Saturday, November 1, 2008

New Orleans

I stopped in New Orleans on the way back east. Figured I'd stay two nights so as to have a full day in the motel so I could do a Skype video meeting with my violin people in NY. Driving into town at night, I spotted a Best Western on Rampart, on the edge of the French Quarter across from Louis Armstrong Park, and checked in.

Tuesday night I walked over to Bourbon St. from my hotel, and was dazzled by the sights and sounds. Loud music filling streets from many sources, all at once, and people filling the street, closed to traffic. Kinda like Burning Man, but not techno, just rock, jazz, and blues. Here, you can smoke in bars, and drink in the street, so the scene resembles one big party. There are cops around, watching for real crime. Cops in NY and other towns devote so much time and effort combating all these harmless vices which are legal in New Orleans. I can't help but imagine a world where this stuff was permitted - what harm would it really do? Society is so jammed up with constraints.

I asked some dude if the streets were always like this, and he said it was a little more now with all the people arriving throughout the week for Halloween. I am not into Halloween at all, but I've heard how wild the French Quarter gets on that holiday, and if there's anywhere to see Halloween, it's here. So it seemed foolish to leave town on Thursday, and I extended my stay to four nights. It's gonna require some long driving days to get back to NYC in time for next Friday's Acid Rayz gig, but I'll do it.

I've gotten pretty used to not drinking, not only on this trip, but since last year, when I started using the car to go out all the time. But here I was on foot again, and with the streets so crowded with staggering revelers, I had a few Tequilas in various bars. Scantily-clad girls walk around the bars with little racks of test tubes filled with exotic liquors, so I figured I'd try one. This hot little black chick offered me a shot, I said 'sure', and before I knew what was happening, she gulped the test tube, put a double tube thing in her mouth, took my head with both hands, inserted the tubes in my mouth, and ejected the shot into me! Some passing thoughts of germs, AIDS, but hey, tequila is like Listerine - kills germs on contact.

After months of driving alone, and two weeks of being grandpa with the kids in Texas, this night propelled me back into the intensity of decadent night life. Stopped in several clubs, danced to some bands, and walked a crooked line back to the hotel.

Wednesday, I walked a few blocks to the Clover Grill on Bourbon for breakfast. The French Quarter is really gorgeous, retaining the classic look and feel of 18th-century architecture. I had my Skype video meeting in the afternoon, and worked on the violin website for hours. At night, I returned to Bourbon Street. Same deal, a few more people. I talked to a 50-year-old dude hanging out on the street, a native who reminisced about the scene 25 years ago - "THIS was THE corner where you could buy anything - coke, dope, 5 different kinds of acid; and all these T-shirt shops, they were all head shops before they were converted." I thought of how it feels to stand on the Lower East Side and recall the 80s & 90s, same thing. It's not just NY that's cleaned up, it's a different world everywhere. The times they are a-changing. And they're gonna keep right on changing.

I also got reminded of the fact that I never liked to drink much even before the car became a factor. Only a couple of drinks, and I felt impaired, pissed off at having drank alcohol. Of course it was less dazzling the 2nd night, and it all started to look a bit insane.

Thursday night, I laid off the alcohol entirely, and walked the length of Bourbon St. with a combination grin and smirk. Sobriety is definitely counterindicated for this environment. And as fantastic as the crawfish pasta dinner I ate tasted, I started to feel like I had a live rat in my stomach. So I cut it all short and went back early, surfing cable channels till 3AM.

By Halloween night, I'd started to question why I had stayed in town for this. At least, if I'd known I was gonna be in NOLA for Halloween, I could've stayed in Austin a couple more days. But this was no Thursday night. The party atmosphere was high, nearly everyone was in costume, Bourbon Street felt like a midtown subway station at rush hour. But of course there was the loud music emanating from every bar. Not just bars, pizza joints serve alcohol here and blast music too - it's a party everywhere. I wasn't gonna drink, but I stopped in one bar to check out a really great blues band, and the waitress made it clear I was expected to buy something. So one shot of tequila want down (a big one!), and provided a little buzz. Moderation is the key (I have to keep re-learning).

It was fascinating to observe the transition in the crowd as the hours passed, and everyone (else) became drunker and drunker. So many monsters with cellphones pressed against their faces! And many more cops watching it all go on, grinning and shaking their heads.

I'd had enough after about five hours, and my back was getting sore. I suspect that all these months of sitting in the car haven't been good for my body - gotta start using that bicycle I wound up carting all the way back to NY.