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 

T&E Heaven

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man_and_money_250

There is an old adage that says: “Some men are born to greatness, other men have greatness thrust upon them.” There is an advertising industry corollary to that: “Some men are born to party, other men have parties thrust upon them.”Apparently, I’ve been told, I was both event_120036parts of the corollary. The reasons why have been lost in the mists of time, but the folks at FCB thought I knew how to throw a great party. And I proved them true. But not without some damage to my mental stability. It all began when the birthday of one of our account team was several days off. The prevailing custom was to find out what kind of cuisine the celebrant wanted for lunch. We’d find an appropriate restaurant, and the luncheon would be “expensed” away. Back in those days, we had “employee morale” budgets. They could have also been called “employee morals” budgets, but I digress. The birthday girl said that she’d like to try Chinese for lunch.  I spoke up and forever changed the course of my life. I knew of a great Szechuan place nearby. I was told, “Make it happen.” The next day I went on an “exploratory” lunch to Règǒu, a nifty local Szechuan place. I told them that I wanted to set up a luncheon for twelve people. That got their attention. They streamed out a parade of delectable dishes. I ordered one of each. I didn’t care, we were talking expense account here.eight-major The staff said that they would make the lunch “extra special” for us. They did. We arrived en masse and were blown away by the presentation that greeted us.  The food and service were wonderful. It was a truly wonderful three-hour lunch. Little did I know that the pu-pu platter of my destiny had been set. “Tom, you’ve got a knack for this.  From know on you are in charge of all entertainment”

The genie had been let out of the bottle! I had become the Sol Hurok of FCB. Each birthday lunch was like staging the Olympics. My birthday is March 1st. I was eagerly waiting to see who would take over and plan my birthday lunch. No surprise, I was told that I would plan my own birthday lunch. To add insult to injury, our new EVP’s birthday was March 5th. The executive decision was made to combine our birthday lunches. This was done not so much for financial reasons, as for appearances. The Mazda Account Group was rapidly gaining a reputation (totally undeserved) at the agency as a group of partiers. It wouldn’t look good to have the group gone all afternoon twice in four days. Additionally, as the EVP outranked me, he got to choose the restaurant for our combined birthdays. No problem. I employed another old adage: “Living well is the best revenge.” I suggested to him that it might be fun to make the trek from FCB out to Marrakesh in Studio City.  Great Moroccan food, and we could lie down while we ate. He agreed. Of course, I had to make the “exploratory” trip. We would eat like kings, or rather, khalifas. One of the secretaries mentioned that there would be a “surprise” during the lunch. As long as it wasn’t my credit card being declined, I was fine with it. We had gorged ourselves on couscous, hummus, lamb, bastilla, and harira, and were Marrakkeshabout to start our third round of camel spit shooters, when the music started. Two of the secretaries had slipped away, changed, and come to the table as belly dancers. then the party really began, much to the chagrin at the people sitting near us. The tacit agreement between all of us was that Personnel was never to hear about this. Most of us drove straight home after lunch.

Management decided that I was ready for the big time…at least as far as being the agency’s Perle Mesta. The 1980 National Automobile Dealers’ Association was coming up. Five days of non-stop feasting, drinking, partying, and party-sceneestate planning seminars. Even though it was a dealer convention, the manufacturers came to entertain their dealers and get yelled at by them at the “Make Meetings.” FCB was going to throw the mother of all dinner parties for our Mazda clients. I was only given one directive, “Make it special.” There were going to be twenty of us. The dinner was set for a Thursday night during the NADA convention, this year in Las Vegas.

I called the event planning company putting on the huge Mazda Dealer Reception the next night to ask for some suggestions for our dinner.  The place had to be quiet, excellent, classy, private, off of The Strip, and would bill me as I knew that the tab on this would melt my credit card. Without any hesitation, she said, “David’s.” David’s was a swanky restaurant that looked like a colonial-styled funeral home from the South. It was about five miles west of The Strip on W. Sahara Rd. Lots of gold and formal-dinner-party (1)marble, and Roman statues. I met with their banquet manager to develop a menu. Premium-brand liquor served by lovely Roman toga-clad goddesses during the cocktail reception. Lobster rolls and caviar to snack on. For dinner, we would have Caesar salad, crab bisque, sorbet, beef Wellington, and baked Alaska. All of it washed down with gallons of Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. For after dinner, we had cheese plates and cognac…with some fine cigars. After we were sated, our Mazda clients staggered out in groups, until there was just myself and Denny Remsing. The maitre’d gave me the check. With the mandatory 20% gratuity, the bill came to $5882.98. Denny said, “Can you cover that, because my card won’t.” I told him not to worry, as I had arranged for a direct bill to FCB. I signed the tab, attached my business card, and left for an evening of NADA debauchery.

The following morning I received a frantic call from my office. David, himself, had called and was looking for me.  I was to call him immediately.  Uh-oh. I called the restaurant and asked for David. He was livid. “You walked out onShakedown a $6000 tab.  I want you to get you ass over her right now and give me my money. Nobody runs out on me!” I figured that David wasn’t in the mood for any type of customer service lessons. I told him that I had arranged for them to bill FCB. He said he knew nothing of it. He wanted to know what hotel I was in. Fortunately, I had the brains to not tell him. I told him that I would call our office and have them expedite a check to him.  He wanted his money now. I called the office.  They said they couldn’t send a check without the dinner bill. I called and left a message for David, telling him that the check would be cut on Monday, when I got back. I found out that David called my office many times that day, demanding to know where I was staying. The office didn’t rat me out. I kept a low profile for the rest of the weekend, not dancing on tables, getting kicked out of bars, or starting fights in parking lots. On Monday, I got to the office early and had the check processed. While it was being signed, David called.  “I’ve sent a couple of fellows over to you office to pick up my money.” I peaked down the staircase and saw two guys in trench coats who looked like Clemenza and Tessio. Our bookkeeper ran the check down to them.  They left. I exhaled.

Two weeks later, our controller called to tell me that the check to David hadn’t been cashed. I called the restaurant to discover that I had reached a number that was “no longer in service.” I called my event planning friend who Arson_t607gave me the news. David’s Restaurant had mysteriously burned to the ground the Wednesday after we had given them the check. On top of that, nobody knew what had happened to David. He had apparently vanished. Just goes to show you, you don’t mess with the T.C.!!!!   

 

Next: More Fine Dining