brass band

Big Easy For You To Say


New Orleans, LA

December, 2009

Filed by: Lewis Dribblin



7:28 a.m.

The airport

I’m at the terminal of my hometown airport waiting to board the plane.  I’m reading a magazine article which explains that schadenfreude is not a German invention.  According to the article, there’s an ancient Arabic term, shamata, that means precisely the same thing: the pleasure that one derives from another’s misfortune.  In fact, I’m sure that schadenfreude is one of the oldest concepts in the history of humankind, and scientists will probably show us one day that the second-ever man to get married inspired this feeling in the first-ever man to get married.  But characterizing schadenfreude as a cruel and selfish feeling misses the point; the truth is, human suffering is most meaningful when it is communal.  Those who experience schadenfreude are able to do so only because they, too, have suffered.  Fundamentally, schadenfreude is about empathy, not spite.  And it is with this (rather humanitarian, I must add) notion that I, a married man, am on my way to New Orleans to attend a friend’s wedding.

Schadenfreude is not all that I anticipate, however.  I’m a jazz fan, so I’m mostly going to New Orleans for the music.  What’s better than listening to jazz in the city that gave us Jelly Roll Morton, Sidney Bechet, and Louis Armstrong?  This was a post-Katrina trip, of course, but I’d read that the French Quarter had recovered nearly completely and that the music scene on Bourbon Street was thriving.

I’m a little disappointed that I can only go for one night; I have to be home tomorrow to babysit while my wife spends the evening with some friends who are visiting from out of town.  With my time limited to one day and one night, I’ll have to work quickly—and I’ve also figured out a way to skip the wedding ceremony so that I can maximize the time I’ll have for what is guaranteed to be an awesome jazz experience.  I’ve arranged to have Phil, an old friend from college who is doing a teaching stint in New Orleans, pick me up at the airport.  His driving is unsteady and extremely slow, so it’s not likely that he’ll get me to the hotel in enough time to meet the limo-bus that’s taking the wedding party to the church in the suburbs for the ceremony.  My plan is to skip the ceremony and meet the wedding party back in French Quarter for the reception— after I explore New Orleans jazz on my own.

The plane is boarding now.  I’ll finish reading about schadenfreude later.


10:32 a.m.

The other airport

What? No more towels?

I arrive at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport.  I think it’s cool that the airport is named after Louis Armstrong.  I’m in the men’s room now and the hand dryer is out of service and there are no towels.  It’s a good thing Satchmo is not around to see this. At least I know that I’m in New Orleans—jazz is playing through the P.A. system as I blot my hands on my pants.

10:33 a.m.

I’m looking at a plaque hanging on the wall that thanks people with names like Kernan “Skip” Hand on behalf of the city of Kenner.  The city of Kenner?  It turns out that the New Orleans airport is not actually in New Orleans, but in Kenner: a city distinguished by the airport and its high percentage of prominent citizens with funny names.

11:08 a.m.

I wait for Phil outside the baggage area, and a chorus of angry horns notifies me that he’s near.

1:31 p.m.

Phil’s car

1½ hours later and we’ve managed to make it to the city, 11 miles from the airport.  My plan is working perfectly, but my nerves are frayed and my underwear is soaked with what I hope is sweat.  I ask Phil to take me to a Chase bank where I can cash a check so that I have money for the weekend.  It’s payday, the bank will be packed, and this will be a brilliant waste of time.  Payday y’all!  Awrite! (New Orleans slang)

2:42 p.m.

Outside the bank

Southern efficiency gets me out of the bank in just over an hour. I feel bad that Phil has had to wait outside for me all this time, but it turns out that he’s still trying to parallel park the car.

3:15 p.m.

Phil’s car

We’re not running late enough, so I ask Phil to take me to see Katrina damage.  It’s devastating, still bad after four years.  Phil tells me that the French Quarter has almost no visible damage.  Phil thinks we’ve seen enough, but I ask him to drive me around for just a few minutes longer…

4:37 p.m.

