Just returned from a trip to New Orleans. I stayed at a French Quarter hotel occupied by older couples who wore matching jean shorts. I toured Bourbon street first and found the famed music and excessive drinking. Sadly, I wasn't charmed by either--though I was prepared to fall in love with the swirl of rowdiness. I sat at a few bars, declined offers to buy CDs, and hoped to be infected by a great, raw New Orleans spirit, but nothing happened.
It's a city on a large lily pad which makes it vulnerable it storms, but ideal of for biking around. Pedaling at a medium clip, I got to tour all the major neighborhoods and sights in a few hours. I found that while the attractions were nice the best thing to do in the city was sit behind a strong drink and watch the trolleys clang up and down the street.
Aside from the abundance of tourists there were scattered pockets of dirty train-hopper types, young locals with angular tattoos and beards, and a few older locals.
I met one such aged local behind my hotel bar. He had a moustache, tips waxed up, a big belly, and a nice, firm way of polishing the glasses in his care. His knowledge of drink was humbling and his skill with a cocktail shaker dazzling.
After a few drinks he warned us to ignore a nearby woman who was beginning to advise loudly. She was a local philanthropist who couldn't hold her drink and had cornered a young lady who let it slip she wanted to be a writer. The charitable woman urged: "Write, write everyday, but first write down the name of a publisher I know." After a fruitless look through her purse, she continued, "Don't worry about him, he's useless. Just write, write everyday!"
The bartender was only too happy to tell his life story. His mom managed a hotel in the Quarter and when she worked nights put him and his brother in a back room. Of course (as any young boy would) he'd crawl under the front desk, eluding the sheepish guard, and wander around the Quarter looking for trouble. He ceased twisting a lemon rind, his eyes fogged a bit, and he recalled, "They used to sell good corn dogs in the Quarter. I'd eat two, maybe three a night."
When he was older he and a friend would buy a "liter of beer" at every corner store they passed. Under the influence, his friend made inventive suggestions that our bartender said he could never decline. He once walked the whole Quarter by jumping from the roof of one parked car to the other. "I regret that now," he concluded. "Just imagine getting into your car in the morning and seeing your roof like that."
Since the city is so precariously placed the locals have a devil-may-care air while they attend to their daily business. Unfortunately, it's an attitude in vogue and it attracts musician types and the young who affect moody expressions in droves. My bartender fears being replaced by these younger types who will create something new and probably far less seedy. I can only think it has already happened.
Footnote: Visited the place where Faulkner stayed while he wrote his first book. It's now a bookstore with an impressive shelf of first editions. But I found Dauphine Street (Used) Books more inviting and with a better, more affordable selection.