LIFTED UP BY WHAT BROUGHT CLINTON DOWN
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As I headed to my hotel on St. Charles Avenue, just a block away from the French Quarter, I should have been in paradise. This was the most central spot I’d ever stayed at in New Orleans and things were still in their post-Mardi Gras lull, so none of the good clubs or restaurants would be crowded. My lingering cold had me frustrated, though, and when you are sick, you crave comfort and familiarity. Instead I was in a strange city and had been staying in a strange house. The Captain and Peggy are the most gracious hosts imaginable, but in hindsight I would have been better served heading back to Jacksonville once I was well enough to drive with plans of returning to find housing once healthy again. I was convinced, however, that I needed an abode before departing so I headed downtown for three nights–a bad decision that would domino the way such mistakes do when you can’t think clearly.
My room wouldn’t be available until 3p.m. per my Priceline email, so I drove around Uptown, neighborhood shopping some more. Soon hungry, I stopped by the High Hat Cafe on Freret Street, an up-and-coming boutique district that sprung up post-Katrina, for brunch and blogging. My fried chicken & waffles were tasty if not memorable, but the highlight of my meal was a lovely couple from Metairie who overheard me describing my project to the waitress. Upon paying their check, they stopped by my table offering tales of growing up with Mardi Gras and how it used to be an affordable family affair to rent a balcony on Bourbon. Things had changed drastically over the years, but they had formed new traditions once they had children. They were particularly proud of winning a costume contest in the Quarter dressed as Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky just as the scandal was breaking and before the costume became cliché. As they finally departed after lingering at my table for twenty minutes, I was grateful. Their interest and encouragement lent optimism and confidence at a time my resolve was waning.
“SHUT THE F#@! UP AND JUST GIVE US MORE MONEY!”
I arrived at the Royal St. Charles Hotel a little after three, only to be told check-in wasn’t until four. My email promise of 3 o’clock left the clerk unmoved, though she had no problem later handing a key to the customer behind me. When I asked if I could leave my luggage and park, she said the valet would be $30 a night plus a mandatory $10 ‘resort fee.’ My time at the Hilton had cost a small fortune and, this project being self-funded sans employment, I was beginning to stress over expenditures. Now my $60 hotel had turned into $100 a night in a flash. I expected to pay some for parking, but this was half the cost of the room, and the ‘resort fee’ was just a scam. This type of thing sends me through the roof, much like ‘convenience charges’ on electronic concert tickets or ‘processing fees’ on other purchases. Retailers long ago decided they can simply lie about the price of any good or service, mugging you at will once you’ve committed to the transaction.
Fighting the ‘shut the f#@! up and just give us more money’ fee was futile, but I couldn’t swallow the valet charge knowing I’d have to tip, as well, every time I departed and returned. Instead, the valet gave me directions to a garage where I could self-park for $15 a night. When I arrived, the attendant demanded the full amount in cash. I didn’t have that much left, so after a long and frustrating exchange, I paid for one night with a promise to return. As I drove my large Toyota truck up the narrowing ramp, I slowly became convinced the hotel valet had intentionally sent me to the tightest possible garage. The roof hung so low that my antenna bent back and I was forced to inch along, afraid that my top would scrape. I had been instructed to park no lower than the 6th level, yet the ascending curves became so sharp by the 4th floor that I had to execute 3-point turns. I was white-knuckle driving at 2mph!
THE GODS OF SPIRALING KARMA
As I exited the sardine can where I’d parked my truck, the stairwell emptied into a narrow, cluttered alley that I wouldn’t dare traverse at night. I’d park a mile away and walk before I’d come here again.
After days of illness and frustration in unfamiliar territory, I was dying for something comfortable and familiar. Using my phone, I located a cinema at the foot of Canal Street where Best Picture Nominee Silver Linings Playbook was starting soon. A dark comedy fit my mood. As I headed that way, I checked my phone for the hundredth time that day. For weeks I had been consulting with a realtor who was friends with my friend Brooke about available apartments. Tara, the realtor, had been unable to free her schedule Friday or Saturday but promised we could meet Sunday afternoon or Monday. I had emailed several times that morning and didn’t want to attend a movie if she were available to show apartments.
