--Antoine Batiste Treme
If there was any doubt I was back in the city where I grew up but as a hayseed tourist this time, it was made clear in my very first steps onto Bourbon St.
“I can tell you where you got your shoes,” a tall, African American man said walking straight up to me. Still possessing the sting of having lost $10 on this scam some thirty years ago on a Mardi Gras visit to New Orleans, I was ready for it this time.
“I got one on my left foot, and one on my right foot,” I replied in a fool-me-once-fool-me-twice triumphant tone. The gentleman quickly moved on to more gullible prey.
An appropriate question would be what would a native New Orleanian be doing on Bourbon St. in his first moments of arriving back home. To someone who grew up here, Bourbon St. is strictly Amateur Hour, attracting only the rubiest of rubes from America's nameless and featureless hinterlands.
But here's the thing: Carol and I had a blast, carousing till 1:30 a.m., a time previously known to us for middle-of-the-night bathroom breaks. Having arrived in town late in the evening, Bourbon St. was all that was open in walking distance from our hotel.
Live music blared into the street, which was not jammed with ten-gallon hats from Ft. Worth or John Deere caps from Des Moines. Carol was immediately caught up in the bontemps roulez, demanding a “go cup” at the first bar serving sidewalk traffic. (The balconies were mostly empty, so she didn't fall prey to the “show us your t**s” offer for Mardi Gras beads.)
A low-hanging fog cast a film-noir atmosphere that dampened no one's mood. We strolled the length of Bourbon St., because I wanted to give Carol the full sense of sleaze that embraces Bourbon St. in arms wreaking of binaca, Budweiser and in need of a shave if you're not carefully discerning. Carol loved it.
“This is so great!” she said, her face a Mardi Gras mask of dizzy revelry, as she cheerfully brushed aside a sales pitch for worthless carnival beads.
We closed out our first evening at a pleasant little dive on the north end of the street called the Drinkery, featuring a blues band from Chicago that unhappily had not heard of “St. James Infirmary.”
Previous visits to New Orleans (all of them, really) are tinctured with the stain of family dysfunction. Not this time. I'm here incognito, visible only to the hustler and huckster that scuttles about the city like any other tourist trap.
At Cafe Du Monde for breakfast the next morning, Carol asked me how it felt to be home again.
“I'm just a tourist here,” I said, as the busker brass band streetwise struck up “St. James Infirmary” without prompting.
Best five buck tip I've given so far. It's good to be home, when you're just passing through and tapping your foot to a cool Dixieland beat.