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Travelin'

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Last weekend, The Observer woke up on a hardwood floor in New Orleans, having slept in the unfurnished bedroom of a brick building on Esplanade Avenue with shards of glass glued like makeshift barbed wire to the top of the surrounding wall. "Place looks like a crack-house," said one passing cyclist as we sat on the stoop drinking coffee a little while later. The cyclist wasn't wrong.

The other houses on the street, narrow shotguns and double-gallery homes painted bright pastel colors, only underlined how bleak and unfinished-seeming the brick building was. One of the tenants, who lived upstairs and claimed exclusive access to the porch, was a house painter and prolific graffiti artist who drank Taaka straight from the bottle. Another made his living by painting his entire body red and dressing up as the devil. Every day he would stalk the Seventh Ward accepting donations for the fact of his costume, and these days, apparently, even in his off-hours he stayed red. I later learned that Degas had once lived across the street.

Elbowing our way through the magicians and ghost-tour guides and trombonists and tired tourists in the French Quarter, we paid the two dollars to board the ferry to Algiers Point. We stood on the lower deck, braving windburn and sun shock, and the ride took 10 minutes or maybe less. Once across the river, we walked to a bar called Old Point.

Still mostly asleep, we were hardly surprised when we heard, over the music and out of the open side door, what sounded unmistakably like the sound of a velociraptor crying in a yard across the street. We took our beers and wandered toward the yard. Behind a metal grate, we found an enormous turkey squawking and gobbling and eating cat food out of a plastic tray. Its owner, a generous middle-aged woman wearing sunglasses, introduced us to the bird, whose name was Tom Tyson.

Tom's head looked disconcertingly like a brain, changing colors fluidly "like a mood ring," as his owner put it. While we talked, her husband brought huge, awe-inspiring slabs of meat out to a grill on the porch, and a small, nervous terrier barked in Tom's face and leapt up to lick our hands. Though we didn't ask, she began to tell us about her experiences during Katrina. They hadn't left, and though their screened-in porch was damaged and Tom was soaked and afraid, his molting process accelerating so that he dropped all of his feathers prematurely, their house remained intact and they were uninjured. Algiers didn't flood, she told us, and only one of her neighbors had died. She'd tried to leave and suffered a blood clot on the bus out of town.

One of the biggest names ever to come out of Algiers was Clarence "Frogman" Henry, and as we rode the ferry back across the river, I looked up Henry's Wikipedia page. He grew up idolizing Fats Domino and Professor Longhair, and would wear a wig during his early concerts, I learned. His biggest U.S. hit was "I Don't Know Why (But I Do)," from 1961. Clarence "Frogman" Henry, look him up.

Back in on the more populous side of the Mississippi, we again pushed our way through the noise and waves of bodies. It smelled like oysters. A sign caught my eye: "See the Albino Alligators." It started to rain so we ducked into a bar. We discussed the turkey we had met and agreed that "Tom Tyson" was an appropriate name.

This Observer was a rollin' stone last weekend, taking the heaven-sent Saturday morning as a sign that we should light out for Memphis with the family, that handsome city to the Northeast, site of so many of The Observer's good times and good meals.

By the time we got there, convinced yet again that the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department is in an active conspiracy with the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism to stifle the flow of dollars into Tennessee, the sun was high and bright in the blue bowl of the sky. We went to Central Barbecue and had the city's finest swine, flipped through novels in a bookstore older than Coca Cola (Burke's Books, open since 1875 and highly recommended), petted kitties at the pungent cat rescue shop across the way, then thumbed stacks of albums at a little hipster record store around the corner, coming kissing close to buying a little number called "Vampire at the Harpsichord" even though we haven't owned a functioning record player since Ronald Reagan was ascendant. A short trip, then. No lumpy hotel beds or strange toilets, no luggage. Just a lovely trip, and we didn't once set foot on Beale Street, sakes alive.

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