Let the Good Times Roll

No matter the poison, the Big Easy is the remedy.

by Cherri Ellis

Life holds so few certainties, but here is one you can count on: New Orleans is fun.   Judy Deck summed it up beautifully when she said, “If there was no New Orleans, America would just be a bunch of free people dying of boredom.”

My latest adventure there began when my daughter and I were deciding where to take her dad for dinner on his upcoming birthday. We were thinking some place uber-swanky, but as we happily rattled off our favorite seafood and steak restaurants, his dearth of enthusiasm was evident. He finally sort of shrugged us off and went outside to do some yard work. We looked at each other in irritated silence. When I finally spoke, the following quick conversation took place:

“Did he say my restaurant was too expensive?”

“He is so weird.”

“He is depressed about his birthday?”

“He is being weird.”

“What would be more fun?”

“New Orleans is fun.”

“He won’t want to.”

“We won’t tell him.”

And that’s how we ended up buying three plane tickets and booking a room in the French Quarter for three nights, vowing to keep it a secret until right before we kidnapped him.

I cannot keep a secret. Do not tell me anything you don’t want the rest of the world to know, because I cannot do it. Ever see what happens to a bottle of Coke when you put Pop Rocks in it? That is me with confidential information. My daughter has known every gift under the tree at Christmas since…OK… ever. The level of subterfuge it took to keep this plan under wraps on my part was mind bending. As the date approached, I realized we had bought tickets for a Thursday departure but had not told him that he needed to take Friday off. I kept awkwardly asking him his schedule as if I were suddenly fascinated with his every work day. Finally, the moment came when we gave him a card with boarding passes in it, but the timing worked out in such a way that he only had 15 minutes to pack for three days. In retrospect, that may have been too short a window, as it did seem to stress him a tad.

Have you ever seen the scene in Total Recall when Arnold Schwarzenegger gets caught in the depressurized atmosphere of Mars and his eyeballs nearly blow out of his head? That’s what my husband looked like when we hit the traffic on Highway 280. I will not list the moving violations he committed on the way to the airport, but I will assure you that flying seemed safer than driving by the time we arrived.

Once there, the city rolled out its seamy splendor. The food from The Bourbon House and Galatoire’s was decadence incarnate, but so were the hotdogs from a street vendor. I had the happy epiphany that I wanted to come back in my next life as a street dancer for a zydeco band. We played slot machines at Harrah’s and shopped for things we didn’t need — a teal leather bracelet, a zebra print raincoat and all things Tabasco.

Suddenly the sky opened up, causing people to scatter in all directions. I bolted for a small bookstore across the street. It was old and nondescript, and had a box out front with a cardboard sign that read simply “Books $1.” The bell jingled as I stepped inside and waited for my eyes to adjust to the light. As far as I could see in every direction, there were books. They were piled on tables, packed on narrow shelves reaching to the ceiling and stacked on the floor. Old paperbacks from the 70s were wedged in with elaborate coffee-table art books. There were no posters or displays or coffee shop. Nothing but books, old and dusty and packed in every square available inch. I wandered, turning my body to fit between the narrow rows, and ran my hand down the rows of uneven spines.

My daughter glanced in the door and quickly determined that there was nothing cute that she was wearing out of there, so she opted to hit the hotel for a nap. The rain was coming down monsoon style now, and I listened to it as I wandered the rows, choosing a few books almost at random. When I went up front to make my purchase, an older gentleman appeared from nowhere to ring them up on an old-fashioned adding machine.  Stopping  when he saw the third book’s title, “The Last Madame: a Life in the New Orleans Underworld,” he smiled and asked, “Why did you choose this?” I answered honestly that I didn’t know. He leaned over and pointed to the tough-looking woman on the book jacket in her black suit and sunglasses and said, “This is Norma Wallace. She lived here, in this house. This is where she ran her brothel.  We are standing in her parlor.”

I knew then that my best souvenir had chosen me, not the other way around. I had purchased the story of a woman who was born with zero advantages but eventually received a key to the city from the same forces who tried to put her behind bars for most of her life. Norma Wallace kept calm and carried on long before it was a catch phrase. I plan on doing more of that. My husband flew home with a bonus as well — his sense of fun. I know for a fact he hadn’t packed it when we left.

No matter the poison, a little time in the Big Easy is the remedy. Within a night or two the city will explain to you what you need, and you will listen. Don’t go for longer than three nights or your liver will fly back without you, but go. l’aissez les bons temps rouler!

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One Response to “Let the Good Times Roll”

  1. Tiffany Wasmer says:

    What a beautiful article!! I absolutely love New Orleans even though I’ve only been there twice…it tends to haunt you until you go back. I truly enjoyed reading this 🙂

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