Friday, August 29, 2008

Ride to Seattle: Episode 2b: New Orleans

Back to what I was saying, we left Tennesee and headed down through Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, getting to New Orleans by the mid-afternoon. We drove across Lake Pontchrain, which is a HUGE bridge that is maybe ten miles across? Its enormous, I can't believe it withstood Katrina as well as it did. Or maybe it fell apart and they repaired it really quick. I'd be surprised if this was the case, as it became apparent that there really hasn't been a whole lot of effort to repair New Orleans. Yes, we stayed in the French Quarter, and yes, the French Quarter was doing just fine, but looking at the houses off the sides of the highways, or looking out our hotel window at the roofs of the buildings nearby, you could see the damage thats just been left to rot. Houses with the roofs caved in, mold eating away the wood, and where there isn't mold there's Kudzu, growing like a scab over the gaping holes in the houses. It's really pretty disheartening.

But we didn't stay in those places, we stayed in the French Quarter, and let me tell you about the French Quarter. We started out there early, walking around and checking things out, and it was all very tame, very family friendly at first. We bought cigars at a cigar factory where they were all hand-rolled, and then strolled around for a while. An indian man wearing a fake badge walked up to us and handed Steve and I citations: Steve for not smiling enough and me for being too pretty. Aw, shucks, mister. Then he demanded a ten dollar penalty from each of us as he handed us novelty hats. He said he was from Feed the Hungry. I told him I didn't have a job, and reluctantly handed my novelty hat back.

We were literally pushed into the next bar down the line, but there was a live band so we decided to stay and grab a beer. We were very surprised when the waitress came out with four beers after having only ordered two--it was buy one get one free on bud lights, which is something completely shocking to hear after having spent the last few years in puritanical Massachussetts. Imagine our shock, then, our horror, our utmost admiration when later in the night we discovered buy 1 get THREE specials. The french quarter is an excellent demonstration of how capitalism works in the consumers favor. All the bars offer the same selection, the same crowds, the same live music. The only thing they can change to compete with eachother is price. And good lord, the prices--the beer is practically given to you as you walk down the street, the to-go cups are endless and overflowing.

As the sun set, New Orleans showed its true colors. The doors that had been closed earlier in the evening were beginning to open, signs were put out. Every other shop is a burlesque, a cabaret, a strip club, advertising topless dancing, bottomless dancing, free porn, lingerie, toys-- there were families walking around with young children, I wanted to tell them to go back to their hotels, there was nothing for them here. The bar hawkers began to get more aggressive: As we walked down the middle of the street, a man rushed out, took my by the hand, dragged me into the nearest bar and sat me down at a stool, with Steve worriedly following behind. It was beginning to get insane. Still in all the bars we were pushed, pulled or lured into, we'd yet to find decent New Orleans jazz. It became a mission. Finally, having run the gauntlet of Bourbon street, we found a tiny german bar called Fritzel's, and there was playing an amazing three piece jazz outfit. We ordered hurricanes, and finally found some authenticity.

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