Orleans is actually part of the US. It is some kind of warp into another dimension. I have been to 5 out of the 7 continents, and I’ve never seen anything like it. South Africa and Chile are like Disneyland in comparison. Las Vegas is like a bowl of Cheerios.
Of course, this is all based on but one evening in town, but it was a fun and crazy evening.
I drove from Bradenton FL to New Orleans today. Took about 10.5 hours including stops for food, gas, and urination. On the drive I listened to the entire career of Led Zeppelin. I had never heard most of their stuff before. Zep III didn’t hold my attention, and neither did Coda. But other than that, it’s a pretty amazing collection. Great road music. The time absolutely flew by.
The drive was easy and uneventful. Averaged about 75 mph and 34 mpg. Having driven a Prius for years, I’m fairly sure it would have pulled at least 42 on the same trip. So there you go: hybrid tech gets you about a 25% fuel economy on top of an otherwise similar car. The Prius feels nicer, though. I love the new Corolla so far, but I still miss my Prius.
The South in 2008 does not have nearly as many bugs as the midwest in 1997. I know because my car looks clean after 700 miles of interstate. There were stretches of the midwest that completely Jackson Pollacked our car in that distance.
In any case, I arrived around 7PM local time and checked in.
Within thirty minutes of my arrival in New Orleans, I witnessed a $130 restaurant heist. Later I was almost defrauded by a couple sleazy waitresses, and I finished the night witnessing police brutality.
I love this town.
Whenever I find myself alone in an unfamiliar place, the first several hours feel like a dream. I guess my reality is usually grounded by the presence of those I know. It seems so different to be isolated in a busy world.
The $130 heist was at a restaurant/bar called Oceanic where I had my first taste of New Orleans cooking. The hostess at the hotel recommended it, and though it looked a bit touristy, it was very very good. I had blackened redfish, which came smothered in some rich crawfish gravy with veggies and jambalaya on the side. A local Abita Amber beer hit the spot with that.
I’m not kidding: more than once as I ate I actually stopped and just sat there staring at my food, smiling and laughing because it tasted so damn good.
I was eating at the bar itself alongside seven other fellas who were obviously tourists except for the one right next to me who seemed like a local. We exchanged a few words. He told me he was a friend of theirs and that he was showing them around.
When that group finished their food they all got up together and left. I’m pretty sure I saw one of them throw a few bills onto the bar, but a moment later the lady tending bar ran out after them, claiming they hadn’t payed. She managed to get them all to come back, minus the alleged friend who was showing them around — the local guy who was sitting next to me. Apparently he had swiped the $130 cash and run, after leisurely enjoying a free rib dinner.
There were some cops at the bar and they got involved. The tourist guys, from New York, were pissed as hell. They asked me what I knew, and I told them, which wasn’t much. I was a bit worried at first they were going to accuse me of stealing the money, and I was glad that I had only brought $20 with me. But nobody accused me. They claimed they didn’t know the guy who ran off with the cash. Eventually at the cops’ insistence, they paid the bill again.
“Be sure to hand the check directly to the staff next time,” the bartender said matter-of-factly as the angry guys apologized and left, “Now you know you’re in New Orleans.”
I walked down Bourbon street at this point, still in a daze. The buildings, the atmosphere and energy were unlike anything I’ve seen. Every two doors there was a different live band rocking out in a filthy bar, the places were packed, and the people were roaming from party to party drinks in hand.
I poked my head in a few places, but then I found my home for the night: I came across a band playing “Pour Some Sugar On Me”.
Look: I’m not going to entertain any complaints about going to Nola, the birthplace of Jazz and so much more, and spending my first night with a kitchy 80s band. That’s me and that’s that.
The seven member band came complete with an Eddie Van Halen quality guitarist, a male and female singer, and a keyboard player. They had a mullet wig that they passed around the band as appropriate. They rocked hard and approached the music with just the right blend of serious bad-ass musicianship and goofy rock-out-with-your-cock-out flair. They played it all… from Journey’s Separate Ways to Guns ‘n Roses to Love Shack.
On that latter song a cool waitress got me dancing, and after that I didn’t stop. I didn’t happen to want a drink at the time, but I should have given her a tip for getting me started.
