John Howell’s column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Most recent N.O. trip highlighted by partiers, cabby

The southbound Amtrak Friday was the partyingest train I ever rode.

There was a group of 30-somethings from Memphis bound for a New Orleans bachelor party weekend. Plans discussed among them included a Bourbon Street crawl and joining the Who Dat? nation in the dome on Sunday.

By the time I boarded the train at Greenwood (on time at 9 a.m., maybe even a few minutes early), the Memphis bachelors were well on their way to depleting train’s supply of beer.

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But the party was saved in Jackson when another bunch of 30-somethings joined us. They were headed south to celebrate someone’s birthday and climbed aboard lugging heavy ice chests filled, as it turned out, with beer and Jello shots. (Jello plus vodka makes a Jello shot). The latter were generous with the former and with any other passengers seated in their vicinity.

That City of New Orleans rocked and rolled, shimmied and swayed southward, staying ahead of schedule all the way. By the time we rolled (backwards, passenger trains usually back into New Orleans’ Union Station) under the shadow of the Superdome, a good party had already been had by all. Some better than others. There are always  southbound  party passengers who peak too soon. By the time they come down those steps onto the station platform you can tell their party won’t resume until the following day.

I didn’t stick around to watch the party passengers deboard, though it would have added an amusing chapter to an already eventful trip. Instead I stepped quickly to the cab stand where the valet flagged up the next waiting cab. He put my luggage in the trunk and I climbed in the back seat.

I habitually reach for a seat belt any time I get into any vehicle. I found the receiving end of the cab’s seat belt buckle hidden in the crack between the seat back and the bench, a sure sign of limited use. Later, after the ride was over, I would wonder how many of those passengers started a similar, groping seat belt search when they had ridden far enough to realize that Road Rage Rodney was at the wheel.

The best I could figure it, RR Rodney wanted to deliver me to my destination quickly so he could get back to Union Station in time to pick up more train passengers. His rage was nothing personal. He directed it equally at anybody in his path that looked like they might slow him down.

Road Rage Rodney quickly maneuvered his cab to Prytania Street, favored by cabbies for Uptown destinations and honked generously at traffic ahead daring to slow or stop. As he neared the Prytania/Jackson intersection, traffic was stopped at the green light, backed up by parents picking up children from the exclusive McGehee School on the other side of Jackson Avenue.

RRR swung into the momentarily-vacant oncoming lane and, honking his horn, passed the six cars unable to go through the intersection. There he took a left, riverbound to Magazine Street. The Friday afternoon Magazine Street traffic soon suited him no better. He turned left again to Constance but not before he had scattered two pedestrians, a man and woman who had the audacity to try to cross Magazine in front of him. Once they realized RRR wasn’t into yielding for pedestrians, the woman sprinted across the cab’s path to the opposite curb while the man stopped in opposite lane to let the barreling cab pass unimpeded.

Completing the journey on Constance was less eventful except maybe for the few drivers stopped at intersections who, hearing an urgent honking of horn behind them, looked into their rear view mirrors to see a cab either on their bumper or trying to pass on the left or right.

Road Rage Rodney soon deposited me on Laurel Street and roared back toward Union Station. When I walked into to the house, Rosemary was surprised at how early I had arrived.

The next day — Saturday — we walked to several Uptown destinations, first to our nephew’s digs on Freret Street. John and Madelyn Nelson are remodeling a large commercial building that serves as their home and workshop. From there we walked to the monthly Freret Fest.

Fest vendors and visitors overflowed the vacant lot it occupies on the first Saturday each month, an indication of the continuing recovery of a street that  Democratic political operative and city resident James Carvelle recently identified as the pulse of New Orleans. Our route home took us riverbound on Napoleon to Magazine and conveniently past the French bakery.

The French bakery conveniently took me past a coffee éclair which I purchased.

It was during the short walk home from the French bakery, coffee éclair in hand, that I got run over or rather, run under. Cars were stopped on Valence at Magazine, waiting for a break in the constant flow of traffic. When one driver found his chance, he moved onto Magazine.

We (I) started across Valence as the next car moved up. I thought the car would stop. I usually look at a driver to make sure that he or she sees me before I walk into the car’s path. This time there was a glare on the windshield, and I assumed that the driver was looking at me as she eased forward. She wasn’t; she was looking at oncoming traffic on Magazine Street.

As we collided (relatively speaking; later that afternoon I’d see some real collisions on TV between Alabama and LSU) somewhat perpendicularly, I put out my hands to break my fall against the car’s hood. Even as I sort of rolled onto the hood she kept looking Uptown before she turned her head to discover a surprise half-sprawled on the front of her car.

She jumped out of her car and said: “OH. MY. GOD.”

I jumped back to my feet, walked around the hood of her car, thoroughly embarrassed at having walked right out in front of a car.

The driver called to me, “Are you hurt? Are you hurt?”

Maybe I said no, but whatever, I just kept walking, not wanting to stop and explain that the only injury was to the coffee éclair and my dignity.

Later, after we’d walked a few more blocks to the house and Rosemary had thoroughly lectured me on how stupid it is to walk into the path of a car (she was just getting warmed up; I’ll still be hearing about this until she goes senile and loses her memory), I licked squashed coffee éclair from the napkin which had wrapped it in the bag and thought about how glad I was that Road Rage Rodney was not the driver of that car.