Tuesday, January 22, 2008 | New Orleans, Bourbon Street
Everyone’s your friend on Bourbon Street. And it looks just like the scene in the James Bond movie, “Live and Let Die.” Only better. Full of life. Three-dimensional. Unbridled. Free flowing.
We stuffed our whole work-group into a small corner of The Gumbo Shop restaurant, where we were nearly elbow to elbow with the table and people next to us. How could you pretend not to see or talk with them? So we did. The couple sitting next to us seemed… well, like they didn’t quite go together. There was at least 15 years difference in their ages. And it looked like they weren’t quite used to being with each other. Young guy. Older gal. I was curious. So I struck up a conversation.
They happened to be sitting right by a window to the sidewalk outside. And the menu was propped up in their window for passers-by to look in at. So every once in a while some strangers would stop and stare at them while they were eating. It was the weirdest and funniest thing. I made a joke about how interesting they must be that strangers would stop and watch them eat Shrimp Creole! We all laughed, and the ice was broken.
They were in town visiting, like us. From Oklahoma. Hadn’t been down to Bourbon Street before so they were eager to experience it. The 40ish year-old gal told us that the government wants to build a new Vet’s Hospital and New Orleans looks like a good place to do it. Besides, the $1 Billion price tag will no doubt pump a lot of money into the economy. Turns out they were down here on business to help put some preparation pieces together.
Oh… one more funny twist. One of the couples who stopped to “watch them eat Shrimp Creole” were studying the menu from the sidewalk just as we were talking and laughing about people staring at them. The couple outside was Chinese or Korean—we guessed. It was hard to really hear what each other was saying through the glass window so we had resorted to hand signals and sign language. Then they left. Next thing you know they were ushered to the table kiddie-corner from the business couple and us. When we noticed this… we struck up a conversation with them and laughed some more. Everyone’s your friend on Bourbon Street.
I found Cajan food a little strange. There’s Shrimp Gumbo, Shrimp Creole, Gumbo Creole, Cajan Crawfish and all kinds of things that where I’m from we don’t even consider eatable. Then someone kindly pointed out that Lutefisk isn’t necessarily a widely appreciated American delicacy either. Even for Minnesotans. Oh yeah.
Bourbon Street is a little like the Las Vegas strip, only much narrower with crowds of people, street vendors, and lively music. It’s the poor man’s Vegas, I suppose you could say. But much more engaging and interesting I think. We met guys who worked as professional statues… who practiced “interactive drama” with anyone who stared too long at them. Then charged you a couple of bucks for the privilege of being forced to participate. There were some pretty lewd joints too, especially targeting the young college-age male. Too bad they’re so effective.
We danced along as we walked since the street was flooded with so much music. If the lewd joints drew the men, it was Krazy Korner that drew our women. All eight of our women danced their way in. Then they came out and dragged in most of the men. Most everyone was dancing (picture 50 year old guys jiggling their bodies around in little circles—got the idea?). And smiling. And laughing. And enjoying the friendship of this team of God’s servants. God is good. And sometimes life is good. We ended our night at the Café Monde, near Jackson Square, where $5 gets you a cup of coffee and three blobs of donut dough doused in mounds of powdered white sugar. Disgusting, but delicious.
Our night of laughing and fellowship turned a little sober as we made the return trip back home along the I-10 Interstate. In the dark of night we could get a sense of the magnitude of this disaster for the first time as we flew past darkened neighborhoods. One after the other. A few lights on here and there, where a few had returned and were back in their homes. But many more homes lay silent and dark on the landscape. It was eerie. Something was terribly wrong. New Orleans is not going to be “fixed” in just a year or two. Some say not for a decade. I’m beginning to believe the ones who are talking more like 10-20 years, a whole generation.