Friday, May 30, 2008

The Big Easy Love

I have a confession to make. There’s a new woman in my life. She is someone I met when I worked the barges on the Mississippi decades back. I thought I knew her then, but I didn’t. Not really. And this last week we met again. Needless to say, it was a sultry Saturday night.

I recognized her right away. She is older than ever, and she looks it. The cracks run deep through her foundation but she doesn’t seem to care. She’s shabby and worn, though that’s the essence of her charm. Her laugh is big and easy. Her embrace is sloppy and cloying. But I don’t care. She has a staying power that will keep a man up all night long.

Had I spent just a little more time with her all those years ago, without doubt my life would have traveled a different arc. I would have worn different robes, shot through with searing reds, voodoo greens, and shimmering gold. I could have been a dandy peacock. I could have been a fire-blooded mercenary. I would have been a different man.

If I’m going on too long, blame it on the clatter of desire. If I am willing to throw away everything I once cherished and give myself wholly to these new charms, blame it on the hot swoon of love. For I am now a man with two mistresses, master of neither, slave to both.

My new love, of course, is New Orleans. A dangerous mistress if there ever was, her levy system keeps the citizens from drowning in their own sorrows. Most of the time. A short drive out of the French Quarter and over the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal, and you will see those sorrows firsthand.

Three years after the flood, this lowland is a mixed bag of abandonment and neglect that surround pockets that glimmer with foolhardy hope. This is the truth of New Orleans.

Of course, the truth of New Orleans is more than drained swampland. It is the gawk of rolling tourism, in all its forms…

… and rambling old houses that snooze in wild gardens.

It is full-buffet steamboats and tuneless calliope ballads…

… and cranky old street cars named St. Charles.

It is a bell hop working the swing shift and dreaming of the great escape. It is desire on a signpost.

It is a blue dog with sad yellow eyes.

It is the sight of a beautiful girl within the blur of a street party.

But most of all, New Orleans is love. It is a love that begins with the quiet surprise that you’ve just tasted something completely right and perfect.

It is the zoom of love’s first bite.

It is the burn that seeps through your bones until it becomes a part of you, until, somehow you are filled to overflowing with peace. And as you give yourself over to this dangerous love—helplessly, willingly—you will undoubtedly concoct dreams designed to keep you as close as possible to this feeling forever.

And maybe, if you’re like me (after a few drinks, perhaps), you might tell your travel companion that it’s time to stop the never-ending road trip. That it’s time to sell the house back in Oregon. That it’s time to hunt for a run-down charmer on the coolest block in town. That you’ll get a job close by (anything will do). Build a network of like-minded friends. Make art. Write books. And never, ever leave.

But then came the clarity of morning’s light, and in that light I took leave of New Orleans, just as I did those twenty some years ago. But the love I feel for her lingers on, deepening as its texture and composition changes with the passing years. And in the bus, heading into the morning sun, I see that I have no need for different robes; I see that the love I feel toward this old mistress is, in truth, the love I feel for my best friend, my partner, my mistress, my everything.


  1. Van Man,
    Awesome post on New Orleans. When are you making it up to northern Wisconsin. That air conditioner in the van will better serve as an anchor for our boat, once we set sail to the greatest steak house in the northern hemisphere. Bring a sweatshirt. It gets cold at 8:00PM. The sun sets at 9:00PM
    Big R

  2. Van Man,
    I love the photo of the pimp ride. Im the guy that meet u on the ferry ride across mobile bay, the "pig-killer" i love all of the blogs so far. Keep up the ride and remember the road goes on forever and the party never ends!!!

  3. Big R!
    We're aiming for your place. It's not if but when. Which is to say we'll be there before the snow flies. What's the name of your boat? I'm thinking "Edmund Fitzgerald".

    Hey, Slaughterman!
    Great to hear from you! You inspired me to paint the bus chartreuse. Now all I need are 11 long haired friends. Might have to wait to get back to Eugene, OR find those, though.