Monday, February 16, 2009

Slate's Uptown Adventure

This post will be sans links as it's just a children's story, a cautionary tale, a narrative with a happy ending, suitable bedtime reading. It's also dedicated to those readers who will be belly laughing outside my hearing, behind their screens. I love them all---I think.

An announcement came to Slate's inbox: Book signing for Mark Folse's new book, Carry Me Home, at the Maple Leaf Bookstore. Proud of her friend, she ris-vipped, put it on her calendar and there it sat until the day before it was to take place. Slate then, being a good old geek, enters "Maple Leaf Books" in the Google map section of her computer screen and miraculously little icons appear showing the locations of not only Maple Leaf Books, but Octavia and three others. She confidently clicks on the correct icon and voila, a map appears in short order.

"Cool," she thinks. "I can take my bike! It's just down Rampart to Canal, then a right and I'll be there. No problem."

Something strikes her as strange. The location mapped before her would put her directly behind St. Louis Cemetery #2, three blocks from the Iberville Projects.

"Hmmm," she thinks. "Perhaps that isn't right. After all I've been in and around that area a lot and never saw a bookstore there."

Pondering for a moment, she decides to call the above mentioned Mr. Folse who, upon hearing the directions, laughs out loud then says the directions are wrong. He kindly points the seriously downtown impaired woman in the right direction, giving her a street address for the book signing and some suggestions as to how best to get there. No, the bike won't do it. It's gonna have to be the car. It's not that she's NEVER been uptown, but most of the times she's ventured there it was recon after Katrina or some medical lab to find out how many places her husband's bones were broken in. And she doesn't want to take the freeway as the only way she's ever found her way around cities was by using surface streets, once a street was seen she knew where she was when she saw it again.

She'd been to the zoo, the lake, the yacht club. She'd occasionally been to friends' homes but it had almost always been with another friend driving who knew the way. Not a problem. Slate was anything but faint of heart.

Confidently walking out her door, Slate got into her car and headed for Claiborne. There was some activity there blocking her way, maybe an accident, she never did find out, so she cut back down to the go through the Quarter to St. Charles since the map showed that she could surely get there via that broad and beautiful avenue.

Slate, however, had completely forgotten that it was a Mardi Gras parade day. After fighting her way down Dauphine, past all the people in line at Port of Call, she heads down (up?) toward Canal. The tourists are out in force, obviously believing mistakenly that the PT Cruiser is a spaceship made of some sort of malleable plasma to which their bodies will be impervious. It takes her 30 minutes to traverse the short blocks of the Quarter, make the left to Royal, a right on Royal and . . . .

"Oh my god, it's a parade day!" she says to herself noting police barricades already up at the Canal/St. Charles/Royal intersection. Bravely crossing Canal onto St. Charles, she curses WWOZ for betraying her in her time of need by playing a lot of Spanish music that she's not crazy about rather than something that will keep her trucking along into the foreign territory that is Uptown.

All the way up St. Charles people are already camped out for the parade that won't start for a couple more hours. Tents, ladders by the dozen, lawn chairs, coolers full of beer are all she sees on both sides of the street and along the neutral ground. Trucks stop with no warning in front of her, dropping off more furnishings for their outside parlors. Cars in front of her do the same, hailing an old friend off the neutral ground in order to carry on an extended conversation regarding logistics as she waits impatiently but curiously behind them.

Every corner has a vendor of wonderful food, port-o-lets painted as faces with big 3-D noses attached to their doors sit in the bed of a truck as the truck's owner contemplates how many dollars he'll make in the next two weeks. Stacks of bleachers line the stately avenue waiting to be filled up with shouting people, arms in the air. It's already nearly impassable, no parking signs deterring parking but not the never-ending stop and drops.

"Hey, so THAT is Fat Harry's," she remarks to herself seeing the green awning that she's never noticed before. She knows she's been out this far before but never paid attention much. Now she was on a deadline and it was a Mardi Gras weekend. The Spanish music kept up, words that sounded like Spanish, as they certainly weren't English words her mother had taught her poured out of her mouth.

"Cherokee. Turn right then left. I did it!" Slate says, patting herself on the back for finding a parking place just steps from her destination.

Upon her arrival, her friends from the blogosphere hear her tale of woe, and laugh or look amazed that she's never been here before. She has a wonderful time, eats King Cake, enjoys her Uptown friends, ogles books, gets directions to go home.

One of her friends, a Doctor so she can absolutely be trusted, tells her to go to Carrollton then to Broad to Esplanade. Slate has to ask which way Carrollton is.

"Just go straight and make a right. It's the big street," they tell her. She waited but they didn't tell her to look both ways before she crossed. That was kind of them.

Slate dutifully climbs into her car, goes to Carrollton, makes the right as she was told. Then she notices the Bed and Breakfast she stayed at on her first visit to New Orleans more than 15 years ago. She parks her car, gets out and takes a few photos. The house is now a private home, looks wonderful, she guesses the crazy woman who owned it must have passed on.

