Thursday, December 08, 2016

A look at the past... New Orleans first time

New Orleans holds a special place in my life.  My first time there was when my friend Rob and I decided to take a trip driving around the South in June of 1970.  We were both on summer break from college and my tennis teaching job didn't start until July.  The trip was more or less random, but the idea was to drive south to Florida, then west along the gulf coast through the Panhandle, Alabama, Mississippi, to New Orleans, back north to Memphis, to Louisville, to Cincinnati for baseball, and then back home to southern Virginia.  All of that was accomplished, but in a time frame that was somewhat abridged, as once in New Orleans we stayed for over a week.

We drove into New Orleans early one evening and found our way to the French Quarter, sight unseen.  At the time driving was allowed on Bourbon Street and we crawled along the street at maybe 3 miles an hour.  Then the unexpected.  On the sidewalk, there was a guy with long curly red hair hawking an alternative newspaper of some type.  He was yelling "Buy the NOLA Express.  Learn how to spell LSD."  The "unexpected" being that he was Ed, a friend of mine from Georgetown, always the joker, who had dropped out of college the year before and seemingly disappeared.

We yelled hello and found a parking place on a nearby street, which was still possible then.  Then we met up with him and he said that we could stay with him if we wanted.  We wanted.  He lived in a typical shotgun quarter frame house on St. Peter, a block and a half from Bourbon.  His place was the attic.  This was June in New Orleans and the water heater was in that attic.  It was unbelievably hot, so that meant that we stayed out at all times, until around 3 or 4 in the morning, late at night until the attic had cooled down to moderately miserable.

New Orleans never shut down so there was no problem finding music to hear, free clubs to enter, and street friends of Ed's that we met, the most constant one being a friendly professional hustler of sorts named Fraho.  He was always good for a laugh or a direction for a new place to go.  He would order and we would pay, a reasonable trade really.

The atmosphere in New Orleans for "hippies" at that time was not tolerant.  While Rob and I did not have especially long hair or any outlandish appearance, we wore the standard jeans and dressed neatly, but since we were young and from elsewhere we were suspect.  We were told that run-ins with the police were common and they were.  Once when the cops were beating the crap out of a long haired guy with their sticks just off Bourbon Street, I ran over.  I was shoved up against a wall, face into it, and told to go away.  Another time when we were driving uptown, my car was stopped and searched extensively.  The cops found nothing but they were not pleasant.  As we were leaving the city at the end of our stay and we threw our trip bags into the trunk, a police car pulled up and asked why we had closed the trunk so quickly.  Searched again, roughed up a little, and we were finally glad to be leaving.  New Orleans cops were notoriously bad.  Always have been and still are.

Other than that, most people in the city were really hospitable.  Most I say, as some of my tennis students at a camp in North Carolina lived in the Garden District.  I called one of them who was all of 12 and he said come visit.  We wanted to see that area anyway, so ok, we went to his house.  We were not allowed in by his mother.  It must have been my silver grey boots.  We shot some hoops in his backyard and left.

One highlight of living in the quarter was going to the Buster Holmes restaurant that was a short walk from Ed's attic.  For 30 cents there was red beans and rice, a slice of French bread, and a glass of cold water.  For 40 cents more there was a piece of smoked sausage.  What a deal when we woke up in the late morning.  The other culinary treat that was easily affordable was at the famous Cafe du Monde, where a coffee and a beignet allowed relaxed reading, people watching and meeting out of the sun.

I was back in New Orleans a few weeks later to pick up more than 20 campers and tennis players, and escort them on the Southern Crescent train to Brevard, North Carolina, and then I took them home six weeks later.  Both times I found my way to the quarter and old and new friends there.  When Mardi Gras in February 1971 arrived, I convinced four of my college housemates that we should go, and off we went in the middle of the night.  Two more cars followed.  Our meeting spot was Burgundy and St. Peter.  We all arrived, eleven students that had mid-terms approaching, within an hour of each other and a raucous few days followed.

That was the beginning of a long relationship with a unique city.


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