Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Back then it was like a digital prostate exam

A couple of weeks ago I was at City Hall to start the process of renewing my three Ground Transportation Bureau licenses -- pedicab operator, tour guide, and buggy driver. In the waiting room with me was was an elderly cab driver accompanied by his two young grandsons. I guess that he had babysitting duty and had decided to bring them along on his errands.

I head one of them say, "Grandpa, this is the doctor's office, isn't it?"

Grandpa's attention was focused on filling out the renewal application, and he mumbled "No" without looking up from his paperwork.

"Yes it is!" The child insisted. Then ignoring his distracted grandpa, he turned to his younger sibling and said knowingly, "This is it! I know this place. This is the doctor's office!"

This morning I had a doctor's appointment, and as soon as it was over I biked straight over to City Hall to resume my license renewal process. Walking into one waiting room fresh from the other, it struck me that while that kid might have been technically incorrect, he was definitely onto something! Dealing with the Taxicab Bureau is about as pleasant as a medical procedure.

Having said that, I'm a four-year veteran of the transportation industry now; this is my third go-round dealing with the Bureau; and to be honest, things are way better than they used to be! When I first obtained my licenses four years ago, the process was a nightmare. On a pleasantness scale, I would rate it similar to a digital prostate exam -- except much more drawn out. It took weeks if not months of repeated visits to City Hall to complete the process. Two years ago when I had to renew the licenses, things had gotten a good bit easier. More like a root canal. This time around, everything is so much more efficient and people are so much nicer, and I'd say that it's not much worse than a tetanus shot.

That's definitely progress. And whenever I'm tempted to think that nothing ever gets better in New Orleans, I need only to remind myself of this experience.

Nevertheless, I'm left with one big question: Why do we need to go through any of this at all anymore? Why do we need to undergo a federal background check and a urine test for drugs (both of which we have to pay for out of pocket); submit line letters from our employers, old utility bills as proof of residence, and an official driving record (which we also have to pay for)? In the era of Uber, whose drivers apparently manage to transport people efficiently and safely without jumping through any of these hoops, shouldn't it be obvious to everyone that the whole process is just plain silly? Or am I missing something?

Monday, November 16, 2015

It's raining money, hallelujah

I was inside the cemetery yesterday with a fine group of tourists from Iowa, or Indiana, or Illinois or some such place. I was in fine form, elaborating on our unique custom of disposing of our dead, dozens of corpses together, in above-ground brick-and-mortar boxes.

(There are 84 people interred in Marie Laveau's tomb alone and roughly 100,000 in the single city block that is St. Louis Cemetery Number One. Wanna know how that's possible? You'll just have shell out the $36 for my tour!)

So as I was saying, I was right smack in the middle of my spellbinding lecture when we were all startled by a shower of coins descending from a clear blue sky, striking our heads, and landing at our feet. Rather than wasting time pondering the source of this strange gift, I decided that the best way to show gratitude was to start shoving quarters into my pocket. A couple of my guests gathered more coins and handed them to me, evidently surmising that I needed the money worse than they did.

I still don't know for sure what was going on, but I can venture a pretty good guess. The Archdiocese which owns the cemetery recently implemented new rules in order to cut down on vandalism. Tourists aren't allowed into the cemetery unless they are accompanied by a licensed tour guide. On any given day, hundreds of people are turned away at the gate. A lot of these are pilgrims who have come to leave a gift at the tomb of the Voodoo Queen in the hope that she will make their mother-in-law sick or make them win the Powerball or something. I figure that the coins must have been tossed over the wall by some frustrated devotee of Marie Laveau who had hoped to leave them as an offering at the base of her tomb.

I just hope that I haven't upset Madame Laveau by taking a gift that was intended for her. If a wheel suddenly falls off my carriage mid-tour we'll all know why.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Can't find the trees for the forest

When I'm out on the trike I'm always on the lookout for people standing on street corners looking lost. If I don't manage to pick up a ride, I'll at least try to leave our guests with a  impression that New Orleanians are friendly, helpful folks.

Yesterday I spotted a couple who looked like suitable targets, so I stopped to offer my assistance.

"We're just looking for a bar," they said.

"Which one?" I asked.

"No particular one. Just someplace to get a drink. "

Nice! Since my grade school days I've always had an overwhelming preference for easy questions over hard ones, and I'd be hard pressed to imagine an easier question in any field than, "Where do I go to get a drink in the French Quarter?"

Did I mention that we were just a block off Bourbon? Yep. A single city block. Even if I had managed to sell them a ride, it would have been a very, very short ride!

A couple of hours later, I came across another clueless-looking couple on a corner just a couple of blocks distant from the earlier encounter.

"Can I help you find anything?" I asked.

"Yes! We're so glad you came along! We've between walking for six blocks looking for a bar and we haven't seen anything. Where's the closest place to sit down and relax and get a drink?"

I helpfully pointed out a couple of bars within spitting distance, including one that they had passed just half a block back.

Today I've decided to do an experiment. As I'm riding around looking for riders, I'd like to see if it's even theoretically possible to go six contiguous blocks in the French Quarter without passing a single bar. I'll let you know how it turns out.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

My riders remind me what a sweet gig I have

I know, I haven't been writing much lately. Part of the problem is that I haven't been pedicabbing much -- once a week maybe, sometimes not even that, and only on weeknights when things are slow and the people on the street are mostly sober, which naturally makes for fewer stories. My main gig is the mule carriage, which, while paying the bills much better than the pedicab, tends to produce less blog-worthy material.

