Laissez les bons temps rouler! part 3
(Continuing from the earlier part 2)
That was not the end of that exceptionally pleasant day. I went down several streets in the French Quarter in my wanderings, and was amused at the strong (and unsurprising) French theme for the street names: Burgundy (pronounced bur-GUN-dee), Dauphine, Decatur, Dumaine, Royal, Conti… but most of all I walked Bourbon Street from the LGTBQ section all the way through to the red light district and back again. I had a truly wonderful time!
The street performers in particular were quite something. They varied wildly in theme and delivery, of course, ranging from a pretty young girl who wore nothing more than a mask, an artistic drapery of light cloth that barely covered her groin area and derriere, gold spray paint, and some peeling curlicues painted in a darker gold over her breasts — who was, unsurprisingly, making excellent tips with her statue impersonation — all the way to some really amazing and talented performers.
For example, there were five young men who were extraordinarily athletic break dancers who drew quite a crowd, to the extent that the road was blocked and you couldn’t really see. They were smart enough to keep it short, though — what took the most time was them walking around the inside of the crowd for folks to drop their tips in the buckets — and I don’t doubt they moved and performed several times that night. There was also a young man who was dressed as a Transformer, with a really impressive costume! He had the back tires on his knees, and the front tires both on his right arm. The mask and armor looked really good, and when he knelt he could flip forward a sort of covering that really made him look like a small, about 2′ or 3′ tall car.
What really impressed both myself and the passers-by — and absolutely won the heart of an awestruck little girl of maybe 6 or 7 years — was when he started moving! Within the car shape he rolled smoothly around in a small circle, then stood up again. It was really nicely done, and the little girl insisted her mom take a picture of her with the Transformer. She was adorable, her eyes wide and shining with excitement, and the performer was really sweet with her, leaning down enough so she could grab a tire and pose for her mom.
On that street there was also a performer done up as a golden, sort of ragged-winged angel, and an old Confederate soldier painted up in silvery gray like a statue. He was funny, teasing the passersby and making chirping bird sounds to draw attention. Lots of artists too, hawking their wares leaned up against the fencing in front of Jackson Square. That’s where the mule-drawn carriages all lined up for customers as well. On Bourbon Street there were similar sorts of performers: I saw several, including a really nicely done Death who I think was supposed to be Papa Legba, as well as two guys in drag. Oh! That reminds me: right on the edge of the red light district a group of christians set up, with two girls singing, a guy standing and holding a life-sized cross (as in it was large enough to take a body), and a group of like-minded friends standing around and handing out flyers. I don’t know whether to be insulted or amused that they did not try to hand one to me. ;)
The music on Bourbon Street was utterly fantastic! You could wander from bar to bar, and stand outside and hear wonderful sounds. I remember blues, jazz, some really bouncy rock covers, and a little bit of zydeco — and I’m not that well educated concerning the various types of music. It was a real delight. No glass was allowed on the street, so people wandered up and down with their drinks in plastic cups or other containers — I saw one that was designed to look like a fishbowl with a straw in the top — and you’d see signs for “cocktails to go” next to little windows into the bars. I went up to one such bartender and asked if I could have a simple diet coke to go, because I was dying of thirst in the heat. He charged me $3, but promised me I could have as many refills as I wanted all night long. He told the truth, too — I did get my refills for free, which pleased me greatly as I wandered the street and danced to the music.
It may sound silly, but one of the nice things that happened to me was a very courteous, friendly proposition from a tall, nice Creole man! I think he was the bouncer at one of the bars, and he was quite pleasant, offering to show me the town and take good care of me. He did push a bit, but not unpleasantly so; he was kind of sweet. However, when I laughed and pointed out I had a sweetie back home already, he cheerfully noted he didn’t — and surely I could have a sweetie in NOLA as well as back in California? That caused me to smile and politely decline, since I’m not so much into the “what happens in [name of town] stays in [name of town]” mentality. To be fair, I’m not describing it well, since he was a bit classier than that. It’s just… that’s not really my style, you know? I’m more into the straightforward honesty than the drama of hiding. Heck, for all I know he was the world’s nicest mugger! :)
So I kept wandering down Bourbon Street, and turned to wander back again once I hit the red light district. Curiously, the girls there seemed far more… I’m not sure I can describe this well. In Vegas the girls seemed almost… disconnected from their bodies, as if it was just a tool for them to use. They were mostly all white, too. The New Orleans girls, though, while sometimes shy, seemed far more… more inhabiting, more aware of their bodies, and their own enjoyment. Of the four I saw, only one was white, and from what the one I talked to said, they chose their clothing for comfort as well as allure. It was like they were more… more grounded in themselves, in a way. Does that make sense?
Eventually I got back to where I started from, and decided to have dinner. According to the locals, the best burgers in the world can be found at Clover Grill, where they are made by pressing them on the grill under an old car hubcap. The burgers were just as juicy and delicious as promised, though by then I was so hungry I forgot to check and see if the hubcap had cooked the logo into the meat. Clover Grill is a tiny little diner with nice big windows for people watching, and the bathroom is an even tinier little room in the back courtyard behind it. The grill sits across the road from what I was told was the city’s main gay bar, which had some really lovely diversity flags flying over it. I had to laugh at the various sassy comments in the menu (such as “If you can’t be with the one you love, love us!” or “If you are not served in 5 minutes, relax, it may be another 5. This is not New York City”), and again when the owner or manager (not sure which) told me I was adorable for wanting to skip the fries in order to have room for a slice of pecan pie. Mmm… just thinking about it, I’m getting hungry again! It was really delicious, and the staff was friendly and helpful.
I concluded my day out on the town with a much-needed pedi-cab ride back to Dark Star, since my feet were pretty sore by then. That was a delightful bit of serendipity, too, since as I was finishing up my meal I was wondering how far I’d have to walk to find a pedi-cab — and then one drew up outside Clovers Grill and just sat there for a while! I definitely thanked my journey kami for that one as I hopped outside and made sure the cab was available, which it fortunately was. The driver, a young woman named Ashley, and I had an interesting conversation. Her job is hard work but a more regular salary than her chosen profession of photographer, and she laughingly noted most of the pedi-cab drivers are young, healthy, and have a liberal arts bachelor’s degree — some even have a master’s! She said she was happy with her job, though, since it allowed her to live in New Orleans.
While I did not remember the precise intersection where I’d parked Dark Star, I was able to guide her to it from the hotel I’d stayed at the night before. Amusingly, when I apologized for my memory lapse, she laughed and said I was far better than most of the late-night travelers she brought home — I wasn’t even drunk! We had a laugh at that, and she pointed out that in such cases she usually charged by the minute, rather than by the block. When we got to where I needed to go, she did what I saw several New Orleansians do: she asked me to pay what I thought the trip was worth, within certain parameters. I tipped up on the high end, and my thanks were quite heartfelt since, as I explained at her surprise, my feet were much happier now!
So that was it, mostly. After that I drove Dark Star out of New Orleans to a nearby truck-stop for the night. I must say, though — I really enjoyed the French Quarter’s energy! I very much want to go back and play and explore and have fun there again. I wondered later, though: why did I have such a negative reaction to Vegas, but such a positive one to N’Awlins, when they both have what are effectively red light districts? Still working on that one…