New Orleans (every time you see this word in this post you should pronounce it in your head as Nawlins), the Big Easy, the Crescent City, was founded in 1718 by French settlers. It has become, for car guys, a Holy City demanding pilgrimages to its holy sites. Every four years the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) convention is held here. Super Bowls are held here. It’s no coincidence that of the 48 Super Bowls held, almost 21% of them have been in New Orleans. Car companies hold their annual dealer meetings here. Auto dealers in New Orleans are probably visited by home office people more often than dealers in any other city. And, naturally, car ad guys, being the remoras to the car industry’s host animals, go along for the ride. Dear reader, I am going to break from the chronological order of previous posts to tell you about my experiences in this city all at once. To parse them out individually, over time, would lessen the awesome impact this city has had on roving bands of car guys.
Much of the mayhem occurs during the previously mentioned NADA conventions. They are usually held in late January, or early February. This timing often coincides with the annual Mardi Gras celebrations. There are many fine eating and drinking establishments there willing to aid you on your trip to unconsciousness. One such place is Tropical Isle. Their famous signature drink is called the Hand Grenade. This green monster is a nasty combination of Midori, vodka, coconut rum, Bacardi 151, and pineapple juice. Each grenade is equal to 4.5 cocktails. Because this is the house specialty, it came as no surprise that the musicians could get away with some pretty raunchy lyrics. Two guys named Bill and Dave featured a song about a young man who, after a night of unusual lovemaking, woke to find something disgusting on a part of his body. The song was so ribald that the Tropical Isle had to close their doors which opened onto Bourbon Street, lest the lyrics thoroughly disgust passersby.
To truly enjoy New Orleans, one must eschew good taste, common sense, and most of your reserves of human decency. I should add that it also helps to keep your wits about you and be aware of your surroundings. Case in point… One year during Mardi Gras, a Ford dealer friend and I were trying to work our way down Bourbon Street. The crowds were so thick, it was hard to move. It was impossible to stand without being pressed up against another reveler. I pointed out to my friend that this was a great opportunity for pickpockets. The current trick was to use a razor to slit the bottom of a victim’s back pocket and let the wallet slide straight out. I told him that he should put his wallet in his front pocket as I had done. He agreed. He reached back to get his wallet, only to feel the slit in his pants were the wallet used to be. Having already consumed several Hand Grenades, he seemed unfazed, telling me that he had a wad of cash in his front pocket. We continued, as flotsam, down the street.
This was my friend’s first trip to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. He noticed the people on balconies throwing strings of beads down to the mob in the street. He asked me, “How do you get them to throw beads to you?” I told him that there were several ways, but I counseled him to not try pulling his shirt up, as that might cause the balcony to collapse from people scrambling to get back inside the building. Suddenly, the human tsunami stopped in front of a balcony where a group of guys were holding strings of very large and expensive beads. Filming lights came on. The crowd starting howling. Videographers from “Girls Gone Wild” appeared from inside the building. The guys on the balcony started shouting, “Show ’em! Show ’em!” My Spidey-sense started tingling. This was not going to end well. Just then I heard a young woman’s voice from right behind me squeal, “Let’s do it!” I turned around just as several young co-eds from Alabama pulled up their tops and let them all hang out. I turned to grab my friend and beat a hasty retreat. Nothing good could come from this. The revelers around me were already foaming at the mouth and panting heavily. As I turned, I saw him leap in the air. “They’re throwing them to me,” he exclaimed. Thinking that the rain of beads were for him, he jumped up, caught them all, and fell backwards into the sweet young ladies, knocking them over.
The first fists hit us about a nanosecond later. The women were screaming, the mob was howling, and my friend couldn’t understand why were were being set upon. I explained to him the etiquette of street flashing for beads. If a lady wants to show them to the crowd, the beads belong to her. I apologized for my friend, gave the beads to the ladies, and quickly pushed our way forward toward the semi-sanity of Canal Street. To the crowd, we were old news. They were now ogling the next group of co-eds striving for “Girls Gone Wild” immortality. I just hoped that neither of us wound up in the video.
