Whatever you do never get back into town on a Friday night without plans for the evening. I didn’t realize this until the car dropped me off and pulled away.
“Wait, you guys want to go somewhere and get a drink or anything?”
I forgot to ask.
I thought I wanted to get home, drop my bags, sleep on my bed for a day or two and brace myself for the upcoming reality of having, at some point, to go back to work. I was already in trouble with them; supposed to be back on Wednesday, but driving can be an inexact science, especially in the spring, especially when you’re young and drunk and still have some money left in your bank account. So I called in from outside the Best Western and talked to Rob. “Listen, the weather down here is insane, we can’t drive in this. I’m probably not going to be back until Friday, maybe Monday, I’ll make the time up or I can lose two sick days or however you want to do it.”
This was the second call I’d made to work on this trip, the first was outside the Waffle House in Alabama while a cop followed me slowly in his cruiser as I crossed the parking lot to buy cigarettes at a gas station, and then back towards the restaurant. I was dressed strangely, partly out of habit and partly out of necessity (not being able to dig too deep into my bag from the backseat) - a black pullover, long navy cargo shorts and black boots. I was not from Seattle and it was not 1991 but a strong case could be made for a man living in denial of those facts. I pulled out the cell phone and called in to shoot the shit with Rob, until the cop accepted I wasn’t going to spray paint the lyrics to “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on any nearby walls or cars and moved on.
Ramone and O’Leary were in the Waffle House ordering. I walked in, and I swear “Sweet Home Alabama” was on the jukebox. Maybe I just remember it that way, but I’m fairly certain it’s also true. The waitress, an older gal, walked over and was as sweet as a slice of peach cobbler, until we ordered; maybe our gruff Yankee accents betrayed us as her demeanor soured shortly after we started ordering. We stopped in Nashville for a night. One of these days I’ll have to make time to actually go to Nashville instead of stop there on the way to somewhere else. We got into the hotel - sitting on the bed, ordering room service and getting hammered while watching TV seemed like a good idea but eventually I was dragged out.
We drove into what looked like the heart of the town during a fantastic lighting show that never produced any rain. The rest of the night plays like a film strip running off the reel: bright yellow lights, the electric blue Bell South sign, and Printers Alley with dozens of faces, bars and shops whirling by. We stopped in a bar called Bourbon Street and slunk our way up to the balcony to watch some guitarist wail away. We nodded at each other “ehhh…pretty good, pretty good,” but in truth we wanted to like everything and it made little difference if guy was channeling Hendrix or was just some guy who tried learning the live versions of Allman Brothers songs so he could look like a genius every Friday and Saturday night, this was the beginning of our little odyssey and everything had a positive shine about it.
The place was dark and blurry, like walking around in a vague memory. We left because we couldn’t hear each other and there were too many places to go for us to get bogged down in one for too long. The next place to register anything upon playback was an underground pub, which was very, well, pub looking; brass and wood everywhere, Kelly green walls, but the lights were far too bright to hide blemishes or bloodshot eyes betrayed by overconsumption. There were girls in this bar, but unlike most bars the devil resided at the end of this one- in a pin striped suite, complete with walking stick and a round bowler cap.
He was slightly heavy but not fat, a strand of black hair occasionally escaping from out of the hat and a thin goatee painted around his mouth. Had we been in Brooklyn I would have written him off as a hipster creep on his way to a jazz bar but this gentleman fancied himself the unofficial mayor of these here parts. “You might say I’m kind of a big deal ‘round here,” he said in his slow southern drawl. In no condition to judge age at that moment I’d guess he was slightly older than us, which is to say late-20’s, maybe, maybe early-30’s. The suit was sharp, there was no denying that, but there was something slightly pathetic about this fellow: he was hanging on at the end of the bar with a slight buffer between him and a throng of girls, and lucky us as it proved to be the only section of the bar we could slide up to and order drinks. We nodded politely and made small talk with him for a few minutes:
“Hi. Jersey. Just got in. Only tonight. Bourbon Street. New Orleans….”
“Well you boys might want to check out Legends Corner over on Broadway, they got some good bands, good food,” he started but it was too late.
Paul Ramone was already chatting up the nearest girl. Shane O’Leary quickly followed. It was a contrast of styles- Ramone was neatly pressed- all blond-blue-eyed buttoned-up thrift store charm. O’Leary on the other hand had a black AC DC shirt draped over his hulk-shoulders, family-crest tattoos pouring out from under the sleeves. He was polite and witty. Personable.
Within ten minutes the devil had been boxed out of his section and was leaning hard against the wall. Eventually he left, presumably to go back to the mayor’s mansion, though I have no idea- maybe he was a big deal who, with one phone call could have had our brains beaten in, but you don’t think about such things when you’re chasing a good time.
After a quick stream of relief off a nearby bridge we ended up at a pool hall. It was late. Club music. Blue and purple neon lights. More girls. Maybe they were the same girls; at this point their faces were spinning carousels. Then finally it hit the point when you know the night is over. Things are closing/people are leaving. A pool game ends and maybe a friend throws a look at you that they want to leave. However it hit, it did – a record scratch of a moment that was obvious to all involved.
“Well if you want, we’ll be here tomorrow night.”
“Baby, we’re leaving tomorrow.”
Well in that case- it was nice meeting you. I hope you have a good time in New Orleans, or good luck with law school, or I hope your surgery goes well. Whatever glad tidings need a bow put on them at the end of a night of casual conversations full of lies and unnecessary honesty in the hopes of deeply connecting with someone it’s very unlikely you’ll ever see again, just because it makes for a good sad story to tell the next time you meet someone.