The next morning Biggy was at the car stop at Fern and St. Charles at 11:30 as he had been instructed. When the car stopped he got on, flashing the carman his pass as he started toward the back. The car was sparsely populated so Biggy sat down in the first empty seat facing forward.
As the car continued its trek downtown, Biggy once again watched for the major cross streets, the clients he had found yesterday, and other landmarks that he was beginning to recognize. He hardly noticed as more and more people got on the car but when he looked around, all the seats were occupied and people were standing between the lateral seats at the front and rear, except for the other side of the double seat Biggy was sitting on.
It seemed like almost no time had passed when the car reached Lee Circle. Biggy recognized it easily now. It seemed incredible that he had only arrived in New Orleans day before yesterday. So much had happened in such a short time. Once they were on Carondelet, Biggy began to watch for Poydras. When he saw it ahead, he pulled the cord signaling a stop. He stepped out the door and looked around. Once he got his bearings he started walking up Poydras looking for Clotille’s Tavern. Just as Jake had said, it was at the end of the second block. Biggy walked on past one more block, crossed Poydras and walked back down the other side. When he got to Carondelet he walked down it until he came to the next car stop where he waited.
At Canal, he realized he had forgotten to look for King Rex Bar and Grill so he walked far enough back up Common to see it before turning and going back to Canal.
He waited for the walk signal and began to cross canal. On his way across he noticed that Canal was lined with mostly two or three story buildings, some quite old, that seemed to house relatively small restaurants, drugstores, and shops, especially a lot of shops selling touristy knick-knacks.
Biggy crossed over onto Bourbon Street. There was nothing in the first block except a Krystal Hamburger joint. At the end of the block, a city utility worker was just completing the installation of three heavy steel waist-high posts into holes in the pavement, blocking vehicular traffic beyond that point. Biggy made a note that it was just a few minutes after noon.
There were relatively few people out at this time of day and many of the businesses, clubs and bars of various sorts were closed or just beginning to open. Along the street there were doorways with small booths behind them where one could buy a large beer in a go-cup for $2. Biggy stepped up to one of the small windows and bought one. He walked along the street with it and as he walked, he began to notice frozen daiquiri shops, one or two in every block it seemed.
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Inside they all looked pretty much the same. A long row of machines lined one wall behind a bar. Within each machine was a colorful, partially frozen concoction that was perpetually swirling around. The concoction in each machine was a different bright color and a sign on each indicated what flavor it was. Biggy wasn’t ready for a daiquiri yet but decided then and there he would definitely try one later.
As he walked, he also watched for the customers places he was supposed to spot on the way. He found the first three and they were all closed. When he crossed St. Peter he looked over in the direction of the river. Sure enough, about halfway down the block on the right was the familiar shamrock shaped sign with Pat O’Brien’s on it. Pat O’Brien’s was about the only place in the French Quarter that Biggy had ever heard of.
He walked on up Bourbon until he found Willie’s Tavern on the corner of Bourbon and St. Anne’s. A row of French doors were open on either side of the corner. An almost identical building was on the opposite corner and it housed another bar.
He turned onto St. Ann and crossed the one block to Royal where he turned back towards Canal. After a block he came to a fenced garden behind a large church. A narrow alleyway ran along either side. Biggy turned into one of the alleys and came out at the front corner of St. Louis Cathedral and right across the street from it was a park that covered the entire block. Biggy learned it was Jackson Square and remembered Jake mentioning it. An open gate directly across from the front entrance to the cathedral enticed him to enter.
Directly in front of him, right in the center of the square was a large statue of a man on a horse. Biggy walked over to it and far enough around to discover that the man was Major General Andrew (Old Hickory) Jackson. The name meant nothing to Biggy.
Biggy looked around. There appeared to be four entrances into the park-like square, one right in the middle of each side. A sidewalk went straight from the statue out to each of the entrances and there were oval sidewalks in increasingly larger ovals going round the square as well. The sidewalks were lined with benches.
