Abstractly-named Joe and Flo’s Candlelight Hostel was a very charmingly ramshackle converted house backing on to a freeway at the rear of the Tremé-Lafitte – America’s oldest black neighbourhood. There was junk and as yet not repaired Hurricane Katrina flood damage everywhere within the Tremé. Louis Armstrong Park lay just a few blocks to the south and the French Quarter simmered like a sleeping coke-fiend to the south-east. All these factors considered: Joe and Flo’s was, to me, the epicentre of cool. Though the early afternoon was outside of the hostel’s normal check in period, the sole black chick feverishly working there to clean rooms and wash sheets accepted my request to stay for a few days. But she told me not to tell anyone she’d accommodated me early. There was genuine fear in her eyes. So I nodded emphatically by way of shocked reassurance. In my room I met Saed and Tim – an interracial Sal Paradise (Jack Kerouac) and Dean Moriarty (Neal Cassady) type duo straight out of a modern On The Road, and no mistake. After wandering out into the French Quarter, the beginning of the end took place with my first Scotch at Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop – apparently New Orleans’ oldest bar – which sat proudly on the corner of Bourbon and Saint Philip Streets. Then I smoked a cigar inside the Chart Room bar on Chartres and Bienville Streets, while its owner’s wife sang love songs using a corkscrew as a microphone. A couple more brown liquors later, I was enjoying some jazz at the Musical Legends Park, off Bourbon and between Bienville and Conti Streets. Finally, and though I can’t quite be sure, I believe I’d found myself at the Little Tropical Isle; sitting at the bar smoking Marlboro Lights, drinking cheap Scotch and enjoying the jazz band that reluctantly agreed to play Fly Me To The Moon at my request. Reluctantly, I say, because according to them the style was more suited to New York than N’ Orleans’ upbeat tempo. It was at the Tropical Isle where I ordered one Stella Artois for a stunning young green cardigan-wearing brunette sitting with a bloke and another girl at a table behind me. She acknowledged the gift, but didn’t approach me. So after a barmaid gave me shit for not going over to her, I invited myself to the trio’s table while the heroine was in the bathroom. When she came back I said hi but she simply smiled and then virtually ignored me. I think they all three spoke nothing but French. When I lit up a cigarette the dude at the table effeminately waved away my second-hand-smoke, and then they left. I sat there alone to finish the cigarette before heading in their direction up Bourbon Street. I remember seeing them walking casually in front of me, shadowy figures disappearing among the throbbing throng of revellers, until I turned left on Ursulines Avenue. My shyness had struck again, but then I’ve never really defined myself as shy; instead simply emotionally cautious and socially reactive instead of imposing. At the end of the day, though I do believe I have a good heart and valuable thoughts, I know that approaching women will almost always fail due to the fact that vocally (though obviously not in writing) the number of things I have to say are directly opposed by the amount of willingness I have to say them. So, in a familiar but dislocated scene, I shuffled, alone, dejected and a little depressed but full to the brim with the Quarter’s electric atmosphere and intoxicating liquids, toward a nightmare awaiting me back at Joe and Flo’s.
Coughing and intense full-body aches conspired with a savage hangover to startle me awake on Wednesday, November 28, 2012, at about 3am. That entire day was spent slowly writhing on the creaking top bunk while that famed city on the Mississippi-delta whirled vindictively around the hostel and through my shattered immune system with all the empathy of an alcoholically musical tornado. After a second night of coughing and fitful sleeping that kept my roommates awake, I managed only to limp to Li’l Dizzy’s Cafe down the road from the hostel on the corner of North Robertson Street and Esplanade Avenue. I tried some gumbo, which is a type of seafood soup conceived in that part of the world, but it tasted like I imagined sewerage might and after only a few slurps of it and a couple of mouthfuls of steamed vegetables I returned with fresh abdominal pains to bed. Out of consideration for my fellow hostel-dwellers’ need for rest, I spent that night on the floor of the common room. It featured a sofa-bed, but I couldn’t figure out how to convert the sofa into a bed so simply placed its cushions lengthways on the floor before collapsing onto them in a coughing fit. Part of the third day, Friday, of this unholy misery was spent riding the Natchez Steamboat paddle steamer. Figured I – or more accurately whatever the fuck was eating away at my body and soul – had already wasted two days in the location that was meant to be the highlight of my entire three month jaunt across the US and UK. So a couple of hours journey on a riverboat seemed a good idea, as it was a unique cultural experience that didn’t require any walking – which I could at the time do only with great pain and discomfort. Of course I did have to engage in a Goddamned torturous walk to the boat; moored near the Jax Brewery. An unexpected treat, while I sat waiting to board and smoking through the agony on rocks retaining the esplanade, occurred when a portly elderly woman emerged on top of the boat. She proceeded to play a series of only slightly-irritating due to my illness colourful hoots and hollers from a steam organ for about 15 minutes, in order to herald departure. Very cool, very unexpected and a real shame I was not in a better health condition from which to properly appreciate it. While in the midst of it, I regretted the quite tedious couple of mile round-trip downstream that I spent shivering in windy shadowed areas or roasting in sunny exposed areas of the boat. Make no mistake: unless you really love riverboats, the Mississippi itself is the worst way from which you could possibly see New Orleans. Instead of calling an ambulance like I considered, I headed straight back to the hostel after disembarking the steamer. Creole (French-blooded New Orleans-born) Micki had arrived to stay there. An interesting guy, the 34-year-old wild-eyed Mardi Gras parade float painter unashamedly showed me the small collection of pornography in his cheap phone. I unhappily spent Friday night in New Orleans shivering and coughing and simultaneously fearing and wishing for death on my makeshift hostel common-room couch cushion bed.