In my seven years here, I must have somehow never waited tables in the French Quarter during the Bayou Classic.
Every single road into the Quarter is blocked off despite that, on this Saturday night at 9:45 p.m., New Orleans’ cleanest and least pocked streets stand empty. Regardless, Mizzy and I must turn the car around and get our bicycles to ride around the barriers and go meet Mizzy’s friend for a drink. It’s just a football game — not even the Saints, or even LSU. They don’t barricade the Quarter like this even for Mardi Gras, I don’t think. Essence? Maybe. I don’t exactly remember ever seeing the Quarter quarantined this way.
On the bike ride, Mizzy fills me in: “The two biggest black colleges in the region are playing each other tonight, or something.” Now I remember. And I begin noticing sparse clumps of young black men and women casually wandering the sidewalks in their exaggerated fineries. Considering the supposed number of folks in town for the Classic – and the fact that New Orleans depends (almost exclusively) on visitors’ money – it’s strange to see the darkened store windows of so many closed gift shops, restaurants and bars. “The city brags about what a great place this is to host the game,” continues Mizzy, who has done her time, as most of us have, waiting tables here, “but the businesses are like, ‘screw that’ and they close this weekend.”
We roll up finally to the bar on Jackson Square where we’re to meet Mizzy’s friend: CLOSED.
Thankfully one place is open on Chartres Street. Despite its many windows and open doors from which to people-watch, the bar is thickly dark, and empty for a Saturday night. The place usually boasts many regulars. As the young bartender pours our whiskey sours, I ask him about the comprehensive roadblocks: “Seems a little excessive.”
“Yeah, they have a big crimetower set up on Canal Street too,” he says, “so they can see everything that’s going on from above.”
“Like a concentration camp?”
“Oh man, are you kidding? If they didn’t do all that, there would be so much crime, a million times more than there will be anyway.”
“From football fans,” I laugh dishonestly.
“Well, I mean, you know, it’s the Soul Bowl or whatever it’s called… So it’s a uh, certain kind of crowd.” He sets our drinks on napkins before us and eyes me: “Where are you from?”
“I live here.” My standard evasion.
“Then you know. You know this crowd...” And he shrugs and smirks as if to say: sure we need help, but not theirs.