Notes from New Orleans: Part 7

The world doesn’t need another wanna-be writer penning a paean to the city of New Orleans. So I’m bringing together a mish-mash of notes, memories, scenes, vignettes, stories, and quotes from my trip to the Crescent City. The seventh in a series:

It’s my first morning, and I’m en route to Blue Dot Donuts for breakfast. It’s a doughnut shop started by two cops. Only in New Orleans, right?

I’m waiting for the streetcar. The sun is shining, and I’m feeling refreshed. But within five minutes, my smile starts to fade. I’m a bit annoyed by the wait for the streetcar. “What’s taking so long?” I ask myself. Within 10 minutes, I’m pacing at the stop and wondering if I should hail a cab. “I don’t have all day!” I tell myself.

And that’s when I realize that I do have all day. I have no obligations, no freelance work, no e-mail to check, no chores to do. I have nowhere to be, no one to meet, nothing to worry about. I have no schedule to keep. All I have is a streetcar to wait for.

It takes a solid day or two to detox from the rush-rush-rush nature of my life back home, but I do. And I discover how wonderful it is. Before long, I’m okay with 10-minute waits and 20-minute streetcar rides. I’m alright with walking — nay, ambling — at my own pace. I’ll get to what I can, I tell myself, and I’ll enjoy myself along the way. It’s an attitude I resolve to bring back home with me.

After another five agonizing minutes, the streetcar arrives, and I’m on my way. I try the bacon maple bar. The smoky flavor mixes well with the maple glaze. It’s better than Voodoo’s own infamous doughnut, and it’s not even close.

———

After two or three days, I’m used to perpetually being on guard. Seemingly everyone, everywhere, wants to say “hi.” It’s that famous Southern hospitality that I’ve heard so much about. Even if I’m riding my bike and looking ahead, they say “hi” and ask how I’m doing. Eye contact not required.

Curiously, the default greeting seems to be “Awright.” It’s like a preemptive answer to the pleasantry, “How’s it going?”

It’s disarming. By the time I’m back in Portland, I’m shocked when strangers ignore me or avert their eyes if we make eye contact in the grocery store.

———

I’m headed Uptown to see the Rebirth Brass Band at the Maple Leaf. I have time to kill, so I walk a few doors down to Jacque-Imo’s for dessert.

I’m here for one dish: the restaurant’s famous shrimp-and-alligator cheesecake.

But first, the wait. I spend a solid 45 minutes admiring the restaurant’s decor — paintings and photos cover every square inch of its walls and ceilings — and chatting up a friendly couple from San Francisco. The hostess looks at me apologetically on a few occasions, but what I’ve learned is that no one comes to New Orleans to rush. I’m fine with the wait.

I’m eventually herded through the kitchen and into the dining room, where I finally order the curious dessert. It arrives, I take a bite, and … well, I’ve been back in town for nearly a week, and I still can’t describe the taste. There’s the fishiness of the shrimp, the indescribable sensation of alligator … and cheesecake.  It’s less a cheesecake than a quiche. There’s no crust, and it doesn’t taste like any cheesecake I’ve ever tried. I don’t even know if I like it. But, hey — when in Rome, right?

On my way out, the hostess sees me, puts her hand on my shoulder, and says “Honey, if I would have known, I could have gotten you some cheesecake.” I smile, tell her it’s alright, and head next door.

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