Lou Pickney's Online Commentary
New Orleans 2K2
August 10, 2002
"So drunk in the August sun
And you're the kind of girl I like
Because you're empty and I'm empty
And you can never quarantine the past"
The New Orleans Story...
I looked out the window of my Southwest Airlines flight from Tampa around 1 PM last Friday afternoon and took in the bird's eye view of the skyline of the city of New Orleans. The Superdome stands out, even from the sky, as a mammoth and impressive structure.
Downtown is where I wanted to be... but the New Orleans airport is actually in nearby Kenner. So on we went. Once on the ground, I went to the Airport Taxi booth and inquired about landing a ride into the French Quarter. The woman at the booth told me there was a 30-minute wait and suggested I take a cab. No dice; a taxi would've run me at least $28 one way, while I could ride the Airport Taxi minivan for $20 roundtrip. So I went with that.
The wait was more like 20 minutes, but then we were on our way. After several stops, the arrival -- the New Orleans Marriott on Canal Street.
The door attendant opened one of the hotel's glass doors for me, and inside I went. The lobby of that Marriott was spacious and bustling with people.
Almost immediately, I heard my name called. I looked around the room... and saw Jeff Werner, John Standard (aka Ringo), and John's wife Jeannie. The three were sitting around a table in the open air bar/lounge area in the center of the lobby. I walked over and said my hellos and what not. It'd been more than three years since I'd seen Ringo, and even longer for Jeannie. The last time I'd seen Werner was last September at Joe Pacheco's wedding. Time flies. Ringo now has maybe the coolest sideburns I've ever seen, with this interesting combo with a goatee that I'm at a loss to explain. It worked well for him, though.
We took the elevator up to the 23rd floor. The Canal St. Marriott has 40 floors, so it's equipped with several "express elevators". Since I was all Dramamine'd up from the flight, the motion didn't bother me then, although it lead to a couple of queasy moments later. Up to the room, I put my stuff down, and then it was off to hunt down some of the other people there.
My trip there was to take part in the semi-annual Phi Kappa Tau national convention. Craig Bryan, who was in Phi Tau with me at UE, won the Schiedler Award. That's given to the top graduating Phi Tau senior in the country. And Craig won it. So along with the scholarship check and the plaque, Craig had the honor of addressing the entire convention at the Saturday night dinner.
I managed to sign up late for the convention... the day before the dinner. Didn't know for sure if I'd be able to or not, but they let me. Didn't say anything about any late fees, either. There's a lesson to be learned here: plan ahead! But when you don't, don't be afraid to roll the dice. Like I told some of the people I talked with about it, smile and act like you belong there and nine times out of ten you'll do just fine. Even with a shaved head and going on zero sleep.
The collection of people there who I knew was a striking mix of past, present and future. Matt Parker was there. He graduated from UE before I joined Phi Tau, but as Rob Apple's Phi Tau big brother I knew him (plus he came down a few times from Indy and partied with us back in the day). He's now working successfully in the banking industry up in New York state. Incidentally, Matt bet me $5 on that Friday night that the Packers would win the Super Bowl. I want the record to reflect that. Should be the easiest $5 I'll win but never collect on...
Others there who I knew included Craig (mentioned before), Ben Yamnitz, and Witt Tice (who didn't remember me, but who I knew from a couple of house parties Pacheco and I hosted back in the fall of 1999). It was a real thrill to get to drink a hurricane with Ben on Bourbon Street. See, back in February 1999, well alot of shit happened in February 1999, but before all that there was Mardi Gras weekend. And Ben and I came _this_ close to driving down on a whim to take part in the revelry. Driving from Evansville. Irrational? Yes. But we nearly did. And that was despite the explicit threat from Dr. Pieper that my going would impact my grade in his Sociology class (all my other profs were fine with it, but Pieper did things his way). I'll never forget the e-mail he sent me, all indignent-like (cc'd to all my other professors, no less), which went something along the lines of: "Let me get this straight, you want to skip class so you can go to Mardi Gras?" Lovely. Anyway, three and a half years removed from that, Ben and I finally had our chance to party on Bourbon Street. Good times.
