Friends, when New Orleans reopens and you head to the bars of the French Quarter, find yourself a seat at one of the streetside windows. You couldn’t go out and grab a greater cross-section of society than will present itself at your window–especially if there’s a good ballgame on.

I had been speaking at a conference in Lake Charles–located exactly where a bunion would be on Louisiana’s bootheel–and a buddy and I stopped in New Orleans because, well, that’s what you do when you’re within 200 miles of the Big Sleazy.

I don’t know how things are now–well, I know how they are NOW, but I’m talking pre-flood–but this particular weekend, there were no direct routes (that we could see) from the highway into the Quarter. We drove off and boy, did we take a wrong turn. For about three blocks, I was certain we’d be dragged from our car or shot at any instant–and then we rounded a corner, saw a college-aged couple going at it against a building, and we knew we had arrived in Safe Tourist Land.

This being one of the weekends of the NCAA basketball tournament, we went back to Bourbon Street, staked out a streetside table in one of the bars, and proceeded to obliterate ourselves as we provided running commentary on every game, regardless of who was playing. (I remember UNC being on the screen, but that’s it.) It was my mom’s birthday, and I staggered down the street to find a pay phone, gave her a call, and apparently made her promise not to tell Annie how plastered I was. Saint that she is, my mother still has this call saved on her answering machine all these years later.

Anyway, at our table, we sat like kings, receiving a never-ending line of freaks, lunatics, and morals-ditching tourists. A crew of housewives from Ohio or somewhere, in town for the shopping and the Monet exhibit, came and shared a table with us for awhile, and these ladies were damn near begging for a little of the ol’ Mrs. Robinson treatment.

A few moments later, some guy staggered up to the window, wild-eyed and jittery like he’d been let out of a closet. And, in a way, he had–he had been let loose from prison just that very day. “Did six months for distribution,” he said, and then, without any irony or a missed beat, asked, “Y’all wanna buy some weed?”

I vaguely remember a lot of images from then on out–New Orleans is kind of like a scrapbook of drunken memories even as you’re experiencing it–like wandering in and out of voodoo shops, getting into an ugly shoving match with some guy over a woman I didn’t even know–and who bolted as soon as things got ugly, throwing up within sight of Jackson Square, and somehow managing to drive across Lake Ponchartrain without plunging into the water. Once again, New Orleans tattooed my brain.

And I am NEVER letting the kids go there.


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