“HELLO, I’M BROOKE’S DUMB-AS-DIRT FRIEND!”
While exiting the parking garage, right before crunching in the side of my truck, I had received a phone call that I assumed was Tara, my realtor, asking where I was. Instead of answering, I had increased my haste resulting in my accident. Now, as I headed down St. Charles Avenue, I checked my messages and discovered that the call was only a Craigslist renter informing me that her rental room wouldn’t be open until May. Doh!
Cursing my foolishness, I checked the map on my phone to see where my Fucher Street destination intersected St. Charles. When I arrived, however, I didn’t see the address listed on any of the houses. I was already angry and not thinking clearly on top of being embarrassed for being late. Now I found myself driving up and down the street, which changed to one-way and then reversed directions after a few blocks (are you kidding me?!). Addresses are in numerical order. What kind of idiot can’t find a sequentially numbered house?! My phone rang again. It was Tara. She had seen a truck with Florida tags pass…a couple of times…and assumed it was me. Ugh! Hello, I’m Brooke’s dumb-as-dirt friend, Eric!
As she talked me to the correct corner, I finally spotted her waving in front of a small apartment building set back from the road with its street number obscured. I went to enter the block but a Fed Ex truck approached from the other direction and stopped in the middle of the street, not bothering to ease to either side. As the driver jumped out, I laid on my horn but he ignored me and started pulling out packages. I jammed my truck in reverse and squealed my tires as I shot around the block to approach from the other direction. Hello, I’m Brooke’s friend with anger management issues!
1 of 1 OPTIONS
As I finally introduced myself to Tara, I don’t know which looked more battered: me or my truck, though I’m sure she was wondering what kind of lunatic element her friend had fallen in with in Jacksonville. We looked at the downstairs room first. It was old but freshly painted and well-maintained. There was a large bedroom with wood floors and a false fireplace, a tiny bathroom with a stand-up shower, and a modest kitchen with a false fireplace that had all the necessary appliances and just enough space that I could really cook–a must. It was 600 square feet for $800. A lot of cash for a tiny stash, but Tara assured me this was typical.
The upstairs apartment was larger but oddly laid out, having been pieced together from an old office building. The carpet was nasty and peeling and the walls were cracked and in need of three coats of paint. It was the same price but the increased space didn’t offest the sorry state. Heading back downstairs, Tara informed me that this was all she had been able to line up. There was one unit she couldn’t get into today and one on Upperline where the previous tenant had moved out after a month because of crime in the area. Everything else was gone. After all that effort, our meeting lasted about a half hour.
After Tara departed, I took her advice and drove by the high-crime house and the one in a large, blocky complex that would be shown later by another agent. Neither looked palpable. Over the past month I’d sorted through dozens of e-brochures from her realty service and had responded to dozens of Craigslist ads. From all of that effort, I was left with one (tiny) viable option. Exhausted–now my natural state of being–I retreated back to the hotel, parking in a different, navigatable garage.
MY KINGDOM FOR A PANERA
My one excursion for the day had drained my energy and resolve. It was not as though there were any options left to search for housing, but even if there were I didn’t want to move. I had thought I was getting better after three days of one of the worst colds I’ve ever had, but by Monday night my symptoms were raging again. The cough wasn’t as bad, but I felt warm, sweaty, and quick to tire. My congestion made it hard to breath or taste anything. Every meal was growing exponentially disappointing. Now this was irony of the highest sorts.
I am a huge foodie and proponent of local restaraunts. I don’t outright abstain from chain eateries–Panera certainly has its place–but I strongly favor local kitchens where cooks cook rather than national dispenseries where kids microwave. This love of unique restaurants is in part responsible for my love of New Orleans. And yet here I was, in ground zero of unique American cuisine, a ten minute walk from twenty of the most legendary restaurants in these United States, and all I wanted was a grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup. I Googled and Yelped furiously looking for comfort food but all I found was fried po boys and spicy gumbo, usual favorites that were now stomach-turning non-choices.
Elbow deep in some of the most revered restaurants in my own personal mythology, many of which I had for years dreamed of trying, I would have traded my kingdom for a Panera Bread.
I settled for a bland grilled chicken sandwhich at Daisy Dukes then returned for the night. Although my illness made activity painful, I was fine as long as I took it easy, so that night and the next morning I was quite content writing, watching TV, and mulling over the advantages of the Fucher Street broom closet. It was nice enough and it wasn’t like I needed a lot of space. The location was perfect, being right around the corner from the St. Charles Street car, less than a mile from the Garden District and its excellent bookshop, and just around the corner from my favorite stretch of Magazine Street with several cafes and coffee shops where I could write, plus a Fresh Market to provide me green grocer escape from cajun cuisine when needed.
