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Mardi Gras Part 3: Your Narrator Gets Laid (up)

Posted in Mardi Gras Adventure with tags on April 1, 2009 by tom

In addition to Mardi Gras, New Orleans hosts the coincidental pre-Lent meetings of two less-publicized guilds.  The first is The International Brotherhood of Tuba Players.  In homes and clubs across the world, you’ll find thousands of folks relaxing by playing music.  Whether they’re strumming a guitar, picking out a tune on the piano, or sitting in the window playing sax (think Gene Hackman in “The Conversation”), music provides hours of innocent enjoyment for its novice throngs.

Nobody comes home after a busy day, changes clothes, and noodles out tunes on a tuba.  Tubas require committment, devotion, and–though I’m not sure about this last one–being under the control of Satan himself.  According to the Julliard Musical Physics Lab, a tuba played in New Orleans can be heard in Flagstaff, Arizona, if conditions are right.  Also, there aren’t many tubas in the world.  Each tuba weighs approximately 3 tons, and has more valves than a Ferrari Testarossa engine.  The air pressure required to force noise from its bell roughly equals the lift-off thrust of a Saturn V “Apollo” rocket.  Also, tubas only produce three unique notes: “OOM,” “PAH,” and another “PAH.” You’re not going to play “Flight of the Bumblebee” on a tuba.  As it happens, every tuba player on Earth is required by international law to attend Mardi Gras.

The other meeting concurrent with Mardi Gras is The International Street Criminals Guild.  I think they set up shop in the New Orleans Superdome, probably with helpful seminars like “Maximizing Pocket-Picking Efficiency” or “Flim-Flammery: The Master’s Course (presented by Enron).”

Other than one minor physical skirmish (tom’s elbow vs drunk fratboy), I hadn’t seen any crime during my first night’s sojourn.  The tubas? Yeah, they were in full, gut churning brassy force, ooming and pahing and pahing some more as the parades rolled by.  By the time I was ready to pass out that first night, I felt safe in my room, and ready for a little quality, Bourbon-enhanced slumber.

Indeed the criminal element was far below.  I learned two things about my ninth-floor lair, though.  First off, there are lots of hospitals near the Raddisson, and lots of ambulances with loud sirens who patronize each of them.  The second horrible discovery was that tuba-driven marching bands started operation at 8 AM.  In other words, right around the time the ambulances stopped wailing by, it was time for the “family” parades to begin.  Grr.

It’s almost a cliche that New Orleans visitors must break fast with beignets and cafe au lait at Cafe du Monde.  When I awoke that Sunday morning, this seemed like a good idea.  Surely, the tasty, traditional cafe au lait would clear my head while the beignet’s sugary goodness fired-up my system.

Then I got out of bed. Tom fall down go boom.

Apparently, if you’re drunk when you sprain your ankle, and drunk when you go to sleep, you have to remind yourself that your ankle is sprained once you become sober.  I managed to crawl into the bathroom and pull myself using the vanity so that I could pee.  Then I stepOUCHed mincingly back to my bed.  Instead of embracing the morning with beignets and cafe au lait, I enjoyed a breakfast of melted ice, room temperature pizza, and soggy Junior Mints.  I choked down a giganto Motrin, stuck my bare feet in my Nikes, laced the bad ankle securely into its protective cocoon, and headed out to enjoy Mardi Gras.

Otto von Bismarck once noted, “There is a Providence that protects idiots, drunkards, children and the United States of America.”  Ihre Satz ist richtig, Herr Bismarck.  I was an idiot American drunkard who’d just eaten pizza and candy for breakfast–how much more childlike can you get?

I mention this quote only because I’d had the foresight to remember A) my roomkey, B) my big stack of drink coupons, and C) my empty plastic bag.  The stepOUCHing was slower going than the previous night, and I realized I would likely be hanging near the hotel.  The La Salle was open, and my favorite barstool was clear.  Yay.

The barmaid remembered me from the night before.  Apparently, there aren’t that many Hagrid-sized limping Crackers in shorts and t-shirts frequenting her bar.  She traded me a drink coupon for a double Maker’s Mark rocks.  I lit a cigarette, and sighed.  I was safe.

