People told me that New Orleans would make a mark and, as I look at my first tattoo neatly printed on my ankle, I can only agree.
I arrived in the Big Easy on a muggy Wednesday afternoon and made my way Uptown to where I was Couchsurfing. When I arrived the house’s front door was already ajar so I cautiously pushed it open to reveal a small dining room table, a couple of couches and a bookshelf which held the complete works of George Orwell, William Shakespeare and Hugh Hefner.
A guy was relaxing on one of the couches. Sporting a beard, bandana, and sunglasses, he introduced himself as Mark.
“Are you one of the hosts?” I asked, shaking his hand.
“Nope, that’d be Marc, Matthew and Ken. Not sure where they are.” He picked up a guitar and started ear tuning it. He told me that he had come to New Orleans from Boston to check out the music scene.
“Nice.” I pointed at the instrument in his hands, “I play guitar also.”
“You do? Awesome.” He casually plucked something so stirring it caused rainbows to flow from my ears. As I watched his fingers trickle along the frets I thought that this guy didn’t just play the guitar he was raised by guitars.
Once he finished he held it out for me to strum. Nervously, I took it and mangled the first few bars of Stairway to Heaven.
“No Stairway!” Called a voice from down the hall. Mark laughed as I sheepishly handed him back the guitar. A guy bounded in, he had shoulder length brown hair and wore a bandana too. He grinned grabbing my hand, “Just joking man, I’m Max.”
“Max also plays guitar,” said Mark.
“Ah,” was all I could think to say.
A blonde woman wearing a black top and black tights entered behind Max, who introduced us, “This is Shallon, my girlfriend.” She leaned over and shook my hand. “We’re from Maine.” Max told me. He explained how they had decided to just pick up and drive off a few weeks earlier and had arrived in NOLA where they wanted to stay. Shallon looked at my backpack, “So have you been travelling for long?” She asked.
I figured that maybe my travels would compensate for my lacklustre musical abilities. “Oh yeah,” I said, “I’ve mainly been taking the train around the East and Midwest.” I described my route through Hawaii, L.A., D.C., Philadelphia, New York, Chicago and St. Louis.
“Cool,” said Mark, “by yourself?”
I nodded, patting my big blue backpack, “Just me and ol’ blue.” I accidently appended an extra ‘b’ to the word ‘blue’ so I actually said, “bloob”.
“Bloob?” Max repeated, looking at my pack.
I tried to save face by rolling with it, “Uh, yeah. That’s right, it’s an inside joke that I have going with… myself.”
“Well that sounds like a great trip, really impressive,” said Shallon.
“Thanks.” I gazed out the window trying to look deep, “you know, sometimes the cosmos just whispers to you saying its time to go walkabout and who am I to say no?”
At that moment another young woman floated in through the front door carrying only a small rucksack. She stood in the doorway looking at us with a serene gaze, saying nothing.
“Uh, hi, I’m Mark.” said Mark breaking the silence. “Are you Couchsurfing here too?”
“Yes.” She said with a German accent, “I arrived in New Orleans yesterday.” Mark introduced each of us. We learned her name was Bea.
“Rupert was just describing his trip to us,” Max said, sliding into a seat at the table. I turned to Bea and repeated my itinerary and the pretentious schtick about the cosmos.
She nodded impassively, “Okay.”
“So what about you Bea?” Asked Shallon.
“Yeah, what about you Bea,” I thought to myself, smarting from her tepid response to my travel story, which I thought was the most intrepid tale since Lawrence of Arabia.
“Oh, I’ve just been travelling for the last year and a half,” replied Bea sitting down on one of the couches. She explained how she’d finished high school but decided to travel and self-educate rather than go to university and had since hitchhiked, squatted and dumpster dived her way across the much of the known world. She described the communities of anarchists and squatters she had met in Australia, her time in Indonesia and how she’d spent the previous two weeks hitchhiking through the depths of Florida before ending up in New Orleans where she’d spent her first night sleeping on a park bench. Oh, did I mention that she was only 20?
Shallon whistled one of those ‘oh boy’ whistles. I pretended to concentrate on one of my backpack’s straps while my brain, supportive as usual, scoffed at me, “Lawrence of Arabia, Denton? C’mon, compared to that story you’re just a frightened old man on a Contiki tour.”
Max banged his hand on the table, “Well that’s the most impressive travel story I’ve ever heard.” He looked at me, “I mean, yours is still good but… hitchhiking… you know.” He stood up and looked from Shallon to Mark, “Anyway, it’s getting late. You guys ready to go?”
I asked what they were up to. “Heading out busking, wanna come? We’re taking the Trolley car.”
“Sure,” I said, “let me just put ol’ blooby in my room.”
“Blooby?” Bea asked.
“It’s what he calls his backpack,” Shallon told her.
As I carried blooby down the hallway looking for a room with a spare couch I reflected that, at least as a musician or a traveller, I was no match for these people.
No, I’d have to prove myself in another way. I’d have to busk.