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12:08 am: New Orleans

Landed in New Orleans yesterday, around 3pm. Took a cab to my posh hotel, just outside the French quarter. My cab driver opened up after I asked how old his daughter was (photo taped to the dash, she’s 2 and 8 months). He’s produced an independent film about drunk driving, and is halfway through his pilot certification. Didn’t get his name.

After checking in, I took my constitutional stroll – straight up Bourbon street. Ungh. Do NOT look at Bourbon street in the plain and unblinking light of day. Turn down the lights. No no, ALL the lights. I got pretty frankly pissed off at the organizers for dragging me to this titty bar, alcoholic, pickpocket laden hellhole.

Walked to the far side of the French Quarter and turned towards the water. Along the way, I walked past a dude in his 50s, sitting in front of his chess table. $5 a game. Walked a little further, to Cafe du Monde. Stopped and had the beignets and a cafe au lait. Tipped the street gospel singer, and went back with $5 in hand. Sat down and got game.

We played – and for the first 5 moves or so he kept emphasizing, “take all the time you need.” After about 10 moves I was rewarded with a grunt. 15 moves in, he might have actually paused to consider. At around move 20 he looked at my position and said “bummer, let’s go get that king.” Around 25 moves – I conceded. Didn’t get his name.

At that point, he glanced up at me through his dense, coke bottle glasses and said “wanna go meet the club? You have POTENTIAL.” With that, he was off – already across the street by the time I bounced up to follow. Across a block, into a fancy restaurant, and into the back – where servers from a variety of the local restaurants were hanging out – playing chess. He introduced me around, and then dashed back to his table. I had to go to the conference, but man – I was no longer as irritated with the organizers. This town has personality.

Made my way to the conference, checked in, and attended the opening gala. Met up with a friend from high school, who pointed out later in the evening that we’re also friends from elementary school. Then went to catch Greg, who works in the NOC and helps to build the supercomputing network every year. We wound up at the Howlin’ Wolf, sitting around swapping stories about cariaso until late in the evening.

Shook off a distinctly P. Diddy feeling this morning and went to the conference. Excellent keynote – about which I hope to write later. Spent about three hours making it through four out of 48 aisles of exhibitors. Summary: I’m way behind the times. Also attended a few technical talks. Summary – I’m pretty much current. Drank a lot of coffee.

As of 6pm, declared myself brain-fried and got a free beer (courtesy of Univa) at La Boca. As you might infer from the URL, there wasn’t much there for my vegetarian tastes. Moved on – dropped my backpack at the hotel, and braved Bourbon Street again. Tried to go to the acme oyster house, but was dissuaded by the line – so I wound up at Storyville – who make a fine gumbo and serve Dixie beer.

Fed, continued straight down the street from hell (pausing to get a cigar from the hand roll guy) to Frenchman street. Walked farther. Past the hookers. Past the dealers. Into the darkness.

All of a sudden – I was somewhere else. I was – for lack of a better term – in Dixie. Delta. New Orleans … but I’m not sure what year.

I think I was on Frenchman street when I walked past a group of homeless kids huddled in a doorway. Realized that I had walked too far and there wasn’t enough light, so I turned back. The kids had reconstituted themselves into a little band. Banjo, bass, fiddler with the fiddle on his hip. The best damn bluegrass I’ve ever heard. Songs about moonshine and missing North Carolina. Hung out for a few songs before moving on. Didn’t get their names.

I heard delta blues coming out of a place called Checkpoint Charlie’s – and went in. Settled in at the bar. There was a man with a remarkable beard, playing guitar and singing, low and filled with soul. He was bothering the locals to get on stage with him – and they did. A clean cut man with too much moustache took the lead guitar for a while, and then passed it to an older vietnam-vet type. He finally managed to get a bass playing woman to sing lead. Then they began to rock. I felt like I was at somebody’s house … for the low key jam session that happens every night.

Meanwhile, the locals were at the bar. Swear to god a guy did a massive bong hit right on the copper bar next to me. The guitarist was calling friends in between songs to see who he could stay with. At one point the bartender tapped me on the shoulder. “Shot?” I glanced up and saw that drinks were lined up for all of us at the bar. So we clinked glasses and hoisted them. And the band played. “Went to the corner store / for a $3 bottle of gin / three, six, nine, twelve / don’t talk back.” “Ham and eggs, ham and eggs, can’t you hear me callin’ you.”

Also, the bar had a laundry room in the back. It’s that place.

I need to start asking people’s names.

Originally published at chris.dwan.org. You can comment here or there.

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