My buddy Ray and I recently started an exercise to flex our creative muscles: We’re giving each other writing prompts each Sunday and publishing the results on Friday. The only catch? A self-imposed 500-word limit. This week’s prompt: Where am I going in 2014?
I tried to avoid eye contact with the devil as he boarded the streetcar, but it’s never that easy in New Orleans. I’d never seen anything like his garish costume–which included a red sequined jacket, sparkly platform shoes, and horn-adorned top hat–and couldn’t help but stare as he sat down on a nearby wooden seat and opened a can of Four Loko. I knew he had a good story, so I asked about the get-up.
Over the next 20 minutes, he alluded to the legal troubles in Alabama that brought him to New Orleans, discussed his career as a busker in Jackson Square, offered me five pounds of crawfish, and delivered running commentary on passengers as they boarded and departed. “She’s got airplane legs,” he remarked of one particularly attractive woman. “Those go on like a runway, and I’d like to enter her cockpit.”
Soon after, he greeted an elderly nun as she boarded the streetcar. As it turned out, they were old friends, which made perfect sense because this is New Orleans, where nothing and everything makes sense. Where else would the devil would befriend a nun, if not New Orleans?
Later that night, long after the devil departed, I reflected on why I love New Orleans: Things happen there that don’t happen anywhere else. Beautiful, strange, unexplainable, you-had-to-be-there, I-don’t-get-it-either, don’t-question-it-just-go-with-it things. The kind of fanciful things that overwhelm the imagination of anyone who’s visited.
New Orleans is, at its heart, a city of moments–moments like the devil boarding the streetcar with a Four Loko in one hand and bag of crawfish in the other. And you never know when these moments will make you fall in love with the city.
Maybe your bicycle tour guide starts his safety speech by informing you that helmets are optional and that you can nurse a beer while pedaling.
Or your hair gets blown back when the Rebirth Brass Band, in full throat, blows the doors off the tin-roofed Maple Leaf bar during “(I Feel Like) Busting Loose.”
After a long day of riding your bike Uptown and along the Mississippi River, you’ll collapse into a seat at Coop’s, where you order jambalaya and drink an Abita Purple Haze in two gulps. And, while waiting on the bill, you’ll join as the rest of the patrons sing along to “Stand By Me” on the jukebox. There won’t be a dry eye in the house.
You might see a cop while nursing a beer in broad daylight, and your first instinct will be to ditch it in the closest bush. Then you remember it’s legal to drink in public in New Orleans, so you grab another for the long walk back to your hotel.
While walking between stages at the French Quarter Fest, you may stumble upon Bernie & the Party Gators. This group of German jazz musicians, which you’ve never heard of before, will drink liberally before, during, and after each song. And, with a deep baritone vocalist, thick German accents, and a vague polka influence, they absolutely kill “Basin Street Blues.”
With time to kill before the Rebirth Brass Band set, you grab a slice of alligator cheesecake at nearby Jacque-Imo’s. You won’t know if you like it or not, but you’ll be glad you tried it.
When the Treme Brass Band plays its last note and you’re ready to collapse from hours of dancing, Gladys–the bartender and waitress who dished up a bowl of white beans and rice when you first walked in–will give you the kind of hug reserved for estranged family members on Thanksgiving. “Good night, darling,” she’ll say through the biggest smile you’ll ever see. “We’ll see you again soon.”
Somewhere in there, you might run into the devil. But, because this is New Orleans, you’ll ask how his day was. And, after he departs, you’ll remember that it’s not like back home. Back home, he’s a curiosity who’d be Instagrammed and overtly ignored in equal measure. But here in New Orleans, he fits right in, just him and the nun, talking about their days on the streetcar.