WHERE'S LARRY?THE TRAVAILS OF PARKING AT JAZZ FEST
A continuous stream of young entrepreneurs has arrived in New Orleans in the years since Hurricane Katrina. But all of us locals are well aware that entrepreneurship has gone hand in hand with Jazz Fest since its beginnings.
These locals not only hawk beer and water outside the festival grounds, but many enterprising sorts also offer their lawns, driveways and various other parts of their property to festgoers looking for places to park.
I’d never been to a Thursday Jazz Fest, but yesterday was so beautiful that playing a little hookey was in order. I left work early and grabbed a cab to meet my wife, the editor of this site, for a late-afternoon rendezvous at the Fair Grounds.
When we met up, she smugly advised that she had gotten a great parking place on Belfort Avenue just a block from the Congo Square entrance. No surprise there: My wife has what I call a parking gene – an uncanny ability to snag a spot close to wherever we’re headed. Couple that with a mindset that abhors walking any distance to a door, and parking is raised to the level of a sport in her mind.
At any rate, after a stellar day at Jazz Fest, we left around 6 p.m. and walked the short distance to our car, where my daughter and her fiancé awaited.
“It’s blocked,” my daughter called as we approached.
“Blocked! We can’t get out.”
Yep, three cars were lined up nose to tail in a one-lane driveway squeezed between two doubles, and one was parked behind ours.
“What gives?” I asked my wife.
“I paid $20 to a guy named Larry (remember that name) who told me not to worry if anyone parked behind me, ‘cause he’d keep the keys and he’d be here all day. He lives in the yellow house two doors down.”
There was no Larry in sight.
I knocked at the door of the yellow house. No Larry.
A guy on a nearby stoop said, “Larry’s not here. He walked down to the corner.”
I walked three blocks to the corner of Gentilly Boulevard, asking everyone along the way, “Are you Larry?”
But everyone knew Larry. “He went down to the other corner,” one guy said, pointing in the opposite direction. I walked three blocks the other way, asking everyone along the way, “Are you Larry?”
“He went to the grocery store to get something to eat,” said a young neighbor in a white wifebeater t-shirt.
“Do you have his phone number?” I asked.
“No,” he responded with a hint of disdain. “Larry not that important.”
A guy on a bike offered to ride to the grocery store to look for Larry. No Larry.
Larry’s brother turned up on the sidewalk in front of the yellow house. I asked, “Where’s Larry? Our car is blocked and he has the keys.” He shrugged. “I hate to tell you,” he said, “but Larry is really not that reliable.”
“What was Larry wearing?” I asked my wife.
“A black t-shirt,” she said. “Or maybe it was brown.”
Thirty-five minutes had passed. We were standing in the driveway, then standing in the street, then looking up and down the street with our arms crossed. Looking expectantly afar at any male walking down the street in a black – brown? maybe beige? -- t-shirt. No Larry. But everyone who walked by … knew Larry.
Finally, the owner of the black Acura blocking our car showed up. Thank God!
But wait – did he have the keys to his car?
“Yeah,” he replied. “I asked the guy I paid to park here if he wanted my keys because I was blocking two cars that couldn’t get out, and he said, nah, don’t worry, take your keys.”
Probably a good thing, because I never did meet Larry.
At any rate, an hour after leaving the Fair Grounds we pulled away from the one-lane driveway squished between two doubles down the street from Larry’s yellow house. We had parked at a house where no one was at home and with dubious connection to the entrepreneur in charge.
I drove down Belfort Avenue, waving to all my new friends. I rolled down the window. “Tell Larry he got me this time, but I’ll get him the next.” They laughed.
Entrepreneurism has been alive and well in New Orleans for decades. And its name is Larry.