The bon temps
“I don’t want this to sound as morbid as it will,” I said to my wife.
We were one of less than a dozen people in a bar as a long-haired country singer named Corey Michael sang on stage. We sat at the corner sipping our drinks and exhaling after two days of driving.
My wife raised her eyebrows and expected the worst. When I start getting morbid, she tends to laugh. It’s a defense mechanism, I guess.
Around the corner of the bar, a guy with a sleeveless t-shirt and five o’clock shadow ordered a shot of Goldschlager, seemingly for no other reason than the bartender had a bottle. He turned up the drink and walked out alone a few minutes later.
This was the first time I’d been to New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina. In fact, it was the first time I’d been since 1998. I didn’t know what to expect. I found that the original Tropical Isle was moved across the street in 2004, complete with a jazz funeral. I found that all the buildings looked newer than they had in the past, likely the result of a post-hurricane paint job. I discovered that Hand Grenades still taste the same, there is still a Lucky Dog vendor on most corners, and that there are still guys there who will try to run the old “I bet I can tell you where you got those shoes” con. It was, in short, a freshly painted version of the same place I’d been so many times before.
Corey was more talented than he should be, especially to have been playing in a bar on a Wednesday afternoon. The rumor had it that he had done some sort of American Idol work before moving to the Quarter to play five nights a week for $20 a set plus tips. I guess there are worse jobs. Before we left, we tossed a sizable tip in his jar and wished him well.
We would see similar stories up and down Bourbon Street. Our last stop of the night, in fact, we listened to a rather good funk band until they closed up shop. When the set was over, I felt compelled to buy the guitarist a beer. Color him unsatisfied with the gig. It was just a way to make money. The next night, he was sitting in at the House of Blues for a band I’d never heard of. That’s the thing about New Orleans. Whether it was a classic rock cover band, a funk crew, or a lonely singer song writer, everybody there is better than the best bar bands of just about any city you go to.
Throughout what would prove to be a fantastic five days in southern Louisiana, I saw much and ate more–countless sausages, crawfish, gulf shrimp, a 20 oz. bone-in ribeye, shrimp and grits, gumbo, etouffee, jambalaya, you name it. I had some good New Orleans coffee, which I miss when I’m not there. Hell, my buddy Uncle Ted even sweet talked a waiter at Dickie Brennan’s into giving up his “Otis” name tag. It was a nearly perfect trip.
That made what I said just a few hours into it all the more strange. My wife sat at the corner of the bar, her shirt the same color as her drink. She sipped and started taking on that smile-laced glazed look that lets me know she has relaxed. No, I didn’t want to make it sound as morbid as it was going to, but I didn’t have much choice.
“If you ever decide to leave me and take everything that means anything to me,” I said, “this is where I will probably come to drink myself to death.”
She shook her head in a way only she can.
Yeah, it sounded more morbid than it should’ve.
More photos from the trip on my Flickr page