161 TAKE ME TO THE RIVER

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TAKE ME TO THE RIVER

Within an hour we were on our way to Louisiana. Carynne had left me some specific notes about our route through Alabama and Mississippi, where to stop for food and such. Don’t Fuck Around she had pencilled in block letters on the page with the route outlined and although I didn’t figure she meant it literally we spent the minimum amount of time necessary to do what we had to in rest stops and at roadside restaurants.

There really are Denny’s in every conceivable corner of this nation. We’d all gotten to the point where we knew what day of the week was for which soup and I was actually looking forward to the next vegetable beef day.

Eleven hours is a long fucking drive. I almost wanted to spend more of it driving than riding because I seemed not to get as bored, although I got more tired. While driving, in my head I’d do these little calculations, like, if we drove from Boston to New York, how many times could we have gone back and forth in eleven hours? That was to New York, back to Boston, and almost all the way back to New York again. That was driving between Philadelphia and my old house more than seven times.

There’s a lot of nothing in parts of Louisiana.

I had no idea what to expect when we pulled up to our hotel in New Orleans past midnight. Some cities would have been shuttered up by then and we’d be lucky to have one sleepy, overnight clerk check us in.

Not here. A whole bunch of brass-buttoned door men and bell hops (all black, I noticed) stood like an idle army around the driveway and in the lobby, some of them coming alive as we pulled up, while others waited in reserve (in case there should be a mad midnight rush to check in?). The lobby was lively with people in everything from elegant formal wear to tacky French Quarter T-shirts, cameras around their necks. A fountain bubbled, people laughed, and what I thought at first was piped-in Muzak turned out to be a jazz combo of piano, stand up bass, and drums in one potted-plant-secluded corner of the open air bar.

I made Kevin handle check-in while I hovered around the three bell guys handling the bags and instruments. Every now and then one of them would catch me looking and tip his hat at me and smile. Then they started asking me questions, where were we playing, how long we were staying, that kind of stuff, and I told them and they seemed to genuinely care about the answers, chiding me for not spending more time in the city and telling me I’d be back soon once I’d had a taste.

This banter continued right up the elevator and into our rooms while they set our bags down where indicated. We had three rooms at the end of a hall, one bigger than the others and two connecting on either side. I tipped the three of them out of my pocket cash and then went to the wide window in the suite. It looked over some kind of low shopping mall on the Mississippi River. Boats were pulled up to a pier there, some kind of pleasure river boats, their railings lit with tiny white bulbs. I could see people walking along the plaza and down the main street parallel to the river. The sound of cars reached me.

Midnight appeared to be a fine hour for New Orleans.

Ziggy and Bart both came up to the window.

“That’s pretty,” Ziggy said.

“No lie, bwana,” Bart added. “Should we go out? What time do we have to be up?”

I yawned but felt more tired than sleepy. “We don’t have to be anywhere until tomorrow afternoon.”

Ziggy. “Let’s go then.”

Bart was already headed for the door. “Where are we going?”

“In this town, you don’t have to go anywhere. Let’s just have a look around.” Ziggy dug into his backpack and pulled out a black tank top. He traded his T-shirt for it and ran his hands through his hair.

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