A follow-on from my previous post:
So I didn’t meet the love of my life in the taxi rank, share a cab with a famous jazz musician or get showered with money upon leaving the airport. This was disappointing, as over the last few weeks I’d been making a conscious effort to moderate my expectations to better fit with reality and had genuinely thought I’d nailed it this time – but apparently not.
The cab driver I ended up with was a woman of around 50 with an affable moon-face, the sort of generous lap you could comfortably berth three toddlers in and a tendency to chuckle merrily despite the fact that nothing amusing (and in most cases, nothing at all) had been said. Obviously she had a rich interior life. The dashboard of her cab was decorated with Hawaiian leis, American flags and plastic turkeys with hinged necks that bobbled drunkenly as she drove. She seemed to have patriotic tendencies.
She asked me where I was from. I said Sydney and explained that this was my first time in New Orleans and that I’d always wanted to visit. “You’ll have a good time; there’s lots to do,” she said with sudden glumness, not elaborating in any way.
I asked if she was a local. She told me proudly that she was New Orleans born and bred and knew the city like the back of her hand. I gave her the address of a café, “The Ruby Slipper”, that I’d decided to relocate to as it was about five blocks from my accommodation. More importantly, however, the name seemed to serendipitously allude to The Wizard of Oz which I’d recently been discussing with a friend. (Yes, this is the sort of calculated and logical decision-making process I use.) I added that it was apparently somewhere in the French Quarter.
“Wheeer-yah?” she repeated incredulously, her jaw hinging open in astonishment. It seemed she had never, ever heard of the French Quarter before in her entire life.
I was unable to give more precise directions, not having been born and bred in the city, but said that I believed it was quite famous. Imagine getting into a taxi in Sydney, asking the driver to take you to the Opera House and being met with a blank and bewildered stare: this would be the equivalent experience.
She made me put the address into her GPS then spent a good 13 minutes studying the map, perplexed, crinkle-browed and breaking into occasional chuckles for no explicable reason. It was not reassuring.
After a number of false starts (five), we finally got to the general vicinity of where I wanted to be, but unfortunately she seemed constitutionally incapable of finding the exact street. While I’m certainly no master navigator, as my previous post will attest, her level of disorientation was something else altogether – you almost had to tip your hat at it. Not only did she get her lefts and rights and norths and souths confused, but on several occasions, she attempted to drive directly up into the air. The trip culminated with her insistently circling the same block (some ten or twelve times, please note), shaking her head in bafflement, chuckling and periodically exclaiming, “Oh lawdy!” (I know not why).
“There – that’s the street! You want to turn down that street!” I would cry out in an increasingly desperate tone each time she stolidly drove by the street I wanted, but to no discernible effect. It was apparently all too strange and overwhelming for her. She was like a pilgrim just arrived in the new world. I found myself wanting to scalp her.
Finally I got fed up. We were near a café which looked nice and quiet and had the advantage of not being in a cab with a steadily-increasing meter. (I was starting to suspect my seemingly disingenuous driver was in fact a brilliant strategist and profiteer.)“You know what, this is fine. I’m sure this is close – I’ll get out here,” I said, and did so, thrusting a handful of bills at her and subsequently giving her a tip directly inverse to her competence. (I didn’t worry too much about this though: I actually felt quite sorry for her, having decided she was blind, as this was the only possible explanation that made any sense.)
I immediately secured a table with an umbrella on the footpath where my suitcase could comfortably beach itself without obstructing passing foot traffic or major trade routes. The wait-staff were tattooed and straggly-haired in that familiar Newtown-y way, and the food was really good. I had shrimp remoulade and biscuits (the American kind) then a small cup of coffee roughly the volume of an oil tanker, and I wrote in my journal and eavesdropped on the conversations of the people around me, and all in all, spent an extremely pleasurable 2 hours. In fact, I resolved to come back another day to sample the fresh apple fritters and peanut butter and chocolate brownies. (The cafe was the Who Dat Coffee Cafe on Burgundy St, just in case you’re interested. Given my fondness for red wine, the street name is of course again tremendously significant.)
It eventually got late enough for me to me to set off for my accommodation, so I fixed up my cheque (note the fluent use of America idiom here) then heaved my unwieldy suitcase into the street, feeling like one of those Dorothea Lange portraits of refugees during the Great Depression, forced to leave their farm in Kansas and dragging all their worldly possessions behind them in a handcart. The walk was slightly longer than I’d anticipated – a good 50 minutes or so – and where the pavements weren’t buckled and broken, there were road works and elaborate detours and copious amounts of gravel. But on the way I passed “The Ruby Slipper”, the café I’d intended to go to – and you know what? – it was awful; some type of chain restaurant, touristy and crowded and loud and clanging with no room at all to store a suitcase roughly the dimensions of a small blue whale.
So it all turned out for the best then, just as I knew it would: not only did I have a great Louisiana breakfast, but I got a good story.