I’m a friendly sort, I suppose.  I don’t go out of my way to talk to people, but if they talk to me, I can be engaging and personable.  A small gaggle of students from the University of Alabama came in and sat at a nearby table.  One of the girls–Megan–came to the bar to request a pitcher of beer.  She was happy and friendly, and asked if I was enjoying Mardi Gras.  I rolled my eyes, and told her about my ankle.

It’s sort of a blessing when you have an injury that looks bad.  It saves people thinking you’re a wuss.  Anyway, Megan expressed revulsion at my angry-looking purple ankle, and cooed with appropriate pity.  She introduced me to her sorority sisters and Bryan.  Bryan spelled his name with a “y.” I know this because he was wearing a shirt that said “Bryan” on it.

Anyway, the girls and Bryan started talking about their day’s adventures, sharing their stories, and I recounted some of my group’s train exploits.  The girls bummed cigarettes from me, and over the next couple hours, I was made an honorary AXO.  Megan, Bryan and the girls shared some beads with me, then excused themselves to go meet their boyfriends for dinner.  I went back to the soccer game on TV.

After awhile, Dick and Rich came in with three pretty women in their late 30’s.  They got a table, and I stepOUCHed over to join them.  I can’t remember the womens’ names, but they were friendly.  Verrrrry friendly with the father and son lotharios.  When one of the ladies suggested the five of them go up to their room, I think I threw up a little in my mouth.

Another crew from the train came in, including Heather.  Oh, dear Lord, Heather.

I’d first noticed Heather on the platform back in Orlando.  She was wearing orange tights and a tight tank-top with a matching orange warm-up jacket.  She was blonde, but that kind of almost phantasmagoric pale blonde like Anne Heche.  She looked like she was 17, bursting with quiet beauty and healthy pulchritude.  I don’t get tongue-tied very often, but I was a blithering idiot when I tried to speak to her on the train.  Her skin was like delicate porcelain fired in an angel’s kiln.  Her friend was a tanned brunette named Ashley.  Ashley was louder, brasher, but the two of them were a bit aloof, huddling with their husbands, and not participating much in our train games.

So Heather and Ashley came in with their husbands, and I didn’t expect much.  They migrated to the table where Megan and the AXO girls had sat, and they were now remarkably friendly.  I found that when Heather asked about my ankle, I was able to respond in coherent sentences.  God bless the folks at Maker’s Mark for their excellence in liquid loquaciousness.  So I joined them, and Ashley and Heather talked about how many times they’d flashed their breasts in exchange for beads.  They knocked off two pitchers between them, then went upstairs to smoke a joint before rejoining the festive melee.  Before they left, Heather and Ashley each gave me a couple strands of their lesser beads, and Heather gave me a hug.

Squeeeeeeeeeee.

I felt like Pauley in “Goodfellas.” Here were people who’d spent their day out enjoying Mardi Gras, and they felt compelled to pay me a bead tribute, like DeNiro and Ray Liotta spiffing Paul Sorvino a cut of the Lufthansa heist.  Without leaving my barstool, my neck had gained multiple shiny baubles.  And I didn’t have to show anyone even one nipple.  I guess my ankle was enough.

When they left, I decided to go outside, just to see what was happening.  I found a convenient lamp post just outside the Radisson’s front door, and elbowed my way to it.  I leaned awhile.  The floats were colorful.  The bands were outstanding.  Beads and coins were flying.  I snagged three more strands of beads to add to my burgeoning neck bling, and I saw Quincy Jones go by.  He was real.  He was on a float, and there was a sign proclaiming his Q-ness.  Nice.  After a half-hour or so, I figured that was enough.  I stepOUCHed back into the hotel, and ordered a pizza.  The Radisson’s main concourse had a few restaurants and a food court area, including a full-service Pizza Hut Express.  I put in my order, and they said it would be about an hour.  Express my ass.

