…Well, “woke” is a bit of a misleading term. One eye opened. There’s no sure way of knowing the exact number, of course, but I’d estimate about 5% of my remaining brain cells were firing in that moment. They were merely there to record data, as well as to operate my essential organs and one eyelid. The rest—who do all of the deduction and reasoning, and who operate every other movable part of my body—were still slumbering. Or worse.
So a blaring alarm elicited the bare minimum response from me. The clock said “7:45.” “There’s no way in hell he’s getting up,” a brain cell muttered. One of T.C.’s arms swung from his bed, and a big Irish hand crashed into the clock. The sound stopped. The army of 5% lowered my eyelid. 15 minutes later the sound rang out again. My eyelids stayed shut, but this time I heard T.C. actually get out of bed. A muffled “No shit?” came from behind the closed lid.
He dressed and headed off to work-related doings. A few hours later, I also found my way from bed to shower. By about the time I’d gotten dressed and felt ready to head out into this enchanted land, T.C. came back. “I’m hurtin’,” was about all he got out before he’d crawled back into bed.
I started my exploration of this vast and diverse city…by crossing the street and walking into Walgreens. My first open container of the day was going to be a bottle of Gatorade.
I strolled up Dauphine to Poydras. I hooked a right and went as far as Loyola, before turning right again. At Canal I went right and closed the loop, then marched on towards the riverfront. There I found myself a Hurricane shack next to Poppy’s, where a middle-aged white woman stood bullshitting with the guy behind the counter. It was time to up my open container game.
Me: “Can I get a Hurricane?” Bartender: “What size?” Woman: “Gotta go with a large!” Me: “Then I’ll have a large! I ain’t working today!” Woman: “Exactly!”
Unlike the Hurricanes that Creole Shawty mixed up the night before, this one was delicious. I snapped a picture of the drink in my hand, sparkling in the sunlight, and texted it to T.C. as a status update.
To hold a plastic cup in New Orleans is to hold a key to the kingdom of heaven. I stopped at the riverwalk’s edge and gazed out on the Mississippi. The warm bayou air slung an arm over my shoulders, and tapped its cup against mine. The smile on my face felt like it was years in the making.
I would walk back out to Poydras, down Fulton Street and on through the CBD. I circled back to the outlet mall on the waterfront, got myself a burger, and waited for T.C., who had responded to my Hurricane picture 45 minutes later with, “That a boy. Just woke up.”
My compatriot arrived, got himself a burger and sat down at the next food court table. In the subdued tones of men tending to wounds between battles, we compared notes on the night before.
T.C.: “When did we go to the strip club?” Me: “I didn’t go to a strip club.” T.C.: “Huh. Well, I have an ATM receipt from Centerfolds…” Me: “I feel like I tried to kiss a shot girl.” T.C.: “Oh, you didn’t just ‘try’…”
We grabbed frozen Hurricanes from the Fat Tuesday counter, and headed back to the hotel. New Orleans bustles with activity at every turn and sinew. Even when you happen upon a seemingly empty backstreet or courtyard, a frenetic energy fills the air. It’s like being surrounded by ghosts. And each of them has a to-go cup.
At the hotel we showered up and got ready for the night ahead. These three days were a work event for T.C.; he still had to schmooze customers and network with his fellow salesmen. And conferences always have a big reception on the second night, where a lot of schmoozing and networking goes down. I am not a salesman—neither in T.C.’s industry, nor in any other industry. So you can understand my concerns, as we strolled through the Ritz Carlton’s lobby towards a ballroom with moneyed people walking in and out of it.
Me: “What if someone asks me a question about medical equipment?” T.C.: “Just make up some bullshit.”
Luckily, this nuanced, well-thought-out contingency plan never had to be set in motion, as we avoided getting involved in chitchat with anyone but ourselves. Hey, at least we were guaranteed good conversation.
When we first entered the room, a half-naked white woman stood near the entrance with a large boa constrictor draped over her shoulders. After a moment of wondering which one of them I wanted to pet more, I noticed the wooden masks and ambient lighting. They were playing off the Creole voodoo history of New Orleans—using a white woman as the priestess. *sigh* I took a swig of my Abita and shook my head, knowing I was probably the only one in the room who saw something wrong with this.
Mercifully we hit the exit after one beer a piece. The thick, humid air outside was a welcomed reminder of where I was, as I rolled up the sleeves of my white dress shirt. While we navigated the streets of the French Quarter, I told T.C. that I needed to go easier than I had the night before. No blacking out, no sexually harassing shot girls. Just take it easy. He didn’t dispute my assessment.
The Monteleone’s Carousel Bar had been on my bucket list for years. It houses a real carousel, with a bar top and seats that slowly circle the bar in the center, approximately one rotation every 15 minutes. Every booze aficionado who has walked through NOLA in the past 20 years has found himself or herself seated at the revolving bar at some point in time. March 4, 2015 was my point in time. We got ourselves a couple of open seats, and I ordered up a Vieux Carre [I should have practiced more; in my excitement I pronounced it “Voo-Ka-Roh”]. It tasted like jazz on my lips.
