IT’S NOT WHINING, JUST HONESTY (THE BEST POLICY!)
I had a fabulous Mardi Gras and, upon returning to New Orleans, a fabulous St. Patrick’s weekend. In between, however, things went sideways immediately following Mardi Gras as I waded through illness, a truck accident, and a frustrating housing search. Shortly I fled back to Jacksonville to recuperate wondering whether or not to blog about my rough week since this is supposed to be a ‘fun’ adventure blog. Ultimately I decided adversity is part of any good story and besides, honesty is the best policy, right?
Several locals who later read about my week of tribulation all assured me that that sense of frustration was common in New Orleans, especially with first-time residents. “You expect things to function like they should,” explained my attorney friend Ann whom I’d met dressed like Alice in Wonderland on Mardi Gras day, “but things in this city usually don’t work like they’re supposed to.” This same sentiment was relayed to my by several sources, so apparently I struck an honest chord about what it’s like to move to New Orleans. Looking back, I’m glad I chose to paint the shadows as well as light.
Thus, I’m not to afraid to admit to further if mild disappointment and annoyance the Monday after St. Patrick’s Day. I spent the day writing and resting after a week on the go but had high expectations for that night, planning to see local jazz legend Kermit Ruffins at his club, Kermit Ruffin’s Treme Speakeasy. If I had to choose one musician who epitomizes New Orleans, it would be Ruffins, and I’m not alone in dubbing him the unofficial ambassador of the Big Easy. In an age when jazz has long been removed from the rollicking speakeasy and ‘civilized’ in stuffy concert halls, Ruffins brings the joy, juke, and jive back to jazz. He’s a walking encyclopedia of musical knowledge but you’d never know if from his easy-going, class-clown demeanor. “All aboard!” he cries in between songs, urging the audience to come along for the ride as he mixes elegant covers such as “Ain’t Misbehaving” and “Stardust” with tongue-in-check originals such as “Can’t Take My Baby Nowhere” and “Hide the Reefer.” (He’s not shy about admitting his herbal essence!) Although he makes century old standards sound fresh, he also nurtures a love of modern R&B, making the Black Eyed Peas “I’ve Got a Feeling” a regular of most sets, crying “We parrr-tee-un!” a dozen times as the night heats up.
I always tell people if there’s one thing they should do while in New Orleans it’s catch Kermit Ruffins. I’ve been a fan since my first Jazzfest and have seen him dozens of times, though I’d never tasted his cooking until this past December. Ruffins has long joked he is a professional chef who dabbles and music, and considering his band is called The Barbeque Swingers, it should come as no surprise that he’s often seen outside barbecuing before gigs. For years he’d wanted to open his own bar and restaurant and finally succeeded a little over a year ago. I was stoked to visit while in town this past December.
CHRISTMAS TIME IS HERE
I’d been worried about the crowd so showed up at 5pm with a friend for the 6 o’clock show This turned out to be exessively early. The tables didn’t fill up till after six and Kermit didn’t go on until after 7;
nevertheless, it was a magical night that captured the beauty of Christmas in this city. Standing by a lovely lit tree, Kermit opened with “Christmas Time Is Here” of Charlie Brown Christmas fame and played a few more holiday standards before delving into his usual set.
The crowd was small and he interacted like a jolly Christmas elf, letting locals in from the surrounding Treme neighborhood for free as the night advanced to dance and even sing on stage. Then there was the food. The red beans and rice I ordered was the most rich and flavorful I’ve ever had while the catfish melted in my mouth like butter, another best. It was a perfect New Orleans night and the highlight of this past Christmas.
CHRISTMAS CHEER (AND COURTESY) HAS LEFT THE BUILDING
I was excited to return on this Monday in March, but didn’t arrive until right at 6, as now I didn’t fear a crowd and didn’t want to wait around alone. When I walked in the place packed from stage to kitchen. I did several laps of the joint before squeezing up to the bar where the bartender said that it was getting this way for every Sunday and Monday show. I ordered and ate standing up, and, while still excellent, the food seemed to suffer a bit from the rushed production at increased volume. Kermit came on at a quarter to seven and was entertaining as always, although it was hard to hear over the spring break crowd. I struggled to get comfortable, but it was a tight, loud crowd and then, an hour into the show, some old bald jackass literally shoved me out of the way to order a drink. When I said something, he waved me off, for clearly unconcerned at my presence in space he wanted to temporarily inhabit. It took a deep breath and though of getting arrested in New Orleans for choking out an old man though fantasized about shoving him out of the chair he returned to with equal disregard for the space he was inhabiting.
I left shortly after this, conceding that I wouldn’t capture magic on this night. I would still recommend a trip to Kermit Ruffin’s Treme Speakeasy, but come early with your expectations in check as word has gotten out. To quote the Eagles: “They called it paradise–I don’t known why, Call someplace paradise you kiss it goodbye.” This is just another example of how New Orleans is a hard city to predict. Kermit’s club and the Maple Leaf had been mild disappointments while a random Wednesday on Frenchman was pure magic. Just like at Jazzfest where it’s often the band you stumble on that makes your day and not the one you came to see, there is always creative lightning striking somewhere in this city, you just can’t plan on catching it. Just wondering around with your mind, heart and bottle open!
