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Location: New Orleans, Louisiana, United States

Leonard Earl Johnson (photo credit Frank Parsley) 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, Country Roads Magazine, Palm Springs Newswire 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.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Ole Number One ~ Hot Damn a New Train Story / June 2017


On a collision course:

Crescent City Classic

Saturday, April 15, 2017 at 8 AM 

New Orleans Run 

and
Amtrak's Train Number One,
The Sunset Limited ~ West
Departing New Orleans, 
Saturday, April 15 at 9 AM 

LEJ's Louisiana, Yours Truly in a Swamp
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June 2017


Ole Number One ~ Hot Damn,
a New Train Story
BY  Leonard Earl Johnson
© 2017, Leonard Earl Johnson, All Rights Reserved

Amtrak's Sunset Limited, Westbound is Amtrak's train #1
 It rolls from New Orleans ~ Amtrak's Gulf Coast rail-head. On time usually at 9am ~ three days a week. It travels the historically designated Old Spanish Trail all the way to Los Angeles, California ~ its West Coast rail-head.



"Louisianans see themselves as living on America's Third Coast," L. A. Norma tells our pedicab driver as we pull up to the Union Passenger Terminal's side-entrance, facing New Orleans' Main Post Office and parking high-rise.  We are running late.



Loading Platform, Union Passenger Terminal, New Orleans

The Sunset Limited's Engineer is blowing his final safety whistle ~ the famed 'Last Call' ~ as we tug our bags through the glass doors. The whistle is still echoing inside the station. I dash for the loading platform's gate. Behind it I see our train and the coach Conductor picking up the yellow steps used when boarding. Norma spots a one-dollar bill on the floor and stops to pick it up, and step on the smoking Camel Cigarette she has illegally brought inside. 

I reach the gate along with three security guards, the Conductor ~ his attention now turned to us ~ and a familiar looking clerk from behind the ticket booth who says she recognizes me as a regular. The first guard hits me with the order to, "FREEZE!"  


I freeze. Norma catches up. I explain to the security people about the foot race, and having to walk from near City Hall, and the pedicab we caught on this side of Poydras Street that was stranded from the French Quarter 
by this same foot race!  

The security guards nod that they know of the race.

"Other folks done missed trains," a lady guard grinned and inhaled deeply.  

"They are OK," the ticket clerk said, once again.  


The Conductor motioned for them to let us pass, and we rushed on board just as the forward Conductor waved towards the head of the train. The Engineer blew a final last-call, and we pulled away towards The Golden West. 


Norma and I clambered up to the second deck as the dome formerly known as the Louisiana Superdome slid by. One day, this dome ~ once our state and civic pride ~ failed its promise to shelter us from The Storm.  Then after Katrina, ran off with some rich out-of-towner named, 

Mercedes Benz! 

"Mercedes Benz, née Louisiana Superdome," Norma muttered.  


We found our seats, and Norma asked our car's attendant, "Why, if they sold Louisiana's Super Dome to Mercedes Benz, why didn't the money go to Louisiana taxpayers instead of Louisiana footballers?" 


The Train Attendant shrugged and asked our destination. He pushed a little yellow card in the slot-holder above our seats. On it were the letters LFT, for Lafayette, Louisiana. We are bound for Festival International de Louisiane, Lafayette, one of the Muse's best festivals.



Amtrak, sailing along coastal Louisiana         /        Courtesy of Amtrak
*
There is hardly a day of the week when a half dozen Sunset Limiteds or more are not whistling through the deserts, climbing over mountains, crossing wide rivers, or idling on sidetracks ~ awaiting hundred-car freighters making way for their passage.  

Federal law gives priority of passage to passenger trains, the conductor explained, while taking our ticket information and checking it on his hand held phone, "but there is not a sidetrack long enough to accommodate the longer freight trains.


We just left the station and already we have stopped. We await our turn at the ramp up to the Huey P. Long Bridge. 
Giant seabirds fly over. We sit watching gleaming oily black tank cars slipping past, one-by-one slowly making way for our passage across The Mississippi River.
Huey P. Long Bridge  /  Coleen Perilloux Landry


*

 Spring, so grand a time! Hot grease splatters on the grill, old folks dance with the young, and Music fills the air! We have been in Big Swamp City for the fabulous French Quarter Festival, and other events. Our heart dances, our ears ring, and our tummy bulges. That the food is good in Louisiana nearly goes without saying, but where would columnism be if one didn't say it? 

