The next morning at 10:05 Biggy tapped on Peggy’s back door. Jake came to the door. He led Biggy inside to the kitchen table where Peggy sat with a cup of coffee. Jake indicated that Biggy should sit down, offered him coffee, which Biggy accepted, and then sat back down himself.
Peggy wrinkled her nose knowing immediately that Biggy hadn’t bothered to shower that morning.
Jake asked, “So, Big Un, you ready to go to work?”
Biggy scooped sugar and a generous dollop of whatever was passing for cream at Peggy’s table into his coffee.
“Sure. I guess.” Biggy replied.
“Then let’s go.” Jake said, draining the last of the coffee in his cup and indicating that Biggy should do the same. As soon as Biggy set his cup back down, Jake walked towards the back door. He went around the corner of the house and out to a faded gray Ford F-150 pickup. It was about as nondescript a vehicle as it was possible for it to be. Biggy went around to the passenger side and hopped in beside Jake who was already behind the wheel and had the truck started.
Jake picked up a map of New Orleans that was laying on the seat between them and held it out so Biggy could see it. It was folded so that the area of Riverbend was visible. He pointed to a spot on the map. “This is where we are.” he said. He pointed to another spot just a block away and then along a curved line. “This is St. Charles Avenue, the most prominent street in uptown New Orleans. Notice this point where St. Charles and Carrollton Avenues come together. The area surrounding that intersection is known as Riverbend. But you know about these already. Let’s go for a ride.”
With that, Jake backed out onto Pearl and drove to St. Charles, turning right towards the Central Business District or CBD. He quickly started naming cross streets and locations of clients off those streets. Biggy was just enamored by all that surrounded him and heard little of what Jake was telling him until they crossed Broadway and Jake pointed out the direction to one of his customers called Miss Sophronia.
– Page 23 –
“Four or five blocks up Broadway, at Freret Street, is Miss Sophronia’s. Miss Sophronia is Miss Sophronia to almost all. A select few, myself included, can get away with calling her Sophie. On occasion. We are a small group and she has been known to severely admonish anyone else for shortening her name. She says, and I have no reason not to believe her, that her daddy once slapped her mama quite hard when her mama called her Sophie. After that, she never referred to herself as Sophie and never does now. She is Miss Sophronia and you should remember that.”
They continued down St. Charles some distance before Jake pointed toward Prytania Street, explaining that another customer, the Prytania Street Pub, was about two blocks in that direction. A few blocks further they passed Napoleon’s Bar and Grill at Napoleon and St. Charles. Jake also noted they had another client not far away on Tchoupitoulas almost right on the river.
Everything began to run together in Biggy’s head. All the street names were foreign to him as well as the names of the clients. He wondered how he was ever going to get it all straight. Jake just kept on driving towards downtown, pointing out locations of clients as they went.
There was Remy’s Patois near Jackson Avenue before they got to Lee Circle. Biggy was still trying to follow on the map but was pretty much lost. The map had become quite useless.
Lee Circle was right in front of them. In the center was a statue of a man in a military uniform standing atop a tall obelisk.
“Who the hell is that standing on top of that big post?” Biggy asked Jake.
“Robert E. Lee, the greatest general that ever lived.” Jake said.
Biggy nodded his head, not at all convincing Jake that he had any idea that Robert E. Lee had been the commander of the entire Rebel Army during the Civil War, or War of Northern Aggression, as many New Orleaneans still thought of it. And he certainly never thought of the fact that many people would definitely not have thought he was the greatest general who ever lived.
Jake continued on around Lee Circle, stopping at a red light where St. Charles came into the circle from the other side. It was one-way on that side coming back into the circle so they couldn’t turn. Instead, they exited the other side and then turned right at the first street, Carondelet Street. Jake pointed out that the streetcar tracks followed this little detour as well.
As they drove towards St. Charles on Carondelet, Jake pointed out a few more customers. The cross streets were all narrow and some were one way except for one wide boulevard with a wide neutral ground running down the middle. This street was Poydras, Jake said. They had a few customers on Poydras. Biggy noticed that Poydras was lined in both directions with tall, modern office buildings.
About half a block before they got to Canal, Jake pulled into an empty parking space on the left side of Carondelet. “We’ll wait here until the next streetcar comes by.” While they waited, Jake pointed out that the Vieux Carré, the old French Quarter, was on the other side of Canal. He said all the street names changed on the other side. Directly across Canal from Carondelet was Bourbon Street. “Roughly half our clients are either in the French Quarter or just on the other side of it in the Faubourg Marigny.”
– Page 24 –
“The what?” Biggy asked, having no idea what Jake just said.
“The Faubourg Marigny.” Jake said, more slowly this time. “Don’t worry. It’s just the name of a neighborhood at the back side of the Quarter. I’ll continue to service our clients in the Quarter and the Marigny myself until you’ve learned all the places on the Uptown side of Canal.”