After a couple hours of going crazy and sweating like only I know how, a different waitress came over on the dance floor and stuck a pair of test-tube shots in my mouth without me asking. I went along and drank them down. Then a friend of hers tried to do the same thing and I refused. So they gave double shots to each other. Then she asked for six bucks, the price of the two shots I had taken — I told her truthfully that all I had was a credit card, and she said that was fine and took it to the bar.
A moment later I was called over and the bartender asked me how many shots I had. The waitress said “seven”, and I laughed and said “no, just two”. Thus an argument started.
The bartender took my side and so the slip I signed was just for the six dollars. From the bartender’s suspicious attitude, I get the sense that these girls had been messing with people before. Obviously I gave them no tip.
The two waitresses acted outraged after the bartender left, claiming I owed them for the shots they gave each other. I just said, “I’m not drunk and I’m not impressed ladies, not impressed at all.” “We’re not trying to impress you. We think you’re an asshole.” one of them said. “That’s fine,” I replied, “just don’t try to play me.”. “We’re not trying to play you. Where are you from?” they asked, as though it was going to lead to some insult. “I’m from Las Vegas honey,” I said laughing, “I know all about getting played. So don’t bother.” They actually grinned at this and I walked off. Then I texted myself a reminder of what I had spent so that I could check my statement later.
I quickly forgot about all that as I danced some more. But when I went over to the bar later for another drink the bartender asked me how much I had tipped those girls. I told her I hadn’t given them a tip at all because I was angry at them. She said to hold on because she wanted me to talk to the manager — they had forged the slip to have a $10 tip but she knew something wasn’t right.
I think she knew I was okay because when I first came in I had bought a couple drinks from her directly and tipped her well. So I talked to the manager and he seemed upset at the waitresses and said he’d take care of them. I’ll definitely be checking that statement in any case.
I danced a few more songs and then realized I was going deaf: this band was the loudest thing I’ve heard since Living Colour played the Candyshack back in 89. I really should have got earplugs.
Outside I strolled around and eventually took a seat on a stairway to people watch. A scratchy vagrant seeming guy sat down nearby and we struck up a conversation. He was pretty cool. We talked about the mixed blessing of having a woman. He offered me a taste of whatever liquor he was drinking from a brown paper bag, and after a brief hesitation I took a swig. Some wandering friends of his came by and he eventually bid me farewell and took off.
I got up and walked around some more, encountering the mounted police. These were not the kinds of horses you ride at a farm: these were stallions. Absolutely huge creatures that seemed just a bit dangerous to people on the ground. Drunk folks stumbled around the horses unworried in any case, using them occasionally as support. This didn’t work that well because the horses were constantly moving around. The cops sitting atop them weren’t really observing the people; they seemed focussed on keeping the horses from freaking out and accidentally killing someone.
I happened to look over at a nearby group of cops just as one of them screamed in some guy’s face at the top of his lungs “GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE!” and pointed down the street. The guy the cop was screaming at was a dopey looking tourist. He looked harmless enough to me, but he must have been pretty drunk because he did not heed the instructions to “get the fuck out of here” and instead he smiled and said something quietly to the cop.
I can only imagine he said either “I have a gun and I’m going to kill you” or perhaps “I like it rough big boy” because at this point the cop grabbed the dopey tourist guy and forced him abruptly into a half nelson hold. The other cops quickly jumped in to force the tourist to the ground in a group tackle. I didn’t see any indication he was resisting, but they wrestled him around then dragged him up against the side of the van roughly at which point the mounted police came over and shielded further action from view.
A moment later they were taking him away in cuffs. He was no longer smiling. I was a little buzzed and just standing there against a street lamp, watching it all blankly. There were lots of people around, but a cop from the group came over and singled me out, pointing down the street saying forcefully, but at least quietly, “get out of here”.
So I did.
This place is a madhouse. Again, I’ve never seen anything like it.
I hope it’s clear that I find all this wonderfully entertaining. Any adventure that doesn’t result in permanent damage is OK by me.
I walked back to my hotel, at about 3AM. The place I’m staying is a beautiful old dump with no hot water or internet. The staff is friendly and helpful, but I have now determined that there’s a 50% chance that the stuff in my car, which is in valet, will be stolen by the time I leave.
Even if so, it’s totally worth it.
Oh: I met some people from Dallas at the first place. Even they thought I should take the longer route through Austin, so I think I will.