It was early evening when my assistant, Little Red, and I disembarked. Coming into New Orleans I felt like a lost character from the set of the Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, and Jack Nicholson film romp motorcycle classic “Easy Rider”. The vibe was light despite the abrupt fatal ending of the sixties epic. But these thoughts quickly slipped into the ether as we picked up our luggage and caught a cab to our hotel, The Royal Sonesta, which is located right on Bourbon Street. I was still feeling the ill effects of head congestion which was compounded with wicked cabin pressure and left me hard of hearing. The poor cab driver attempted to have a conversation with me, but I simply didn’t hear most of what was said. Little Red jumped in and tried to discreetly tell me what he was saying so I could respond, but my responses came out in whispers that the driver in turn could not hear. Unfortunately, I believe the man was left with a bad impression, but I tipped him a Jackson so that should assuage any and all slight my unfortunate condition might have caused.

The cabbie dropped us off on a corner where an old absinthe house is still located. Ill advised fantasies and previous adventures with the Green Fairy populated my head like the first wave of an acid flash back. Little Red is very innocent and her only fault is the ill advised company she keeps. Given this I thought it best to keep my plan to guzzle a gallon of absinthe. To let her in on the deviously planned indulgence would not be wise at this juncture.

The hotel was only a half a block away from the Fairy watering hole. As we walked up to the front steps with our baggage a man in a safari hat welcomed us. I believe it was the same model of hat that “Columbus Free Press” reporter and fashion writer Dave Lewis used to wear proudly, that is until I started a fire inside it in a failed attempt at making soup in upstate New York. Unfortunately for the hat, I was what Ralph Stedman refers to as “paper sick” and in that deluded state it seemed totally appropriate and a prime directive to feed. Getting past the helmeted lad, we made it to the check-in desk. Unlike so many times before, we actually made it through the process without yelling, threats of violence, denied credit, or any of a plethora of things that can and do go wrong during a freelance writer’s check-in. I think maybe it was because Little Red did all the talking.

After check-in we decided to walk around the area and get a general lay of the land or get lost, which ever came first. It was about 8pm, the plane food was the equivalent of the green hot dogs my local jail is known for, and we were hungry. Keeping our eyes peeled for a Gumbo sign, we ultimately came upon the Café du Monde. For the uninitiated, the Café du Monde is a place that sells coffee and beignets and is world famous for doing so. No, that’s not the highlight of the menu that is the menu. Apparently, sometimes it doesn’t make sense to diversify. The stand first opened in 1862, the same year as the famous Civil War battle at Antietam, so they must be doing something right. The coffee was good, but the fried dough of the beignets heaped with powered sugar was worth the price of admission. More importantly for my journey, this was a strategic gathering place for the good people of the area. Their patio was large and stocked with as many tables and chairs as they could cram into the area. I could see people of all walks of life, irrespective of differing ethnic groups and socio-economic status. This was to be a place to pick up information, people-watch, eavesdrop, and maybe make an illicit purchase of information or substance, but not tonight. I was weary from the walk, my left ear sounded like a busted speaker, and the only thing I longed for was my hotel bed. My assistant helped guide me back through the sin drenched streets of the French Quarter and back to my elegant room where I proceeded to pass out as if on some powerful anesthesia.

The next day I awoke and the stomach pangs were kicking my innards like an eight month old fetus. Walking briskly down several streets I finally found a cozy breakfast diner and chowed on some local grindage. There I struck up a conversation with a local lady. She was probably in her fifties, white, conservative in dress, and grandmom-y. We spoke about politics for a while and I tried to delve into her feelings on the storm, the rebuilding, and the general state of things in her hometown. She felt compassionate toward her fellow citizens, but she was particularly irked by the news coverage during the first days of the storm.

She said, “there were more people shot in New York City during Katrina then in New Orleans, but all the news media wanted to show was the bad people we have here. Well I can tell you that those people don’t represent me or my city. I pray for them, but they and the national news didn’t tell the truth.”

Her brow narrowed and her eyes were filled with a mix of pain and anger as her words subtlety grew louder.

“The truth is, we cared for one another. We’ got nuthin’ to be ashamed of, not one damn thing. Without good god fearin’ people in this city things would have been much, much worse, folks pitched in and we made due with less than usual. THAT is the story of that damn storm.”

