I had a wonderful stay in New Orleans and hit many of my favorite haunts, including Felix’s twice for charbroiled oysters (my favorite). Mr. B’s YaYa gumbo was great as usual (though I am afraid the soft-shell crab dish and service was pretty dreadful). I got up at 5:30 am to walk the city. That is my favorite time to see New Orleans as the French Quarter wakes and shopkeepers and artists arrive to have coffee and set up for the weekend. There is a unique community in the streets of New Orleans that is hard to see when the tourists are roaming. I love sitting around and having coffee and just listen to these denizens of the Big Easy greet each other and chat about the day. Even the small exchanges between the Tarot reading ladies in front of the Cathedral had that charm like a New Orleans version of the flower street scene at the start of My Fair Lady. One tarot lady brought homemade cookies for all of the others and, when one asked the occasion, she said “cause of love y’all.” (One would have hoped that a fortune teller could have seen that one coming).
One of the saddest aspects of waking up with the city however is to get a full view of the number of homeless and the many heroin addicts. As in most of major cities, the heroin and opiate epidemic is in fully rage. The city are full of young people who look skeletal and most trying to score drugs. I went into an area where many of these kids sleep on the streets. It truly broke my heart since this will clearly not end well for most of these kids. Yet, in the sadness there were moments of incredible kindness like one scene where a group of young and older homeless people gathered around a kid who was lying on the ground. He was clearly still high but they were concerned and checked to see if he was okay. They made him sit up and one homeless kid put what looked like his last bill in his pocket even though the guy was barely conscious. Frankly, I find a kid like that giving up his last $5 far more inspiring than Bill Gates giving a billion (even though I have great respect for the Gates Foundation). I asked the kid if his friend was going to be alright and he said “Sure, he hit pretty hard but he’ll be okay.” He said the guy had just arrived on the streets. I am not even sure if he knew his name. I asked him if he had any money left and he said no and that he and his dog panhandle during the day. I bought him breakfast and coffee at a nearby stand. He gave his dog a sizable part of the muffin and they walked away into the quarter. He clearly did not want to talk and I never asked his name.
As a father, I felt an urge to run after him but just stood there. He had not reached the comatose stage of some of the others who were laid out in flower beds and park benches. Yet, we both knew that this would not end well. This was a kid no more than 20. He was thin and tall like my boys. He clearly has a great heart and struck me as an intelligent young man but he seemed reconciled to this life on the street in this barely observable community just under the surface of the French Quarter. It was as if they were performing their own tragedies — played out largely to an audience of peers. Somewhere these kids took a plunge into an abyss and have learned to live as denizens in this dangerous and destructive existence. I do not think that I will forget the image of that boy and his dog disappearing into the morning mist of the French Quarter. I will always wonder if they survived and somehow were able to break out of this life or whether they just descended further into the cycle of addiction.
Here are a few pictures from the Quarter this morning and reminded me of why I so loved living in New Orleans.