Upon my arrival to New Orleans a couple weeks ago, I immediately took a walk to Bourbon Street. Well, not immediately… I rented a car and drove downtown and checked into my hotel. If you haven’t been to New Orleans it’s really not feasible to walk from the airport to downtown unless you have a full day to blow and not much luggage. Additionally, it wouldn’t look that cool walking around Bourbon Street with a duffel bag and a laptop, and I’m all about looking cool. So to recap, I rented a car, drove downtown, checked in, dropped off my bags, and called Mrs. F’er to let her know I didn’t die in a fiery plane crash and that I would now be heading down to Bourbon Street to find nourishment. Well, not really. You see, there’s not much to eat on Bourbon Street proper unless you want a slice of pizza from the frozen drink storefronts or a hot dog from Ignatius Reilly and his Lucky Dog cart. Newly inspired by Moist Rub’s graph of my weight in an earlier post, I bypassed those options and instead decided to just check out the scene and walk around a bit before starting my quest for a somewhat healthful meal. Finding that in New Orleans is like going to Afghanistan to find a Christian. But CNN found one there, so I held out hope.
Bourbon Street is more alive each time I visit, and most of the hurricane debris in the Quarter has been cleared and aptly replaced with a lighter than usual layer of crud leftover from a lighter than usual Mardi Gras crowd. On my walk I decided to peruse the music scene and perhaps take in some of that famous Zydeco music I dig so much. Here is what I found:
Bar #1: A house band I recognize from previous trips with a very bored looking girl singer performing You Really Got Me by the Kinks (or Van Halen, depending on when you were born) for a group of drunken frat boys on spring break spilling beer and looking for the cast of Girls Gone Wild. The singer looked like she was in her car stuck in traffic and just subconciously singing along to the radio. Not sure what the band name was, but for our purposes they shall now be known simply as Ennui.
Bar #2: Band with a drunken looking singer trying to interpret Drops of Jupiter by Train, but sounding like his vocal cords were destroyed in the hurricane. I placed a blue tarp across his throat and moved on.
Bar #3: Finally, I hear the strains of the Zydeco classic Mississippi Queen emanating from the next bar. The rhythm section is tight and a girl is laying down a bad-ass cowbell beat with the zeal of Will Ferrell, although she looks about 10 years too old to be participating in such activities. They start to pass the tip jar around, but I can’t find it in my soul to tip somebody for doing Mountain covers no matter how bad-ass the cowbell.
The only true Zydeco music seems to be coming from PA systems with blown speakers in front of each of the 547 t-shirt shops that line the street. I continue to mill about smartly, alternately passing Larry Flynt’s Barely Legal strip emporiums and people who look like they’re one bad decision away from re-enacting a Nick Nolte mugshot.
I finally decided that it might not be the best night for music and finally peeled off the main drag down a side street to clear my head and begin my search for food. Unable to escape the music, I get passed by a white Escalade, pimped out and bass thumping. But instead of an unrecognizable rap song it was none other than the sweet sounds of Andy Gibb caressing the evening air. I gave the driver the devil horns and rocked down to Decatur Street. Maybe it’s hip to be square again.
As I made the turn up Decatur Street, I saw a tour bus and trailer parked out front of the House of Blues, so decided to check it out. I hoped that in a freak coincidence it might be the Lovehammer bus and that Marty would jump on my back and invite me in for some Parcheesi, but it was just Bonnie Raitt. I can roll with the changes, so I waited for her to run out and jump on my back and invite in for a game of Scrabble but she was still rocking out inside the club. I was pissed that I didn’t get there early enough to hit the show, but I wasn’t going to wait around for her so I continued my quest for sustenance. Then I saw it – Attiki Bar & Grill.
Mediterranean sounded healthier than Cajun, so I bellied up to the bar and ordered a cold one. The barkeep somehow must have been aware of the conditions of my parole and brought me an O’Doul’s. It was as icy as the stares I got the last time I wore my Snidely Whiplash t-shirt to the Mountie convention. I perused the menu like an illiterate at the Library of Congress, realizing that I didn’t have Mrs. F’er to translate these exotic entrees for me. I played it safe and narrowed it down to a gyro sandwich or something called a shawarma sandwich. I deferred to my loyal barkeep Joelle, who highly recommended the shawarma, so who was I to disagree. She rocked, the sandwich perfectly appeased my hunger, and I sauntered back to Room 420. Upon check-in I had been assigned to Room 420 again, ironically a non-smoking room, and despite the room number I couldn’t find a stash anywhere. Nary a seed nor stem to be found, but I did enjoy the platter of trippy brownies.
Next day I set up in my temporary office adjacent to a computer closet containing a piece of equipment that was emitting a constant beeping sound. I pretended I was in a busy urban ER, saving gangbangers from gunshot wounds so that they could return to the streets to be a public nuisance. Lunchtime rolled around and I decided to begin my new diet program. If successful, I was hoping that I would be able to crack the New York Times non-fiction best sellers list with The New Orleans Bread Pudding with Rum Sauce Diet. In case you’re wondering, I think it will work if you commit to doing one-handed cartwheels for three hours in the afternoon after eating but I’m still waiting for the results of the clinical trial.