She could easily have been a family member of mine. Her “everyman” quality was charming and the anger in her voice was as righteous as it was exacting. Feeling as if my questions might have raised her blood pressure and upset her, I apologized. She was having none of it.

“What for?” she asked rhetorically.

“You ain’t got a damn thing to apologize for. The fact is, even the government don’t have to apologize. As long as they are doing the best they can, that’s all I ask. Cain’t do no better’n that.”

After a period of silence she excused herself to the restroom. When her waitress dropped of her bill I took it, paid for her breakfast, and left her a note of thanks.

Next, I wandered over to a French Quarter branch of the CC coffee house. They have a great cup of coffee, courteous staff, and free wi-fi. While there my mind was awash with the lady’s remarks. I don’t think I could be as forgiving as her. Was being that forgiving divine, cowardly, apathetic, or something else? It was just hard to imagine someone being so patient in the face of rats running the streets, the West Nile virus, the city threatening to destroy and seize anyone’s house that hasn’t been properly rehabbed, along with fake contractors and their heartless scams. It struck me as an odd quality to remain steadfastly forgiving under that kind of duress. She was correct in regard to her words on the media. The big story the large press outlets missed when they employed the well worn and overdone “if it bleeds, it leads” strategy were the stories of this saintly grandmother and the moral majority of the area. Though I would admit and she might as well, that the news did pick up on these human interest stories later, it was still very disconcerting to think the blood had to be squeezed from the corpse of the racist stories such as “looters shooting people for merchandise” angle before the fourth estate really got in there and attempted to find out what the people were going through. It was a fundamental dereliction of duty, but in this day and age of corporate network news this is sadly status quo. Just as sad is how the national new outlets have forgotten all about Katrina. In an election year you would think there would be more traction on the government’s slow response and the ongoing problems of the region, yet the coverage is minimal. The national press has no problems being taken for a ride by a geeky potential pedophile before any DNA evidence was processed, but heaven’s forbid they would doggedly stick to the worst natural disaster in our Constitutional Republic’s brief era. This kind of story choice is really indicative of a media gone awry. You don’t have to be a doctorate candidate to understand the massive failure of the press to provide a check and balance during this administration’s kleptocracy.

CC’s was a nice place to go to decompress after such an intense conversation. I hung out and tried to unwind and relax my walked-out legs, but soon enough my ramblin’-man-soul got the jitters again and I had to go walkabout. I headed the other way up Bourbon Street and hit Canal Street a number of blocks later. I saw “going out of business” signs in some of the windows and construction on huge corporate hotel chains. The street was busy with what looked to be more locals than Bourbon Street seemed to have. I walked into one store with a closing sign. Browsing the store, I frowned at all the typical tourist crap in front of me. “Who buys this shit?” The words repeated in my head like a broken techno record. Walking up to the front of the store to get ready to leave the store an image hit me eyes, BOOM there it was, an authentic alligator head! Love and covetous thoughts befell me. I know those of you of the PETA persuasion will never understand my joy, but that’s ok. I sauntered up to the counter and asked the lady how much she wanted for it. Through broken English she said $60. I said “no”. After a lot of noise and sweat-inducing haggling we settled upon $30. I asked the lady why her store was closing and she told me she just worked there. After persisting a bit, she told me it was because of the lack of tourists. Tourism feeds the economy of New Orleans and the city continues to lose an untold fortunate because of the sagging level of tourism-related income. The numbers of those visiting the city are getting better, but it’s way too late for many small businesses. Of course this opens the door for large corporations to scoop up the properties and set up shop. See also New Orleans, INC.

Happy with my morbid little gift shop treasure I headed back out to Canal. By this time it was 4pm and like Sugar Plum Fairy of “Sweet Jane” fame, I was looking for soul food and a place to eat. Little Red and I met at the hotel and decided to meander about looking for the perfect place to dine. After walking our dogs sore, we found “Sammy’s” on Bourbon Street. They sold all the classic New Orleans dishes my tummy craved. When the host showed us to our seats we were the only people in the majestically aging dining room. Our server arrived and quickly brought us coffee. We ordered the fried gator as an appetizer and it was stupendous. My crawdad etouffee was spot on and would warm the cockles of any foodie’s belly. Across the table my assistant picked at her stuffed crab, but didn’t masticate much. She didn’t like it. I finished off both of our suppers and we left. Stepping out into the early evening on Bourbon Street the weather was perfect. The warm air encompassed my body like a hug from the Gods.

