We got into New Orleans as it was getting dark, with no idea where to sleep. As Zara drove, I rummaged through her bag and found the card from the Holiday Inn we’d stayed at the night before and called their national helpline, aware that the battery on my phone was seconds away from torpidity and getting lower and lower.

I frantically navigated my way through the help menu options, stabbing at the buttons and praying that the battery would find a last ounce of charge.

At this point in time, I may or may not have been visualising Schwarzenegger in the final scenes of Terminator 2.

Finally, I was connected to an operator.

‘Hi!’ I said, and rushed through my mentally-rehearsed spiel. ‘Hi! We just need a place in New Orleans!’

The operator, halfway through her narrowing down of the options (‘First, sir, what hemisphere are you in?’) snapped her lips shut on the words she was reading off a computer screen.

‘OK,’ she said. ‘You want to head to Some Number, Something Street, French Quarter.’

‘I’m sorry,’ I said, ‘what was that again?’

‘Some number, Somet-‘ and my phone died.

‘What did she say?’ Zara asked.

‘Uh…’ I said. ‘Let’s just keep our eyes out for the French Quarter.’

We found our way to La Quinta and, once again, hauled our bags out of the car and into the lobby of a hotel.

The girl behind the counter warmed to us instantly.

‘Most people,’ she said, chattering at a thousand miles per hour as her fingers danced over the keys of the computer in front of her, ‘most people don’t take any interest, they just stand there, but you guys are all smiling and happy and asking me how I was, and I get anxious sometimes when people just stand there and stare at me, so it’s real nice to have someone come in and ask how I am, especially when I haven’t had a cigarette for a while…’

She kept going. I was tired.

I’m not exactly sure what she’s saying, my brain commented, but that accent’s hot.

Agreed, I noted.

‘Now,’ she said, when she’d signed us in. ‘You gotta have a Hurricane, and you gotta have a Hand Grenade. You can get ’em anywhere. You’ll see people walkin’ around, drinkin’ ’em.’

Once again, we dumped our luggage in our hotel rooms and rendezvoused in a hotel lobby. The only difference between this and the last dozen days was that this time it was to head out to Bourbon Street.

Everything about New Orleans was like Vegas, if Vegas hadn’t been carved out of the desert by mobsters to bilk fools of their money and traveling women of their misgivings about selling their vaginas.

The lights in the night aren’t overwhelming – rather, they’re a mix of lit and unlit streets and stores. The noise here is organic, uncontrolled. It’s more raucuous, but it’s the kind of raucousness that speaks of life, not of the zombie-land of vacant-eyed tourists shuffling from casino to casino.

No, here the vacant-eyed tourists shuffle from strip joint to gin joint, and that’s just fine by me.

A street band was performing on the corner of Bourbon. They threw themselves into it – sweating and grinning and shaking their bodies, they called up soul and jazz and passed it from trumpeter to saxophonist to drummer and back again. Young black guys danced in front of them. A lone white woman out of a crowd of onlookers grooved to the music in the middle of the street. When a guy came around with a big cardboard box, soliciting donations, many of the tourists suddenly breezed away to other places, and I thought Man, you assholes.

Bourbon Street was a wash of people, moving forward and back, gaggles of young men hooting and drinking, older couples walking more sedately under the old balconies. We stopped in to eat and while Zara got the ribs, I couldn’t go past the alligator poboy.

It was delicious.

At a table across from us, a beautiful woman sat and listened to her less beautiful, but way, way, way more drunk friend laugh. The drunk friend, without realising it, knocked her handbag over with her foot and her purse fell onto the floor. As we left, I coughed.

‘Excuse me,’ I said. ‘I think you dropped your purse.’

The drunk friend leaned back on her chair, snapped her head around, and saw her purse. Then she rested one elbow on the back of the chair, and looked me in the eye.

‘I do believe you’re right!’ she said, and we went back to Bourbon Street.

