Behind the wheel: My birthday week in the Crescent City

Andre SalvailThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado

NEW ORLEANS, La. – Finally, after seven months of working and living in Aspen without ever going past the roundabout, I was able to get away last week for a short vacation in New Orleans, my former home. I needed some R&R – you know, rest and relaxation – but that’s not what I ended up getting. Still, it was a killer birthday week. I know this because at the very moment I’m writing this, I can hear my liver speaking directly to me, begging for help. In the form of a break in the action? In the form of another highball? I can’t be sure; the liver doesn’t always communicate so clearly. Innocently enough, or perhaps not, the celebration got under way on Thursday the 27th with an afternoon crawl through the French Quarter with friends. We hit all of our favorite dive bars from the Esplanade end of Decatur to the intersection of Canal and Bourbon Street. Inside the dank and musty venues, the beer was flowing smoothly; outside, the weather was spectacular and atypical: sunny in the low 70s, with little humidity.It was pleasant and relatively uneventful, until some slovenly man at the end of the bar at Johnny White’s caused a scene and was kicked out at around 3 p.m. That’s not so unusual, given the nature of the location. But for some reason his pants fell down to his ankles as he stepped onto the uneven curb. He walked down the street that way, then stopped next to a garbage can to count a big wad of ones, oblivious to his condition. The tourists ate it up and got some footage. It was funny until New Orleans’ finest showed up and took him to Central Lockup, a place I am sure the man frequents. We all felt sorry for the guy. As the spicy tequila shots wore on, the trip proceeded to pick up steam. We rolled through Harrah’s Casino, shooting craps and hitting lots of numbers on rapid roulette. We heard the up-and-coming blues band, Major Bacon, at Bourbon Saloon. We ate catfish po’ boys and deep-fried pickles at Tracey’s on Magazine. We talked to Debbie, the lovely owner of Tchoup 45. There was so much to do and so little time.On Sunday I ended up at VoodooFest, a fairly major music event at City Park. A lot of the same bands that roll through Colorado were there. The Givers put on a pretty good end-of-the-tour performance in the middle of the day. Fishbone’s weird ska thing was OK; the Original Meters were a funky, predictable affair. Cheap Trick was solid and pleased the crowd.My favorite act came from the legendary Ray Davies, whose compact one-hour set featured some of my favorite Kinks’ tunes: “Dead-End Street,” “Sunny Afternoon” and “All Day and All of the Night.” The aging rocker rolled it out hard and sardonically; unfortunately, his show ended abruptly. The fest closed with an eerie green laser show hovering above the tall southern oaks. I can’t say much more about the vacation because we would be getting into R-rated territory. Halloween was anticlimactic. I was a hippie; my friends were Mormon zombies. (I apparently never got the memo.) We bounced around the Quarter for a few hours and took in all the sights, which included a voodoo drum circle and two guys and a gal with a costume theme that I can only describe as a “three-way.” We ran into a dude who was dressed as a can of Spam. The zombie Amy Winehouse chick turned a few heads. Too many people were dressed as pirates.A few hours later, police sirens blared from every direction. Just a few blocks from my barstool of the moment, two people were killed and many were injured from separate incidents involving gunplay near the Bourbon and Canal intersection. Somebody apparently looked the wrong way at someone’s girlfriend, or somebody bumped into someone else by accident, and some lives were taken. It was a senseless tragedy, like all such killings in the Crescent City. The Times-Picayune headline described it as “Bloody Halloween.”The party was over. Or was it?