Back into the car, full of confidence and pride, she goes forth, homeward bound.

"Claiborne! Oh hell, I know where I am now," she says, grinning widely as she makes a right.

Driving down Claiborne she notices how wide it is, not like the part near her home. She's been told that at one time, all of Claiborne was a tree lined boulevard. Here she can believe it. At the Louisiana Street intersection, she notes a demographic difference, almost like a weird invisible line. The color and number of people at the bus stops change. She sees other cross streets she knows and thinks how wonderful it is that she might now have an alternate way of getting to her doctor, and some other places she has to go now and then. She's exhilarated, channelling Marco Polo, discovering spaghetti!

She knows where she is! Could actually point in the right direction if asked where her house is! Her chest swells with pride. Then there it is. Right in front of her. A dreadful, yellow, inescapable DEAD END sign.

"But I can SEE the Superdome," she wails. "Who knew Claiborne ENDED." (Evidently the Doctor she should have trusted did, thus telling her to take Broad.)

Forced to take a right, she finds herself confronted by Magnolia Street or an unnamed left turning rampy kinda thing. She is still confident so chooses the ramp.

"OMG, I'm getting on the Bridge! I don't live on the Westbank anymore and my toll tag is out of money!" Hysterical laughter overtakes the Spanish music on OZ. She contemplates taking the Ferry home but realizes that will take her to the end of Canal, not a good idea.

She turns around, digging in her purse for a buck, cursing at the drivers who didn't SEE the gigantic TOLL TAG ONLY signs and suddenly need to move over, finds herself convulsing in laughter at her situation, and pays the lady at the booth.

Breezing along the freeway, she goes to the Claiborne Ave sign that she knows well. Finally she is in home territory: hideous overpass on the left, cemeteries on the right. She realizes suddenly what a horrid disservice to the city that overpass was. It completely cut the city in half. Her Uptown friends knew that. She just saw how awful it was. St. Louis, St. Peter, Dumaine, familiar, unlike Maple, Spruce, Oak. Turning right on Esplanade, she tools home, finding her way easily through the maze of the Marigny.

Upon arrival Slate called a friend. She told him of her adventure. They laughed that she was the only one who could conceivably go from the Maple Street to the Marigny via the Westbank. They discussed maybe taking a trip to Gentilly one day, but he'd drive so they didn't go via Mandeville.

Moral of the story: Either take a cab or listen to the Doctor.


nola said...

That is hysterical. And of so believable! Glad you made it to the signing and home in one piece!

Leigh C. said...

The Claiborne overpass IS awful. And the thing that makes for dead ends is the Superdome.

It could be worse, though. Trying to get to Poydras once, I ended up on the HOV lane on the CCC going to the Westbank. Oh. My. God. I thought I was going to be mashed by a bus coming the opposite direction. I made it over the river in one piece and turned right around, but STILL...

GentillyGirl said...

Oh Goddess woman, you and I are so much alike- I HATE going to the Uptown. I stay on my side of the Neutral zone.

Outside of the Prytania Theatre, we don't venture there very much. It's an area of Mystery to us Downriver types.

Next time ya's head to that area let me know. I'd love to tag along and enjoy the adventure of wandering the Wild Wastes.

Charlotte said...

Girl, I can so relate. The Mardi Gras after Katrina I had just begun working at Childrens. I couldn't take my normal Tchoup route to the WB because floats were lined up. So I was told to take State St to Claiborne, take a right and go all the way down and I couldn't miss the bridge exit. Easy, huh? Huh.
First, I was totally creeped out cuz Claiborne was still pretty much a wasteland, there were hardly any cars and none of the lights were working. I drove and drove and drove until I ended up under the overpass somehow. I drove around until I saw Loyola, then I knew where I was. I had left work at 4:30 and got home at 7. I still don't know how I missed that damn exit!

Hana said...

I have the same thing but in reverse. It took me about an hour to get to Marigny from Uptown. 30 min out of that was spent driving around, trying to find my way out of FQ.

LisaPal said...

Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse, huh? Glad you ultimately made it unscathed. (Or relatively unscathed.)

E.J. said...

This story is still as funny as the first time I heard it!

Polimom said...

Hahahahaha!!! Have to laugh -- I can't tell you how many times I've ended up in unexpected places driving around NOLA.

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad I'm not the only one! My darling daughter is giving me a Garmin for her graduation present, since she is leaving for college and taking her sense of directions with her. I have a friend with a garmin gps thing, it talks to you while you drive...It may not work for me because I'm so easily distractible.

Stephen Rea said...

Hi there,

I just wanted to tell you about my book which has just come out Finn McCool's Football Club - The Birth, Death, and Resurrection of a Pub Soccer Team in the City of the Dead.

It deals with an Irish bar in Mid-City and the lives of the regulars before, during, and after Katrina.

As someone who blogs on life in New Orleans, I thought you may be interested in how a "foreign" local interprets what goes on in the city.

Last week the Times Picayune carried an article on the book:

Thanks for your time!

Stephen Rea