I must commend the post-Katrina newish KINGFISH, at 337 Chartres, for sublimely nurturing this elder member of the hungry press.  Merci, merci beaucoup! We returned in the days after the Festival

 and were charmed by its piano-playing ambiance overladen on their good kitchen and colorful remembrance of Huey P. Long ~ whose nickname was Kingfish ~ photos of the great governor hang from the walls.

We plotted one evening, around the KINGFISH's piano, to attend a Louisiana Historical Society lecture on Huey P. Long at a grand Saint Charles Avenue mansion. "It will be a chance to hear of Huey from an Irishman's accent," Norma advised.  Alex McManus was the Irishman. His talk was, "What did Huey Long's enemies mean when they called him a fascist?" 


"They meant he was goin'a tax Standard Oil!" Norma giggled over her third glass of wine.


We hoped for fireworks from some Society members ~ they likely being descendants of the taxed ~ during the question and answer session.  But there was none.  Over refreshing wine and feta/spinach flatbread, I asked McManus about this, "What with such talk swirling in the wake of our twittering President."  McManus said he, too, was surprised at the lack of such questions. 


L. A. Norma added that Americans are politically illeterate, and do not know the difference between faschism and populism. 


"Politicians blather about 'conservative values' to fog up the issue, and whip us in line. Instead of serveing our communal needs, which they label 'bad government.'  They have us calling 'bad' what everyone else in the world calls good government!"

Leaving the lecture Norma nearly tripped, 
"Over something under the rug," she said.

*

  One last plea, New Orleans, remember the
forgotten rail passengers, please, before blocking access to the Union Passenger Terminal.


© 2017, Leonard Earl Johnson, 
All Rights Reserved.

Lagniappe du Jour, today!


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2005, after Katrina / Louisiana Superdome, aka, Mecedes Benz Dome
courtsey NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune
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For more L. E. J.'s Louisiana, Yours Truly in a Swamp  go to www.LEJ.org                    


© 2017, Leonard Earl Johnson, 
All Rights Reserved.
* * * * * * * * * * * 
Go here For 
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. 
*
*

LEJ's Louisiana, Yours Truly in a Swamp
is a monthly e-column @ www.LEJ.org
~ Hosted on GOOGLE Blogger ~
and at Les Amis de Marigny, New Orleans,
publication of the
It is written by Leonard Earl Johnson
of Lafayette and New Orleans, Louisiana
Archives: www.LEJ.org
© 2017, Leonard Earl Johnson, 
All Rights Reserved.
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Monday, May 01, 2017

Easter on The River of Bourbon Street / May 2017


Carnival Esprit   /     Janice Turk

LEJ's Louisiana, Yours Truly in a Swamp

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May 2017


Easter On The River of Bourbon Street
BY  Leonard Earl Johnson
© 2017, Leonard Earl Johnson, All Rights Reserved

2013  ~  Spring  New Orleans,                       Photo-credit:   Jessica ReeTull



L. A. Norma and I left the witch-hat-towers of Saint Louis Cathedral, and headed for the soaring balconies of Bourbon Street. 

There we were lifted on the chaliced wings of whiskey served from temporal cathedrals bearing names like Oz and Bourbon Pub. 

There are bars named Oz and Pub on many streets in this World, but there is only one Bourbon Street. It is in New Orleans' French Quarter, and it flows like the Mississippi River towards Big Swamp City's first Faubourgs

It is there, just inside Faubourg Marigny, where the street's name changes to Pauger, after Adrien de Pauger, the French engineer who designed the colonial streets of New Orleans ~ in use today, and the only grid system in Town.

The two dance halls flanking Bourbon Street ~ where it intersects Saint Ann ~ were once populated exclusively by gay men. Then came gay women and gay men. And today ~ especially when balcony seating opens ~ anyone, gay or not.

These dance halls stand at a demarcation point between Reader's Digest- tourists ebbing back towards Canal Street; and those yearning to venture towards the literary mysteries of the gentrified Faubourgs Marigny, Trem
é, and Bywater.

We found a table on the balcony above the Pub's swinging shingle, and watched.
Courtesy of French Quarter Festivals 

The masses raised their arms in jubilation of Christ's resurrection ~ or for beads!

This day, touched by Easter's spirit and the elfin Mr. Booze, I saw Jesus walking down this famed street of Sin. 

He wore a crown of thorns over His long black hair. He wore sandals, too, and was naked save for a loincloth cut like the one in the paintings. He was thin and looked like He might be Filipino, but mostly He looked like Jesus. Everyone on the balcony thought so.


True to The Book
He was slumming with the local rabble. And reveling in their Easter experience. As were they in His.

