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Friday, July 15, 2011

Back On The Road (PT.5)

Woke up in New Orleans a little hung over, a little hot, on an unfamiliar couch, and felt ready to dig in and explore the city. Feeling quite excited I took a shower, made plans to meet back up with my host later in the day, and set off to relive all the awesomeness I had found in the city on my last trip and find something new. For breakfast I went to Cafe Du Monde in the French Quarter for beignets and chicory coffee. Sure it's a little touristy, but it's super delicious. I found a bench in the shade around Jackson Square, and savored my meal while drinking in the scene. Local artists hang their wears on the wrought iron fence that surounds the park. I checked out their work, and dearly wished I could afford a piece or two. I watched them paint, but I also watched them socialize, critique each others pieces, offering help, and just shooting the shit. The whole vibe inspired me to be creative as well. The town seemed filled with fantastic people. I wanted to be fantastic too. I wanted to frame them in their fantasticalness.

I decided to wander around and find people to portrait with my Holga 120 TLR. Specifically, I hoped to find musicians busking, but they were few and lacked that undefinable mysterious spark. Finally, I had been reduced to mostly window shopping when I discovered a dusty, unlabeled used book store. An older gentleman with rumpled white hair, wearing a button down with rolled sleeves, and thick framed glasses that gave him a little structure maned a counter that displayed vintage prints. Past the counter were alcoves made by fifteen foot book cases filled with beautiful tomes of the ages, hardcover, first edition, lovingly cared for books on every subject imaginable. The wood floors had cracks and creaked, the air smelled like old paper, and dust mots hung heavy and magical through the tall, narrow windows. From some unidentifiable location I could hear an NPR-style audio documentary. As I made my way to the second floor I found it's source: a clock radio blinking 12:00 on the floor between two book shelves. In a corner on the second floor a reading area had been arranged, complete with threadbare persian rug, squishy couch, and a sweet beast of a longhaired calico cat. I needed to take a picture of this man with his book store, needed. But when I asked him, he bluntly refused, and I settled for a portrait on the cat on his throne.

Discontented, I started to make my way back to my car. Not expecting any more photo opportunities, I found a block from where I parked. An young woman with pink pigtails, ripped jean skirt, and combat boots was sitting in the doorway of a closed shop with an old man with a unkept grey beard, stained pants, and decaying shoes. The man idly picked at a guitar, while his mutt dog slept in the guitar case, and the woman just rocked and smiled. I asked if I could take their picture, and he said of course in exchange for a donation. As the tourists walked by in disgust, the man thanked and complimented me as he finally kicked into a proper song. When he finished I tried to get to know them a bit. The man claimed the woman was his daughter, and that he started off busking as a tap dancer on that same street as a kid. I didn't really believe him, but I cracked a lewd joke, and the woman laughed, the first sound I heard her make, and I decided to leave them be.

Got in my car, and headed to the Jean Lafitte Preserve in hope of seeing a little bayou and a gator. The preserve was wild. Just a couple miles south of the city you could get lost in a jungle of trees hung with moss, barely moving streams covered in weeds, and a thick quiet broken only by an occasional bug buzz or bird call. It was a breathtakingly unique ecosystem with only a couple other visitors, and I did see a small alligator, but after only an hour of wandering meander trails the heat became suffocating. With the heat index over 100 degrees, I conceded victory to the environment and went to the air conditioned visitor's center. There I chatted with the rangers for a good bit, swapping travel stories and getting advice on becoming a ranger, a farfetched dream of mine. It was lovely and cool, but soon my couch surf host, Patrick, got in touch with me, and we made arrangements to meet back up.

Patrick directed me on a driving tour of the 9th Ward, made famous after Hurricane Katrina, took me to a local BBQ joint, and an out of the way point behind a navy base nicknamed "The End of The World". It was interesting, laid back, and thoroughly authentic, but I still hadn't heard any jazz. I wanted to go to Frenchman Street where there were a couple blocks of jazz bars. My host wasn't really interested in music, but in good nature agreed to accompany me. What followed was a couple hours of trying places out, while I in full-nerd awe analyzed and dug in an attempt to involve him. At a bar called The Spotted Cat I finally found that true NOLA style jazz I was looking for complete with marching band horns and slide guitar, hand clapping, foot stomping, and even some Lindy Hop dancers. I could have drank it in for hours, but after one set Patrick got distracted by the crowds in the street. I begged to listen to a few more songs before heading out. When I joined him, he was talking to a woman dressed like Oscar The Grouch sitting in a trash can with a broken down typewriter in front of her, and a well-groomed man in suspenders and dress pants sitting at an old desk with a shiny typewriter. It turned out their schtick was to write trashy and serious poems respectively. Patrick suggested we patronize them, so I picked a serious poem about chance encounters. We wandered around the French Quarter for a little while, and came back for our poem. It was good, simple, and slightly significant, so we tipped accordingly. Printed on brown parchment, signed and dated, I took it as my only souvenir.

Around this time, I heard from my next couch surf host. Though Patrick had certainly been nice and helpful, we moved at different speeds and trajectories. I was looking forward to hitting the town up with someone a little more my style, and Justin seemed like the type to get wildly adventurous with. However, nothing could have prepared me for the night that was about to unfold. Thanks to traffic and various travel pitfalls, by the time I met up with Justin at his place on the north side of the French Quarter it was already 1am. Justin was mad man in a fantastic way. He greeted me all jokes, talking a mile a minute, and took me up to his third floor apartment, all soft lighting, hard wood, good books, open space, and unknown art. I welcomely sensed a bit of kindred spirit in him. Philosophically he was a wanderer who was not lost, but dedication to a small restaurant he owned and managed kept him tied to Louisiana. He was an entrepreneur, who secretly wanted to be a session drummer. The potential was palpable, and I was excited. Within an hour he offered me molly. I hesitated for a moment, but realized the risks were too low and the situation too serendipitous to deny. We indulged and set out for the bars and the possibility of the New Orleans night. Les bon temps rouler!

We drank and dug and wandered and talked until the sky became just a shade lighter, warning of the coming dawn. Then we went back to his chilled out den of a third-floor one-bedroom where we drank and smoked and shared music and talked some more. The poor guy had to endure my life story, of sorts. I couldn't help it. I was buzzing with mad gloriousness, my matter resonating. He seemed so locked up and full of secrets. I'd ask him questions to draw him out, but his taciturn answers left empty spaces my words rushed to fill with vibrations, sound waves. At least sometimes he looked amused, but other times he looked distracted and bored. I found myself tripping over apologies, but unable to stop my outpouring of stories, an epic celebration to the end of my writer's block. Around 10am he passed out. I took a shower, and tried to sleep, but mostly ended up reading a collection of Bukowski's poems as I watched a sickly yellow, booming storm blow over the city, setting off car alarms and electrifying the atmosphere. I didn't want to leave while he was sleeping without a proper thank you or goodbye, so I waited. He woke up as the sun began setting. I offered to take him out to find some gumbo for dinner, but he declined. Instead he said he was digging the music I was playing, and asked me to DJ for him for awhile. Song sparked song after song, soon it was 9pm, and I wasn't a wink more tired. I gave up and decided to drive through the night back to Savannah. Promised Justin a mix CD based on the music I had been playing, said good bye, and took off into the darkness.

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