This has worked out more expensive than the last two trips due to the exchange rate. In 2007, it was $2 to the £. Now it is around $1.50. Plus petrol has gone up considerably, although it is laughably cheap compared to the UK. The final blog of AA3 will be the stats where I will tell you how far I travelled, how many States I visited and how much money I spent on fuel, as well as all the songs featured in the titles (if you haven’t guessed them all already, that is). For the time being, to see a map of all the places I have travelled to so far, just click here.
Back to New Orleans. A stone's throw from the hotel on Canal Street was the French Quarter where the bars and the music and the wonderful architecture were...not that I saw any of that particularly as I was intoxicated by the atmosphere.
I recorded a walk up part of Bourbon Street as well as a street band I saw; you can hear them on Audioboo incidentally (get Audioboo easily by clicking here, and using the same details you can also follow me on Twitter by clicking here)
Like Broadway in Nashville, Bourbon Street is lined with bars all featuring live music. Because the competition is so fierce, it has to be good music. First stop was a Blues Bar where a 3-piece were playing. Some fine guitar work, as well as great version of “The Thrill is Gone” sung by a guest vocalist in blue work clothes, whilst the guitar player was a very cool looking middle-aged Eric Bibb look-alike with a suit and a trilby on, sat down at the side of the stage. He played the solo with his teeth!
Everything comes at a price so a can of very ordinary domestic light beer, which I have had in a sports bar for $1.25, was hiked (or gouged as they say here) to a rather impressive $5.25.
Further down the street, I walked past bar after bar with Jazz and Blues pouring from the open doors. People were wandering everywhere with drinks in plastic cups. You are allowed “drinks to go” here so you can wander the streets booze-in-hand providing, understandably, you finish it before you enter another bar.
Heard some amazing funk coming from one place so in I went. Sat on a stool and ordered a large domestic lite beer for $7.25 - gulp!
Onstage was a ten-piece band with a full horn section, a keyboard player, a fantastic bassist giving it the full “Chic” and “Sister Sledge”, as well as a tiny guy with dark glasses with a good voice and a very lithe woman with a slinky mini on undulating and singing. That may be singing and undulating.
Frankly, it probably depended on the song they were covering. From time to time she demurely pulled the hem down just in case she revealed a little too much flesh. Although, frankly, bearing in mind the number of “Titty bars” there are I don’t think she was giving them too much competition in that department. Near the end of the set the leader introduced the band and, as he got to the guitar player, he asked if we knew any blues players and shouted out various names to the crowd who responded with applause and cheers depending on the recognition factor.
“Buddy Guy?” Yeah whoop.
“Albert King?” Whoop yeah.
“B.B King?” Rooooarrr whhhoo yeeaahh!
“Freddie King?” ????? “Jolly good yes I think” Shouted a lone voice sounding suspiciously like my own.
“Hmm, no one remember Freddie? Shame he was good" said the little lead singer.
“Eric Clapton” “Rooarr whooop boom” as the lid was lifted off the place. I felt a bit sad that, in the home of the blues, an admittedly extremely talented musician but perhaps a bit of an imposter is cheered to the echo when the originals get second-billing. You can argue that without the British Blues boom and people like Eric Clapton, the blues and its originals may have been totally forgotten by now.
All the while this was going on, people were dancing and a selection of very beautiful, scantily-clad women were walking around with racks of brightly coloured shots in “test tubes”. If a guy bought one sometimes they would stick the rounded end in their mouth and, in a move as if to kiss him, would pour the drink into his. One tiny girl was storing the cash in her bra. By the end of the night unless she erm “downloaded” she would have made Dolly Parton or Chesty Morgan look rather under endowed. There was a lot of dirty dancing and rubbing up against people.
This is New Orleans and money has to be made!
When the band finished their set a woman was already on stage and she launched into a whole routine, with the DJ at the back of the room in order to keep the atmosphere cooking until the band returned.
She sang, she strutted, she heckled, she cajoled.
“How old are you?” she yelled at a middle-aged woman
“66..? I don’t believe you. You is lyin’. Look at her ladies and gentleman, 66. I’d better watch my man around you lady. You married?
“29, I can hardly keep a guy 29 days let along 29 years. You’d better tell me your secret, missy”.
