Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Big Easy

This is not your typical New Orleans, Chamber of Commerce, Jazz center of the earth, marketing piece. Since sprawling urban centers are not my idea of a good time I was just along for the ride. I was the taxi driver that made everyone nervous, until they rode with a real French Quarter taxi driver. Then I didn’t seem so bad.  We parked the motorhome in the Treme, just a couple blocks from the French Quarter. I took notice of the spikes and razor wire adorning the top of the brick wall that enclosed our RV park. I guess we were going to spend the week in the demilitarized zone. We actually ended up walking into the French Quarter day and night, without becoming part of the cities statistics. 

Walking down to Bourbon Street on a Saturday night is like going to the circus. Everyone is walking around with a Grenade or a Hurricane, which is a category 5 drink that can make you blow a 1.7 on the Breathalyzer. Most people here believe the liver is evil and must be punished. I know they say it is the birthplace of Jazz, and we did take in some really great music, like Kermit Ruffins, but it is also home to the fashion challenged. It was actually ironic that there was a Mary Kay convention in town. That might seem like too much makeup, but it can’t hold a candle to the over painted, the over feathered, the over beaded and the over indulged.  What if we had visitors from another galaxy and they just happened to land here, in the middle of the French Quarter. What would they think? Maybe they have already been here and left in disgust. Or, maybe they never left. Maybe this is them. 

Katrina did a tremendous amount of damage to New Orleans. In the French Quarter they still haven’t found their tables. Every place we went in to hear music we had to stand. Fifteen dollar cover charge to wedge yourself into a sea of humanity to listen to talented black musicians, blow soul through brass instruments and watch fat white people, who can’t dance, jiggle around.

On Sunday we walked into the French Quarter early in the morning. Water gushing, street sweeper trucks were flushing the streets. Residents were hosing down their sidewalks. The pungent smell in the air a mixture of garbage and puke.  The 1,600 miles of pipe that make up the Big Easy gravity collection, sanitary sewerage system, dumps its treated water into the Mighty Mississippi. That might help explain why the Gulf of Mexico has an 8,000 sq. mile Dead Zone stretching out from the mouth of the Big Muddy. 

Which, of course, brings me to the famous seafood everyone flocks here to sample. I admit, I am not a seafood lover. If cows could swim, I would be a fisherman. I am more of a meat and potato Irishman. That said, I did try to find some middle ground as we patronized many of the cities eateries. The first thing I realized was the connection between the cities excessive drinking and excessive eating. They have to keep you half in the bag so that the prices on the menu seem normal. The way I figure, the hot sauce is to kill whatever it is they put in that Jambalaya.  After a lot of search and research I did find a hamburger joint on Bourbon Street. I had a great hamburger there, smothered in fried onions. Unfortunately, the milkshake machine was on the fritz. A couple days later Gaila and I rode the trolley out to the Garden District. We met a couple walking on the street at our same pace. They were native New Orleanians. They told us where we could walk and where we shouldn’t. According to them, a couple blocks south from this beautiful, historic, seemingly safe section of the city, you go from serene to sirens very quickly. We stuck to the main trolley lines and found the best food in all of New Orleans - Phil’s Grill. You build your own hamburger from scratch. They give you a full sheet of paper with options and you become your own hamburger architect. Not only that, but the milkshake machine worked. 

Visiting New Orleans was an experience, I will admit. I enjoyed all the walking and gawking. One night I drove Gaila and a friend we met to Frenchmen Street to here music. I couldn’t find a place to park, with any promise that my car would still be there when I returned, so I drove back to our RV park and walked back through the Quarter. I noticed that a lot of the homeless people have dogs. So the mystery for me is, “What end of the leash do all these piles of scat I see on the sidewalk come from?” This incubator of  American Culture is a perfect example of the simple math problem that faces us all. “Multiply numbers -- Divide resources.  The recipe for disaster here is quick and easy to understand. Start with 400,000 residents, mix in nine million tourists annually, place in a bowl two feet below sea level and add copious amounts of water, lightly salted. So, after a week of sleeping under I-10, at eighty bucks a night, I’m ready for Padre Island National Seashore and Big Bend National Park where the animals are less dangerous and the night sky clear and quiet. --Keep Smilin’