So, I went back into the La Salle.  My favorite bartender had left for the night, and the new crew wouldn’t serve Maker’s Mark for drink coupons, so it was back to Jim Beam.  Not a problem.  Not a problem at all. The only bad thing was that my barstool was taken.  Lo and behold, the Skank from the train and her taciturn biker boyfriend were  just sitting down at a table, and they waved me over to join them.  StepOUCH stepOUCH stepOUCH, sit.  The Skank said her head was still sore from where it had collided with the wall during our dance, “But you’re more fucked-up than I am.” Yes, ma’am, I am.  She was wearing skin tight jeans with a gruesome cameltoe, and a shirt that said “If I Turned This T-Shirt Around, My Mama Would Kill Me.” On the back of the t-shirt were two breast-sized holes.  I told her she should turn the t-shirt around and see what happened.

Oh. My. Goodness.  She did it.  So we were sitting there at the table: me, Sam Elliot’s roadworn doppelgänger, and the skank, with her brown, surgically enhanced breasts sticking through her shirt.  After about 15 minutes, a man in a tie came up and invited us to leave the La Salle.  I managed to convince him to let us stay, so long as the shirt were reversed.  The Skank took her shirt off completely, dawdled a bit, then put it back on correctly.

I could hear Hell’s reservation department confirming my accomodations.

They went back out into the night, and I managed to collect my pizza, stepOUCH weaving back to the elevator without any further encounters with security.  I stopped by the ice machine, loaded up my plastic bag, and survived the journey back to my room.  HBO had just started “Independence Day.” I popped a Motrin and a Prozac, mixed a big drink, and sat down on my bed to chill.  I’d spent maybe a half hour outside “experiencing” Mardi Gras.  Other than that, I’d sat drinking in a bar for eight hours, ordered a pizza, and sat down to watch a movie.  I had to laugh.  Save for that thirty minutes of lamp post leaning–and my various La Salle compatriots–it could’ve been just another weekend night back home.

I downed a couple shots and opened the pizza box.  I realized that if the aliens came to invade, and they hit New Orleans during Mardi Gras, they might just turn around and head back home.

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Mardi Gras Part 2: Limping through the Big Easy

Posted in Mardi Gras Adventure with tags on March 9, 2009 by tom

Under the most normal of circumstances, New Orleans is an unusual city, a spicy blend of cultures and races, all simmering together, sharing their history, food, and superstitions.  There are voodoo shops, above-ground graves, and a general air of gris-gris.  Then, the last few days before Ash Wednesday, add a kabillion drunk people, and you have Mardi Gras.

It’s sort of like a Disney World of sin, only with more marching bands.

Anyway, after we reached the New Orleans Amtrak station, our tour guide shepherded us to an appropriately short bus, which carried us to the Radisson on St Charles St.  I think it’s now called the Hotel Le Cirque.  Check-in was slow.  Excruciating.  Boring.  After 18 hours of drinking on the train, all I wanted was a shower, an icepack for my ankle, and a nice nap.  Some of my fellow travelers were anxious to head out into the celebration.  Others were like me, just needing proper decontamination and rest.

The travel agency people finally got us sorted out, and gave us our card keys.  Also, we were given a ration of free drink coupons.  Woo-hoo! Laissez les bon temps roullez!

I managed to limp to the elevator, which carried me to the ninth floor.  It would have been impossible for even the greatest cartographers, physicists, geographers, and baggage handlers to find me a room further from the elevators.  I limped down one interminably long hall, which led me to a corridor, which reached nearly to Houston.  Anyway, my room had a giganto king-sized bed, and a bathroom with a shower: in short, it had all I needed.  I turned the shower full-on hot, let the bathroom steam up a bit, then went in to wash away the railroad grime and vodka sweat.

This was where I learned two things.  First, if you have a sprained ankle, you reeeeeeally need to be careful climbing into things.  It hurts.  The other sad discovery is that my brain had been altered by the choo-choo.  Something about the vodka and the constantly sloshing train motion wreaked havoc on my balance.  Eyes open? No problem.  Close eyes to stick head under shower? Complete loss of equillibrium.  I had to wash my hair with one hand holding on to the wall.  (this phenomenon lasted for weeks)

I dried off and took a pleasant nap.  It was around 9 PM when I pulled on shorts and a polo shirt, laced up my Nikes, popped a Motrin, and limped out to experience Mardi Gras.

