Laissez Les Bons Temps Rouler!!!

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Crowds flood Bourbon Street on Mardi Gras Day in New Orleans

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 AutomobilesuperDome_1700883c 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 Hand Grenadeestablishments 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 bourbon-street-mardi-gras-2011-horizontaljpg-43b60d89613ad0b6opportunity 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 Mardi-Gras-flashstarted 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. mardigras09-27I 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 Lafayettewest 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 thatmardi-gras-float 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, Crowd with Arms Raisedthe 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 onlyDrunk Guy 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 

Oh My God, He’s Got A Gun!

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While I labored to prepare myself for the career that would provide me with a free car every year, I realized that I would need a job right now to help pay for tuition and to finance my burgeoning attack on my liver.  My sainted mother worked in the credit department at the local K1711Sears store, but was leaving to pursue a career in nursing.  She more than casually mentioned to the department manager that her favorite son, Tom, was looking for a job while he attended MSU.  During my interview, I realized that I desperately wanted this job.  Other than two managers, I would be the only male in a twenty person department.  And the work wasn’t too hard, either.  Help fill out credit applications at the counter, figure new payments on time-payment contracts, and deal with angry salesmen and customers when their Sears credit card was declined. And, at $1.65 an hour, I was able to make some easy money while searching for the future Mrs. Cavanagh in this credit commune.

This all changed for me three months into my bliss.  Because I was over six feet tall, and gave off the erroneous impression that I could lift heavy things, I was “promoted” to  outside field collector…the Sears term for repo man.  My pay jumped to $1.75 an hour, and I was given a mileage allowance.  No more working with mini-skirts and go-go boots.  My new boss was an affable giant of a man who played college football while at Jackson Federal Penitentiary.  There was one other “outside collector.”  He was monosyllabic in his speech and the backs of his knuckles were skinned.  This was going to be fun!

It was now Fall of 1970.  It was the time, as Gordon Lightfoot so correctly put it, …”when the gales of November came slashin’.”  This was that special time of the year in mid-Michigan when everything outside appeared in only two colors, gray and black.  This made driving the backwoods of Michigan, on your way to repossess a lawnmower, that much more cosmic.  For those of you who have never done it, being a repo man, the physical embodiment of someone’s bad fortune, sucks out your soul. A few examples of what made me study harder and graduate as soon as I could…

My boss and I had to repo a washer and dryer.  The customer had decided he didn’t want to pay for them because he didn’t “want them any more.”  This would be what we called a “hostile repo.”  When we got there, the customer curtly told us that the appliances were in the basement and we had to go through the side door to access the basement.  Once we entered through the side door, there was another door that led to the basement stairs.  There were ten steps that led to a landing, where the stairs turned 90 degrees and continued for another eight steps down to the basement floor.  We propped open the basement door and began.  The dryer, being lighter was the first to go.  My boss had me go first, pulling it up the stairs.  He was below, lifting and pushing.  When we had grunted and groaned our way to the top, theWasher basement door suddenly closed behind me, trapping me between the door and the dryer.  I could hear the customer on the other side laughing. My urgent pleas to open the door went unanswered.  I told my boss to brace himself while I released one hand to grab for the door knob behind me.  I was able to open the door and quickly grab the dryer.  We got it to the trailer and went back for the much heavier washer.  I folded a piece of paper to make a doorstop, to prevent the door from mysteriously closing again.  Once again, we huffed and puffed our way to the top of the stairs.  And, once again, the door slammed behind me.  My boss was livid.  “Tom, count to three and let go of the washing machine.”  “I can’t,” I objected.  “You’ll be crushed.”  “Trust me on this,” was his reply.  I started my count…One…Two…Thr   It was then that my boss let go of the washing machine, grabbed the bannister, and swung underneath it out onto the basement floor eight feet below. The washing machine began its death roll tumbling down the first portion of the steps, dials and hoses flying off.  It hit the wall at the turn of the landing going about 85 mph, leaving a washing machine-size hole in the sheetrock as it ricocheted down toward its doom.  It was airborne for the last eight feet before hitting his furnace and exploding into hundreds of pieces.  My boss got up, dusted himself off, and said to the shocked and dismayed customer as we left, “Sir, I’ve decide to let you keep the washer.”

One repo, however, convinced me that this was not the life for me.  One Saturday, I returned around 6 PM to turn in my paperwork.  My boss asked me if I could do one more repo if he paid me overtime.  I agreed.  The name on the worksheet was Jimmy Ray Somethingorother who had purchased merchandise for $390 from the Sporting Goods department.  The sheet didn’t describe the item, but I guessed golf clubs. Jimmy Ray lived at 43329 Darnell Rd. just outside of the small farming community of Dimondale.  I could make the run, throw the clubs in the trunk, and still get to a party I wanted to attend.  One of those wonderful storms where you can’t tell if it’s raining or sleeting had come in. By the time I got on the road, it was quite dark outside and the visibility was poor.  I made my way to Dimondale, but could not find Darnell Rd.  After an hour of driving around in circles, I stopped at a gas station to ask for help.  He told me that he thought that Darnell Rd. was the new name for “old county road 329.”  After another 45 minutes of aimless searching, I decided that the golf clubs could wait.  I drove back to the gas station to call my boss and tell him I was heading for the party. When someone at the office answered and I said, “Hello,” I was taken aback by the response.  “He’s alive, he’s alive!  Hey everyone, Tom’s OK.”  My boss got on the line. “Where are you?  Are you alright?”  Being a curious sort, I asked what was going on.  About ten minutes after I left the office, a Michigan State Police officer came to the credit counter and asked to speak to a manager.  He wanted to know if we had a street address for a Jimmy Ray Somethingorother who might be living in Dimondale.  We did.  My boss told the officer that he had sent me out to that address for a repo.  The officer asked what the merchandise might be.  My boss said that he thought it was a set of golf clubs, but that he’d go into the back and pull the sales slip.  My boss was ashen-faced when he returned and gave the sales slip to the officer, who immediately shouted out, “Oh my God, he’s got a gun!”  Jimmy Ray hadn’t purchased golf clubs.  He’d purchased a .357 magnum and 200 bullets.  Turns out old Jimmy Ray was an escapee from a prison in Kentucky.  The state trooper relayed the address and the fact that Jimmy Ray was to be considered armed and dangerous to State Police headquarters.  He also mentioned that there may be a hostage (me!!) involved.  I left for the party and Jimmy Ray shot it out with the police.  

I was only seven months away from graduation and wasn’t going to screw up getting the free cars by being a repo man any longer.  I gave my notice the next day.

Next:  “Sir, Your Mother Wants You To Call Home.”