Exploring New Orleans and Partying by Myself

November 25

When I arrived at the hostel yesterday, the two guys who were in charge of the front desk said they had been drinking since the day before. They kept at it all night and into the next day. But it reached a peak around midnight on Thanksgiving, when the manager stopped answering the door because it was getting in the way of his drinking. His responsibilities at the hostel – opening the door, taking money and showing people to their rooms – annoyed him so much that he quit his job that night.

I was still on a bike-touring schedule – I went to bed early and woke up early the first night in New Orleans. I was on vacation from my bike but I got on it first thing in the morning and pedaled downtown. New Orleans is surprisingly quiet in the morning. I walked my bike through the French Quarter and then along the Mississippi. I kept going passed Cafe Du Monde, the famous beignet place, and continued over the railroad tracks on Royal Street and into the Bywater.

The Bywater is a hip area down river from the French Quarter. I think bohemians started moving there when rent in the French Quarter got too expensive. I ate a muffin and drank a cup of coffee outside a cafe at a small table wedged between palm trees. A couple black cats roamed around outside the cafe, purring and rubbing against legs.

I spent the rest of the morning in the Bywater, exploring a cemetery, and then returning to the quarter to check out a voodoo museum.

Colorful home in the Bywater

A cemetery. I don't remember which one. Possibly the resting place of voodoo queen Marie Laveau.

Voodoo museum

It’s really easy to spend money in New Orleans. And hard to figure out why they call the $10 sandwiches “Po’ Boys.” After eating an oyster po’ boy on Magazine street, I went back to my hostel. When I got there, a Canadian guy in my dorm asked if I pissed on his stuff. I told him I didn’t. “You better go check your bags, because someone peed on my stuff last night,” he said.

We walked over to my bags and I smelled them – they didn’t smell like pee. The Canadian said, “You know what, I was really drunk last night. I probably just pissed on my bag thinking it was the toilet.”

I had a nearly identical conversation with the same guy later that night. This time he sounded a little angrier and he didn’t admit to peeing on his own bags.

I met some of the more normal occupants of the hostel that night,(they had also been accused of peeing on the Canadian’s bags) and we went to a bar down the street from the Hostel. I had a drink and then rode my bike to Frenchmen Street to find some music to see. Frenchmen Street, according to the hostel employees, is a slightly more authentic and less touristy place to see jazz than the French Quarter. My new friends planned to meet me later, but they had car troubles and never made it.

As I approached Frenchmen Street I saw a crowd of people on a corner. I got off my bike and pushed through the crowd to find a string band playing on the sidewalk outside a gay and lesbian book store called Faubourg Marigny. The band looked familiar. They’re called Buffalo Death Rattle and I realized later that I have seen them in Seattle at Folklife festival.

I watched them pluck, stomp, shout, drink and coral their dogs for a while, but I wanted to see some jazz, so I moved on. I walked all the way up and down the street, listening to music from the sidewalk and trying to decide where to go. There was plenty of music, but nothing especially intriguing.

I was walking back to where I started when I saw a jazz band playing in the street. What caught my eye were the two dancers who were part of the band. They alternated between singing and dancing with each other. Their free form swinging and shaking looked both improvised and tightly controlled. The band played jazz standards with lots of solos. There was a drummer, two acoustic guitar players, an upright bass, a trumpet, a baritone sax and a clarinet player.

The clarinet solos really impressed me. When I played clarinet in high school I always felt like a dork. But this Cajun clarinetist couldn’t have been cooler. He had a long thick beard and an old yellow beanie, with ill-fitting clothing and floppy old Reebok’s to complete his homeless look. His solos had me was itching to get home and dust off my clarinet.

You can drink on the street in some areas near the French Quarter and Frenchmen Street is apparently close enough to qualify. I went into the nearest bar, got a beer in a to-go cup, and went back to watch the band playing in the street.

I hung around until they packed up and left. I was going to leave too, but first I wanted to see what Bourbon Street looked like after midnight. Bourbon Street was packed when I saw it during the day. At night it’s even more crowded. I bought another beer to-go beer from a guy in the window of a shop and wandered up and down the street. Most people were drinking on the street – usually from green plastic containers hanging around their necks. Dancing people spilled out of every doorway. There were midgets and strippers in the street, trying to bring people into their clubs and loud music everywhere.

On the way back to the hostel I stopped at Cafe Du Monde. Apparently Cafe Du Monde is on TV a lot for their famous beignets, which are deep-fried dough balls. Everytime I went by Cafe Du Monde, there was a line of people down the block buying beignets, but now it was 1 a.m. and there was no line. I hate lines so I knew this would be my only chance to eat famous fried dough.

The first piece of fried dough was good, but didn’t seem too special. After that, I noticed there was about a pound of powdered sugar in the bottom of my bag beignets. I dumped as much of it as I could on my beignets. They were delicious covered in powdered sugar. In a frenzy to eat all the sugar and fat that I could, I spilled powdered sugar all over myself. Fortunately, most of it blew away on the ride back to the hostel.

Marching band in Jackson Square

Hurricane Katrina damage in the Ninth Ward. This whole block was deserted.

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