Thank God, I remembered to grab my huge stack of drink coupons, because I was distressingly sober and in pain.

The bar in the Radisson was called the La Salle (which means “the salle” in French), and it was a typical dark fern bar, with mirrors and wood paneling.  Not bad.  I found a seat at the bar, and ordered a Maker’s Mark, rocks.  Lesson #3: call brands are not valid with drink coupons.  Oh, well.  On my second or third drink, a quartet of my train people came into the bar.  This began a phenomenon that lasted our entire Mardi Gras tenure: people finding me in the La Salle, and checking-in.  I felt like a den mother–well, not a mother, of course–but it was actually sort of cool.  People who were once just fellow drunken strangers on a train came in and chatted with me, sharing their adventures and asking after my giant purple ankle.

The colors of Mardi Gras are purple, green, and gold.  I figured I’d be doing my part with my festive purple ankle, jaunty golden Bourbon and water, and the green of the money I spread around the city’s various bars.  That was kind of my plan: to enjoy the parades and revelry, as well as visiting some nice clubs to experience the legendary New Orleans music scene.

Fortified with by now several Bourbons, I was ready to go out into the teeming Bachannal.

This plan lasted about three steps. It was like this: step-OUCH! step-OUCH! step-OUCH!

It was clear that I wouldn’t be wearing out my Nikes too much on the first night.  I step-OUCHed my way out of the La Salle and asked the concierge where the nearest liquor store was.  “There’s a Walgreen’s a couple blocks that way (points) down St Charles.” Thank you, my good man.  I step-OUCHed across the lobby, through the revolving doors, and into the night.

The third object of Mardi Gras–behind the cation twins, intoxi- and forni–is the accumulation of beads.  There are two main ways of acquiring beads: to catch them when they’re flung from a parade float, or to flash ones various assets at a bead-holder.  On my first night of Mardi Gras, I had probably five strands of beads I’d gotten on the train, including one really nice, long, intricate one with grinning jester heads and lots of other whatsits.  During the course of Mardi Gras, I was offered lots of things in exchange for my prize strand of beads, from kisses to extended boobie shots to a complete gynecological exam (not enough gloves in the world for that girl), but they were mine.

I digress.

A gentle rain misted the crowds, but the mass alcohol fumes evaporated the raindrops before they could land.  It was 39 degrees, and I was in shorts and a station polo shirt.  Not a problem.  Pain keeps you warm.  I started up St Charles street, my step-OUCH pace meshing nicely with the sidewalk denizens’ drunken crawl.  People were moving, but when a float went by, everyone pressed toward the street, arms reached heavenward, trying to catch those wonderful beads.

I’m six-four, and I’m very good at catching things, so I figured snagging a bunch of beads would be a cinch.  Sadly, it’s easier to catch when you can balance, which is hard to do standing on one foot.

Also, if clowns freak you out, Mardi Gras is the place of nightmares.  The float people aren’t circus clowns, but everyone wears grinning masks, and makeup, sort of like a Halloween rave at the Korova Milk Bar.  I managed to grab one lovely strand of black beads with some plastic voodoo-looking talisman–I was leaning against a lamppost, and the beads were deflected my way.

I figured this ten-minute pursuit counted as the day’s success, and I step-OUCHed onward to Walgreen’s.  As the parades passed, I found that my way was clearer if I stuck close to the buildings.  It was cold and damp, but I was buoyed by pain, adrenaline, and Bourbon.  Hooray, tom.  As I limped past one stoop, three black ladies began talking to me, lamenting that I looked cold, and offering that they would happily keep me warm.  We chatted briefly, and they asked me to stop by anytime.  I grinned.  They were cool.

