Our first full day in New Orleans started with a short walk to District Donuts. Sliders. Brew for some fuel (Read the full District review here). The Lakeview neighborhood we were staying in was lined with trees and beautiful old homes that towered over the streets. From District we took an Uber ride to City Park to catch a street car. Our Uber driver was everything last night’s was not. He drove a pickup truck (first Uber truck ride we’ve ever had), and basically embodied the term “jovial”. His laugh was deep, pointed and resonated. It filled the cab of the truck in an infectious sort of way. He laughed at our bad jokes like an old friend, he loved food and provided us with a list of places to visit.
Driving into City Park was like a dream. The trees dripped with Spanish moss, hanging from the branches like the leftover Mardi Gras beads that were strung along trees and light poles. A tiny body of water in the park was wildly exciting, it’s not a swamp but surrounded by the low hanging Spanish moss it was a beautiful little pseudo-swamp for a couple of tourists to take in. We didn’t spend much time here. Just enough to wander the crooked path and duck under a couple of tree branches. From here we crossed a tiny street to await the Streetcar. We waited with an older couple from the UK, and as the streetcar pulled up, it was like a scene right out of a romantic technicolor dream. Red and shiny, the driver was gruff and spoke only out of absolute necessity. The seats were wooden slatted and polished. The sun came in the windows, accentuating the richness of the interior. The car was relatively empty as we boarded, and we easily grabbed a seat near the front.
The city whirred by as the car became more and more packed with each stop. Eventually we were sitting next to a man ranting about how much he hates Los Angeles (After asking us where we were from), how much he hates “Spanish people” and how he has never seen so many white people in New Orleans (taking over the city). A young man making his way to the back stopped to remind him, “People is people, man”.
We disembarked at Bourbon Street. Everything around us looked like we could be in almost any major city. Buildings loomed over us, but as we crossed the major street and made our way towards Bourbon we began to come into the city’s specific flavor. The buildings grew older, the street was narrow and eventually we were surrounded by bars and strip clubs housed in Spanish architecture. The beauty of these ancient buildings housing modern vices seemed strange at first until I realized modern vices and ancient vices aren’t so different. As far as vices go, only thing that’s changed much is the addition of electricity and neon signs advertising what lay inside.
We wandered, we drank Hurricanes out of gigantic receptacles longer than our arms because that’s what you do, we wandered some more, we got hustled for $20 by a couple of shoe-shiners who engulfed us like a tornado, or rather I should say Jill felt compelled to gift the $20, but we got some beads out of it without having to show any body parts and our shoes did gleam a little brighter, and hopefully those shoe-shiners at least ate well that night. We ducked into tiny shops and stared up at the roofs cutting through the sky in various shapes, colors and sizes. We stared down at the street markers tiled on the corner of every street, and up at the black street signs sharing the same corners. High or low, you knew where you were. Although it didn’t mean much to us on our first day because we didn’t know where anything was in relation to anything else. Today, it was all Bourbon Street and the streets that led off of it to parallel streets.
It was on this afternoon that we met Blind Boy. We were strolling leisurely down Bourbon Street, already well past the thick of it, sipping our drinks and admiring the architecture around us. Off in the distance we heard a voice so raw and so gritty, singing out to no one in particular, that we both stopped dead in our tracks. This was the kind of voice that demands you do nothing but stop and listen. We saw the owner of this commanding sound making his way towards us. A young man with a guitar slung on his back, black frame glasses and a Newsboy cap. As we gaped he walked past us and inquired about the Captain hat I was wearing. Then he asked if he could sing us a song. And right there on a nondescript stretch of Bourbon Street, the guitar was released from its case, a tiny sitting stool was unfolded and Blind Boy opened his mouth to grace us with his gritty God-given gift. Our private New Orleans concert was underway and we marveled at the show of it. It felt like meeting the soul of the city, and it all came rushing in to welcome us.
We wandered down Royal, and as the sun receded marveled at the gaslit lamps that illuminated the quarter. The flames danced, encased in iron and glass, and the sounds of hooves on the narrow roads as the many mule-drawn carriages made their way past us made it easy to imagine another time. We of course checked out Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo. It’s not at all affiliated with the actual Marie Laveau, but it is still an interesting stop should you ever find yourself strolling along Bourbon Street. We bought some rings and presents to take home and continued to wander.
We wandered into what is probably our favorite bar of the trip, Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop. Touted as the oldest building in the United States housing a bar, we sipped whiskey by candlelight, befriended a couple from Little Rock, and got some more recommendations from our very cool waitress.
We ended up at Acme for dinner. From the outside it looked like a touristy place you’d find at Fisherman’s Wharf that I would typically avoid, but it had the seal of approval from our jovial Uber driver extraordinaire so we jumped in line. The wait wasn’t long since there were only two of us and we were fine with sitting at the bar. Pam, our server, greeted us and she was all kinds of wonderful. Sampler platter with jambalaya, red beans and rice, gumbo, sausage and we ordered the beef po’ boy for good measure. I’d never had jambalaya and I didn’t expect to like it much. This is the night I discovered my freakish obsession with jambalaya. The meal was so good my eyes literally rolled back in my head as I took my first bite of each wonderful dish. The po’ boy was flavorful and tender. The jambalaya is something I know I will lust after for the rest of my days.
We went to bed with incredible food in our bellies and the music of the city dancing its way into our souls.