The devil on the streetcar
As part of NolaVie's Yeah you write! campaign, we are inviting readers to submit New Orleans-related content for an opportunity to have their work featured on our site. Whether it's a personal essay about moving from New Orleans, a photo of French Quarter Fest, or a video of a second line, we want to know: What's your New Orleans story?
Today's featured submission from Matt Wastradowski, a Portland resident who frequently visits the Big Easy, about New Orleans' wonderfully weird social climate.
I tried to avoid eye contact with the devil as he boarded the streetcar, but it’s never that easy in New Orleans. I’d never seen anything like his garish costume–complete with a red sequined jacket, sparkly platform shoes, and horn-adorned top hat–and couldn’t help but stare as he sat down on a nearby wooden seat and opened a can of Four Loko. Convinced he had a good story, I asked about the get-up.
Over the next 20 minutes, he alluded to the legal troubles in Alabama that brought him to New Orleans, discussed his career as a busker in Jackson Square, offered me five pounds of crawfish, and delivered running commentary on passengers as they boarded and departed. “She’s got airplane legs,” he remarked of one particularly attractive woman.
Soon after, he greeted an elderly nun as she boarded the streetcar. As it turned out, they were old friends, which made perfect sense: Where else would the devil would befriend a nun, if not New Orleans?
The devil departed a few stops later, so his friend and I continued the conversation. She discussed her harrowing Katrina experience, laughed about the sometimes-confusing geography of New Orleans, and asked about my hometown of Portland, Oregon. Before I knew it, we reached the end of the line, far beyond my hotel back in the Garden District.
A few minutes later, back on the streetcar, I shook my head at what had just happened. The encounter became one of the moments that only happen in New Orleans. It became one of the city’s beautiful, strange, unexplainable, you-had-to-be-there, I-don’t-get-it-either, don’t-question-it-just-go-with-it moments.
There was the bike tour guide who started his safety speech by informing our group that helmets are optional and that we can nurse a beer while pedaling. Later in the tour, he pointed out the corner where he shared a beer with an NOPD officer while celebrating the Saints’ Super Bowl win.
The next day, while walking between stages at the French Quarter Fest, I stumbled upon Bernie & the Party Gators. This group of German jazz musicians, which I’d never heard of before, drank liberally before, during, and after each song. And, with a deep baritone vocalist and thick German accents, they absolutely killed “Basin Street Blues.”
Later that night, when the Treme Brass Band played its last note and I nearly collapsed from hours of dancing, Gladys–the waitress who dished up a bowl of white beans and rice when I first walked in and never let my Abita Strawberry run dry–gave me the kind of hug reserved for estranged family members on Thanksgiving. “Good night, darling,” she said through the biggest smile I had ever seen. “We’ll see you again soon.”
Somewhere in there, I ran into the devil. But, because this is New Orleans, I asked how his day went. And, after he departed, I remembered that it’s not like back home in Portland, where “weird” is less an identity than a commodity. Back home, he’s a curiosity who’d be Instagrammed and overtly ignored in equal measure. But here in New Orleans, he fits right in, just him and the nun, talking about their days on the streetcar.