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Location: New Orleans, Louisiana, United States

[Photocredit: LEJ Crawfishing by Carlos Detres] Leonard Earl Johnson covered Hurricanes Katrina and Rita (2005), and the 2010 British Petroleum oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico for Consumer Affairs.com. He is a contributor to Gambit Weekly, New Orleans Magazine, SCAT, Baton Rouge Advocate, Advocate Magazine, The Times-Picayune, and Country Roads Magazine, and the books FRENCH QUARTER FICTION (Light of New Orleans Publishing), LOUISIANA IN WORDS (Pelican Publishing), LIFE IN THE WAKE (NOLAfuges.com), and more. Johnson is a former Merchant Seaman, and columnist at Les Amis de Marigny, New Orleans; and African-American Village. Attended Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, and Harry Lundeberg School of Seamanship at Piney Point, Maryland. Winner of the Press Club of New Orleans Award for Excellence, 1991, and given the Key to The City and a Certificate of Appreciation from the New Orleans City Council for a Gambit Weekly story on murder in the French Quarter.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

The Train to New Orleans / July 2015

Yours Truly in a Swamp, 

LEJ's Louisiana

Monthly e-column by
Leonard Earl Johnson, 
of Lafayette and New Orleans

July 2015


* *

The Train to New Orleans

by Leonard Earl Johnson


New Orleans is a town with trains, ships, music, food, even a style of literature named after it. If ever you must be awake and weary at daybreak there is no dreamier place to suffer it.


The Sunset Limited bound from Los Angeles to New Orleans, was listed to stop at 5:12pm, Friday, but did not pass through Lafayette -- 140 miles out from NOLa -- until 1:30 Saturday morning.


 
Sunset Limited / photo courtesy of Amtrak
It was well into the next day when it finally reached the City of Dreamy Dreams, our Big Swamp City, New Orleans!


The passengers were grumpy. The exhausted crew grumbled they were expected to sweep out the train and be up for a 
turnaround scheduled for 9a.m.  (It actually left five hours late.) 


The sun was rising when we stepped out of Union Passenger Terminal on Loyola Avenue, next to the Superdome, and climbed in a United Cab headed for a French colonial breakfast of beignets and café au lait at Café du Monde, next to the Riverfront flood wall.



L. A. Norma closed the cab door and said, "They could'a re-named her the 'Sun-rise Un-limited.' " 

Our cab driver nodded but said nothing.  We had seen him before. And he had seen us.

click image for information
 He was wearing his T-shirt that read: "My Parents Went to New Orleans and All I Got Is This Lousy I.Q."


There had been a derailment two days before, way out West.  For the next two days Amtrak could not tell us anything.  Except that the "Incident" was not an "Amtrak Incident."  


We did not know what that meant, because the only part of the "what-ever incident" that concerned us was Amtrak's delay. 


"If that isn't an Amtrak-incident," Norma bellowed, "Ray Nagin is an honest man." The cabbie pulled up to the curb and turned around and stared at her.



* *

Furtherless, The daily Times-Picayune, venerated grey old lady of New Orleans letters has lifted her skirts and shown us she has only enough petticoats left for three days a week. The Times-Picayune has not exactly folded, but she ain't goin' dancing any more. 

Since Katrina, The T-P has been pushing her faithful scribes out the door. Now, she is pushing them out windows, too, and breaking our hearts all over again with news of more lashes from the Demon Change.


On the decadently optimistic side, however, she has given us yet another forget-me-not theme for fundraiser dinners, parties and coffee shop chatter for years, nay, centuries to come.  

"That will fill our T-P-less days," Norma said, standing beside the cab lighting a cigarette.  She blew smoke in the cabbie's face and handed him a large bill, "Keep the change."

  * *

We awaited an early strong storm from the Gulf of Mexico. 

"Debby's the name, flooding's the game," Norma said through a cloud of cigarette smoke. "She's headed for Florida." 


We prayed for Florida, but worried the storm might slip past the point of our prayers and come here.


"Thank Gott, we have a flood wall sturdy as the one that failed last time,"  L. A. Norma told the checkout clerk at Rouses on Baronne Street. 


On our way back to Faubourg Marigny we reminisced over storm preparations of long, long ago. When the effort was no more than stocking up on Camel Cigarettes (for Norma), Chocolate Ice Cream (for me), and batteries for a little transistor radio that had traceable DNA directly back to the 1950s.


Norma called Amtrak and found out the morning train West would not be leaving until the afternoon.  She booked two sleepers to Lafayette.