When I reached the end of my glass (in about two rotations), I asked the bartender I was gently orbiting to make me a drink of his choosing, so long as it was made with bourbon. He hit me with a…well, I didn’t catch the name of the drink. It might’ve been a Kentucky Maid. All I know for sure is that it had bourbon and a hint of cucumber, and that it was magnificent. When they cremate my body, sprinkle some of the ashes at the Carousel Bar.
When we finally pried ourselves from the Merry-Go-Buy-A-Round, we addled across the street towards Mr. B’s, on a wing and a prayer that they had an opening. By the grace of god—the god of barbecued shrimp—there were two spots open at the bar. We moved into our new homes, tucking napkins into our collars and ordering up some libations. A Macallan’s 12 for me, please.
We got to know our new neighbors. T.C.’s was a cute brunette with a pixie cut—who he swore was giving him the “fuck me” eyes—and two younger guys. My half of the homestead bordered the property of a feisty little blonde woman in her early 50s named Roma, and two businessmen around her age who she was schooling on Louisiana. As I began peeling apart my shrimp, she turned and threw the decades of bayou-bred charm my way.
Roma was everything I want my future wife to be when I’m she’s that old [let’s face it, I’m marrying someone younger than me never marrying]: funny, engaging, and loved LSU football like I loved the Macallan in my hand. And 20 years ago she would’ve had any guy in there fighting to get her back to his hotel room. Hell, a couple more glasses of Macallan and I would’ve considered it that night.
After a dinner where I miraculously came away without any major barbecue stains on my all-white shirt, we set out to find the places we’d missed along Bourbon St. the night before. We stopped in BeerFest for some good beer. We stopped in Bourbon Bandstand, and hung out on its balcony; I can now say I’ve seen boobs flashed on Bourbon Street (I was crossing off bucket list items left and right). And then we stopped in a place whose name I remember, but will never utter on this page, because I’m not into giving free publicity to douchebags.
We had been at the well-under-capacity bar long enough to order ourselves a couple of beers. It wasn’t much longer before a guy in glasses walked over to us and asked us to step to the side. We complied, and after complying I casually asked why he had wanted us to move. “Because I’m the owner, and I’m telling you to,” was the response I got. Uhh…okay.
Me: “I was just asking.” Douche: “You’re out of here!”
He then called over the bouncers to remove us. T.C. asked one of them what we’d done. The muscled henchman shrugged his shoulders in the manner of a good person who has to rely on a waste of human life for a paycheck. By all accounts, we were in the right. But the walking inadequacy complex owned the place, and wielded that power with impunity.
I’ve been kicked out of many a bar in my lifetime, in cities all across this fine nation. And even when I’ve been innocent, I’ve been able to point to some action by either me or one of my friends as the turning point. Never once, before that night, had I been booted for absolutely no reason whatsoever. I didn’t act unruly. I wasn’t debilitatingly drunk. I didn’t even mouth off to the toilet stain. But apparently he doesn’t like making money by serving alcohol to people who ask him benign questions. Not the best business strategy, but hey…*shrug* Douchebags gonna douchebag. Those bouncers better find new paychecks, fast.
The beauty of being ostracized from a bar on Bourbon, though, is you know you have another 100 shots at it before you’re going to go thirsty. We walked a couple of doors down, and I moved myself towards brownout.
…Did I mention I was going to slow down?
The next thing I remember clearly, we were standing at a hot dog cart. And I was taking a bite out of my hot dog. And mustard from my hot dog was splattering all over my white dress shirt.
T.C. found this situation hilarious. It’s not often we disagree. He wandered off towards another bar, but I ran back to the hotel room for a wardrobe change.
When I returned in a new shirt, I found that my friend had made new friends. One was shorter, with shoulder-length hair and a face that reminded me of cigarettes. She wore a tank top and jean shorts. The other was taller and prettier, with long hair and eyes that reminded me of daddy issues. She wore a shirt tied into a knot in the front and an emotionally defensive glare. T.C., meanwhile, wore a sloppy, oblivious grin.
After a couple of bars, I was already tired of the off-duty strippers that T.C. didn’t even realize were off-duty strippers. I’m not sure if he even realized they were there—he probably still doesn’t. To be honest, I’m not entirely certain they weren’t just a figment of my drunken imagination. Or that they weren’t just NOLA ghosts.
*thinking* They might’ve been ghosts…
I abandoned the scene, and sought out Erin Rose on Conti Street. My stepbrother (Step Bro) is a NOLA vet, and had recommended it to me. The man was right. Erin Rose is a drinker’s bar, with all of the energy and none of the schlock of Bourbon Street.
But I was a man without a country, and too drunk to create new friends from strangers. I stumbled off toward the hotel. When I hit Bourbon, I ran into a solo T.C.; I guess he finally realized those two chicks at the bar were actually with him. We chuckled at this magical world called New Orleans, and found our way back to the sanity of our hotel beds.