SURFER BAKES AND FROSTED FLAKES
The next morning I awoke ready to resume my search for housing. It was March 19th, also known as St. Joseph’s Day, a Catholic holiday that is sacred to the large Sicilian population in New Orleans as well as Mardi Gras Indians (the latter, for reason I can’t quite uncover.) Before I could resume my journalistic journey into New Orleans peculiarities, however, I first had to find permanent housing.
If you read this blog with any regularity, then you are familiar with my disastrous post-Mardi Gras housing quest. (If you need to catch up, start here.) This time, however, I was better prepared and felt certain of success. First off, I was healthy and could think straight, plus I understood the neighborhoods better, knew what to look for, and was able to act quicker before desirable properties were snatched up. Also, I’d answered a Craigslist ad from someone looking for a roommate with whom to rent as it’s much easier to pool resources and find an affordable two bedroom by splitting expenses. I’d talked with the guy over the phone extensively and later met over lunch to strategize. He seemed a little surfer-flaky with his vernacular and frosted blonde hair,but he had a steady job and seemed easy going.
Surfer Boy claimed to have grown up in N.O. (so probably wasn’t a surfer) and said he was an expert in the area. When I asked him to put his knowledge to work, he simply checked Craigslist and said he hadn’t found anything. I was open to moving anywhere Uptown but he was intent on the Irish Channel or Lower Garden District, two hip neighborhoods close to the Quarter filled with bars, coffee shops, and youthful energy. I was game if we could find something. My max was $1000 a month though I preferred much cheaper since I was living off savings. He wanted his dream place with full amenities and I agreed to stretch my budget.
MORE WAFFLES THAN AN EGGO FACTORY
On St. Joseph’s morning I met back up with Tara, my realtor, apologizing for my scattered demeanor last month. The first place we looked at was in the Garden District around the corner from Commander’s Palace, arguable the premiere restaurant in the southeast (Southern Living thinks so!) The apartment wasn’t perfect, but the location was amazing. Someone had cut a mansion into six units, and it was one of the few multi-dwelling units in the area sitting amidst million dollar mansions–Sandra Bullock has a house a block and a half away! There is no safer or nicer area in the city. Plus there was covered parking in the back, unheard of in our price range. I took video and eagerly texted surfer boy, but he responded that he had been thinking and wanted to save up money to move to Thailand with his girlfriend next year; he wanted something cheaper. Sigh.
So we looked at some places Uptown near where I was currently staying: nice neighborhoods but more residential than the bustling Irish Channel. He responded that this was too far from downtown when he was out drinking. Double sigh. I assured him that we weren’t going to find the perfect location with all the amenities for a bargain basement price and kept looking. We then visited a plushly furnished apartment in the Lower Garden District just beside the overpass that separates it from the CBD. I was a little worried about location, but talked to several people in the area who assured me it was safe. The unit itself was small but in great shape with a brand new modern kitchen and central air. The price was in between extremes and when I texted Surfer Boy he became excited. This was around the corner from his best friend. Perfect!
I parted ways with Tara, telling her I’d mull it over with my future roomie, and went to a local coffee shop to blog. I had randomly stopped by here a few days before but had been put off by the arrogant, pretentious guys working the counter. When I returned, however, a different barista proved helpful and informative. He assured me that not only was this neighborhood safe, but that he’d live nowhere else. Now I was stoked. Surfer Boy agreed to take it so I texted Tara and asked her to email the applications to him so he could print one out for me.
Surfer boy and I texted back and forth making arrangements, and then suddenly he began waffling again. I had to leave town soon to take care of some business in Jacksonville, staying for my best friend’s wedding, so suggested he pay the deposit (one month’s rent) and then I would mail the first month’s rent when I got home. He wiggged out, saying he couldn’t pay for everything. I tried to explain basic math, that 1=1, half dozen of one, six of the other. But by then he was waffling all over the place: he wanted to wait; wanted cheaper; wanted nicer; wanted a spaceship with a robot maid.
I quickly realized that partnering with someone this flaky was not a good idea. It was back to the drawing board and another day’s effort wasted. Live alone? Search for a roommate? Find temporary housing again? I went back home and hit the internet once again, stumped as to how to proceed. Hours after I’d mentally moved on Surfer Boy texted suddenly that I shouldn’t worry–he’d take care of it. How he expected to fill out my application I had no idea. Three days later he texted again saying he’d found a better situation. “Sorry. I’m an opportunist.” Duh.
But no worries. The housing search continues but Surfer Boy was forgotten within a few hours–later that evening I set off to explore the mysteries of St. Joseph’s Day, stumbling into another night of pure New Orleans magic.