Sunday, February 5, 2012

New People in Old Orleans


I looked up at the fare meter on the dashboard of the cab. Though ticking slowly it had already hit $5.50.

I leaned over to Megan, who was still holding a half full cup of beer, and whispered:

I only have 4 dollars in my pocket. Do you have any cash?

She rummaged quickly through her purse before looking up at me.

I have 3 dollars.

At that time we were only halfway back to the hotel. We didn't have nearly enough cash.

I quickly spoke up:

Excuse me sir, would you mind passing the Chase bank on Royal street, I just realized we don't have enough cash.

Since the advent of the credit card machines in New York this was a situation I had rarely found myself in. I never needed to check my pocket before getting in a cab in New York. It was a liberty I had taken for granted the whole time we had been in New Orleans.

The cab driver responded.

Oh don't worry about it. I got a big tip earlier this evening. These young guys were going out tonight and they gave me 30 dollars and it was only a 10 dollar cab ride. So don't worry about it. It all works itself out.

Megan and I thanked the cab driver profusely. I turned back to her and shook my head. Why did this keep happening to us? Why did strangers keep doing nice things for us in this city?

Everybody was so friendly and sincere and welcoming. We were so embarrassed. Here we were, staying at one of the nicest hotels in the French Quarter and we didn’t even have 10 dollars between the two of us.

I had spent most of my night, heck, most of my nights, giving my money to bartenders who couldn't hear me over the loud music in the bar, mouthing my words so they could understand what I needed.

And now the one person who could actually hear me, the one person who was probably more deserving of my money than anybody I had given it to that entire trip, said he didn't need it. He had already received a nice tip that evening.

I can't imagine saying those words to somebody. If I drove a cab I don't know that I would be that generous and understanding.

Everywhere we went we found more people who wanted to tell us their story and their unique point of view. More individuals who wanted to share the history of the city, of what we've seen and what we should see.

So it should have come as no surprise that our dinner plans for our last night in New Orleans ended up completely changed because of somebody we met.

Megan and I had been out and about, doing what we do best, eating, drinking and walking around the city. We followed that up with the other thing we did best, synchronized napping.

Since losing the ability to sleep past 9 am, my ability to spend all day exploring a city and partying deep into the early hours of the morning is severely compromised without a nap.

We had dinner plans for a restaurant in the heart of the French Quarter. When Megan's Miles Davis cell phone ring woke us up from our nap, it could only mean one thing, her father and his girlfriend were ready for a pre-dinner cocktail.

But as it turns out they were calling for a different reason. They had been having a drink at a local landmark when they met a woman named Rochelle and her friend David. Rochelle and David were extremely friendly and inviting. So much so that David had invited Megan's father and subsequently us, to join for a pre-dinner drink at the restaurant his family owned, a famous French Quarter establishment around the corner from our original reservation.

By the time we got there, we were immediately overwhelmed by the owner, her son, her son's friend Rochelle, and Rochelle's friend Theresa. And the invitation for a drink had turned into an invitation to stay for dinner. It was like kismet. We were supposed to have dinner at this New Orleans main stay that only 100 years earlier had served as horse stables.

We were inundated by questions and directions.

Tell us about yourselves, where do you work, have a drink, would you like a tour, have you met so and so, get your drink it's time for the tour and so on and so on.

We changed our dinner reservation with reservations of our own, but figured when the owner of a restaurant extends you an invitation to eat at their restaurant while on vacation in their city. You have no choice but to say yes.

By the time we got to dinner, the stories we had been hearing so far started to seem more like tall tales, and the kismet started to seem slightly fixed.

Dinner was underwhelming, despite the folklore that was imposed upon us.

Try the oysters, you have to have them. They’re on me, I'll send over two orders.

And the prospect of turtle soup seemed curious. I asked the waiter about it.

What is this turtle soup?
It's turtle soup! Made from turtles. It's delicious

And that was that. So I tried some of that, though I couldn't figure out if I liked it or was turned off by it. Either way I had never felt a guilt like that consuming anything else in my life.

Rochelle made several appearances throughout our meal, standing next to our table and talking for slightly longer than seemed necessary. Theresa showed up as well, considerably drunker than everybody.

We began to wonder aloud, though quietly, to each other... was this a setup? Had Rochelle and David set up camp at that local watering hole waiting for unwitting tourists to stumble in so they could bring them to their delightful though probably overpriced restaurant? Were we a bunch of rubes, so caught up in the magic and charm of the city and it's people that we couldn't realize a setup when one literally looked us in the eye?

It was no matter at that point. We were far and away past the point of no return.

By the time our longer than necessary meal ended and our bill came (foreshadowed by claims of "comps" and "on me" though devoid of such fulfilled promises) we were ready to have our own night. And as politely as possible, we excused ourselves from our hosts company and ventured off on our own.

So by the time Megan and I were more than our fair share of sheets to the wind, and met that cab driver whom we had waited too long for, we were absolutely primed for genuine gesture.

We were ready to accept such an incredible event as routine. Because this one couldn't be anything but real, there was nothing he could get out of it. It was just New Orleans charm at it's finest. And that's how I, and probably all of us, will choose to remember that city.

Oh and that turtle soup? Despite my waiter’s enthusiasm for it, 12 hours later, because of poor preparation or massive guilt, I decided I was done with it and returned it the hard way to the hotel toilet.

3 comments:

DangGina said...

I want to go to there!

mgrebby said...

Such a great vacation Richard!! I'm glad we got to go together-- there is no one I would rather travel with! You're like Jiffy cornbread with EXTRA BUTTER! (I mean I like having you around, not that you make my ass fatter...)

No more turtle soup though. The turtle soup was a bad idea...

Caroline B said...

You make me want to visit New Orleans...but without the turtle soup (gak!)