 We phoned for our cabby and told him during the ride to the station that Italy was playing in the European Cup. The game would be on TV, "In forty-feet-up, twenty-miles-in Lafayette," L. A. Norma said.

He said, "But is it worth it?"


"We will be back in a couple weeks for 


Amtrak / photo courtesy of Amtrak
Hemingway's Pamplona-NOLa running-of-the-bulls party on Frenchmen Street,"
 Norma said to the ticket-taker at the Sunset Limited's platform gate. The ticket-taker closed her eyes and handed us back our ticket stubs. We closed the curtains and dozed off as the train slipped out past the Arena and the Superdome.  


"The big one looks like the box the little one came in," Norma said, before snoring.



* *
Copyright, 2015, 
Leonard Earl Johnson
All Rights Reserved

Your comments and corrections are welcome: Comments


(Note: this story appeared in other years in slightly varied forms. Its recurring currency is as true as hurricanes, late trains, crumbling bridges and Republicans.) 


For more L. E. J.'s Louisiana, Yours Truly in a Swamp go to 
w w w . L E J . o r g


Go here For T-Shirts, Koozies, LEJ.org icebox magnets
and such falderal ...

You may not receive a monthly e-mail notice for YOURS TRULY IN A SWAMP, LEJ's Louisiana unless I figure out how to set up a new freemail system. But you can always go to www.LEJ.org

(Don't hold your breath on my figuring out le Internet.  I am a storyteller, not a computer-pinball gamer). 

Contact me if you want on the list - that may get e-mailed. If you wish to read any month's column go to www.LEJ.org anytime. They are posted on the first of each month and polished for the next few weeks. 
Hope you do, I love talking with you,
Leonard Earl Johnson,
Columnist to the elderly and early weary. 

© 2015, Leonard Earl Johnson, All Rights Reserved.
Comments are welcome,  post your comments

Harold Battiste 

Monday, June 01, 2015

Crayfish Music Weddings, NOLa / June 2015



Crayfishing at New Orleans Wedding, Spring 2015
Photo credit:  Carlos Detres

Yours Truly in a Swamp, 

LEJ's Louisiana

Monthly e-column by
Leonard Earl Johnson, 
of Lafayette and New Orleans

June 2015


This Column is Dedicated to:
 Edgar Lawrence "Dooky" Chase 
Recipient of the 2015 Louis Armstrong Summer Jazz Camp Jazz Pioneer Award 

* * *

Crayfish, Music and Big

Swamp City Weddings


by Leonard Earl Johnson

Sunny and Tyler's Wedding Kiss, New Orleans
Photo credit:  Carlos Detres



Before Katrina, neighborhoods below Elysian Fields Avenue were not gentrified. The original Schwegmann's Giant Grocery, celebrated in song and literature, was once un-decorously on Elysian Fields at the corner of Saint Claude Avenue -- where overland passengers today catch the dollar-bus to Atlanta and New York City. 

Soon the dollar-buses will be herded into Union Passenger Terminal, 1001 Loyola Avenue -- New Orleans' transportation "Zentrum," in the European sense of the word -- home to Taxies, Street Car Lines, Greyhound Buses, dollar buses, City buses, and America's proudly budget-starved Amtrikle Trains

Praise FEMA! 

Rumor has it that Roberts, the pre-K. successor to historic Schwegmann's, will soon reopen on the old Elysian Fields / Saint Claude site for the first time since The Storm and they want the parking facilities returned to parking use.

"Ain't nothing time and money won't cure," in the words of the late Ernie K-Doe


Schwegmann's, said to still own the land, and the Roberts, who were running the store on the land on August 29, 2005, have been fighting ever since. Over money -- insurance or FEMA -- but soon that Sun gonna shine in all our back doors once more, "Makin' groceries is coming back to the neighborhood after only ten-years, praise be to FEMA!" L. A. Norma snorted through a bubble of cigarette smoke.



Rampart and Elysian Fields, downtown riverside corner
courtesy Phoenix Bar
At the rear of the parking lot, across Rampart Street sits a historically gay bar, since 1986, named Phoenix. It thunders its wings all hours of the night and day. And is deliciously the site of one of New Orleans better Katrina stories.

Seems die-hard citizens who weathered The Storm in place crawled out in the days following seeking libation at this -- one of few bars open. Stinging images burned in everyone's head of indolent President W. Bush flying over New Orleans peering over the window ledge at our flooded Land of Dreamy Dreams. 