After a hard day’s work I walked through the lobby and in the lounge I found my muse at the piano. I had worked off the bread pudding by this time, so I had to abandon her with the promise to return after re-nourishing. I donned my beads and party hat and walked back to Bourbon Street. I considered a Cajun dinner to complement my attire, but found myself back at Attiki. The O’Doul’s was still icy and this time I added the stuffed grape leaves appetizer to my shawarma sandwich, and then in a temporary bout of narcissistic surfeit I found myself asking Joelle for the dessert list. I again deferred to my culinary representative and ended up with a slice of hot fudge sundae cheesecake in front of me. When she asked me how it was, I suddenly had a chance to quote one of my favorite movie scenes (slightly modified to fit the situation) – “That’s some pretty fucking good cheesecake.” Now that I was a regular, I was introduced to the rest of the staff, including the lunch bartender Cameron, who, as far as I can tell, moves to the other side of the bar after his shift and spends the rest of his day drinking and smoking with a pained expression on his face. I was tempted to sample the rest of the dessert menu, but I had a date with a dame and a piano and had to ramble back.
Upon my arrival, my muse asked what I wanted to hear and seemed pleased with my request for some Gottschalk. She enthusiastically pulled out her book of oldies and, since the bar was as crowded as the granny panty booth at a stripper convention, I got my own personal performance of songs from the 19th and early 20th century. She decided to test my knowledge and asked me when I thought Someday My Prince Will Come was written. I surmised 1937 and shocked her and myself with the correct answer, and was presented with a deli platter from Rupert Jee’s Hello Deli. I took the deli platter to my room and retired for the evening.
After eating some rolled up ham and cheddar squares for breakfast, I headed downstairs for work. The beeping persisted and I pretended I was the new star of 24, chasing down the beeping improvised explosive device before it destroys the rest of New Orleans. Then I drifted off for a moment and started thinking about Ashleigh Banfield. She was a local anchor here in Dallas, but also sang in a band and I occasionally saw her around town just hanging out and shooting pool. Always thought that was pretty cool since I never ran into Walter Cronkite while I was out drinking. Then she disappeared from my life, found a really cool pair of glasses, booked a ticket to Afghanistan and got famous when we started exploding the crap out of that country a few years ago. Shortly thereafter she fell off my radar screen since I’m not typically a news channel junkie unless the lovely and talented Robin Meade is gracing my screen on Headline News Monday through Fridays from 6 to 10 am ET. But I digress. And with that digression it was time for lunch and I was forced back to the lavish buffet where I strictly adhered to my innovative New Orleans Bread Pudding with Rum Sauce Diet. After a few more hours of work and some one-handed cartwheels, I locked up and went back to the room to freshen up. I was never really sure what that meant, so I rubbed some wilted lettuce from the deli tray on my forehead and hit the streets for some dinner.
I decided I would indulge in the local cuisine and found a casual corner joint that offered up an appealing combo platter of jambalaya, red beans and rice, creole, a whole blackened walrus and a 50# sack of crawfish. The food was decent, but I had failed to heed my own rule of using caution at places with Help Wanted signs in the window. Like many other service establishments, they are woefully understaffed due to the lack of housing for hourly labor and I believe my server that night forgot about me like a broken toy two weeks after Christmas. It wasn’t like she was sitting at the bar reading a Hardy Boys mystery, but was so in the weeds that I couldn’t get too upset. Instead she got a generous tip courtesy of my expense account that hopefully helped redeem her night and I started the trek back to the hotel. However, like a moth drawn to a flame I was sucked into the swirling vortex of Attiki and the only way to escape was to eat the magical hot fudge sundae cheesecake. As soon as I finished, the ride came to a complete stop, I exited to the right and proceeded back to the hotel, slightly woozy but satisfied.
I stopped in the lounge to wind down with some chillin’ music and found my pianist accompanied by a banjo player. I worked with a girl once that decided to pursue her dream and started taking banjo lessons. It was just odd enough to be kind of sexy. But I digress. This banjo player was an old German guy and not that sexy. I don’t mind the banjo most of the time, but it just seemed to be in the way that night. They played Won’t You Come Home Bill Bailey, and after that every song in which he accompanied her sounded like Bill Bailey. I wasn’t alone with that observation, as she transitioned into Bill Bailey a couple times after that much to my amusement and his annoyance. This night the bar was as crowded as a Brokeback Mountain screening at the White House, so when break time came down my muse joined me at my table where we discussed Europe, crime rates, music, suicide, and Bette Midler. Then she dutifully returned to the ivories for her last set, after which she rewarded me with a complimentary CD for my attention. I got back to Room 420, mainlined the complimentary conditioning shampoo and called it a night.
Next morning, the incessant beeping finally broke me and it now became a representation of my life ticking away at my godforsaken job. I wrapped up business, had a final serving of New Orleans Bread Pudding with Rum Sauce and got myself back to the still depressingly desolate New Orleans airport. The flight was delayed, so I perused my complimentary USA Today and just like a plate of shrimp, there’s Ashleigh Banfield on the front page of Section D because she didn’t wear a dress when she got married in 2004, but instead dressed up as Ace Frehley from KISS. OK, I made that last part up, but she did don a wedding pantsuit rather than a dress and inspired a collective gasp from the apparently emphysemic audience as she walked down the aisle. Technically I guess it was really a dock since she got married on a boat. It wasn’t really clear because I didn’t really give a hoot and was just reading the story to avoid a possible conversation with any nearby passengers.
Eventually my plane showed up and I dreamed of the day I would return for more bread pudding.