Biggy started walking around the outermost oval. On a bench in the front corner, under a shady old live oak, he spotted a toothless woman who appeared to be about as old as the tree. Long strands of wispy gray hair radiated from beneath a dirty, worn, knitted, close-fitting hat that exhibited every color in the rainbow. She had on a frilled blouse that probably, at some time, had been white, but was now a dingy gray color. A long organdy skirt of the most shockingly pink color Biggy had ever seen covered her legs almost down to the ground. Although the day was quite warm, her outfit was topped off by a ragged lace shawl of a much lighter pink than her skirt wrapped around her shoulders. On her feet she wore men’s high-top sneakers that were several sizes too large for her.
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As if this weren’t bizarre enough, next to her on the bench was a beer box, one of those that long-neck bottles come in, and there was a square hole cut right in the middle of each side. The head of a duck protruded through one of the holes. The woman had one arm draped over the box. In the opposite hand she held a cigarette at which she puffed repeatedly, moving it only slightly away from her lips as she exhaled. A long strand of ashes made a precarious arc from the end of it and it was just about to burn her fingers. Looking down at her dress it was obvious that she had been sitting there for some time smoking many cigarettes in the same manner for the front of her blouse was covered in bits and pieces of the long, grayish ash. That helped explain the color of the garment.
Biggy sat down on the bench opposite her where he could watch her without becoming too obvious. He only wished he had a camera but then she would see him for sure. Before he could make up his mind whether the duck was real or not the head disappeared inside and, seconds later, reappeared through one of the other holes, emitting a loud ‘QUACK’ as it did so.
Biggy sat watching her for several minutes. She never moved except for the constant puffing at the cigarette. The ash falling onto her dress must have signaled her she needed to light another. Grasping the butt between her lips, she reached down to a pack laying on the bench beside her. She placed the fresh one in her mouth next to the butt before removing the butt and using it to light the fresh one. Without looking in his direction, she flicked the butt straight at Biggy. Had he not been watching and able to jump quickly to the side it would have landed in his lap. Up to this point Biggy had been unaware that she even knew he was sitting there and had seen no sign that she knew now except for that cigarette being obviously aimed right at him. Through the whole light-up operation she had never removed her right arm from its position over the duck’s box..
Biggy didn’t want another cigarette in his lap so before she finished another he got up and walked out the front entrance to the Square onto the sidewalk along Decatur Street. This block, the entire front side of the Square, was taken up by artists actively producing paintings in all media, with completed paintings that were for sale lining the wrought-iron fence.
On the street stood a line of excursion carriages, each pulled by a single mule and accommodating up to nine passengers. A driver sat on the front seat of each. There were old men who had been doing this for years, and young men who, one had to wonder, might or might not really know that much about New Orleans. And then there were the young women who were gaudily dressed, especially their headgear, which often matched that of their equine companions. They sat on their high seats as if on a throne. Each of these drivers, old men, young men, ladies; made entreaties to passers-by to take a ride with him or her. Each driver had a unique spiel as well as his or her own criteria for when the ride would actually begin.
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Biggy watched as some of them pulled away from the curb with as few as two passengers. Others chatted with the passengers who had gotten into the carriage until he had at least five or six before leaving. When a driver decided to pull away from the curb he would wake up his old mule by tapping him lightly on the rump with his lash. The mule would raise his head and, in response to a tug on the left rein, start to move out into the traffic lane, the driver having made sure the traffic was clear. As the carriage pulled away, Biggy could hear the driver beginning a memorized, and mesmerizing, speil about old New Orleans, her voice in sync with the clip-clop, clip-clop of the mule’s steel shoes on the pavement as they moved out.
Across the street Biggy could see what looked like an amphitheatre. Steps fanned out in three directions. The colorful groups of tourists sitting on the steps were being entertained by an impromptu troupe of break-dancers performing to boom-box music on a sheet of linoleum they had spread out on the sidewalk. Above the amphitheater more steps, traditional stairways, led to a plaza above. Jake had told him the river was just over the steps and he considered crossing the street but the traffic was heavy so he decided he had walked as far as he wanted for one afternoon and he still had nine or ten blocks to walk to get back to Canal to catch the streetcar.
