Monday, February 2

the big easy

Sunday night I partied in the city that, sadly, suffered the wrath of the Bush administration's biggest failure: New Orleans.

Driving west on I-10 you reach a bridge that stretches across Lake Pontchartrain. The bridge goes as far as you can see and off in the distance the skyline of New Orleans rises above the horizon. It is still another ten miles to the Mississippi River and downtown, but the wreckage from Hurricane Katrina is immediately apparent. At first the interstate splits the rich neighborhoods where all of the houses and apartment buildings are brand new, and the poor neighborhoods where all of the houses are missing roofs and walls. Nevertheless kids play in the front yards of buildings that should be condemned and I even saw a birthday party at a house with boarded-up windows, but they sure as Hell had a Dora the Explorer moonwalk on the front lawn.

New Orleans itself is a study in contrasts. I stayed in the Garden District where many of the houses are considered historic buildings. However, if you make a wrong turn and walk one block north instead of south, your chances of getting mugged go from 0% to almost 100%. Pick a street to look down and you can see a group of loitering white kids and across the street is a group of black kids. In any case, after dropping my bags off, I immediately took the trolley down to the French Quarter.

The French Quarter is the reason everyone loves New Orleans and it's obvious why. I felt like I was strolling the streets of Paris, just with Daiquiri shops and flashing neon lights everywhere. Not a good place for epileptics. I stopped at the famous Cafe du Monde for some beignets and had dinner at Coop's, a place known for its mean seafood gumbo--not to mention a fantastic Jambalaya. For the past three days I had been staring at the word "beignet" in my guidebook trying to figure out the correct pronunciation. When I was third in line at Cafe du Monde, I decided upon "big-nay" over "big-net." Yes I know, I'm an idiot. Fortunately, a 9-year-old girl in front of me asked her mom if she could have a "bin-yay" and I was saved from sure embarrassment.

After wandering the French Quarter for about thirty minutes, I ventured to Bourbon Street. The main drag of the French Quarter is an experience unlike any other. Even in the off-season the streets smell like booze and vomit, I can't imagine how terrible it is during Mardi Gras. The French-style buildings with their iconic baIconies house only two types of establishments: bars and strip clubs. Walk down the street and it's bar, bar, bar, strip club, bar, strip club, strip club...European coffee house? I settled on the bar Bourbon Cowboy, which featured a mechanical bull, a 3 for 1 drink special, and was just busy enough that I wouldn't be drinking alone. By the way, what a great game!

During halftime, a couple of shot girls jumped on the bar and started dancing, blocking my view of the halftime show. I politely asked them to move from my line of sight and they were so shocked I preferred the Boss over dancing girls that they came over after halftime to try and force me to buy shots.

The whole concept of shot girls is a giant scam perpetrated by bars in order to steal as much of your money while simultaneously keeping their liquor. The shot girls walk around with pretty colored shots that are always $1-2 cheaper than a normal shot. The idea is that you think, "Hey! This shot is cheaper and a hot girl is offering it to me, what a great deal!" The catch is that there is only a drop of alcohol mixed with some excessively fruity syrup. And it's not like you even have a chance with the girl selling it to you. Just say no.

I didn't buy a shot from the girls, but we did get to talking and I discovered they were the "talent" at one of the million strip clubs on Bourbon Street. The first girl's stage name was "Starbuck" which is a reference to the TV show Battlestar Galactica, a very smart drama that only five people including myself watch. Needless to say, it was awesome to meet a stripper who used a name from an obscure TV show that no one watches. The other girl actually graduated from Michigan and used to work at Deja Vu in Ypsilanti. Apparently, moving from a club in Ypsi to one in New Orleans means your career is going in the right direction.

The girls really wanted me to buy a shot and I didn't want one so they made a deal with me: They would give a me free shot if I let the second girl wear my Michigan hat during their next round through the bar. How could I resist? The best part, they charged the next couple of guys a few extra bucks to make up for the money they lost comping my drink.

The next morning I planned to walked around the city and get some pictures, but after five minutes, the sky opened and it began to rain. I wonder if the trauma from Katrina causes everyone in the city to collectively wince whenever it rains? Disheartened and just a little paranoid that the city might sink, I got in the car and left. Consequently, I only have a few pictures of historic homes that I will post on Picasa later.

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