The parades are part of the pageantry that is Mardi Gras. Some are held at night, others during the day. One year, during an NADA/Mardi Gras eclipse, I was staying at the very stately Lafayette Hotel on St. Charles, just west of the French Quarter. My room had french doors that opened onto a small balcony overlooking the street. My day was filled with visits to the Desire Oyster Bar, Pat O’Brien’s, The Old Absinthe House, Commander’s Palace for dinner, back to Bourbon Street for more pub crawling and expense account abuse. At midnight, at bar called The Dungeon opened to serve its mind altering concoctions of Dragon’s Blood and Witch’s Brew…don’t ask. Heading on to Chris Owens’ Show Bar after Preservation Hall, I thought that the street lights were illuminating the night better than usual. It was then that I realized that the sun was coming up!
I hustled back to the hotel as fast as I could lurch. The day’s debauchery was already beginning to take its toll, manifesting itself as a throbbing headache and an extreme sensitivity to light. I stripped my clothes off and fell forward onto the bed. Shortly after, I began to hear music. Was I dreaming? I opened my eyes to pitch black darkness. Had I gone blind? It was then that I realized that I had closed the blackout curtains over the french doors. The music got louder. A parade was coming down St. Charles. I whipped open the doors and went out on the balcony. The shocked look on the faces of the people lined up across the street alerted me to the fact that I hadn’t put any clothes back on. I didn’t want to miss the parade, so I threw on a white t-shirt, a pair of khakis, and some loafers and went down to the street to watch the parade, after buying a New Orleans power breakfast of a Lucky Dog sausage and a Cajun bloody mary from a street vendor.
I found a spot at the curb in front of the hotel, bloody mary in my right hand, left hand ready to catch the trinkets, coins, and beads that the krewes on each float would throw out to the crowd. As the first float passed, I caught several strings and put them around my neck. About a dozen guys from a Tulane fraternity were lined up behind me, jumping up with me trying to catch souvenirs. I noticed a young boy behind me trying, in vain, to catch something. We all agreed to place him right in front of me so I could catch some beads for him…without spilling a drop of my drink. From down the parade route we could hear a frenzied roar. Approaching us was a float whose members weren’t throwing beads, they were throwing ladies’ underpants. Before I knew it, the float was in front of us, and a pair of lace panties were headed my way. A tidal wave of humanity pressed against me as hands reached out to catch them. I started to fall forward on the little boy. He turned to face me as I fell toward the street, terror on his face. As we came crashing down, two things crossed my mind. I didn’t want to crush him to death, and I didn’t want to spill my drink. I placed my elbows next to his ears and bent my knees to straddle his waist. About 2500 pounds of frat boys from Sigma Upsilon Kappa came crashing down on us. The boy and my drink, however, were safe. The underpants had somehow trickled through the pile and were now sitting on the street next to the boy. As people climbed off of us, he scuttled out from underneath me and ran away. I refused any help to get up as both knees and both elbows were now bleeding profusely. Fortunately, the bloody mary hadn’t spilled…and the boy had left the panties behind. The parade was over, people left. I slowly rolled over to one side, too sore to move.
I heard someone approach. I opened one eye to see a pair of feet clad in wingtip shoes. The man said, “Tom? Tom? Oh my god Linda, it’s Tom!” I had been discovered. I tried to look up and see who it was. The couple was backlit by the sun, so I could only squint up at them and utter a grunt through the pain. Once they had helped me to my feet, I finished my drink and got a better look at them. They were friends I had gone to college with at MSU. He was now a big media muckety-muck in Detroit, here for the NADA Convention. They asked me how I had come to such a sorry state of being. My t-shirt was now filthy, my bloody pants were torn at the knees. I looked a mess. I decided that they weren’t going to believe the truth, so I told them that I was now living on the street in New Orleans and asked them not to tell anyone that they saw me in this condition. They wanted to give me money. I said that I couldn’t accept charity. I shoved the panties in my pocket, threw my now empty cup in the trash, and hobbled away, knowing that I would see them both at his company’s huge reception that evening.
We all had a good laugh when I told them the real story. It’s amazing how a nap, a shower, clean clothes, and several Wild Turkey sazeracs can improve one’s station in life.
Next: Hanging With The Rich And Famous