maandag 18 maart 2019

New Orleans

A friend posted a meme on Facebook. "I also want to die in New Orleans". Actually, it's the title of a recently released album by Sun Kil Moon. I wanted to add a short comment, but then I kept on writing, so many memories in my mind from almost 40 years ago. Let's copy my 'short comment' here.

Dear friend. It's a nice town, but alive it's just a bit more fun then being found dead there. I've been there with my girlfriend in 1980, we rented an apartment in old downtown French Quarter. Jazz and blues all around us in the streets. It was the first time I've ever seen a real gun, a gold coloured revolver. A 17 year old boy who showed me the gun told me he had stopped shooting people. He felt he was to old for that now.

The owner of the apartment block thought I was a burglar, when I was waiting in the hall for my girlfriend who had the key. I was lucky my girlfriend came back just in time. The owner told me he used to shoot first, then talk. The first time I heard that expression, and it was for real.

The man whom we rented the apartment from had two adjacent apartments with a connecting door. He explained to us why. When the police came with a search warrant, he could slip through the door to the other apartment for which the police would need to get another warrant, giving him the chance to get away.

We were hitchhiking for a year through North America. On our way to New Orleans we were picked up by five guys in a big classic American automobile. They were just coming from an offshore oil rig heading to New Orleans for the weekend, looking for some hookers. My girlfriend was the only woman in the car - a mistake that we had never made before but it was getting late, we were tired and it started to rain, so we had accepted the ride. The guys started talking dirty about my girlfriend, and I was really getting worried about her safety.

The highway to New Orleans is a many miles long bridge through the swamps, no houses, no turning left or right, nowhere to go. There were three guys in the back of the car, I was sitting next to the driver, my girlfriend next to me and next to her another guy, all pushed together in the front of the car. The driver had told me where he came from and had said that he was a Southern Baptist. I asked him whether he was baptized (which I know is done in that church only after a testimony of faith as an adult) and when he nodded I started to talk to him about his faith and the responsibility that came with it. While the guys in the back started talking more and more aggressively about my girlfriend, I made the driver personally responsible for whatever would happen to her, and he seemed to understand the message.

It was a relief when we finally entered the city, but then we were shocked when the driver spotted an eight years old black boy on the side of the street and he pulled his car straight to the boy, shouting "ah, a nigger!". I still can see the fear in the boy's eyes when he turned around and saw the car coming straight at him, only turning away at the last moment.

A few minutes later we could finally leave the car and we had made it safe. We had one address where we could stay a few days, the aunt of someone we had met before. A white lady who was a professor at an all black college. First we went to a grocery store to get some food, but the shelves were almost empty. At the entrance there was a sign "Cashier carries no money. Armed guard in the back."

We went across the street, into a bar. We ordered a drink and I called the professor. She asked me where we were and if there were any whites in the bar. I was very surprised by her question, hadn't thought of that at all, so I looked around and told her: no, there are only black people here. Then she asked if I could ask for the owner of the bar to come to the phone. Again I was very surprised by her question, but I did as she said, I asked who the boss was and he came to the phone.

Later we heard that she did exactly the same as I had done, she made the owner personally responsible for our safety until she was there to pick us up. She told him who she was, professor of a renowned black university and that we were her guests.

While we were waiting for her, an old man, 80+, put a nickel in the juke box, chose an old blues song and started to dance alone on the wooden floor of the bar. We felt safe and very much at home there.

When the professor came to pick us up, she and I thanked the people in the bar for their care. In the car the professor explained to us that we had been in a neighborhood where even police and fire brigade often refuse to go, out of concern for their safety. We had picked the right bar and her good name had done the rest.

Our way out of the city, after we had stayed a few days in her suburban house and a week in the old apartment downtown, was just as exciting as the beginning. We got a long ride North with a black truck driver. On one condition. My girlfriend had to hide behind the curtains of the driver's sleeping compartment, for at least a 100 miles. We could talk but she shouldn't show her face. The driver explained that if anyone saw him with a white woman, he would be reported and lose his job. A white man was just about acceptable.

The man told us that he had been marching with Martin Luther King, knowing that police were prepared to shoot with live ammunition, and that several of his friends had lost their lives during the protests.

New Orleans is a wonderful city, worth a visit, but a louzy place to die.

There is a House in New Orleans. They call it the Rising Sun. It's been the ruin of many a poor boy. And God, I know I am one.

Geen opmerkingen:

Een reactie posten