As he lumbered down Royal Street towards Canal he noted that Royal was as different from Bourbon as night is from day. Here there were mostly antique shops and nice restaurants. He passed a very large building that took up an entire block. The Louisiana Supreme Court, it said. In the next block was a police station. He was all the way out to Canal when he realized he was hungry and remembered that he could get a Krystal hamburger, or a dozen of them, just over on the next block of Bourbon. After lunch, he crossed over to the corner to catch the next streetcar headed back uptown.
By the time the car got back to Fern Street, Biggy was ready for a nap. He walked the two blocks to his apartment and was asleep in no time. About five he got up, dressed, and walked to Jake’s. At the bar he told Jake about his solo streetcar ride and his impression of the French Quarter, not mentioning anything about clients, just as he had been instructed. Jake told him he should see it after dark.
Biggy had four beers and an oyster po-boy before leaving the bar about seven.
When he stepped off the streetcar at Canal, it was fully dark. The lights were on all up and down the street. He crossed Canal and started up Bourbon. The first block, except for that Krystal Hamburger joint, was dark. Looking further up the street all he could see were neon lights that began to get more and more dense as the two sides of the very narrow street converged somewhere in the distance.
Biggy stopped and bought a $2 beer at the first opportunity. He drank it down before he reached the end of the next block and stepped into one of the daiquiri shops. He noticed for the first time large Jaegermeister bottles (and those of a few other liqueurs) mounted in brackets for dispensing shots, interspersed with the daiquiri machines.. For six bucks Biggy had two shots of Jaegermeister, washing the sharp tasting liquid down with with a pomegranate daiquiri.
As he continued to walk up the street he started to notice that more and more of the clubs had live music coming out of them, either hard electronic rock, or live New Orleans jazz. Although he knew almost nothing about New Orleans, he did know he was hearing Dixieland jazz. It had become the signature music of New Orleans. For tourists, anyway.
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The other thing he noticed was that there were a lot of clubs that advertised strip tease acts. Out in front of each of these stood a barker shouting to all passing men, whether accompanied by a woman or not, that there were plenty of girls inside. Just come on in. Biggy was exactly the kind of man they were looking for. A man who, from his sloppy physical appearance and the essence emanating from him, wasn’t likely to find a woman on his own and would enjoy watching some nudity. Although it was tempting, Biggy wasn’t having any of it. Maybe sometime in a couple of weeks. In front of one of the clubs, there was a window just above the sidewalk and an ancient swing with a pair of naked legs in it perpetually swinging out over the sidewalk and back inside the window. Biggy wondered how many years the swing and the legs had been there. From their shabbiness, it appeared it was a long time.
Biggy walked out to St. Anne’s. He remembered seeing a bar across from Willie’s Tavern and decided to go there to have a beer or two. As they were earlier in the day, all the French doors were open so Biggy could sit at the bar and watch the people coming by on the street. The bar was almost deserted. The bartender came over and Biggy ordered his usual Jax and another shot of Jaegermeister to go with it. As he drank the bartender asked him where he was from. Biggy told him Lafourche Parish. First trip to Bourbon Street. The bartender insisted that he must have a hurricane, promising to make an extra special one for him.
Biggy watched as the man set a tall glass shaped sort of like a woman standing on one extremely short leg on the bar and filled it about three-quarters full of crushed ice. Next he upended a bottle of white rum in one hand and a bottle of dark rum in the other over a cocktail shaker. He moved the two bottles upwards about two feet above the glass and then brought them back down, keeping the two streams criss-crossing just above the rim of the glass until the booze covered the melting ice. Biggy was fascinated by the swirling mixture as the bartender added something red and fruity smelling to top off the drink. He reached over and picked up a stainless shaker, poured the drink over into it, and then immediately poured it back into the glass. Placing a Maraschino cherry and a slice of orange on top, he slid the drink over in front of Biggy. “That’ll be eight dollars” he said, “and let’s say that includes my tip.”
The drink was sweet and tasted good. A small combo was playing in the back. Guitar, stand-up base and a drummer with a snare drum. Biggy was surprised that they were playing old blues standards, not Dixieland. He sucked his hurricane down and ordered another.
“I’ll make it but drink it slow this time. These things sneak up and grab you if you’re not careful. Where you stayin’ at, anyways? You ain’t gotta drive, do you?”
