Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Lost Are Not Found...

It was a very nice place we stayed in the Marigny. It's an old neighborhood and the newer part near the river is where white Creole gentleman set up households for their mistresses of color in the early 19th century.  The musician Jelly Roll Morton was born there in 1890. By the mid 20th century it was a crime ridden area but when the worlds fair came in 1984 the commercialization of the Quarter drove many of those long time residents to this area of French/Spanish/Caribbean styled homes. Here's a photo of the display in the home of Marie Laveau's Father dating from the early 1800s, which was visible if you walked out out gate and looked right. 
I guess I discovered New Orleans right before the World's Fair of 1984. Although I can still remember warehouses along the river where there are now malls I guess you have to lump me in with the johnny come lately skinny legged britches crowd of hipsters and bachelor party celebrators. Here was a card we found on the dining table of the house. The proprietors said it was made by someone's mom for a bachelor party group in case they were separated and lost
This card and the possibility that you might get so drunk you can't find your way home brings to mind an experience from the late 80s that Cathy and I had at a Mardi Gras. We were young and not yet in our prime earning years so we had opted for a chain hotel on the West Bank. We had no car having splurged to fly from Houston to New Orleans. You could still get those 40 minute flights in those days for about 25 cents. After a night of parades we needed a cab to get back across the river to our lodging. 

Maybe it was a different time still closer to the old than the present. Maybe it was just we were new to each other and in love. What ever it was you could find and see things you were not expecting in the French Quarter. Now you find about what you find on any tourist gut in America and there are those that can't tell the difference but back then the old ghosts still roamed and walked like natural men. It was a night like this that we hailed a cab that drifted toward us with two men sitting in the front seat. 

It was a beater of a cab. An unlicensed job driven by a wizened  old black man trying to make a few extra bucks off the tourist trade and confusion of Mardi Gras. The ragged car smoked, stunk, backfired and if I remember correctly we stopped and fueled once. The passenger sitting by the black man was a young clean cut white man wearing no shoes. It seemed that the cab might be taken but the driver motioned us in when we hailed. 

As I directed the driver to our hotel I mispronounced the Spanish name of our hotel. One of those times when my East Texas possum hunting ancestors got the best of me and my tongue stumble over the unfamiliar words of the big city. The young man curtly corrected me on pronunciation. This caused the driver to explode. He said, "well at least he know where he staying!"   

As we rode the story came to light that the young man wanted to also go to his hotel but was left shoe less by his friends and could not remember which hotel he was staying in. Remember this is way before cell phones and I bet this is a common problem in New Orleans, maybe even the mother that made the address cards had it herself. The old school morals of the taxi driver kicked in and he proceeded to lecture the younger man on "just what kind of friends are these?" It was unimaginable to him that your friends would run off and leave you in a strange place lost and shoeless.  The driver then dropped us at our hotel. He and the younger man drove together off into the early river morning. 

I think back on these people and I bet the old taxi driver is dead. The car is certainly in a junk yard. It needed to be on the day we rode in it. The other man seemed a few years younger than us so that would make him a good 50 years old or better now. Maybe the ghost of the old taxi cruised through the Quarter this past weekend and the old man picked me out of the crowd and remembered giving me that ride. Possibly he turned to the ghost of the man next to him with the cold pale bare feet and said "see, he have his family with him."  

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