Over dinner we decided to explore Bourbon Street more fully and to begin trying to familiarize and memorize landmarks along the way. I looked for Madam Ticker Toys House of Blue Lights on the corner of Bourbon and Toulose, but the whorehouse from “Easy Rider” was either fictional or had gone the way of professional baseball in Brooklyn. What we did discover was a wide array of sex shops. One neon sign called out in the night “Unisexxx Club World Famous Love Acts Men & Women”, God and Jerry Falwell can only imagine what deeds go on in that place. I was curious, but decided that this was one of those times in life when mystery is better than discovery. Next, we came across a sign promising a transvestite show. By the time we got down to Larry Flynt’s “Hustler” strip club his version of erotica seemed strangely tame and passé. One thing is for sure New Orleans has no conflicts or hang ups about their collective sexuality. For better or worse, whatever your carnal desires are, Bourbon Street can probably supply it. It’s raw and unrestrained and offensive to many, but it’s probably better than anything the corporations could think of to replace it. At the very least sexuality is natural, whereas bilking accountants out of their discretionary income via Keno seems cruel and unusual punishment even for the bean counting squares. We snapped some pictures, laughed a lot, and had the fun Hank Sr. promised in his song “Jambalaya”.

Now well dark, I took a moment to survey the scene and watched small groups of people go to and fro, many heavily inebriated, some legally, some probably not. The streets weren’t full, but the bars were open and the natives were friendly. From microphones at a couple of bars mere mortals were cranking out their best karaoke. Their talents or lack thereof, mixed with the buzz of the street traffic, and the effect forced me to recall my days of going to the Hebron and Sharptown Carnivals as a child. Hebron and Sharptown are small towns located on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Both of their volunteer fire departments are supported by the income of the carnivals. Each run a few weeks during the summer and most children raised within a twenty mile radius have probably found themselves screaming on the tilt-a-whirl or crushing their sibling on the scrambler. On nights with weak attendance the small fairgrounds might have several dozen people milling around at one time, when the place is booming maybe a thousand attend during the duration of the evening. The spirit is light and fun. Folks meet old friends there and kids of all ages meet new friends. Bourbon Street has this feeling to it. There is nothing nefarious or evil in the spirit of the place. It’s just a street for people who choose to celebrate their own humanity with substances, sex, and song… nothing more, nothing less.

Bill O’Reilly would probably call many of these people “secular progressives” because of their lifestyle, but these people weren’t walking up and down Bourbon Street to make a political point. They were celebrating life their way, on their terms. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union out of Westerville, Ohio, tried to regulate fun once before and they failed. For all their asinine speeches of the utopia that prohibition would bring our country they were flat out wrong. Wrong for pushing their ill conceived idea and in their projections of what effect it would have on the fabric of our society. Likewise, “The Cultural Warrior” Bill O’Reilly is wrong and his brand of forced social conservativism will fail. It is interesting that both claim that “God” is on their side and use the spirit’s name like a bully stick in an attempt to guilt Americans into following their religio-social platform and platitudes. The only thing his agenda would do is turn common everyday citizens into criminals. No, Mr. O’Reilly celebrating life isn’t a place for politics, just like your office isn’t a place for sexual harassment (as reported by I believe I could drink a single malt scotch with the devil himself here on Bourbon Street. The atmosphere is such that even natural enemies can come together and set aside their differences for an evening of celebrating their collective humanity. Unfortunately though, Richard Nixon is dead. As a substitute, the next time I’m down in NOLA you can enter my no spin zone, Bill. Because when spin begins in my world a helluva hang over is imminent, but no one would try to force feed you unfair and unbalanced right wing rhetoric as an attempt to convert your mortal soul into some sort of quasi-republican clone. If you were lucky Bill, perhaps some “secular progressive” hottie from the Unisexxx Club World Famous Love Acts Men & Women would talk you through the experience, with your choice of gender.