“I’m staying at the apartment that I rented day before yesterday. And, no, I don’t have to drive, I came here on the streetcar.”
“Okay.” The bartender was already making the drink. Biggy didn’t notice that there was only a little more than half as much rum in this one as there had been in the first. As he set the drink in front of Biggy, the bartender said, “Remember, drink it slow and enjoy the music. You have to be able to walk back out to the streetcar.”
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More and more people were coming in now. Not surprisingly, Bourbon Street joints did most of their business late at night. Biggy tried to drink the hurricane slow but the cold, sweet liquid was so good he couldn’t just sip it. He managed to nurse it for all of fifteen minutes and was ready for another but the bartender was busy down at the other end of the bar so it took him some time to get back to Biggy. When the bartender delivered his drink, he asked what time it was.
“Oh, shit. I better get my ass back to the streetcar. I’ll see ya’ again sometime.”
“Why ya’ in such a hurry?” the bartender asked. “Cars run reg’lar til at least twelve. You got lottsa time.”
“Maybe so. But I think I need a walk and some fresh air.” Biggy replied, swigging down his last hurricane before swinging his legs around and standing up, just barely managing to reach back and catch hold of the bar before he fell down. He staggered a little as he walked to the door but the bartender noted he was getting his legs under him and walking pretty straight by the time he got to the sidewalk. The bartender figured the cool night air, along with being back out in the crowd, would get him sobered up enough to find the streetcar and get back uptown.
Biggy hadn’t quite gotten to Canal when he noticed that a streetcar was sitting at the stop across the street. But by the time he had waited on the light to change so he could cross, it had already pulled away. He wasn’t sure how long he would have to wait before the next car would come along. Hopefully, as it was well before midnight, not very long. As he waited, more and more people began to gather at the stop. By the time the car arrived fifteen minutes later, there were several dozen who boarded the car.
While Biggy was waiting his stomach began to fill with gas. He moved away from the crowd just before the car arrived to pass some of it.
The car made several stops to pick up more passengers before it got to Poydras Street. This night ride was very different from his previous ones in the daytime. His stomach continued to churn. He realized he was going to have to find a bathroom. And fast.
A few blocks past Poydras, Biggy noticed a small bar on the street that looked like just the place. It appeared to be almost empty. Two or three large TVs on the wall behind the bar flickered with some type of sporting event. Biggy pulled the car to signal a stop, pushed his way through the crowd to the rear door and hopped off as quickly as he could. He hurried back to the bar and walked in.
“Where’s your restroom,” he asked the bartender, breezing past the bar figuring it was somewhere in the back.
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“Restroom’s for customers only.” said the bartender, a surly, hairy, man who looked to be in his forties. “You gonna have somethin’ to drink?”
Biggy pulled a five dollar bill out of his pocket and lay it on the bar. “Jax” was all he said and continued toward the back. Sure enough there was the door that said “Men”. He barely made it inside before the explosion of gas erupted from his bowels. He wondered if anyone in the bar could hear the loud fart. He managed to get into a stall and get his pants down before the fart was followed by even worse things.
The stench of his offal followed him back into the bar. The bartender, who had set his Jax on top of three one-dollar bills on the bar had already moved to the other end. An old man who had been sitting a couple stools away from where the bartender had set Biggy’s beer picked his up and moved all the way to the other end as well.
Biggy took his time sipping the beer. It was actually helping to settle his stomach. He figured the two sweet hurricanes that had been preceded by three or four — he wasn’t sure — Jaegers and at least one daiquiri and mixed with many Jax beers had been what had upset his stomach. Might also have been the fried oysters on the po-boy slathered in mayonnaise and cocktail sauce he had had at Jake’s. Whatever had caused it, Biggy was feeling much better when he left although he still had some lingering gas to get rid of when he got outside.
When he got out on the sidewalk, he looked back down St. Charles. Not seeing a car coming, he turned in the opposite direction. About two blocks ahead he could see the tall statue of Robert E. Lee bathed in an eerie light. He started walking towards it. He walked all the way to the car stop on the opposite side of the circle, just past the point where the tracks turned into the St. Charles neutral ground.
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