The Great Unwashed
Letters readers know I love New Orleans. Well we just got back from four weird days there, where Murphy’s Law ran amok. It was still a blast, mind you, but it had its challenges.
First, as we flew toward Louisiana, I read a Facebook post from friends down there. Upstream runoff from the great Mississippi River was cascading downstream at an alarming rate. Folks worried that the river would crest over flood stage—and you know what a mess that can be in New Orleans.
On our landing approach, we flew low over some of the canals and I strained to see if the levees looked stressed. I was stressed but the levees looked fine. It turned out that while we were in our airport cab, the river crested four inches below panic stage and we could move on to the next crisis.
Arriving at our hotel, in 97 degree weather (they give the lesbian conferences this time on the calendar) there was nothing we wanted more than a tall icy cocktail, probably a signature Hurricane. Stopping by our room to unload luggage we were greeted by an urgent hotel advisory: The Sewerage and Water Board issued a Boil Water Order. A power outage at the water plant rendered the entire water supply to New Orleans unsafe for drinking, tooth-brushing, and showering. Even showering?
While I wanted a shower, and would have liked to brush my teeth, the real significance of this meant NO ICE. Here I was in the city where walking around with a Hurricane or other such cocktail was practically mandatory, and there would be no ice. In effect, it became a Boil Water and Drink Beer Order.
So we did, enjoying our Red Beans and Rice, Gumbo, Oysters, and other celebratory New Orleans menu items. The restaurants were all frustrated, as there could be no sodas, and pretty much no alcoholic drinks served at all, unless you wanted your Scotch neat.
But after hoofing it around the French Quarter in the excruciatingly hot and humid weather, it was the shower that became mandatory. But, according to the local news, the consequences could be infection with a parasitic brain eating amoeba—scientific name, Naegleria fowleri amoeba. It sounded very fouleri alright.
So the hotel provided each room with bottled water for drinking, tooth brushing, and dabbing one’s body. Grand.
That night I performed my reading in the ballroom at the hotel before a large audience of sweaty lesbians.Talk about the great unwashed. I might as well have been performing in the woods at the Michigan Womyns Music Festival. I joked that the show title should have been changed from 50 Shades of Fay to 50 Whiffs of Fay.
But we survived. I got a standing ovation, although the crowd might just have been standing to air themselves out. Then we all went and had more beer.
The writer’s conference itself was magical. Our keynote speaker was Dorothy Allison, author of Bastard out of Carolina and other amazing books. Her riveting speech had tales of surviving and thriving at the very dawn of the feminist revolution—and what we, as women, lesbian women specifically, faced and continue to face by way of roadblocks and challenges.
For me, the thrill was sitting next to Ms. Allison at dinner the night before. She was as funny and insightful over shrimp and grits as she was talking to the throngs.
And as if that wasn’t enough (and it would have been!) the conference bestowed the Lee Lynch Classic Book Award to pioneering author Rita Mae Brown for her classic Rubyfruit Jungle. At the Awards Ceremony Rita Mae gave a fiery and inspiring speech imploring us never to be victims and always to remember our roots.
Several years ago, I interviewed her for Letters when she was on a book tour with one of her Sneaky Pie mysteries. I got the impression at that time she was all about fox hunting and literary cat stories, no longer so much about activism and LGBT rights. Well, cats and foxes may have been on her mind then, but she’s certainly come back home to celebrate her own roots in the feminist revolution and push, push, push for equality. She rocked the ballroom with her words and bravura.
On Sunday morning, before leaving for the airport, Bonnie and I walked along the river toward Café du Monde for beignets and coffee. Just at our left turn into town we heard a deafening train whistle. Who knew that freight trains actually ran through the French Quarter. But there we were, on the wrong side of the tracks from the beignets, watching a lumbering parade of tanker cars, grain carriers and long railroad containers inch by. So slowly in fact, that it took a full 20 minutes, with us baking in the blazing sun, waiting for that insanely long train to pass. Standing just inches from the track, with no gates or barriers, I could have put a bandana on a stick and hopped a box car. With only bottled water to sprinkle on the important places, I might have already smelled like a hobo.
And finally, back at the airport, as our plane prepared for take off, one of its engines quit. The captain apologized and announced they would try to restart the engine. They failed. Again the captain got on the microphone and announced that a ground crew of mechanics was on the way to restart the engine another way. What were they going to do, jump it? I wasn’t sure I wanted it to start.
But jump it they did, and off we flew to Baltimore, bidding a fond farewell to brain eating amoeba, unwashed lesbians, thrilling speakers, tasty gumbo, and my chance to hop a box car and become a homo hobo. Despite the challenges it was a fantastic trip. Hey, Rita Mae, we did not choose to be victims!
Fay Jacobs is the author of As I Lay Frying—a Rehoboth Beach Memoir; Fried & True—Tales from Rehoboth Beach, For Frying Out Loud—Rehoboth Beach Diaries, and her newest book Time Fries—Aging Gracelessly in Rehoboth Beach.