The crowd in front of Phoenix looked up one day as relief planes started tossing out cases of bottled water. The cases came apart midair and the bottles hit the streets and buildings like little exploding water bombs. The wary crowd rallied their die-hard-ness and chanted: "Run, it's the President! RUN!"


L. A. Norma, undeterred of opinion by not having been there, said the plane's music system filled Air Force One with Joni Mitchell singing Both Sides / CLOUDSwhile Dennis Hastert, then House Speaker, and Donald Rumsfeld, Biggest-ever Daddy Warbucks, danced the, "Let New Orleans Go, We Don't Care" waltz on the plane's wings


* *

In the old days, occasionally somebody would have a shrimp-boil on the street. And always there was Lama's Saint Roch Fish Market,
Lama's Saint Roch Market circa yester-near
courtesy Saint Rock Market
 which had, "The best boil in Town, cher!" everybody said. Today, Saint Roch is a gussied yup-palate taster's hall, and down the street a few blocks a handsome young chef is standing atop a flatbed truck stirring his new boil of shrimp and crawfish for a wedding party.



Belgique celebrant with handy hat
Photo credit:  Carlos Detres

"It is said to have oranges in the boil," Norma tells wedding guests from Belgium.



Wedding Guest
Photo credit:  Carlos Detres







The Treme Brass Band arrived promptly after having led a funeral Second Line from Saint Augustine's Church to Saint Louis Cemetery. The object of the parade was bones unearthed during the installation of a swimming pool. It was determined by smart folks, the bones were those of six early settlers thought to have been slaves. The State gave them to the Church, and the Treme Brass Band led them to a donated tomb in Saint Louis Number One. No other reparations were discussed and the Treme Brass Band then played for our wedding celebrants now dancing in the rain.



Dancing in the Rain
Photo credit:  Carlos Detres



Winding Boys at Wedding
Photo credit:  Carlos Detres



A talented Royal Street buskers band, called Winding Boys, also played. Their canary, Jenavieve Cooksang like an angel with experience. And a nuclear physicist from Seattle talked to me about America's one-attempt at a nuclear merchant fleet, the late 1950s-built nuclear merchantman, N. S. Savannah
Alas, she was unwanted in all the world's ports of call and the federally funded, industry boosted project failed. "Of course, we could do it better today," our new friend told us.


Wedding Guests
Photo credit:  
Carlos Detres


A little boy in beads and bowtie attended lavishly appointed for the celebration. Squad cars detoured traffic. Tents covered folding chairs. And neighbor Pete, wearing a brown t-shirt emblazoned with a red star and the word Cuba dragged real church pews from his living room to the curb. Spirit enough bubbled round to lure the Marquis de LafayetteButter, and Bernard de Marigny from their graves.





Wedding Guest in a Puddle
(Daddy, you're wrong this is wonderful...)
Photo credit:  
Carlos Detres
Adult Legs at Wedding
Photo credit:  
Carlos Detres
A passing blond woman stopped, holding a beautiful blond child in her arms. I said she was a lucky Mother. She said her name was Sarah, and she was from Boston, and was an architect.

"I went to school in Carbondale, Illinois," I told her, "where the acclaimed Bostonian, thinker, designer, R. Buckminster Fuller lectured in the Fabled Sixties, at Southern Illinois University." 

Her face fell slack and she said, "Bucky was my Great Uncle. There was a rift in our family." 

I first heard about this family rift from Bucky's own lips, back in Illinois. Her Uncle or Cousin and Bucky had parted ways. Fuller, inventor (promoter?) of the Geodesic Dome and the Dymaxion three-wheel car was a dreamer, not famous till in his fifties. Time magazine,
Bucky on the cover of TIME
1964, also told the story in a cover piece on Fuller. His kinsman wrote a ditty that went: 
"Bucky found a tuppence and he's off to buy a yacht ..." 

" 'If you do not love me I shall not be loved,' "  Norma toasted us all, from Samuel Beckett.

 Your corrections and comments are welcome,  post your comments


Treme Brass Band
 Photo credit:  Carlos Detres


Drumming up a wedding
Photo credit:  Carlos Detres
* * *
Copyright, 2015, 
Leonard Earl Johnson
All Rights Reserved

For more L. E. J.'s Louisiana, Yours Truly in a Swamp go to 
w w w . L E J . o r g


Go here For T-Shirts, Koozies, LEJ.org icebox magnets
and such falderal ...

FYI
Your monthly e-mail notice may not come. New Yahoo's mail system is too cumbersome for me. Our mailings can not be done one-at-a-time, we have thousands of e-readers. And I'm very old and very slow. 

