My first night in New Orleans , I returned to the hostel to find a new lodger on the lower half of my bunk . A curt nod of acknowledgement as I hopped up onto my upper deck was the only greeting exchanged . Sharing a small bunk in a single room with 15 other bunks and 29 other inhabitants leads to a quest for the preservation of personal space . At night , there is no exchange of conversation and the only sounds are different varieties of snoring , the creaking of old steel bunks and the odd fart . I stuffed my passport and both wallets into my pillowcase and went to sleep .
Day 2 began with bright rays of sunshine streaming through a grimy window and a brighter disposition amongst the inhabitants of the dorm room . In the daylight you can see who you are talking to . The crowds were in for Mardi gras . 6 chinese guys had claimed the far off corner , others were from Australia , Scotland , Finland , Chile , France and Italy along with Americans from many different States and a few locals , which surprised me . I tested the water to see if there were any cyclists amongst bunch but found that I was a solo bike fan . The bunk across contained a local carpet fitter who had fallen on hard times . Think Willy Nelson with no razor and no cash . The guy beneath my bunk was local too . A young guy , about my own age , Greg spoke with a full Nawlins drawl and his most prized possession seemed to be his tub of hair gel .
It turned out that Greg was actually from the Bayou Perot area of New Orleans . He had an altercation with his parents next door neighbour which resulted in a broken eye socket for the neighbour and a gbh conviction for Greg . The neighbour also got a restraining order which meant that he could not go within 100 yards of the neighbour and thus could not go back to his parents home . His sister lived in a trailer park with her 4 kids so he couldn’t stay with her and thus he found himself in a hostel on St. Charles .
As we were both looking for work and a place to stay we decided to pool our efforts and set off towards downtown New Orleans together . Greg was local , so knew his way around . He had a lot of info that I was never going to find in a guide book . As we headed off he informed me that just the previous evening he had met a ‘chick from Ireland too ‘ and wasn’t that some coincidence seeing that he had never met anyone from Ireland before in his life . As it turned out , when I met her later that evening with Greg on Bourbon street ‘the chick’ Ella was actually from Iceland . Even when we tried to explain the difference Greg still didn’t really get that there was much of a difference . Perhaps some current day economists might think that he was ahead of his time .
Greg had heard of jobs going at a local shipyard so we headed across the Greater New Orleans bridge to try our hand . They were looking for electricians , I am a qualified fitter and Greg was a carpenter but just like many before me I had the Aer Lingus multitrade apprenticeship completed . ie : I boarded an Aer Lingus plane in Shannon a fitter and landed 7 hours later in JFK a carpenter/electrician/plumber/mechanic or whatever would be required to get a job .
We were given an immediate start , and were both sent off with 2 qualified men for the day . My guy was named Zak and thought that ‘Ierleand’ was somewhere up near ‘New Yawk citay’ . He knew as much about Ireland as I did about wiring fuseboards so by the days end both Greg and I had been found out and were on our way . We didn’t even get a days wages , which I really needed .
Back to Bourbon street , 2 cans of Mickeys Irish beer for a dollar and all was good again . Greg had a new plan . His girlfriend was coming to town the following evening for work . She had a job which entailed removing her clothing whilst practicing to be a firewoman . She would be earning 3 to 4 hundred dollars a night and would have plenty for a deposit on an apartment . I could rent a room from them and we would be all sorted . Any port in a storm , came to mind . Greg’s selling point to me was that one of her friends was coming too and she had appeared in an advert in a very popular magazine in America at the time called playboy . I felt a long way from Tipperary .
The following morning we were awoken in the hostel by the guy on the desk who said that there was someone looking for us . Ella from Iceland had tracked us down and was looking for some local help from Greg . She needed some medical assistance and wanted to know where to go . She had driven down from California with a guy called ‘Mud’ . They had gone their separate ways and she was now sleeping in her car . Greg suggested Charity Hospital so the 3 of us piled into the front bench seat of Ellas’ car and headed off . Greg asked Ella if we could borrow her car to go ‘just across the bridge for a few minutes to see his sister while we waited for Ella outside the hospital . She agreed and off we set as she headed in the front door .
We crossed a bridge 10 minutes later and kept on driving . I was looking out for Greg’s sisters place but only saw a 4 lane highway stretching out for miles ahead . Greg was telling me it was just a few minutes away . I was starting to feel slightly uncomfortable . At first I feared Ella coming out of the Hospital with no sign of us or her car , but then I began to think about the fact that I was in a car with a guy of perhaps questionable character , heading out of a city towards a swamp and felt a tingle of fear down my spine . If I disappeared no one would have a clue where I was . Greg seemed to sense my fear and began to play on it . He talked about guns and shootings , and a friend who was locked up for whacking a guy . Over an hour later we turned down a dirt road along a bayou into a trailer park . Greg pulled up alongside a group of seriously rough looking guys , did some weird handshake thing , scored a small bag of white powder , I almost crapped myself , and we headed on down to his sisters Trailer .
We went inside the trailer , which was a little less luxurious than anything found in Clonea or Tramore and I met his sister . He handed over his present , and she disappeared for a few minutes . When she returned she was actually quite pleasant . She filled a bag with canned fruit , tins of beans and a box of Corn flakes . She then suggested we should probably be on our way and we said goodbye and thanks .
We returned to the front of the hospital about 3 hours after leaving . Greg jumped out , told me to look after the car and headed in to look for Ella. I had visions of Ella having called the police reporting her car stolen and me being surrounded by armed police pointing their guns at me telling me to slowly get out of the car whilst keeping my hands in view . At that moment I would have given anything to be back home , out on the bike heading around Ballymac with the lads .
Luckily Greg strolled out after about 20 mins of my life that felt like 20 hours and said that she was still there and would be out shortly . 15 minutes later Ella came out and thanked us for waiting so long for her and apologised for keeping us waiting for so long . Greg winked at me and I felt awful .
She dropped us back to the hostel where we had our meal courtesy of Gregs sister and then headed in to Bourbon street to meet his girlfriend …..