From Guest Blogger Jim Luce
Two in the afternoon, I’m dodging bodies on Bourbon Street, ducking and juking from sidewalk to gutter to sidewalk to curb. Rolling with the shoulder bumps, sidestepping excuse me’s and sorry’s, pausing in doorways. The air is humid, close, redolent with the scents of this famously sleazy street–beer, whiskey and wine, come on in, have a good time, cooking grease, warm and enticing cajun/creole, cold grease odors in the alley, in a trash can down there somewhere…seafood, truck exhaust, rank sweat, faint piss smell. The soundtrack is an oddly synchronous symphony, a shout, a curse, female laughter, genuine, delighted, truck horns, car horns, impatient, c’mon, move your ass…. Open air bars, mazed by cases of alcohol waiting to move to the back room, dark narrow doorways, impenetrable to my eye, vaguely forbidding, wonder, stay out…. Cacophony of hip hop, reggae, classic rock, a little jazz on this street that was once all about great jazz and great jazz musicians. Neon signs, motionless in the limp air, Gumbo Ya Ya, T-Shirt Alley—“I Got Bourbon Faced On Shit Street”, Temptations, Little Darlin’s, Larry Flynn’s Hustler Club…. Mid-afternoon, wake up call for party animals, streets jammed already, tourists like me, deliverymen, shopkeepers, Bourbon Street residents, no-eye-contact types alert to potential prey, different drummer marchers…still room to fall down if you get stabbed, but barely.
Da wife (we’re from Wisconsin) is safely parked on a stool in one of the open air bars, Jester’s, happily out of the stream of stabbers and staggerers, sipping a 191 proof Jester’s margarita. She chats with the bartender, amiable young guy, full of stories of the street, decorative holes the size of quarters in his stretched earlobes. I take my camera and dive into the polluted gene pool swirling outside the bar. Across the street, between a cab and a tour bus, down a block.… Behind me, “Hey, brother, how ya doin’, like your hat. You at the game?” I’m wearing a Super Bowl cap, my Green Bay Packers having won Super Bowl XLV a couple weeks ago here in New Orleans. I turn back. “Good game,” I agree. “Coulda been a blow out. They dropped too many passes.”
“Was you at the game?” he asks again. His eyes hold mine, wet, rimmed bright pink, whites yellow. They don’t shift away, don’t look past my ear. Good sincerity technique. Overweight, shaved three, four days ago, from shirt collar to pants cuff a stained canvas of hard times. I hook thumbs in my back pockets to keep contact with my wallet and settle in to talk Packer football. He’s worn, wilted, well-spoken though, and he knows his football. It takes two, three minutes to get to it. Glances away for the first time, comes back, “I don’t mean ya no worry, friend. Been havin’ kind of a rough go lately. Haven’t eaten since yesterday morning. You think you could spare enough I could get a hamburger?” I have a twenty and three ones. “I can’t afford a burger on this street.” I smile. “I can give you enough for a beer to keep you goin’, though.” He grins broadly, busted. “That’ll work too.” I give him the three singles and we shake on it. As I move on he calls, “Hey, go Packers.” I flash him a thumbs up and move on downstream.
Bourbon Street. Once the home of New Orleans jazz greats. Now sleaze multiplied by sleaze–dark bars, strip joints, sex shops, subtle lurk of danger…gaudy, crowded, loud. The sleaze doesn’t bother me, it belongs here now, creates the atmosphere that lets the street live up to its billing of today. And it’s a good place to meet new friends and talk a little football.