Eventually, I saw Walgreen’s, my salvation.  (If you’re not familiar, Walgreen’s is an American drugstore chain, and they often have attached liquor stores)  I looked, though, and there was no familiar LIQUORS sign on this Walgreen’s.  WTF? Expecting the worst, I went inside.  In my town, the Walgreen’s Liquor Store has a separate entrance, and is an entity unto itself, other than being attached.  In New Orleans, it’s just a regular Walgreen’s, only with liquor.  I searched the helpful signs: FOOT CARE, nope; COLD REMEDIES, nope; FEMININE HYGEINE, nope; BOURBON, yay.  I knew my ankle was pretty badly injured, so I reasoned I’d best stock-up.  I selected a half-gallon of Evan Williams Bourbon and a plastic flask-shaped bottle of Cuervo Gold.  It seemed like the thing to do.  I added plenty of cigarettes, and–inexplicably–a box of Junior Mints, checked out, and headed back into the crowd.

By this point, most of the crowd seemed to be creeping slowly back down St Charles, in the general direction of the Radisson.  This boded well for me.  About halfway back, three drunken fratboy types were walking against the tide, shoving their way through, annoying people.  The first two passed me.  The third collided with a woman, then glanced-off toward me.  He happened to get me on a step instead of an OUCH, and I accidentally swung my left elbow toward his chest.  You know.  Just to balance.  He fall down go boom.  I said “Excuse me,” and walked on.  stepOUCH (gloat) stepOUCH (grin)

I made it back to the Radisson, and through the revolving doors.  My ankle was killing me at this point, so I limped over to the elevator, and ascended to the ninth floor.  Along the labyrinthine corridors to my room, I passed the ice machine.  I took the jug of Bourbon, the Junior Mints, and the plastic tequila flask out of the Walgreen’s bag, and loaded a bunch of ice in their place.  A rare good thought.  I got back to my room finally, and ordered a pizza.  An hour later, I had to limp back downstairs to meet the driver at the concierge desk, then stepOUCH my way back.  When I got there, I finally relaxed.  On my first night in the city with America’s most-diverse native cuisine, I ate Domino’s, and it was just fine with me.

That night, HBO was showing a Chris Farley double-feature.  “Black Sheep” was first, and it was funny in parts.  I ate my pizza, drank my whiskey, and laughed.  Then we got to “Tommy Boy.”

The most vivid snapshot I have of my first night’s Mardi Gras experience was of me howling hysterically as Farley and David Spade weepingly sang “Superstar.” As the hood flew open on their car, I was leaning forward on the bed, taking a handful of cubes from my icepack, and just shaking my head at how fucking funny life can be.

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Mardi Gras, Many Moons and a Week Ago (Part One)

Posted in Mardi Gras Adventure with tags on March 3, 2009 by tom

The first year or two I worked for my previous employer, I was irritated by a seeming disparity: the morning, mid-day, and afternoon drive announcers were occasionally called upon to host a ski trip or Caribbean dive junket.  Somehow, the night guy–yours truly–always missed out on these.

It didn’t bother me that much, honestly: I neither ski nor dive, and I don’t like crowds of strangers, but it would have been nice if they’d asked, right?

Along came one January, and I was finally given my free trip/hosting gig: the Beck’s Bier Mardi Gras Express.  A travel agency had put together my dream trip.  We’d ride the Amtrak Sunset Limited from Orlando to New Orleans.  On board, we had our own sleeper compartments and two-level lounge car.  The company had its problems–they couldn’t nail down accomodations in New Orleans, for one thing–and sales were slow.  Nonetheless, the week came, and I packed one little bag: toothbrush, a couple changes of clothes, Xanax (just in case), Prozac, 800 mg Motrins, money, etc.  I put on my best Nike mid-hightops and a pair of jeans, and I was off to the Tampa Amtrak station.

I should mention that I was going stag.  I was just starting to date the Devil-Bitch, and I was unable to locate Crazy Susan.  I was a little bummed about this at the time–I didn’t know a soul on the trip–but it worked out okay.

LJ, the sales rep handling the travel agency, had procured a huge bag of Mardi Gras beads for me to take.  Thus, with my personal bag and my treat sack, I was ready to go.