You may not receive a monthly notice for YOURS TRULY IN A SWAMP, LEJ's Louisiana 
until / unless I figure out how to set up a new freemail system. But you can always go to www.LEJ.org


(Don't hold your breath on my figuring out le Internet.  I am a storyteller, not a computer-pinball gamer). 

Contact me if you want on the list - that may get e-mailed. If you wish to read any month's column go to www.LEJ.org.
They are posted on the first of each month and polished for the next few weeks. 
Hope you do, I love talking with you,
Leonard Earl Johnson,
Columnist to the elderly and early weary. 

© 2015, Leonard Earl Johnson, All Rights Reserved.
Comments are welcome,  post your comments

Friday, May 01, 2015

Butter's Obit / May 2015

Yours Truly in a Swamp, LEJ's Louisiana
Monthly e-column by
Leonard Earl Johnson, 
of Lafayette and New Orleans

Music, Weddings, Funerals and Big Swamp City
May 2015

by Leonard Earl Johnson
*
Music, Weddings, Funerals and 
Big Swamp City
by Leonard Earl Johnson

Dedicated to Butter,  
who missed all the festivals this year. First time that ever happened, everybody at the bar agreed. He had died a few months earlier ~ "First time for that, too," L. A. Norma said. From causes he didn't much care for, he told me before it happened.  

"He was in here the day he left Town," the bartender said, "had a few, and teared up when he left. His drink was a punch I called, 'Butter', made with vodka, cranberry and orange juice." He was hospitalised in Baton Rouge that evening. They had told him to quit smoking, drinking, and eating so much salt. "But why?" he said. They operated the next day then put what was left of him in a box and sent him home for his funeral. 

Our last conversation was in the lobby of the Chase Bank downtown. He told me he was going to Baton Rouge and he was still smoking. Life was a trip that ought to be easier, we agreed, but nonetheless was full of good times. This was not one of them. Or maybe in some Cosmic way it was.

At Don's Downtown a plaque has been installed atop the long shiny new bar where Butter used to sit. "Don's is 'Louisiana's first Cajun Restaurant,' " he and the other regulars liked pointing out. L. A. Norma headed towards the front door for a smoke on the sidewalk something Butter did often during day long lunches. 

Butter was one of those wise/unwise souls who died early, 50, and may have contributed to it by habits like smoking, drinking and breathing Louisiana's oily air. "Don't forget all that salt," Norma added.

He and longtime friend and companion, Gail, lived in a long slender neighborhood of well kept homes separating the heavily trafficked downtown lanes of the Evangeline Expressway and wouldbe future site of I-49. "When we pull out we're ready to head in either direction," Butter loved telling folks.  Also he said I should order rice on the side on Mondays so as to get the kitchen to put more beans in my bowl.  

Last Monday, 
after the crowds at Festival International de Louisiane, Lafayette had dissipated, we ate red beans and rice sitting at Butter's place at the bar. My plate rested next to his commemorative plaque. We lifted Wild Turkey in snifters, with ice-water backs, and went outside to light a cigar. May you rest in peace my friend. You lived till the end. Yes sir, didn't you ramble. 
*
More be coming ~ the Music, Weddings, and Louisiana of it in the title, oui!
For the moment, Leonard Earl Johnson is old, tired and Swamped. 
Thanks for understanding.

Comments are welcome,  post your comments

Lagniappe:

Copyright, 2015, Leonard Earl Johnson
All Rights Reserved

For more L. E. J.'s Louisiana, Yours Truly in a Swamp go to 
w w w . L E J . o r g


Go here For T-Shirts, Koozies, LEJ.org icebox magnets
and such falderal ...

FYI
Your monthly e-mail notice may not come. New Yahoo's mail system is too cumbersome for me to continue using. Our mailings can not be done one-at-a-time. We have many thousands of e-readers. Too many, it seems, to keep getting easy use free-mail from Yahoo, and we are not able to pay for the pay-mail system.  So there. 

You may not receive a monthly notice for YOURS TRULY IN A SWAMP, LEJ's Louisiana 
until / unless I figure out how to set up a new freemail system. 


(Don't hold your breath.  I am a storyteller, not a computer-pinball gamer). Contact me if you want on the list - that may get e-mailed. If you wish to read any month's column go to www.LEJ.org. They are posted on the first of each month and polished for the next few weeks. 
Hope you do, I love talking with you,
Leonard Earl Johnson,
Columnist to the elderly and early weary. 

© 2015, Leonard Earl Johnson, All Rights Reserved.
Comments are welcome,  post your comments