She was fabulous and the joint was jumping.
There is quite a strong police presence. After all this was where Ray Davies of the Kinks was shot in the leg a few years back, as I recall.
As I walked in search of food a guy came up to me and said;
“Awfully kind but not really my thing if it’s all the same to you. I am more of a beer man frankly”
You can take the Englishman out of England but etc.
I was hungry. Surprisingly by 10 a lot of the restaurants were closing. Eventually I found a relatively quiet bar/fast food type place that was still serving.
She was deep in conversation with a black guy on the next stool. They were talking tattoos and body art.
“You did that with a scalpel?”
It must have been agony. He had a fairly intricate design over his upper chest and arms where the dark pigmented skin had been cut away to reveal the pink under layer.
Luckily I was not in a Kebab shop where they flay the “elephant’s leg” into half a pan then add it to your meal.
“What you havin'?” she asked, turning her attention to me.
“Er, sorry, no, erm…”
I had said on the show in my phone call earlier to Tim Smith that I was on the lookout for some Gumbo.
I scanned the menu. They had a taster combo which gave the Cajun/Creole novice a chance to try some Louisiana cooking.
So, although I didn’t taste Gumbo, I had: Jambalaya. Red beans and rice and crawfish etouffe.
I have heard those phrases in a hundred songs over the years and here I was eating the stuff. Like the music, it didn’t disappoint.
Frustrating night in the expensive hotel. The Wi-Fi didn’t work properly so was unable to blog or email anyone. They had the audacity to charge $9.99 for the privilege which they did remove from the bill, I may add. So in the morning, I decided to have to retrace my steps and have some breakfast. In budget motels you get a continental breakfast thrown in. Not entirely sure but I think breakfast was an extra so my wallet decided it was a good idea to go check out some eateries elsewhere.
At 10am most places were shut. Presumably only just having closed. People were watering the hanging baskets and others were washing the pavements. It was early but already it was stifling.
Found the New Orleans version of a greasy spoon.
“How d’ya want your eggs?”
“We don’t poach. We only fry.”
Chicken fried steak again and sure enough, the second knife came out.
Then it was back to the hotel and a shower as I was drenched due to the humidity.
Called the number I had been given for Valet parking and ten minutes later a bloke pulled up outside with my car. They had charged $30 for overnight parking and - as etiquette demands - I gave him a tip.
Put my bags in the “trunk”. Wound the top down and, drenched in sweat, set off for Florida.
I was soon out of Louisiana and into Mississippi. In the blink of an eye (by US standards) I was into Alabama.
You may remember in the previous entry, me telling you about the American Mid-Western Mindset.
Searching for a station I stumbled across a Christian radio station talk show. This is where the dark underbelly shows through.
I love America and Americans but I could never live here. Nor do I want to be an American; I have said this before on this blog. After a month away I am glad to get home. For all its own problems and limitations I like the UK. I am British and proud of it. It is a bit like supporting your football team. You do so through good and bad.
The topic under discussion was “Socialism”. Unlike our own talk shows where we strive to achieve a balance, here all that seems to happen is people phone-up to agree and denounce.
The host had an author as his guest and people phoned-up to say they agreed with him and it was all wrong. No one phoned to say they disagreed. Nor was any opposing view put forward.
One woman called to say that as the Bible says that the whole world will eventually be less than one government. What were we going to do to ensure it wasn’t “Communist”?
Admittedly it is a long time since Bible class at St Luke's in Walsall. I don’t for the life of me remember anything being thundered from the pulpit about “One World Government”. I am going to have to read the good book again.
The guest then asserted that, since the introduction of a limited Welfare system in the 60’s, black people had suddenly turned into shiftless idle criminals.
I was driving through the Deep South and I felt distinctly uncomfortable. So, being British I changed the station and accelerated.
Due to the previous days expenditure I needed something cheap and I found it. Boy was it cheap. It was the cheapest yet. Well, it was the Budget Motel in Pensacola Florida.
I checked in. Did the Wi-Fi work? No it didn’t really so I have to send this standing in the car park by the owner’s office. Once he had taken my details he saw my passport.
“I had one of those once”
“I was born in West Bromwich”