Bourbon Street pt. 1: Working the Big Game

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Seven years ago, after moving here from Florida, I spent some weeks working at a fine-dining restaurant on Bourbon Street. I watched the place’s white-table-cloth-and-piano-jazz mood killed over-and-over by the constant stream of stumbling Yankee pukers passing outside the picture window, until finally they turned it into a sports bar called The Frat House. I went on to work at better, or at least more tolerable restaurants and bars in other more realistic parts of this city, and even managed to escape the Service Industry entirely for several years. But now as I plan my escape from New Orleans (surely I’ll return; I just need a break; god do I need a break) I find myself again tending bar on Bourbon Street.

“You need to hurry and squeeze in your three, three-hour training shifts this weekend,” said my new boss, a big burly older dude who seems mellower and more understanding than most who’ve been in charge of me. “That way you can be ready to work the big Ohio State vs. LSU game Monday.” So badly in need am I, that wading into a crowd of drunk football fans sounds absolutely desirable.

From the ceiling hangs an 8-funnel beer-bong. Part of my new job (at 33-years-old, mind you) entails climbing up onto the bar to prepare and fill “the octopus” — as involved a process as loading an M16. One busy night, another bartender supposedly climbed onto the bar 39 times. My first short training shift, only three times did I pour Bud Light down the long plastic tubes into the mouths of incredibly wasted Ohio State fans — I don’t watch sports, so hold no bias, but I can say that LSU fans definitely hold their liquor better. Most of these red jerseys were big handsome, dark-haired Midwestern dudes who looked like men, although, so far they were only big, hyper-sexual teens, sharing much talk of kicking various asses: LSU’s, their own friends’, mine. Anything else more neutral that was said, they twisted into aggressive sexual metaphors, brags or promises. For instance: up on the bar, looking down on their group of six already cross-eyed drunk chug-a-luggers spilling all over themselves, I joked, “You guys are in school, don’t you know how gravity works?”

“Yeah, sure,” one guy burped, “look at [boobs],”.

When they couldn’t work the bong’s spigots, the bar-back snarled, “None of you boys are engineering majors?”

To which another manchild responded, “At Ohio State we engineer _____”…you know what.

Speaking of boobs. Somewhere in all this mess, a local, not-so-young-but-hot-enough stripper with braces and deep cleavage framed in cashmere, sat and promised, “Give me a free drink and I’ll show you…” But before her sentence had ended, she’d pulled her sweater down and freed them completely. I thanked her and mixed her drink. She paid for it anyway. The fates somehow fit every last Bourbon cliché into my first measly three-hour shift.

Unequivocally, more of the weekend’s crowd wore Ohio red. LSU chants were consistently shouted-down by much grander and more varied Ohio chants. In between, I would overhear these red jerseys hooting to each other, “Screw it dude, we’re in New Orleans man! Hell yeah!” Here, I would often interrupt and point out to them how obviously glad they were to not be in Ohio: “You think if any of us came and visited y’all,” I asked them directly, “we would at any point exclaim, ‘Hell yeah dude, we’re in Ohio!’?” And that would actually strike them dumb(er), before they nodded agreement.

While, for the most part, the partisan arguing did seem jovial, one Ohioan though, took the rivalry seriously enough that he made me, in total earnest, drink a swig of the fresh Crown and Coke I served him, to “make sure you didn’t pee in it.”

“Pee in it? Are you insane?” I’d previously felt not the slightest disgruntlement toward any of these people; though part of me may hate this bad party, and none of me relates to it, most of me considers it hilarious, fascinating, and (hopefully) lucrative. But pee in his drink? “That’s messed up you’d even think that, dude,” I continued. “First of all, I could give a damn about football — except the Saints, sometimes. Plus — and I don’t know how they do it back home, but — people in New Orleans are cool. We treat visitors cool. No matter how stupid they are.”

Although fun enough, those three hours did seem to equal at least one lifetime. Driving home afterward into the Bywater (only $20 in my pocket; no tips for training, and only half the normal shift-pay; my new boss promises me that their regular $40 shift-pay is the highest on Bourbon), I crossed down Frenchmen Street, which I also often consider to be a party goon zone, albeit with better music. But after a night on Bourbon, semi-crowded Frenchmen felt like a real nice, normal party. Until a made-up blonde woman choked in a pink boa fell against my car window. “I know this sounds really strange,” she said, barely gripping a big, full Port-of-Call cup, “but we can’t get a cab and we will pay you to take us somewhere.”

I rolled down the window of my very tiny, 89 Honda. “Where?”

“Bourbon Street.”

I told her O.K., because people here treat visitors cool. And because Bourbon was about 200-feet away. The lady shouted her friends over, then fell right in up against me. Her breath felt so close and grateful on my cheek that I knew, before this ride was over, she would kiss me. Her friends, all five of them, with five more full Port-of-Call cups, began piling into my microscopic backseat. “Oh hey, y’all,” I stopped them, “I can’t drive you \anywhere with alcohol in the car. I’m sorry.” But they happily deposited their $50 worth of drinks on the curb. The blonde lady’s mouth brushed my ear as we drove and I asked,

“So where are you all from?”

“The Westbank.”

Which made even less sense. Four blocks from their departure point, I let them out. The blonde tipped me $10. No kiss.

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