About that time they heard a screeching sound behind them as the streetcar came around the little curve at Common Street. It passed where they were parked and rolled on toward Canal. Several dozen people who had been milling around on the sidewalk spilled out into the street in a knot, obviously knowing exactly where the car would stop. The passengers on the car all seemed to know they were supposed to exit through the rear door and would not be allowed to remain on the car. The ones who had gathered at the front were being admitted even as those who had just arrived were still exiting.
As soon as the last passenger boarded, the doors closed and the car inched forward. Even though the light was red for automobile traffic, the streetcar pulled out. The tracks went across the traffic lanes and then turned to run parallel to the neutral ground on Canal. Jake, who had pulled out onto Carondelet right after the car had passed, waited for the light to change before turning onto Canal, still following the car. At the end of the first block, he had to stop and wait for the streetcar to turn right. Jake followed as soon as he could.
They were back on St. Charles. He got into the left lane of the one-way street and passed the streetcar. “Remember when we first started out I pointed out the Riverbend area on the map. The areas along St. Charles from that point down to Canal are generally known as uptown. We’re going back towards uptown now.” he said. “This is probably as good a time as any to explain how people in New Orleans, especially those in Uptown, refer to directions. You’re going to hear it a lot. Have you got your map?”
Biggy picked it up and tried to get it oriented but was having no luck in finding where they were. When Jake came to a stoplight he held it up and ran his finger along the same sweeping curve he had traced when they first got into the truck. “This is St. Charles Avenue. Here is the river.” He swept his hand over to the left. “Anything on this side of St. Charles is on the ‘river side’ of St. Charles.” Jake pointed to his right. “Several miles out in that general direction is Lake Ponchartrain. Everything in that direction is on the ‘lake side’. Although we are, as I said, headed uptown, uptown is also the neighborhood on the river side of St. Charles just beyond the older neighborhood known as the Garden District. You’ll be referring to all of these directions and neighborhoods just like a native in no time.”
Biggy wasn’t so sure about that. At the moment his head was swimming. Jake didn’t take notice of his confusion. He just continued. “When you come from the bar at Riverbend back down this way you are coming ‘downtown’ toward the CBD.”
– Page 25 –
Biggy tried to look at the map but wasn’t having any more luck at figuring out what Jake had said this time than he had before. As they drove back uptown, Jake pointed out more landmarks along St. Charles, especially mentioning the names of the major intersections along with Audubon Park on the river side with Loyola and Tulane Universities directly across the street on the lake side.
When they got back to Jake’s Place it was almost lunchtime. Jake unlocked the back door and led Biggy into the darkened bar. It smelled of stale beer.
“You hungry, Big Un?” Jake asked, knowing there was no way Biggy would say no.
Jake picked up the telephone, consulted a list taped to a post at the inner corner of the bar by the cash register and dialed a number. While he waited on an answer he looked at Biggy. “Like hamburgers?”
“Dressed with everything?”
O’Henry’s was a popular restaurant, mostly burger joint, on the opposite corner of the block where the bar was. From the back door of the bar, O’Henry’s back door was just a few steps down an alley. Jake said into the phone. “Oh, hey, this is Jake. I need two burgers.” he hesitated, looked up at Biggy and asked, “Cheese?” Biggy nodded his head affirmatively. Jake spoke into the phone once again, “with cheese and two orders of fries.” After a moment’s hesitation he said, “Yeah, dressed with everything. Can you bring them to the back door when they’re ready?” … “Thanks.” He hung up.
Just above the end of the bar, by the door to the small kitchen that appeared to be unused, a shaded light hung. It came down to within a foot of the bar. Jake spread the map out directly under the light. It was opened out so most of the city could be seen. He pointed out Riverbend and Jake’s place. He traced his finger out Carrollton, showing that it ran straight towards the lake until it ended at the corner of City Park which ran another mile or so almost to the lake. He also pointed out that the streetcar reversed direction at the intersection of Carrollton and Claibourne Avenue. From there it retraced it’s route back down to Canal.
– Page 26 –
Jake got a sheet of paper and pencil and lay them in front of Biggy. “Write down these street names as I point them out on the map. They’re all major streets that cross St. Charles. I pointed them out as we drove back up here just now.” Starting at the bar, Jake moved his finger along St. Charles. “Nashville, Jefferson, Napoleon, Louisiana, Jackson.” As Jake pointed out the streets, Biggy wrote the name of each on his sheet of paper. “Every one of these streets has divided lanes with neutral ground and there is a stoplight. There are a few other stoplights along the way but not many.” Jake had explained earlier what a neutral ground was and that the streetcar ran along the neutral ground on St. Charles.
Biggy looked over the list “Okay.”
“Good. There’s a streetcar stop at each of the intersections I mentioned but there are many more stops in between them. The car will only stop if there are fares to get off but he almost always has to stop at the major cross streets. He also has to obey all of the traffic signals and watch for cars crossing the tracks. Your afternoon assignment begins as soon as we finish our burgers and they have just arrived.”
Biggy didn’t know how Jake knew there was someone at the kitchen door but just as he said the word ‘arrived’ the door opened and a man in a white apron came in. “Hey, Jake. What’s happenin’?”
