Four Ford vans and an impeccably on time Southwest Airlines delivered us safely to New Orleans on Saturday. Other than waking up at 4:00am, my flight was painless. Rain, road construction, and wrong turns made the students’ trips a little more interesting.
I arrived at Louis Armstrong International Airport just before noon, right at the time Tom and Chelsea’s group was entering New Orleans. Because I still had to deal with baggage claim and car rental, I sent them to Marrero to meet with the Operation helping Hands volunteer coordinator about housing. Then we decided to meet for the Irish Channel St. Patrick’s Parade Uptown.
In between, I drove in to see if I could hook up with the jazz funeral for Herman Ernest, Dr. John’s long-time drummer. It had been advertised, but rather cryptically, and I was left to solve this cultural puzzle. I made it to St. Louis III, just as the funeral procession of hearse and limousines arrived. No horse-drawn coffin – another illusion gone. I know it happens, but not here. I followed the crowd to the interment – it was clear that if there was a jazz funeral, it would be later and not here. I did see Mr. Rebennack, i.e. Dr. John, paying his respects two days before being inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The crowd drifted away and I headed up to St. Charles Avenue.
The parade was fun, but since I have been several years running, most of the fun comes from watching the students’ response. First time around, no amount of beads it too much. Watching your first cabbage thrown from two stories – it is true! And we were all amazed the populace could show such enthusiasm just four days removed from the end of Mardi Gras. It is New Orleans after all.
We went to Madonna Manor where we met up with the other two groups from my class, claimed rooms and beds for the week, exchanged war stories, and took long-overdue showers. We sent housing information to the remaining group, which was still an hour or more away, and went into the City.
I intentionally let the groups move about on their own, so they could absorb New Orleans at their own pace in their own way, one beignet at a time. I moved about gingerly, due to a recent Achilles tendon injury. I was a bit creaky, but everything worked with minimum pain. I took in my requisite five or six blacks of Bourbon Street, but like the students was happy to absorb the sights and sounds. I went to the Spotted Cat where Ben Schenk and his cohorts entertained me and dozens of unmet friends with their infectious blend of traditional jazz, Caribbean, and Klezmer.
But I was exhausted and all I had done was sit in an airplane. The rest of group filtered back and crashed, resting up for our first, full-day in New Orleans. And the only one prior to beginning work on Monday.