Every Man a King, Part II - On Getting Shot in the Face During Breakfast
08 Jul 2011 · by · Be the first to comment!
The taxi driver was an elderly black man with a closely-cropped head of gray hair and whose deeply-lined face betrayed very little expression aside from boredom. I gave him the name of my hotel, the Chateau Dupre, and he nodded his head slowly: “Mmmmhmmm. Da Dupre. Mmmmhmmm.” He signalled and slowly pulled into traffic. “I had planned on walking”, I said for no reason in particular, and after just enough time to think I was being ignored he said back, “Hmmmmmmm.....why you wanna do a thing like that. Too hot to be walkin’ ‘round. Mmmhmmmm.” Thrilled to have my laziness validated, I settled back into a seat that smelled of Old Spice and older cigarettes and watched the Crescent City roll by.
New Orleans was founded in 1718 by the French Mississippi Company and named for Philippe d'Orléans, Duke of Orléans and Regent of France until 1723. While Regent may sound like an impressive title, like some kind of Ultra-King, it actually refers to the person acting as head of state while the current ruler is incapacitated, absent or under the age of majority. In this case, d’Orleans was Regent for an at-the-time underage Louis XV. So he was, in effect, Royal Babysitter. This looked terrible on his business cards so he tended not to hand them out unless he was drunk and spoiling for a fight.
After being ceded to the Spanish Empire in 1763, New Orleans returned to French control in 1801 and then in 1803 it was sold by Napolean to America as part of the Louisiana Purchase. The Purchase encompassed portions of several states, in most of which, today, you are likely to either be very bored (Kansas, Nebraska) or very shot (Arkansas, Louisiana) and though Napolean made the deal for several reasons there was one I particularly respect: he desperately wanted America to grow into a military power such as could pull England’s hat down about its eyes and then box its ears.
Normally once the French leave a place you’ve got yourself the beginnings of a great party, and while the popular image of New Orleans is a bacchanalian one, where a handful of beads will, under the right circumstances, undo years of finishing school, the city has been troubled for years. The most persistent of these troubles is violent crime; in 2008 New Orleans had, according to F.B.I. statistics, the highest murder rate in the United States at 64 homicides per 100,000 people. Statistically speaking, the Big Easy towered over famed Murderopolis Los Angeles, whose collective gangbangers only managed a measly 10 homicides per 100,000. I’m no statistician but what that says to me is that you are six times more likely to end up with superfluous ventilation while enjoying a morning beignet than you are while cruising down Crenshaw in your hooptie. This thought gave me some pause as the taxi crossed Canal Street and into the French Quarter.
When I take a trip of any length I usually pack my kit in an oversized backpack and no matter how much breathable, space-aged, nylon, crosshatched, polyfiber mesh is in the design, by the end of the day my back is sweatier than Meat Loaf at the end of “Paradise by the Dashboard Lights”. For this trip I had switched to a duffel bag, stupidly thinking that by carrying the bag over one shoulder instead of two I would somehow be less likely to sweat. I know – in retrospect it doesn’t make much sense to me either. As it turns out the only difference I experienced was a very sore shoulder and a list to my walk which made me look like a sailor on leave. I hauled the bag from the taxi with a grunt and when I closed the trunk lid the normally heavy sound was instead soft and ineffectual, as though even sound waves would rather be off nursing an iced tea in the shade somewhere. The taxi lazily pulled away from the curb as I crossed under the white and grey awning that extended from the hotel’s front.
Aside from the devout and the insane most of us will never know what it is to be in the presence of God but I imagine the experience to be much like going from summertime in New Orleans to the air-conditioned lobby of the Chateau Dupre. The lobby was cavernous and dark, despite being lit by large windows at the front and a constellation of overhead lights at the back. The walls were painted brick, grey on one side, and white on the other; to the right of the heavy wood check-in desk was a blue and white French living room set. The desk clerk was absent so I laid down my bag and had a look at the array of brochures displayed on a credenza against the far wall. I had settled on a bayou tour by airboat when I heard a cigarette-hardened female voice say, “Help you, sugar?”
Turning around I saw that the desk clerk was a short, whippet-thin woman in her late 40s. Her hair was jet black and her face hard until she smiled, after which it opened right up like clouds parting for the sun. Her name was Rhonda, and the entire time I was at the desk she shamelessly flirted with me, and, as usually happen when confronted with the opposite sex, my charisma shifted from Bill Clinton to Richard Nixon in four seconds flat. After pre-paying my airboat tour for the next morning I mumbled something that sounded like “thank-you” and shambled into the elevator. New Orleans had won the first round.
Did you miss part one?