The streets are wet. The rain is still puddled in some of the ancient cobblestones, tho the air is clear and dark. Neon signs flash off of dripping asphalt, the whole street is a swirl of color. I hide behind my guitar case as I walk down Bourbon Street. The tourists eye me curiously but take no mind, just another Bum Musician walking down the street. The hucksters and bar men trying to lure in the tourists with signs offering “Girls! “and “$2.50 Longnecks!” don’t hassle me either. They figure I’m on their side, another entertainer out to make a dime from the tourists come to gawk at this City. One stops me, says “If you can play that thing come by tomorow afternoon” and shoves his card in my pocket. Its easy for an artist to live in this city, if I were going to stay I might take him up on that offer. But I’m leaving soon and there are a few things I must do before I go.
A few more blocks I come to Saint Peter. I sit on the damp curb and pull out a cigarette, take a break from my midnight wanderings. All manner of people walk down the street; Bourbon is closed on weekend nights to facilitate the movement of the drunk and disorderly from bar to bar or bar to jail. You have the typical tourist types: Mr. and Mrs. Middle America wearing T-shirts and shorts, big cameras hung loudly around their necks along with Mardi Gras beads and its the middle of April. They’ll probably stick to Bourbon Street, the French Quarter at least, not venturing out into the rest of the city, the part that isn’t so safe or predictable. They’ll go into one of the century old bars here, order a Bud Light and a Cosmopolitan, then in the morning they’ll take pictures in Jackson Square and maybe throw the jugular a dime before getting back on the airport shuttle. God bless them.
Then you have the True Bums, hassling money from Mr. and Mrs. Jones or if they’re unlucky enough to venture down an alley, grabbing the lady’s purse and running off to where ever it is bums go. You can’t really blame them.
As I inhale the cigarette smoke and heady magnolia scented air I realize for the first time there’s a little crowd gathered around the bar behind me. There’s an honest to god Dixieland Band in there and all the people are grouped around the door watching the trumpet man blow out his soul. I hadn’t noticed the music before; the heavy “rock” coming from the other side of the street blocked out most other sound, but now naturally I strolled in with my guitar case in tow and took a seat at the end of the bar. Despite the crowd outside, the bar was fairly empty. A few old couples sat at tables around the stage, the bar was full of regulars or the more intelligent travelers of the world, digging this music what made New Orleans famous.
The barmaid is sweet and homely, she brings me a Pepsi and doesn’t even ask for my ID. I sit for about half an hour grooving on the music and talking to the eccentrics at the bar before the band takes a break. The leader/horn man is selling his CD which I buy with what little change I have left, then I introduce myself to the drummer. Little old man but he beats the hell out of everything. We get to talking and I tell him I’m planning on going to the University in a year or so, assuming everything goes to plan. He tells me jazz students have to sit in with the band at this bar in order to graduate. He then notices my guitar and asks if I’d like to sit in? I fumble with words a bit, being asked to sit in with a real Dixieland jazz band! He says he’ll ask the leader and get back to me.
He never does but it doesn’t matter, still I sit at the bar until late in the night. I wobble back to my hotel room, again no one hassles me, the only thing lower than a Bum Musician is a Drunk Bum Musician.
The radio is turned to the jazz station. They’re playing something sad, I fall asleep with tears in my eyes.
Stephen Settles of Louisville, Kentucky won Honorable Mention for this essay.
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