Sunday, August 6, 2017

Here comes the rain again

It was close to two in the afternoon on Saturday, and John Boutte was playing under the tent at the Satchmo Festival. The lawn beneath the tent - the lawns everywhere at the Old U.S. Mint - was thickly mulched with pine straw, although it failed to completely staunch the oozing black mud that had been generated by a torrential downpour yesterday. New Orleanians have learned that tall rubber boots are de rigueur festival footwear.

Still, the band was rocking. The canopied bar area was full of people drinking margaritas, bloody marys, and frozen daiquiris. You could smell the delicious aromas from the food tents - smoked sausage, meat pies, fried catfish.

There were grey clouds looming over the French Quarter, but no one seemed to mind. As the first faint drops of rain spattered down, I found the corner of a picnic table in a sheltered spot.

I'd taken the bus to the festival, but I knew it would be impossible to catch the bus back home to the Bywater. It never seems to come on time, going downtown. Whenever I go to the French Quarter, I take an Uber or Lyft back home.

The rain was coming down more steadily now, so I unfurled my umbrella and walked out of the festival grounds. I figured it would be easier to catch a ride downriver from Elysian Fields, so I started walking.

On Frenchmen Street, the rain grew stronger. A stretch golf-cart full of young men careened around the corner. "Don't stop believing!" they sang at the top of their drunken lungs. I held my umbrella high and made for the shelter of the gallery in front of Bamboula's.

The cart stopped right in front of the club and they all piled out, crowding the sidewalk I took inventory. Mardi Gras beads around their necks? Check. Backward baseball caps? Check. Plastic "hand grenade" vessels? Check. One of them flipped his cup end over end into a dumpster while his companions roared approval.

"C'mon in, we'll buy you a drink," one of them beckoned me.

"No, but thanks all the same," I said, and continued on, turning on Chartres. By the time I got to the neutral ground at Elysian Fields, the downpour was fierce, and I was wading in two inches of water.

I was soaked to the skin from my feet to halfway up my thighs. Two more blocks and I could see the green facade of The Friendly Bar. A couple of women sat at outdoor tables. I splashed across the street and went inside, took a barstool.

"Damn, it's wet out there!" I said.

I was there for the next hour and a half.

There were about six people in the bar, plus others who came and went. One woman peeked out the door to see whether her car down the block was still out of the water. The bartender propped open the front door so we could see the rain pouring down. It poured, it gushed, it cascaded down from the edge of the overhang. It pooled by the storm sewer drain, spreading out into the street. Cars drove by raising frothy wakes of water. "Asshole!" someone said as the wave lapped up onto the sidewalk.

We were later to learn that the city took on over 7 inches of rain in some areas, causing massive flooding in low-lying places. Here in the "sliver by the river" we were a bit luckier than most.

I summoned an Uber. Six minutes, the app said, but I watched on the little screen as my ride sat in the same place for over five minutes, without moving. I cancelled it and called another. Monique, in a Honda Accord slowly drove down Elysian Fields. She was two blocks away from me, but I watched as she u-turned and headed back where she came from. Was she going to St. Claude? No. She drove away and cancelled my ride. I guess an Accord is too low to the ground to deal with the deep water now pooling curb to curb in the intersection.

Overhead a bright flash and an almost instantaneous crash of thunder. "Jeez, that was close!" someone said.

A brief lull, and the sky brightened. As we stood out on the sidewalk, we watched a person in skull-face makeup and a white tulle gown picking their way through the puddles, walking up Mandeville Street.

Only in New Orleans. ( My friend Deja recognized her friend when I posted this on Facebook. I tagged the photo and told them that I thought they were beautiful.)

A third try at Uber, also aborted. "I guess I could wait it out and walk," I said.

"Hey," said a woman. "I'll give you a ride home."

"Really?" I asked. "That's so kind of you. I hope it's not out of your way."

"No problem. I'm just going to go get my car, it's parked on the neutral ground." She headed off.

By the time she pulled up to the curb, the sky had darkened, and the rain was coming down again.

Her name was Nicole, or "call me Cole," she said. "What do you think, should we go Chartres or St. Claude?"

"There's always a big puddle on Chartres at Press Street when it rains," I said. "Maybe St. Claude is better."

When we turned on St. Claude, we could see the train blocking the intersection. "Shit!" This was becoming a real adventure.  Cole made a U-turn and we headed north on Franklin, then, skirting a huge pool of water in front of the Burger King, drove up the incline on Robertson, rising over the tracks.

We zig-zaged through the narrow streets of the Bywater. "This is what I had to do yesterday," she said, "coming home in yesterday's rainstorm!"

"Be careful of the pothole," I told her as we neared my block. "It's a real lake, today."

She let me off at my house. "Maybe I'll catch you another time," I said. "At the Friendly Bar."

Here's to the kindness of so many people, when the harsh rains fall.

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