IF ONLY I HAD MY STUDENT ID
Both Tara and I had called the listing agent mulitple times with a couple of simple questions, but she had ignored us until shortly after noon on Tuesday when Tara finally emailed me with her answers. I said I’d take it. Tara emailed an application that I needed to fill out and told me to bring a money order for $20. Money order? I had no idea where to get such an anitquity in a strange town so focused on the application. The hotel had a computer with a printer in the lobby but it wouldn’t open the document. I tried multiple fixes, making several trips up and down the elevator, but, par for the course, nothing worked. I finally retrieved my truck, being charged $20 despite the fact that the sign said $15, and went to fill out the application at the office which, of course, was on the complete opposite side of town in a difficult to access neighborhood.
Afternoon traffic was already thick on South Carrollton Avenue and it was after three by the time I arrived. The office closed at five. The listing agent wasn’t there so when I finished the application, the receptionist got her on the phone. I explained that my credit had been affected by my Florida condo fiasco, but assured her I could pay multiple months up front if needed. “Oh my,” she responded, saying she would talk to the owner but discouraging me from leaving an application fee. But I was scheduled to return to Jacksonville in the morning and at this point my bank account and immune system both needed a break. I couldn’t wait on her dragging her feet. Hanging up, I asked the receptionist where I could get a money order and he pointed me to a Walgreens that was a ten minute walk.
After a brisk walk, the Walgreens cashier informed that that they don’t issue money orders, though another customer suggested I try the post office further down Carrollton. As I exited, I saw a bank at the end of the block. I rushed to the door only to have the janitor lock it as I arrived, pecking at the window where a closing time of 4 o’clock was listed. There was another bank across the road but it too was closed. I ran back to my truck and searched for post offices on my phone’s GPS. The one on Carrollton was 3 miles away and traffic was thick, but there was one 1.3 miles away on St. Charles. This seemed the best option, but as I started the map led me on a twisted route through narrow back streets, dumping me onto St. Charles Avenue in early rush hour traffic. As I crept along I was horrified to reach my destination: Loyola University! There was probably a post office somewhere in the student union, but I didn’t have time to blunder around a college campus (and get arrested for trespassing, as my luck was running). Furious, I typed in the Carrollton address, leaving St. Charles to weave back through neighborhood streets.
MAKING AN ASS OF MYSELF, PLAIN & SIMPLE
Traffic was slow and I finally reached the post office at 4:30. As I approached the glass door, an attendant snapped the lock. I rattled it angrily and he gave the same smug ‘we’re closed’ point. In that instant three days of repressed frustration came spilling out in a histrionic rant cursing the city, the postal service, the realty agency, global warming, feral raccoons and anything else I could think to blame. Total loss of self-control.
Slinking back to my truck, I laid my head on the steering wheel as departing customers passed with looks of horror. I was instantly mortified by my behavior and was at my wit’s end. I’d come to the city with such high hopes but now wanted nothing more than to drop off that money order, secure a room, and leave. I tried to keep my larger goal in mind, reminding myself that once I had my health and a place to live my personal Mardi Gras would resume, but right now I wanted nothing more than to sleep in my own bed and eat soup from a can.
THE OLD SONG GOES: “HAPPINESS WAS SEEING LUBBOCK, TEXAS IN MY REARVIEW MIRROR”
I now blindly drove up Carrollton, trying several other establishments before finding a Rouses Supermarket where this slip of paper that was for some reason so preferable to actual cash cost me only 50¢ and a healthy chunk of my patience and dignity. It was 5:30. The realty office was closed.
I drove back down the street, stopping at a run down bar advertising pizza. It wasn’t soup, but it was bland and familiar enough. After ordering, I sat staring blankly at the bar, prompting the bartender to ask cautiously if I was okay. “Just a really bad day.” As I devoured my average yet heavenly pizza she kept a close eye on me as if I were going to string a rope over the bar and jump. “I hope your day gets better,” she called as I left.
The next morning I eagerly packed my truck and drove across town to that tiny office on that tiny street to drop off my tiny money order for that tiny apartment. Making one last stop for coffee and chicken biscuits, I got the fudge out of Dodge as quick as I could. I knew I was just sick and things would work out better when I returned, but at the moment I was completely disheartened and wanted to remove my self from all things New Orleans. I had always been so sad upon leaving this fascinating city, but for the first time ever happiness was seeing New Orleans, Louisiana in my rearview mirror.
A couple of hours later, somewhere in Alabama, Tara called to inform me they’d rented the unit to someone else.
PS: IF YOU ENJOYED THE PHOTOGRAPHS IN THIS POST
You can check out more awesome nature and concert photography on Craig O’Neal’s website or look him up on Flickr. He ROCKS like a houseboat in a hurricane!