As I entered the 3rd level of Canal Place, the plush theater filled the entire floor and it took some wandering to find the box office. As I arrived, the girl cheerily asked for $14. For a movie? That’s what a concert ticket used to cost! Living in New Orleans, my savings were going to be gone by summer solstice. My Three Months or So of Mardi Gras!
Trying to forget my worries, I settled back in my chair. As the previews began I thought to silence my phone, but as I did, my email account went off like a slot machine landing on three lemons. Tara had been trying to reach me all day, sending several messages asking me to call ASAP. But I couldn’t. The Gods of Spiraling Karma had held my email hostage in cyberspace until I was sitting in a packed theater.
A FIGURATIVE TRAIN WRECK BECOMES A LITERAL TRUCK WRECK
Not that it mattered. I had been trying to for over a month to find a roommate via Craigslist and less than 10% of the ads I responded to acknowledged my inquiries; most of those responses were bizarre to say the least. I preferred a roommate situation so I wouldn’t have to move my furniture from Jacksonville. Instead, once I managed to sell my condo sometime later this year, I could store belongings until after My Year of Mardi Gras and then decide whether to stick with my new home or return to Jax. But with so many ads and so few responses, renting a one-bedroom was looking like my only option. Yet when I talked to Tara, she said only 3 or 4 of the fifteen plus units I’d expressed interest in were still available. We agreed to meet to view two available apartments in the same building tomorrow afternoon, and she said she would continued to investigate other options.
I grabbed something light to eat on and then retreated to my room and buried myself beneath the sheets. I didn’t want to leave all night, worn down by frustration, fever and fatigue. If there was one silver lining to my playbook, it was this big, plush bed. Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I hate to admit it lest my friends ever read this, but the bed I’d been borrowing in Metairie was the most uncomfortable I’d ever slept in. The center was completely soft–nearly hollow–and I’m a big guy with a heavy core. Thus my ass sank deep to the bottom while my head and feet hovered above like I was trying to sleep in a shopping cart. In addition to being sick, exhausted, and racked by coughing, I had so much trouble sleeping on that bed that a couple of times each night I would drag the blankets to the floor to futilely give it a try. This lack of sleep surely added to my grumpiness as well as plummeting luck and judgement, but that night I sank into a deep sleep.
The next morning, I reluctantly left my room for breakfast at a touristy, bland spot around the corner named Daisy Dukes. Quickly returning, I became contentedly engrossed in my writing (at least my ‘resort fee’ included wi-fi). Tara called a little after noon to say she was free, but was coming all the way from Metairie. I figured by the time I retrieved my truck and drove a few miles our journeys would equal out. But I stopped at the front desk to make an inquiry and got stuck behind a prattling customer, then took a wrong turn, walking a block in the wrong direction before I realized it. Backtracking, I went too far in the other direction and rounded the block past where I thought the garage would be. Finally arriving, I hurried up six flights of stairs. As a fitness devotee, this would normally be a breeze but in my weakened state, I was soon wheezing and, sweating as my fever and congestion rapidly spiked. When I reached the truck, I was already embarrassed to keep Tara waiting. After our bungled email communication, she probably already thought I was an idiot. As I started down the tight ramp, my phone rang with a local area code. Damn! She was already looking for me. I eased my away around slowly, now making 4,5, or 6-point turns. On the second level, I thought I’d finally cleared the worse and swung around a corner only to be greeted by the sickening sound of crunching metal. Cursing, I backed up and took another swing. When I arrived at the bottom, I jumped out hoping that it was only a scratch. No such luck. In saving $60 in valet fees I had done a good $1500 dollars or more in damage. New Orleans was quickly morphing from an inviting friend into a taunting bully.