The Tampa Amtrak station is in a part of town you’re safest traversing on a train.  Amtrak didn’t even have that much faith in it.  The first leg of our trip was on an Amtrak bus.  I could have driven to the Orlando/Sanford train station in an hour, maybe 90 minutes.  On the bus, it took us three hours.  We made several stops en route, picking up fellow partygoers from Lakeland, Plant City, and Lord only knows where else.  At one stop, we picked up a father-son team of revelers, named Dick and Rich.  Dick, the father, was what could only be described as a dirty old man, God love him.  Rich was in his forties, and a nice guy.  They both were.  They were also my only listeners on the trip.  Oh, well.

Anyway, they brought with them two large thermoses filled with White Russians, and a stack of plastic cups.  We denizens of the last three rows began our Mardi Gras in some Plant City gas station’s parking lot.  As we drew nearer our train, we got louder and more boisterous.  I gave my new group of friends some starter beads, and the bus driver yelled at us to stop cussing.

Finally, we got to the train station.  I guess I’d been expecting Grand Central Station, or the Paris train depot from Casablanca, but this was basically a shack with a platform.  We found our car, found our compartments, then the train pulled away leaving our flat Central Florida reality behind.

Jack and April, a young couple from Lakeland, brought a fifth of Aftershock, which they began sharing as soon as the train started moving.  At dinner, I was seated with Maria, whose husband Rob was taking a nap, and a couple who were arguing.   I don’t remember their names.  I do remember the filet mignon medallions marsala were spectacular.  Train food proved to be very good the entire trip.  Thumbs up to Amtrak for that one.

Then it was off to the lounge car, a loud, smoky den.  A DJ from the Miami station played classic rock and dance songs, and there were coolers of Beck’s Bier everywhere.  I met the trip director from the agency, and noticed she had a red plastic cup.  Hmm.  “What are you drinking?” “Vodka and cranberry.” “Where did you get it?” “Downstairs in the bar.”

THE BAR!! Woo-hoo!

I climbed down the narrow staircase, and there was a small bar with Charles Durning mixing drinks.

Okay, it wasn’t really Charles Durning, but it could’ve been his younger brother.  Turns out drinks were free.  I ordered an octuple Smirnoff, rocks, with olives, and he dutifully poured eight little airplane bottles into a red cup for me.  Hooray for Charles Durning!

I made many trips up and down the stairs that night.  During the “kick-off party” upstairs, we played silly games, and I got to know some of my fellow travelers.  As midnight came and went, some folks went off to sleep.  Not me.  I had slept till 2pm, so I was just getting started.  Eventually, it was just Rich, the girl from the agency, a biker guy, and his skanky girlfriend.  We were sittling, slurring about nothing, and enjoying the ride, when skanko decided she wanted to dance.  The biker wouldn’t, nor would Rich.  She came up to me next.  I don’t dance, I told her.  She pulled up her shirt, revealing surgically enhanced breasts.  “Now will you dance with me?”

So we’re dancing, and she’s wobbling all over the place.  In an effort to maximize boob contact and minimize unnecessary motion, I picked her up.  She loved that.  She laughed and wiggled.  This wiggling, combined with the shaking motion of the train (and my vodka-adjusted balance), caused me to fall ass-over-teakettle over a row of seats, and crash into the wall.  She bumped her head (which was certainly not her most active part), and I got the muthah of all ankle sprains.  Ouch.  She was okay, and I was able to collect my beverage and limp back to my compartment.

I took a Motrin, and chased it with some Diet Coke.  I don’t think I ever actually got to sleep.  I wandered in to breakfast, and it was a ragged looking group, except for Dick, who’d gone to bed early, passed out, and gotten some rest.  He looked like Peter O’Toole, only shorter and less regal.  Somebody quickly discovered that the bar was reopened at 8AM, so we gathered for hair-of-the-dog drinks.  Sadly, all the vodka was gone, so I enjoyed a nice Jim Beam and water as we rolled through Alabama and Mississippi, then onto the final approach to The Big Easy.

 

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