New Orleans Short Stories (1): Free Beer on Canal Street
If you can be in love with a city, then New Orleans is my mistress.
Since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, I’ve spent right at 220 days and nights in “The Big Easy,” which equates basically to living there for seven full months. That’s a lot of exquisite dinners, great jazz, and tasty beignets.
Each time I visit New Orleans I come out of it with different impressions and perspectives – about life, leisure and culture. New Orleans is one of the few places which changes you, and if you’re not moved by your experience here in some way, then I’d say you really haven’t been here.
Here’s the first of several parting shots:
Short Story #1: Free Beer on Canal Street
Canal Street was named so because city planners originally expected that a ship canal would be constructed which would lead into the Mississippi River, which was the city’s main source of commerce. Fortunately, that plan fell through, which today leaves us with the major thoroughfare through the city with streetcars, hotels, and plenty of shopping.
Canal Street separates the rest of New Orleans from the French Quarter, or at least tries to. On one side, the streets are in English. On the others, signs are in French. Even to this day. But the “anything goes” mentality of the crazy French Quarter can’t be contained into a small zone of city blocks.
Last week I was waiting at a taxi stand on Canal Street in front of the Sheraton. It was a busy Sunday, as all the weekends are here. At least a dozen people in line waiting for a cab.
A family of four was in front of me. The family consisted of the husband, the wife, and two kids — a boy and a girl. The kids were perhaps 4 or 5 years old. They family had matching blue t-shirts on with some kind of Mickey Mouse logo. The kids had blond hair. Nice family. Probably from Ohio or Georgia or somewhere like that.
The little boy whined to the parents he was thirsty. The mother kept telling the kid to wait. He’d get a drink shortly.
Well, the little boy couldn’t wait. And he was going to do something about it.
The side streets of New Orleans after Friday and Saturday nights are a garbage dump. They’re littered with trash. Mostly beer bottles, cups, broken glass, vomit. You see bottles, cans, and cups all over the place, sitting on sidewalks, ledges, steps – everythere. The area around the French Quarter allows open drinking out in the streets. So you see just about everyone with an alcoholic beverage in their hand.
The parents in front of me were distracted by something as the youngster went off and wandered towards a ledge where there were probably 20 empty beer bottles and cups filled with stale warm beer. These smelly rejects had undoubtedly been left from the night before by drunks walking back to the hotels from Bourbon Street.
I wasn’t paying much attention to any of this until the mother looked over at her child and let out a blood-curling scream.
“Ahhhhhhhhhhhh!!! That’s disgusting!!!” she screamed as she dropped her bag and ran towards the child.
The little boy was holding a plastic cup filled with what appeared to be warm beer and was chugging it down.
“Oh my God!!!,” people hollered. The mother yanked the filthy cup out of the child’s hands and grabbed him by the arm.
Everyone turned and was watching. Half of the people in the taxi line was gasping in absolute horror. The other half were trying not to laugh our asses off.
Guess which group I was in?
You gotta’ love it. That kid can now say he had his first drink right off of Bourbon Street when he was five years old.
NOTE: More stories coming up. I’ll post half a dozen stories the rest of today.