February 28th , a few years back . At 6 am in the morning I stepped off a Greyhound bus at 1001 Loyola avenue in New Orleans . I had travelled overnight from Birmingham Alabama and was now looking over at the enormous structure of the Superdome . The air was warm and humid , even at that hour and I felt both apprehensive and excited . My journey had begun a week earlier outside Penn station in New York and an experiment had also begun . I left New York with a bus ticket and eighty dollars in cash . No credit card or secret stash of travellers cheques . The goal was to make it back to Ireland at some stage by keeping heading west . I had procured a one year work visa for Australia in The Hague the previous November so the only time deadline to be met was Australia by late October .
A lonely planet guide book had suggested a Hostel on St Charles avenue which would provide a bunk bed in a large dormitory for ten dollars per night . I checked in and found my bunk . After depositing my rucksack which just contained a few books , a couple of changes of clothes and a sleeping bag purchased from Decky Byrne in Kavanaghs sports back in Clonmel I headed off to take a look at New Orleans . I always carried my valuables with me , that is to say my passport and 2 wallets . One wallet contained a current student Usit card , a blood donor card and a card with my name and home address back in Ireland along with most of my cash . The other wallet contained an expired BoI Pass card , an expired Usit card , a few business cards and 10 individual dollar bills . It was my ‘muggers wallet’ .
Outside I looked for a Tram stop and found one a short walk away . I had been a fan of John Hyatt and had heard him sing about heading up St. Charles to catch a streetcar named Desire . Tennessee Williams had written the classic book about it too . Sadly my streetcar was named Canal , but that would have to do . Sitting on the highly polished wooden seat that had the sheen of the thousands of derieres that had glided across it I looked out at the colonial homes of the garden district . Passing a cemetery I noticed that it was full of tombs which were all above the ground . On another day a friend explained that this was because New Orleans was below sea level and the fear was that bodies buried underground may rise up in the event of a flood .
I hopped off on Canal street . A great big avenue leading towards the Mississippi river . I was looking out for a bikeshop and found one with very little effort . Walking inside the first thing greeting me was a number of large posters of Sean Kelly and Stephen Roche . I felt at home already and was feeling optimistic about the chances of picking up some work . However , when I began chatting to the guy behind the counter , a position I now occupy back in Clonmel , I was greeted with a grumpy barrage of Euroscepticness . He had no time for Campy or Colnago and De Rosa’s were ‘piles o crap’ . Schwinn was king but when he mentioned Waterford my spirits lifted . I was thinking about Waterford man and Ras winner Declan Lonergan , who had come over to the states to race a few years previously and thought that perhaps the guy knew him but soon discovered that the Waterford he was inferring to was a frame builder from Wisconsin . My potential employment prospects were diminishing by the second . Finally I came straight out and asked if he needed an experienced bike mechanic or sales assistant and got a flat No . I knew well enough to leave it at that .
The French Quarter was nearby and when I saw a sign for Bourbon street I decided to head down that way for a look . A look would not best describe the different views on Bourbon street a fortnight before Mardi Gras . The air was warm but even so I could not quiet grasp the necessity for the young ladies up on the metal trellised balconies to try to cool their chests in such an exuberant manner . Many fine gentlemen seemed to share my confusion and some even took matters into their own hands by trying to come to the assistance of the young ladies by throwing up plastic bead necklaces for the ladies to cover their exposed flesh with and thus restore their modesty .
Further on I came upon the famous Cafe du Monde . The Lonely Planet suggested that a visit to New Orleans could not be completed without a visit and a sampling of their world famous Coffee and Beignets . The coffee was nice and the Beignets were like long stringy donuts , which were nice too but the six dollars that they cost was almost 15% of my remaining fortune . A second visit was not going to be high on the list of priorities .
Given my current budgetary situation , job hunting was a top priority . I went to Pat O’Briens and aside from being offered a few different varieties of Hurricanes I could find no one with an Irish accent inside , or outside the busy tavern . Not a great place to make contacts for a job hunter . A place to find other things , but not jobs .
A couple of enquiries and a 2 hour search resulted in the discovery of a proper Irish pub. I went in , called for a beer and began to chat to the barman who was from Roscommon . He didn’t know offhand of any jobs going but told me to call in every few days and he would keep his ear to the ground . Another patron overheard us talking and introduced himself as an Michael O’Flaherty , attorney at law , with a good Irish name and a strong Louisiana accent . He handed me his card and said to call him anytime if I needed anything . I was not sure if we were on the same wave length . I had a vision of me calling him up looking for a bed for the night , whilst he possibly saw a potential client who may be headed for difficulties with the law . I never called , so don’t know for sure either way .
I decided to head back towards the Hostel for the night . It was a good 45 min walk but sure I was in no hurry and the budget was tight .
………………….. This is turning out longer than expected so may have to be recounted over a number of posts . There is still a bit to go including a drunk carpet fitter with a loaded gun , a stripper on my shoulders at a parade , 2 weeks sleeping in the bus station , a Wal Mart bicycle and a few other things .