The French Quarter M———— Hotel

Phil drops me off.  As he pulls away, he swerves to avoid a potted plant and runs over some unattended luggage.

The timing is perfect—the bus taking the wedding guests to the suburbs for the ceremony was scheduled to leave at 4:30—I’ve missed it (too bad!!)—so I’ll have at least a few hours to myself before everyone is back in the Quarter for the reception.

4:38 p.m.

I enter the hotel lobby and find the entire wedding party is there.  They had gathered at 4:30 to wait for the bus, which leaves at 4:45.  I fumble with some excuses about how my flight was delayed and Phil’s driving was terrible, etc., but they insist that they’ll hold the bus for me until I can change and get back downstairs.  I make up the embarrassing excuse that I need to take Immodium so that I can be okay to make it to the reception.  Now mine will be the butt of jokes all night.

5:02 p.m.

The French Quarter

I freshen up as quickly as possible, and now I’m out in the city.  Which way to Bourbon Street!

5:03 p.m.

The streets are deserted and the clubs aren’t open yet.  Just waiting for some tumbleweed to blow past.

7:15 p.m.

After spending two hours in the art galleries that pack the French Quarter—which were pretty good, actually—I head over to the E——— Restaurant for the wedding reception.  I’m early.  I see that the there’s going to be a dixieland band playing at the wedding.  I heave a sigh of relief.  This will be the first jazz music I’ve heard since the men’s room in Kenner.

9:20 p.m.

Banquet Room The E——— Restaurant

The jokes about my stomach condition are bad, but the food’s good and the band is good.  And customarily lively.  They’re doing the New Orleans version of a conga line.  As they pass me, the leader/trumpet player points to me and shouts out “Barry Manilow!  Barry Manilow!”  To be clear, I’m not Barry Manilow.  Nor do I care to believe that I look like him.  The closest I come is looking like what Barbra Streisand would look like if she were a man.  But whose business is that?  Why is he singling me out for an insult?  What the f—?

11:07 p.m.

Everyone’s getting ready to leave now.  It turns out that—customarily—the band is going to parade the wedding party down the street to the M———— Hotel.  We’ve got a few minutes, though, so I talk to the trumpet player in order to show that there are no hard feelings.  I don’t even mention the Manilow incident.  I really just want to talk to him because he’s a local.  I want to know what’s going on with music in the city.  Did a lot of musicians leave after Katrina?  Is there still a lively jazz scene here?

11:09 p.m.

The trumpet player is now insisting that I tip the band.  I ask him if the band got paid for playing tonight (yes) and tell him that tips are optional and that I didn’t see anyone tipping the band.  I ask him why he’s only asking me for a tip, not anyone else.

11:11 p.m.

He’s very persistent, and I’m forced to give him $5.  I got mugged by the band leader at my friend’s wedding.

11:23 p.m.

The street

The band is leading the procession down the street to the hotel.  Shouting loud enough so that the whole band can hear, I tell them that I gave the trumpet player $25 and to make sure that he gives each of them their $5 share.  The trumpet player is in the middle of a solo, but it’s clear from his extraordinarily puffed-out cheeks that he’s furious at me.

11:30 p.m.

Well Preserved?

Well, the party’s officially over, but many of the wedding guests are planning to go out in the city.  I’m going to go with them, I think.  And now I notice that we’ll be merging with a great rush of people who don’t appear to have  jazz, or anything else, on their minds.  The French Quarter looks like the day after Thanksgiving at Walmart.  There’s a lot of people, a lot of shouting, a lot of noise, a lot lights, and a lot of energy.  New Orleans is a lively, late, and loud town.  A rock and roll town, it seems.  If you want to hear jazz, you may need to spend some time in the airport men’s room.  In Kenner.


8:53 a.m.

The hotel lobby

Phil was supposed to pick me up 53 minutes ago to take me to the airport.  My wife is going to be pissed.  I pull out my magazine and continue reading about schadenfreude.  Someone, somewhere is feeling it right about now.