The rain storm did not last too long but it was an intense and angry downpour that made me glad I was working inside an old downtown marble and steel re-purposed bank vault building. The type of building you expect to still see standing tall among the vine entangled rubble and ruins several millennia from now long after the shortsighted human race wipes itself out of existence and nature takes over again. Of course between ISIS, Al Qaeda, North Korea, North Africa, the Mid-East, The Far East, The Philippians, Aleppo, Hillary, Trump, Putin, Fracking, Hacking, McGriddles, lone gunman, riots, mistrust in the streets and global warming… well, that might just end up being a lot sooner than later.
A howling wind echoed through the cracks and seams of that old building and thick sheets of rain with frequent white flashes of lightning were all that could be seen through the steel bar covered windows. It was long after five PM when the wind and water finally abated. We all stepped out of the doorway that evening with the same trepidation as Dorothy making her first colorful steps from her dreary black and white flying farm house into OZ. Seeing the streams of water cascading down the street and realizing the traffic lights were out, each of us knew we would be facing our own yellow brick style adventure finding our way back home in the chaotic post storm rush hour mess.
I was living in a furnished ‘temporary’ apartment right behind the Pontchartrain Hotel in New Orleans’s Garden District. Although I had only been there about a month, I was feeling like a real local commuting to work every day on the creaky historic St Charles Ave Streetcar, almost expecting to see Professor Longhair or Ignatius J. Reilly in the seat next to me. That day though, the rains had left about a foot and half deep river over the street and tracks causing the road to be closed to all vehicles including my trolley home.
Not knowing what to expect, I asked a few locals at the flooded trolley stop if this usually clears up quickly. They flashed me that annoyed/sorry/shocked expression, like they were forced to come up with a compliment for a friend’s newborn ugly pin-headed baby. I quickly realized, to them, my inquiry was just as ridiculous as asking the harried New Yorker next to you on a stalled subway train when will it will start moving again. How would they know… I got it. I decided it was best if I just shut up and follow the rest of the crowd’s lead. I rolled up my dress pants above my knees, stuffed my shoes and socks into my briefcase with my already shed tie and sloshed my way barefoot through the dirty rushing waters the mile or so towards home.
New Orleans is not the cleanest city I’ve ever been in, so unfortunately as the flood waters rise, the filth and scum float along with it. I felt like I was wading ankle deep through a giant dirty public restroom mop bucket of filth dodging broken glass and other various gutter refuse lurking bellow the brown murky water. Hiking through the messy slurry I imagined these storms were nature’s way of tidying things up a bit. I eventually made it to my street but decided at that point splashing a few more steps was not going to expose me to any additional nasty skin diseases that I had not already picked up.
Igor’s was just a block further west down St Charles Ave from my place… the safe direction towards the bigger mansions with their ornate verandas and balconies. To the north was where I heard gunshots echo from the burnt out slums most every night but the rains seemed to have quieted that down too. Igor’s was a 24hour a day dive bar with a tiny five item menu prepared on the just as tiny grill behind the six stool bar. Locally brewed Abita Turbodog was the only beer on tap. The place also featured four sidewalk tables, three slot machines, two pool tables, one pinball machine and, of course, two sets of washer/dryers.
You never really had to leave Igor’s and after that truly gross walk home, the only reason I left that night after I finished my burger and beer, was the intense desire to boil off the street scunge from my ankles and feet. By the time I stepped out the door, the water was receding and the road was already starting to clear up.
Memories of that odd walk through the soggy humid New Orleans’ street popped in my head this morning as I was taking the dog out between rainstorms. I closed my eyes and could almost smell the same dense funk in the air. Once back inside, I turned on my computer and virtually strolled down St Charles Ave next to the trolley tracks on Google Maps. I recognized the shapes of some of the buildings but the storefronts were mostly different. Igor’s was still there but it looked bigger and cleaner and kinda trendier than I remembered. The guard station at my old condo was gone. Maybe the neighborhood just north got better or maybe my memories are getting worse.
I tried to recall more details about my time there. A long late night walk home from Tipitina’s, the bowling alley with an amazing blues club inside it, the beer vendors calling out ‘beer to go, take one for the road’ on the way out of a show, crab cake Eggs Benedict with warm beignets for Sunday brunch, jogs past the above ground cemeteries, coffee in the French Quarter on quiet weekday mornings before the tourists woke up…
My brother Neil ended up down in New Orleans for a short business trip when I was there. He got disgusted with the boutique style hotel his company booked him in, so after dinner together he opted to sleep on my condo sofa instead. We talked for a long time that night. The debauchery and bayou swagger of New Orleans was lost on him He had no desire to see the excitement brimming just below the dirt and humidity. He did not like the place at all.
I was the opposite; I loved it. I think I still do. But I have not been back since then. Since long before the hurricane…and the rebirth. Since I settled down in Texas 16 years ago. It’s hard to believe how old and dated my memories are getting. I can’t believe it is over 20 years since I last saw New Orleans. I can’t believe it’s getting close to a year since I last saw Neil. I can’t see him again but I can get back to New Orleans. I worry though, that it won’t live up to my muddied memories. Maybe that is why I have not gone back. But until I do finally get there again, when the rain falls just the right way and there is a deep funk in the air, I can still close my eyes and vividly recall wading down the middle of St. Charles Ave. And that’s a good thing.