The Big Easy and Bourbon Street Party Scene Starts Early For People From the South Because it’s in Their Blood
When a baby is born in the South – and I know this to be true because I was one of them – before it is given over to the mother and the near passed-out father, the doctor and nurse do something very sneaky.
But very good for the kid later in life.
They inject it with a little flavor of New Orleans.
And that is the reason that everyone in the South just loves the Big Easy, because it’s in their blood.
I’ll never forget my first trip to New Orleans. I was a sophomore in high school and our band director came up with the crazy idea – or so it seemed to our parents – of taking us adolescents to march in the Mardi Gras parades.
Of course, us adolescents thought it was a great idea, although we had no idea what New Orleans was like what Mardi Gras parades were all about or, frankly, much outside of our hometown of Knoxville, TN. West High School seemed wild to us (and, indeed, looking back on it, we were not entirely wrong in that assessment).
Perhaps our band director, Mr. Zimmerman, felt we could handle New Orleans. Or perhaps he was just hoping we would get lost on Bourbon Street.
Well, we did find Bourbon Street, all right! A small group of us “cool people” (accompanied against our wishes by one Tommy Leg whose father – and I’m not kidding here – was named Harry) headed there the first afternoon.
What awaited us was an electric charge of the senses. Those injections the doc gave us as kids were coming to life, sending us into sensory overload. Women’s legs swinging out from a bar window (well, the legs were fake; we could only imagine what was inside), beer cups on the street, no cars, and a seemingly endless line of bars. It was too early for any of them to be open or anyone else to be on the street (maybe 10 in the morning) but we could tell we were in the middle of a a great party place.
From the balconies, hookers began flipping garter belts onto the street. Someone along the way told us that if we picked up the garter, we were accepting their invitation to join them. Only Tommy Leg picked one up, which prompted one of the girls to yell, “Hey, this is Bourbon Street. Sesame Street is the other way!”
We had a big laugh and Tommy disappeared around the corner.
Now, tho, there are no hookers on the balconies – not even close – but I swear, they existed at the time.
We returned at night – sneaking past our band director’s curfew – and OH MY GOSH!!! There were people everywhere. We were obviously far too young to get into a bar but one thing we quickly learned about New Orleans is that you don’t have to go into a bar on Bourbon Street in order to have fun.
The street actually has more action (and for those old enough, beer and booze is sold from windows and portable bars) and we were in heaven. And we had not even been in a Mardi Gras parade yet.
Well that came soon enough but unfortunately we were at the parades outside of New Orleans. I remember marching forever – the parades are several moles long – with the only savior being that I was on the end of the line. I played alto saxophone and the girls love that instrument. They came out of the crowd and wanted to put beads around the neck. And around my neck.
Then one girl planted a HUGE kiss right on my lips, and this seemed to inspire other girls. Next thing I knew, my neck was heavy from beads, my sax was heavy from beads, my hat was on sideways. And I was smiling! I was the only member of the band who did not mind the length of the parades.
But I can never forgot that first memorable trip as a high school sophomore.
And it’s just not me, it’s everyone from the South. They know New Orleans as well as they know their own hometown. Every cover band at every bar on Bourbon Street plays “Sweet Home Alabama”, and the sound of it brings Southerners running into the place to hear it.
People wear t-shirts from their Southern school and may hate each other on fall Saturdays, but in New Orleans they all have something in common. Like me, when they are in New Orleans, that doctor’s injection makes their blood tingle.