Strip clubs, cheap whiskey, music. There was life there, swimming and weaving through the air. The next day, when we talked about Mardi Gras, I realised that this was only a fraction of what the city was used to.

As we circled around and back to the hotel, we heard a voice roaring though the streets.

‘Daaaaaaaaaaaaay-o. Day-ah-ah-o. Daylight come and me wanna go home. Day! Me say-day-me-say-day-me-say-daaaaaaaay-o!’

A lone busker stood a block away from Bourbon, and I suddenly realised that as soon as we’d turned a corner, the noise had vanished. Strange thing, but it meant we could hear this man’s incredible voice perfectly.

Once back to the hotel, I was out of it. The more I think about it, the more I realise how much of that trip I spent sleeping.

It could have been worse. Zara woke up early and headed to Cafe du Monde for breakfast. And got caught in a rainstorm coming back. I found her in the lobby, drenched.

‘A guy in a truck gave me some plastic!’ she said. She’d used it to shelter herself from the rain as best she could.

Once again, we packed our luggage back in the car, aware that we were, well and truly, on the last legs of the trip.

New Orleans.

Another place to go back to.

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SIMON SMITHSON is an Australian writer and editor. He is currently based in Melbourne, Australia, but frequently finds himself in Los Angeles and San Francisco. His work has appeared on both sides of the globe in print and online in publications such as BLIP, Every Day Fiction, Beat, The Loop, My Sinking Boat, and more. He has a tumblr at www.simonsmithson.com and he runs a lifestyle experiment at www.selfhelpless.net.

24 responses to “TPAC 2010 – Day 22: There’s a new Orleans?”

  1. Zara Potts says:

    Oh I love these pieces of yours brew. It brings it all back. I think by this leg, we were so unbelievably tired. I remember that poor girl in a bikini outside the strip club with the guy advertising ‘whisky and tits.’ Awesome.
    And did i get drenched!!! Unbelievable. I wish we’d stayed longer in New Orleans. Actually, I wished we’d been able to stay longer everywhere.
    Such a great road trip….Wow, I’m sad now, because I know we are getting to the end.

  2. Alison Aucoin says:

    I’m so happy that you guys had fun but incredibly sad that this is the only part of New Orleans that you saw. So much better just a few shorts blocks away. Next time I’m your tour guide!

    • New Orleans Lady says:

      Wow, I said something similar. We can show them around together!

      • Alison Aucoin says:

        You’re on! Doesn’t it (Sorry ya’ll I really am happy you had fun but…) make you cringe to think of them having Bourbon St as their only experience?! On the other hand, both Zara & Simon made Bourbon St seem so much less disgusting than it actually is. Maybe I should check it out on my next trip home. Then again, nah. I’ll hit Frenchmen St for music & Uptown for food.

        • Zara Potts says:

          Oh you guys would make the best tour guides. We would have so much fun!!!! I’m so sorry we didn’t get more time in Nawlins. Oh well, it just means we have to come back, right? Right!

        • Simon Smithson says:

          Nyawlins was awesome. And definitely one to do again.

          Like just about everywhere.

          Except Gary, Indiana.

    • Ronlyn Domingue says:

      Alison, maybe you should write an alternative tour book for New Orleans. The standard tourist fare MUST be experienced, but one must not dally. There are so many other wonderful things to see.

  3. Joe Daly says:

    I keep forgetting that the TPAC blogs are still rolling- it’s like finding extra Christmas presents in January!

    Man, this really made me miss N.O. I love that you got to enjoy the prototypical NO experience- at least walking around the Quarter. Cafe du Monde is one of my fave places in the world, right next to Mother’s. Best food in N.O.

    I used to think that NO was one of those cities where I could live if I had to move, but I now realize that it would kill me in very short order. It would kill me dead, Simon. It really would.

    Glad you guys made it out alive!!

