Saturday, September 1, 2012

Regarding civil ordinances and also aliens.

Working in the French Quarter at night is a strange experience, as I’m sure the hundreds of people who do so can attest. Since I work as a tour guide for an agency which prides itself upon its numerous ghost, vampire and other-supernatural-beasties tours, I encounter not only the world’s weirdest tourists, but also the most bizarre co-workers and acquaintances New Orleans has to offer.

Don’t get me wrong, the other guides I work with are really quite nice people, and I know that if I ever got into a pinch while out and about ‘round Bourbon Street, any one of them would make sure I made it safely back to my car, but good Lord some of them are strange little men and women.

One of the older guides, whose family came to New Orleans as part of Iberville’s original settlement in 1692, is a wonderfully caring and pleasant grandfatherly type. He also carries a gigantic staff with a skull on the top of it, which he addresses as Yorek. Another guide grew up in India and wonderfully intelligent, having come to New Orleans to complete his dissertation. That was seven years ago, and I’m pretty sure that paper still isn’t finished. New Orleans does that to people. It sucks you in, and runs through your veins a little more every day. I think it’s funny that his accent, discernible but not thick in regular conversation, suddenly becomes overpowering when talking with tourists. 

Along with guides and tourists and pirates, the Quarter is full of street performers of every kind, musicians and artists and tarot card readers and actors and dancers and the occasional eight-foot-tall costumed neon demon/alien/thing. Actually, I only know one of those. His name is Joe, and he wanders the Quarter in his demon suit nightly, snapping pictures with tourists and I hope collecting enough tips to make it worth it. He’s a nice dude, and stops by to chat with guides while we wait to go out on tour. Tonight, he was talking about how absurd it is that the city is cracking down on an outdated ordinance which dictates that no street performers are allowed in the Quarter after 8 p.m., which resulted in him getting a ticket recently on his walk home in demon-garb.

I had a moment of surrealism on my bike ride home. I realized that I’d had an intelligent conversation tonight about evolving civil law and discourse with a spattering of the strangest people I’ve ever met (and also a man on stilts, dressed in a skin-tight alien costume), while tourists milled about the door of the Voodoo shop where we guides hang, and that this was my life now. It felt normal, and happy, and laced with that brilliant, viral New Orleans character, that luscious urban heartbeat that is part acid and part light, and I realized that however much I miss my Midwest mountains, New Orleans is my home now, too, and it’s never gonna let me go.

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