After breakfast at Mother's I walk over to the River Walk. The Mississippi is a magnificent waterway, the "Rio" Ruidoso is nothing more than a creek anywhere but in the southwest, even the Rio Grande is, in spite of it's name, not much of a river anymore. A ferry moves across the water toward Algiers, huge cargo ships move at a rapid clip upriver as tourists board what passes for a steamboat (I can't help but notice the lack of smoke as the boat sits idling at the dock). Walking back toward the French Quarter along the river I hear German and French, within minutes of turning back into the Quarter I will hear Vietnamese, Spanish, and (I think) Japanese. I walk through the parks surrounding the cathedral, feeling a little sorry for the mules lined up out front tied to their cabs, but mules always look sad, so who knows.
Further west I finally find my way to Frenchman Street, it is still fairly early and not much is going on yet. I find the Electric Ladyland tattoo parlor and walk in without a second thought. I know I want something that says "New Orleans" without it saying, well, New Orleans. Thumbing through a book labeled "NOLA" I pass over countless crescents and fleur d' lis, none of them really catching my eye. Then I see it, a crawfish. What represents New Orleans, and Louisiana, better than the crawfish? Ok, a jazz band, but I didn't have that kind of money...maybe a trio. I am told that the artist who loves doing crawfish is busy, but someone will be with me in a few minutes. As I wait I start to wonder if maybe I should return when the crawfish lover is available, then a guy about my age comes out and introduces himself as Terry and takes a look at the drawing. He smiles and says, "Cool."
I decide he'll do fine, especially when he recognizes the tattoo on my right arm as a Frank Miller drawing, only the second person since I've had it to do so. I sit in his chair and soon we are talking as Terry gets ready for work, pouring inks into small cups, checking needles. He tells me that he's been doing this for five years, started in his hometown of San Antonio, and has been living in New Orleans for a year and loves it. We talk about New Mexico, where to eat, where to find a music store, as I watch the gun move around my arm, the needle too fast to see but leaving a bloody trail of fresh ink behind. By the time he's got the outline done and the endorphins are kicking in he's invited me to a free crawfish boil at a place called the R Bar, around the corner from the tattoo shop. I really want to go, but I've got a ticket to a show at the Rock and Bowl; Bonerama, a band I've been enjoying since meeting one of the players after a Harry Connick, Jr. concert. Terry assures me that I'll have time to make the boil, hang out for a bit with some locals, and still make the show. Checking my ticket later I see that he's right, plenty of time.
Leaving the shop, my arm burning and wrapped in gauze, I check to make sure I know where the R Bar is. I soon find it on Royal Street, a block off of Frenchman. Then I head back to the hotel for a bit, trim my beard, change clothes, and head back out. First to the Blacksmith Bar for a bit, then to a mom and pop (actually a pop and pop) book/postal store, where I pick up and mail a couple or postcards, and find a cookbook.
Walking back into the Quarter on Royal I pass numerous buskers, they are on every corner, tucked in behind the police barricades that block half the street to traffic. Passing a magician I can hear klezmer music up the block. At the intersection with Toulouse two people play an accordion and a violin as a dog lies near their feet, uninterested. The music is incredible, sad, alive and rich; how can two people, young people at that, be this good and not be playing somewhere besides the middle of the street? I am unable to move, three others and I stand transfixed as this couple play song after song as their dog sleeps, and the entire time I can think only of someone who would love this moment. During a break I talk to them and learn that they are Sarah and Ian, she plays the accordion, he the violin. Except for their dreads they would have fit in any urban street scene of a hundred years ago, he the young rabbi, she the paper boy. In spite of her shapeless male dress, Sarah is one of the most beautiful women I've ever seen, she is real, no makeup, not a damned thing faked. Both of them seem to be uncomfortable talking, polite, but bashful. They only appear to be at peace as they play, eyes closed or focused on each other or their instruments, we do not exist while they play. The dog is Koji, he rousts himself from the leather jacket at Sarah's feet long enough to lick my hand, then lies back down as they start another song, rolling into Sarah's foot, enjoying the contact, as she taps her foot to the fervent beat.
At the other end of the block a much larger crowd listens to a small jazz band. During a break the drummer tells us that they are the Loose Marbles and that they need our money, "For more coffee...yeah, that's it, coffee."
In this way it takes most of an hour to walk a couple of blocks, stopping to see what is going on at each busy corner. And in between? A young black kid does one hell of a job of looking like Snoop Dogg while tapping like Fred Astaire.
The boil is to start at six, I arrive around that time to find a group of men sitting around a large stock pot on a propane burner on the sidewalk in front of the bar. Everyone has a beer, and most have a cigarette, the pot is full to the brim with potatoes, corn on the cob, mushrooms, and bright red crawfish as big as the one currently burning away on my forearm. A Canadian tourist is getting a lesson on how to eat the crustaceans, he convinces his companion that here is where they should have dinner. I go inside, catch one of the last seats at the bar and order an Abita Amber. The bartender is blonde, her arms, neck and shoulders covered in tattoos. This is the first time I've had a chance to watch the locals, besides myself and the Canadians, everyone here is local and regular. They talk away in small groups at the end of the bar and around the lone pool table, the juke box playing some late 70s punk. A man sits in a barber's chair at the end of the bar and I'm told that you can get a drink and haircut special sometimes. Terry arrives and we show off his work to a couple of his friends before moving outside to wait in line for the crawfish. I luck out and get the very last of the first batch. The bar's owner, Red, is shoveling the mudbugs onto my plate with a large ice scoop. When that won't get the last of them he drops the scoop and reaches in with his hands and grabs the rest, dropping them onto the mound that is to be my dinner. Yes!
Several hours, maybe a hundred crawfish, and many Abitas and shots of Maker's Mark later I am far too comfortable, warm and happy to be troubled with having to go to any concert.