"Well, theirs was a damn sight better'n His," L. A. Norma said, tapping a finger along the silver figure hanging by tiny silver nails from a crucifix hanging around her neck. A ringed crown of thorns ~ oddly made from gold ~ sat on the little silver Head. 

Norma lifted her whiskey, inhaled from her cigarette, exhaled a plume of smoke larger than her head, and said, "Skip the crucifixion, forget fasting, go straight for the Resurrection!"


We all laughed ~ glowing in the clear and righteous wonder of her thought. 
*
A few years back, a few blocks up the street, Chris Owens, an elderly Bourbon Street dancer with mega staying power, conducted her own Easter Parade. Tall and seemingly leading the crowd was David Duke. A brass band made up of midgets played. Elder ladies of the snatched-bodies cult, and a half dozen or so young bunnies in pastel furs marched and rode atop pedibikes and convertibles. The bunnies threw underpants to the crowd.

Among such a human eddy no one would have given notice whatsoever to a walking Jesus. 

But this day, a tourist Family standing against the downstream wall of Pete Fountain's (today, Oz) did. They were directly across the street from where we sat. The Father watched wide-eyed. The Girl, about seventeen, waved up to us. The pubescent Son giggled and hugged his Mother. Then, along came Jesus headed straight for them! 


The tourist Mother looked offended. She gathered her brood and paddled them off down the street. Jesus did not seem bothered by their departure."After all," Norma said, "He wrote the book on forgiveness."


The Pope appeared on the balcony directly above them. He stood dressed, head-to-toe, in yellow and white satin. He blessed all who passed beneath him, and tossed beads at the tourist Family as they scurried away.  He looked across Bourbon Street and blessed us, too. We waved, and he motioned us over. We crossed the street and took our seats at the Pope's table.


We looked back at the Bourbon Pub balcony. The Pope, ever so wise, said, "You cannot see yourself on the balcony you have just left." We had all had a lot to drink. The Pope handed out Wild Turkey and water. "Holy Water, from The Holy River," he said.

Three real nuns, in old-fashioned black-and-white habits, came trotting down Rue Saint Ann ~ on their return from a later mass. They passed our intersection headed towards Cathedral School. The sea of sinners parted. We joined the cheering. 

 "What would they think of seeing Jesus?" L. A. Norma asked of no one in particular. She leaned way over the balcony rail and yelled to the crowd below for Carnival beads. A photographer looked up and took her picture. I yelled down asking if he had seen Jesus. "No!" he shouted back. Would he like to? "Yes, of course, yes!"

The Pope lay his hands on my shoulders, and said,"Watch that woman, do not let her fall over the communion rail." Green Carnival beads landed on the Pope's pointy hat. They looked interesting, but he took them off and tossed them to two college boys on the street below. Norma told him the two boys should have opened their pants. He frowned and said sternly, "This is not Carnival!"



I said, "It is not Laughingyette either," but the Pope did not hear me ~ he was gone to find Jesus.

Norma looked past my forehead, and talked of far-ranging things.


The Pope returned without Jesus. He was balancing fresh drinks, and passed them round the table. "He can not be found in this wicked den," said The Pope, handing me a Wild Turkey and water.



When we looked up from our drinks we saw Him again. He was waving from our old balcony seats across the street. We waved back. He lifted his naked arms heavenward. His loincloth flapped in the whiskey-flavored air. The man with the camera jumped and shouted, "Your cross, your cross, show us your cross!"

Jesus looked down and bellowed: "Don't you know what holiday this is? It is Easter, I have no cross!" 

When I wore a younger man's beard
The Pope, assorted communion-rail leaners, and other followers passing on the street below shouted,"Is it Carnival?" 

It wasn't.  It was Easter on the River of Bourbon Street.

---------------


Copyright, 2017, Leonard Earl Johnson, All Rights Reserved
(A version of this story first appeared in the mid 1990s)

Your comments and suggestions are welcome
* *


LEJ.org ~ wearing an older man's beard

Lagniappe du Jour, Today!



*







Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival  
May 5 ~ 7, 2017
Go here For 
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. 
*
*
LEJ's Louisiana, Yours Truly in a Swamp
is a monthly e-column @ www.LEJ.org
~ Hosted on GOOGLE Blogger ~
and at Les Amis de Marigny, New Orleans,
publication of the
It is written by Leonard Earl Johnson
of Lafayette and New Orleans, Louisiana
Archives: www.LEJ.org



© 2017, Leonard Earl Johnson, 
All Rights Reserved.
* * * * * * * * * * * *