Sometimes I wonder though whether these are just excuses. In the early days it seems like every time I finished a shift I had a story to tell. I used to say, "If I don't end up writing a book about this, it won't be for lack of material!" Lately I've been wondering whether the stories have really stopped happening or if I have somehow lost my ability to see them. I have a hard time admitting it to myself, but my last few shifts on the pedicab had been -- dare I say it -- boring. Perhaps the real problem is that I've lost my my sense of wonder.

Last Wednesday was about what you might expect from a summer weeknight shift -- in a word, slow. I was grateful to pick up a family of three -- dad, mom and daughter -- who needed transport from a French Quarter restaurant to the St. Charles streetcar stop.

I'm guessing that the girl was six or eight years old. Secure in her father's lap, she commented, "This is good because it has three wheels so you can't fall over."

"You're right." I said. "Look at me! I'm 48 years old, and I'm still riding a tricycle."

"You know, if you can have fun at your job, consider yourself fortunate," the dad chimed in. "I have the worst job in the world! I work for the TSA as an airport security screener."

"Oh my!" I replied. "I imagine that would be a pretty tough job." I spent 16 years in a career that involved a lot of international travel, I thought back over the long hours I spent waiting in airport security lines. If those hours seemed long to me, what about the guy who has to be there all day long, day in and day out! 

But the worst job in the world? "What about being a repo man?"I countered."I think that it would be even worse to be the dude who has to show up and take away someone's truck or TV set."

"No!" he said emphatically. "Trust me. My job is way worse."

"Well, I don't know whether or not anyone has ever said this to you," I told him. "But let me just say thank you for keeping us safe and protecting us from terrorists!"

"What terrorists?" he scoffed. "It's a joke!"

"Hey man, I'm trying to be on your side," I protested. "Wanna work with me a little?!"

"I really appreciate the effort," he said. "But the truth is we're not doing anything but creating illusions! I might as well be working at Disney World. At least there I would be creating illusions for people to love me, whereas at my job I'm creating illusions and everyone hates me."

As the conversation moved on to other topics the guy got a lot less grumpy, and we ended up having a pleasant ride. They were carrying a big bag of to-go boxes from the restaurant, and as they got off at their destination, they asked whether I might pass a homeless person to whom I could pass on the food, and I assured them that I would be glad to do that.

Not five minutes after dropping them off I saw a guy sitting on the sidewalk with one of those cardboard signs, and I pulled up beside him and said, "Do you think you might know someone who could use this food?" And he smiled and said, "I sure do!", and accepted it eagerly and gratefully.

I couldn't help thinking that this guy would probably be happy to trade places with the TSA officer. But as for me: I'm 48 years old; and I ride a big yellow tricycle around the French Quarter; and for that moment at least, I don't think I would have traded places with anybody in the world!

Monday, July 7, 2014

In which the Crescent City Pedicabby is forced to question his life choices

Coop's Place is a cool little dive bar/restaurant on Decatur Street in the lower French Quarter. Their signature dish is a jambalaya with rabbit meat. Back in February comedian Hannibal Buress went on the tonight show and did this delightful little monologue about New Orleans. In the course of his performance Hannibal told a story about Coop's involving an encounter with a rat in the restroom.

Here's the crazy part: For a month or two after Hannibal Burress' tonight show appearance every time I rolled past Coop's there was a line halfway down the block! 

I have to say that this precipitated a bit of a personal crisis for me. I have a bachelor of arts degree in public relations for which my parents and I spent a considerable sum of money. All these years later I discover that public relations is much simpler than my professors tried to make it. Apparently, all you have to do is start a rumor about a rat in the restroom and the public will beat a path to your door!

On a more serious note, I really hope that you will click on the link to Hannibal's Tonight Show performance because it deserves to be heard in full. If you take the time to watch the clip you will hear Coop's defense -- which is essentially that given the age of the buildings and the proximity to the Mississippi River there isn't a five star restaurant in the Quarter that doesn't have rats. Fair enough. Personally, I eat at Coop's and don't hesitate to recommend it to others.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

My policy

If I'm going to rent a place that comes with roommates, they better be helping pay the rent!

Sunday, March 2, 2014


No, no, no! Most of the signs along the length of Frenchmen Street get it right, but this one at the intersection of Elysian Fields is all wrong. It's Frenchmen Street not Frenchman. There were SIX of them.

Here's how it all went down: In 1762 France gave Louisiana to Spain in a secret treaty -- so secret that the people who actually lived here didn't even find out about it till a couple of years after the fact. So when the Spanish governor finally showed up to take charge, apparently nobody was glad to see him. Turns out everybody pretty much wanted to be French even though France didn't want them. So they had this little rebellion, and the governor got scared and got right back on the boat. Then the next governor came and rounded up six ringleaders of the rebellion and had them shot right about the spot where Frenchmen Street now starts at Esplanade (in front of the old Mint). So Frenchmen Street was named in honor of those six -- count them, SIX! -- Frenchmen who died there because they wanted to be French men and not Spanish men.

If the guy who did this street sign had taken my carriage tour, he would have known better. He's probably one of those guys who walk by me every day, and I say, "Would you like to do a carriage tour?", and they say, "No, I'm a local."

Fun history-repeats-itself footnote: Ninety-three years after the death of the Frenchmen... Um, can we just round off to a hundred? Because it sounds better, and I'm a tour guide after all, not a history professor. So anyway, a hundred years later (more or less), the Union troops took New Orleans in the Civil War and raised the American flag from the Mint. And this local guy by the name of William Mumford climbed up on the Mint, tore down the flag, tore it into pieces, and passed them out to his friends. So there on the same spot (more or less) where the six Frenchmen had been executed one hundred years earlier (more or less), William Mumford was hanged for the same crime (more or less) -- refusing to recognize the new political reality!