“Not much, Willie. How’s things at O’Henry’s?”
“They’re hoppin’. Always are on Friday. Lots of Tulane folks come out to eat on Friday.”
“Yeah. I’ve thought about doin’ somethin’ in this kitchen here but I’m too lazy to open early enough for lunch.”
Willie put the sack on the bar next to the cash register as he handed Jake a ticket. Jake opened it and tossed a few bills on the bar.”
Willie picked up the bills and didn’t bother to count them or to ask if Jake needed change knowing that there was something for him included. “Thanks, Jake. I’ll be back later.”
Biggy would soon learn that Riverbend was a popular area with servers and others who worked in various restaurants and bars all over the downtown and uptown areas. Many of them took the streetcar to and from work and many of them stopped into Jake’s for beers after their shifts which might end anywhere from three in the afternoon till midnight or later.
Jake handed Biggy one of the burgers and orders of fries. “Your first work assignment begins right after we finish eating. Walk to the corner and catch the streetcar. Ride it down to Canal. Watch for each of the major cross streets on your list. I want you to watch for a few of our clients as you ride but you must remember them and where they are. Don’t write them down. You should never go out with the name of a client written down anywhere. Do you understand.”
Biggy nodded his head affirmatively.
– Page 27 –
“Good. The Napoleon Bar and Grill is on the river side of St. Charles just past Napoleon. Easy to see. Several tables on the sidewalk.” Jake pointed to the location on the map.
“The next one is Remy’s Patois.”
“Remy’s what?” Biggy interjected.
“Patois. Spelled p-a-t-o-i-s. Pronounced pa-twah. Remy’s is on the lake side of St. Charles just before you get to Jackson Avenue. Next is The Tavern at Lee Circle. You’ll see it on your right just as the streetcar starts around the circle, right here.” He pointed. “After the streetcar turns onto Carondelet, begin watching for Poydras Street. Remember it’ll be the only multi-lane street with a neutral ground that Carondelet will cross before it gets to Canal. The river is at the foot of Poydras toward your right. We have a client at Poydras and Baronne, two blocks to the left of Carondelet and another right on Carondelet one block before you get to Canal. Don’t worry about those right now. Remember the three on St. Charles between here and Lee Circle. That’s more than plenty for your first time.”
Jake named each of the three again, pointing out their locations and then had Biggy repeat them to him.
Okay, at Canal, get off the streetcar and walk across the street to K&B Drugs. You can buy a weekly streetcar pass at any register. For right now, just buy one for a week. Later, you may want to get one for a month. After you’ve bought your pass, go back over and board the first car to come along and ride it back out here but don’t get off at Riverbend. Stay on it all the way to the end of the line at Claiborne Avenue. Everyone must get off at Claiborne just as they do at Canal with one major twist. This time, the carman waits for everyone to exit before reversing all the seats and taking his place in the opposite end of the car for the trip back downtown. Thus you’ll have to wait a few minutes to reboard till he gives the go ahead. When you get back to Riverbend get off and come back to the bar. Now, one more time, the three businesses you’ll be looking for between here and Lee Circle.”
“Napoleon Bar and Grill, Remy’s Patois, and Tavern at Lee Circle.”
Jake explained that Biggy was to make several similar streetcar trips before Monday and that on Monday he would begin visiting clients. Not making drops. Just visiting them. During the week, he would visit all of the clients on the uptown side of Canal, going from his apartment to each one where he would be expected. At the end of the week, they would talk more about actually making drops.”
– Page 28 –
As soon as Biggy finished eating Jake reached under the bar and brought up an old, battered backpack. He folded the map and put it inside. “This is the backpack you’ll use for your drops. There’s an apron in there I got from one of the short order cooks at O’Henry’s. I think he’d worn it about a week before he gave it to me. If anyone ever finds the pack or for some reason looks into it, you’re just another waiter on his way somewhere. Now, are you ready to get your ass out of here and go to work? I think you’ll find it’s a lot easier, and more interesting, than driving a garbage truck.”
Biggy smiled. “That’s for sure.” Biggy started to get up but Jake stopped him.
“Just a couple more things. “When you get back this afternoon I’ll have your first weeks pay and expense money. From this point on, including this afternoon when you come back, you’ll be treated like any other customer when you come in the bar. Come in as much as you want but I’m just your bartender. And when Peggy’s here, she’s just your landlady, meaning you can speak to her but she’s not going to be your best friend. Got it?”
“Yeah. But when and where do you and I talk?”
“I close the bar around two. I’m coming to your place after I close up tonight. That’s one way we’ll exchange information, but not that often. I have coffee with Peggy at her house three or four mornings a week. You’ll begin to join us when asked. Only when asked. Peggy will be the one to ask. We’ll never have a regular schedule but will play it by ear. Got it?”
“Got it.” Biggy said. “See you then.”
As Biggy headed for the back door, Jake said. “Oh, and Biggy, spend some time on your travels to study the map. There are plenty of tourists and new people in the city so you won’t stand out if you study the map while you’re riding.”
Biggy just waved as he disappeared through the door.
– Page 29 –