    • Zara Potts says:

      I’m glad to say I had beignets at Du Monde and breakfast at Mothers! I don’t know where Simon was – probably drinking a Hurricane. Ha Ha.
      No, we actually didn’t try any hurricanes, or grenades or anything else alcoholic – the reservations girl at the hotel took it as a personal insult, I think!

      • Joe Daly says:

        The beignets at CDM are like little kisses from Baby Jesus. You, Pookie, are clearly a woman of refined and zesty tastes.

        And sorry to lay this out, but not trying any hurricanes or hand grenades while in the French Quarter is a pretty serious faux pas. Had you and Simon jumped up on the registration desk and pooped all over her computer, the insult would be still be far less than what you delivered.

        Next time!

  4. New Orleans Lady says:

    Ok, I’m going to just say that I’m officially upset that I didn’t get to see you guys when you were here. In my defense, you guys were in and out in no time flat and to prove it, all you can remember is the hotel receptionist and Bourbon Street!

    This place is so much more than that! It’s romantic and charming and historic. You guys were not here long enough to FEEL it. In essence, that’s what New Orleans is, a feeling. Nothing else. Some people don’t get it but I’m positive, without a doubt, that given the time and the right amount of sleep, both of you would have.

    You both need to come back. Let me show you around. Such beauty and mystery surrounds this place and none of it is on Bourbon. Give me a heads up next time, will ya?

    • Zara Potts says:

      I know! I know! we were just so exhausted, I don’t think we really knew how tired we were until we finished the trip. Particularly this last leg.
      But to think we could have met in you Cafe Du Monde for coffee!! Arrrgh. If only…
      I really wish we had had longer in NO. It was amazing even for the very short time we were there. We will definitely be back and I would be absolutely thrilled to have you show me the sights. It’s a beautiful place you live in and I am longing to return.. xx

  5. Slade Ham says:

    And to think Z didn’t like her beignets….

    I’m actually playing in New Orleans on Wednesday. I’m sure I won’t make it out of the Quarter either.

  6. Simone says:

    Thank heavens for google, I now know what an alligator poboy is! Kinda reminds me of a bunny chow:


    That photo of Cafe’ Beignet is awesome. So romantic and dreamy.

    “‘Daaaaaaaaaaaaay-o. Day-ah-ah-o. Daylight come and me wanna go home. Day! Me say-day-me-say-day-me-say-daaaaaaaay-o!’

    This song is stuck in my head now. Thank you, Simon! Thanks a lot!

    • Simon Smithson says:

      Oh! That looks delicious!

      That song was stuck in my head for a while too, Simone. I don’t think it can be avoided.

  7. Ronlyn Domingue says:

    Simon, what a gentleman you were for handing the lady her fallen purse…

    Love the last photo. In a way, that’s the spirit of New Orleans.

    • Simon Smithson says:

      I saw it fall and thought Am I overstepping my boundaries here? What if she just want to be real drunk and hang out?

      Zara is responsible for all the photos. She’s got a very gifted eye.

  8. Lisa Rae Cunningham says:

    My big fat swollen heart just can’t let you put Las Vegas and New Orleans in a sentence together, unless you’re talking about a Vegas parody of New Orleans. Because I fucking love New Orleans for all the reasons Vegas eludes me. You’re right about it being organic. And you’re right about needing to go back. It’s a beautiful place. Shit, Simon. This post has me all misty and moved for New Orleans. I wanna go there right now.

  9. Gloria says:

    I was in New Orleans for a few days in January of 1999. That was the trip that my ex-husband asked me to marry him on, during our roadtrip back home to Albuquerque. It was warm and comfortable and everyone was so nice – even the stripper at the strip club was affable and charming and willing to engage in a long conversation. The accents are incredible. I think I ate in that exact restaurant you picture up above.

  10. Tawni says:

    “Everything about New Orleans was like Vegas, if Vegas hadn’t been carved out of the desert by mobsters to bilk fools of their money and traveling women of their misgivings about selling their vaginas.”

    HA. Brilliant. 🙂

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