The sepia almost-light of cloudy dawn pulls me down from my dreams, but not to the ground.
Carefully, I exit my shelter, remembering my lullaby – Don’t get out of your hammock and die, don’t get out of your hammock and die…
Yesterday began with a delicious coffee and conversations with perfect strangers on sex and religion, attended by Jason the barista whose name I still remember because you really can’t pay people to be that friendly – they just have to be raised that way. Definitely a New Orleans thing.
Enchanted by the city’s oddball offerings, I roamed down Royal street, letting the window displays draw me into worlds of ancient treasures and immaculately maintained priceless miscellanea. Maybe immaculately maintained is a bit of an overstatement – I saw the owner’s son ignoring his (desperate) caretakers to clamber on a gorgeously crafted pool table and shoot the balls around. The price tag was a mere $137,000.00.
This kid isn’t going to be worrying about paying for college.
My meanderings through art galleries that ranged from Dali and Dr. Seuss to street art and performers were spiced figuratively by a nun in full habit being led away in handcuffs, and literally as well by ghost pepper sauce. I don’t know what the deal was with the nun, but the ghost pepper sauce was my punishment for insinuating to the owner of the Pepper Palace that after trying all his sauces, tasty as they may be, they were rather on the mild side. A crafty smile (from him) and some tears (from me) later, I vowed never to underestimate Western spiciness again.
Nursing my pride and scalded tongue on a lemongrass and coconut popsicle, I wandered around and absorbed the city’s atmosphere.
The streetnames read like poetry – Esplanade, Decatur, Dumaine, Dauphin, Canal, Calliope… Okay, well maybe not Tchoupitoulas (ten points if you can pronounce it right). I found myself at a camera store and met Oswaldo Escudero, whose enthusiasm for my journey and photography seemed to overwhelm even my own. I deferred an invitation to dinner; he loaned me his phone to arrange my rendezvous with the lady who taught me how to identify a genuine Jivaro shrunken head.
We meet up, and after the sort of conversation you can only have with other explorers we touristed around, she daintily perched atop the luggage strapped to my motorcycle, illuminating the interesting tidbits you’d expect an anthropologist to know about a city. Eris is the ancient roman god of Chaos.
I learned to ask to hear “St. James Infirmary Blues” if I want to look like I know what I’m doing at a jazz club, explored the empty but not lonely edges of the bayou, and then with the rich songs of the city echoing in my ears I made my way back to Jazzland in the dark for the coup de grace.
Headlight unplugged for stealthiness, I failed to notice a log hidden in the grass on my way in and had a lovely time wrestling Lost up and over in the slippery dark. My efforts were rewarded, however, as the swampland’s nocturnal symphony scored our trespass into a remote corner of the park where Lost would rest the night. As for myself, I’d spied on my previous visit a nice little platform near the summit of the rollercoaster. An ideal spot for a kip, and an excellent place from which to survey my kingdom by moonlight.
Of course, once again, things were different at the top.
Without descending for more rope, my hammock only fit swaying over what I estimated to be a good hundred foot drop. Well, double and triple check those knots, and off to sleep reminding myself not to absently wake and roll out into thin air.
Traffic is light at this bleary hour; I watch the early risers on their morning commute as the wind whistles through the latticework and wooden slats. The highway is far away enough I won’t be easily noticed, but close enough for me to watch the trickle of commuters with steady jobs and stable plans and wonder.
Time to pack up and get back to ground level. I’ve enjoyed my time here immensely; need to pick a better spot. The time to leave has not yet come.
Wandering through the ruins of Jazzland as the rising sun cuts deep shadows and saturates my surroundings, I am spellbound by the mystery and quiet. Artists call this the magic hour for good reason. I spend it treading between broken glass and through overgrown archways.
Eventually I choose new throne from which to rule my adopted domain.
The Ferris wheel provides me the same advantage over any other wannabe kings-of-the-castle the roller coaster did: Inaccessible to all but the most intrepid climbers, it doesn’t offer a route for a stealthy invasion, while providing me with plenty of cover. As an added bonus, it has a handy niche I can stash my backpack and gear in (locked up in the pacsafe just in case, of course). Also, getting there is fun as hell every time.
After a breakfast of boiled rice and veggies spiced with chile de coban and vegetable spice mix, I become acutely aware that it is time to take a shower.
Let’s see what the city can provide for me.
In town I make my way to a Marriott, in full pants and button up shirt to camouflage my scruffiness. There is a Temple convention in town, and the sea of pajama-like uniforms and fez hats makes me feel like I’m infiltrating a (very friendly) cult as I wander through the hotel and eventually find the saltwater pool.
After a few minutes of talking to no-one on a phone that isn’t on, someone comes by and I follow them in through the keycard-access door. I change into my bathing suit, grab a towel and go for a refreshing dip. Surreptitious application of soap stashed in my boardies has me feeling like I can properly integrate into society again in no time, and a quick shave in the bathroom later I’m back on the streets munching on a complimentary granny smith from the gym.
I head to a building with a sort of pillared cupola I spied from the rooftop pool; it appears to contain a bank of sorts. Well don’t I feel lucky to see that not only is the building under construction, but they have left the door wide open and there isn’t a person to be seen around.
I nod and respond aiite and que tal as I wander up past the workers. I’m well dressed and have a big camera; clearly I have some sort of official business that brings me here. At least that’s the story I’m trying to exude as I confidently (but not really) make my way upward, switching from one side of the building to the other as the staircases end or are blocked. It’s a good thing my shirt is black because I am soaked, this staircase is an oven. I make it to the top undisturbed, where a curved ladder leads to the very peak of the cupola. From my perch among the city’s peaks, I watch a parade march through the streets with supreme satisfaction at my life in general.
Somehow I get lost on the way down and end up uncomfortably close to the actual bank, but manage to squeeze out in the middle of the construction site and casually hop the fence back over to the street to mosey on over to the next interesting building. The alarm system defeats me this time, but I’m still tickled by how as I just stand there thinking of how to finagle my way in, a fellow who’d been standing in the street swipes his card and ushers me in.
I grab some drinks with Eris, my friend from the previous night, and promise to take her for a photo shoot in Jazzland if she lets me record some of her singing. Eventually it’s time for all good couchsurfers to go to the park, and I clamber to my perch overflowing with contentment, savouring the fresh memories of the day’s adventures.
Just as it has been every day since I began this voyage, today was the best day of my life.
And tomorrow is going to be even better.