I also met Flounder (Brian Cooper), who joined Phi Tau at Evansville in 2000 (after I'd already left town for Huntington). We hadn't met before, but he knew of me from some of the other guys. Plus there were the interesting mix of people like Todd Napier (Evansville Phi Tau grad who spent the past three years as the national fraternity president) and Richard Ludwick and Todd Lucas (well I didn't talk with Lucas, but I saw him a time or two). So the collection of people in relation to my frame of reference was intriguing, to say the least. But it made for a fun time.
Several of us went to Harrah's Casino for a little gambling action. I look at the money I spend at a casino as entertainment, as if I'm going to an amusement park and plunking down $40 or whatever. I ended up down about 30 bucks, though that might've been worth it for the Price Is Right slot machine alone. See, they have this slot machine there based on the game show The Price Is Right. I suppose Bob Barker wouldn't sell out, but Rod Roddy did, as his image and voice is used in it. Basically it's your typical video slots, but with a Price Is Right gimmick. And, what do you know, after a couple of quarters I hit on the "Showcase Showdown".
It prompted me to spin the big wheel. No, not physically do it, but start a video generated big wheel. It told me I needed to hit in the .55 to $1 range to make it to the Showdown. My first spin netted a whopping .10. So I spun again... and hit .55, giving me a total of .65! So I qualified for the next round.
From there, it was essentially a pick-em guessing game between the two "showcases". But it tallied up the virtual value (I won the more expensive of the two), and then it did the whole "You Win!" thing and started spitting out $1 game tokens. $24 worth in total. So I walked out down $30 instead of $55, and I had quite a memory of my time at the casino.
By the way, my description of the experience with the Price Is Right game totally doesn't do it justice. If they can ever combine gambling and video games -- well that could be a very dangerous thing...
Friday night was the night to throw down, as I planned it. I knew that my Sunday morning flight would be none-too-fun with a hangover, so best to get all that out of the way Friday night. And, to be sure, it was a pretty wild time. If you know Bourbon Street, you know it can get crazy. Ringo and Jeannie tapped out early, ditto for Craig and his girlfriend Sarah, but the rest of us met up with some of the other Phi Tau guys there (like "Big Country" from the Indiana State chapter) and hit the town. Alcohol + women + sleep deprivation = unpredictablity. 'Nuff said.
Despite the whole lack of sleep thing, I didn't get to bed until nearly 6 AM. Probably would've been later if Parker would've been able to convince our group to stay awake till sunrise. But then the whole awake thing hit all too early, and sleep became impossible. Not good. Insomnia is the life of a third shifter. Anyway, Ringo went to the Phi Tau convention floor, Jeannie went to the pool, and Werner and I watched Bull Durham on TBS. Ben came by a little later with food from Wendy's.
By the way, it really was a throwback style weekend, as I chowed down. Delicious food, but damned greasy (we're talking fried spicy chicken sandwich and fries and a Frosty in a meal at Wendy's). Of course it wouldn't be New Orleans without at least one nice meal, so Friday night some of us had dinner at Mike Anderson's, a good seafood restaurant down in the French Quarter. Mighty fine.
Saturday night was the big end-of-convention dinner. In my haste in trying to get ready to leave Tampa that Friday morning, I managed to leave my toiletry bag behind. Consequently, I had no razor. I procured one from the front desk of the Marriott, but it was no Mach 3. More like a dull piece of metal in a plastic handle. Now maybe there are people who can handle that with skill, but not me. By the time I finished trying to shave Saturday mid-morning (once I knew that a return to sleep was impossible), my neck looked like I had just fought Sabu in an FMW barbed wire match. Real unimpressive. So for the Saturday night banquet, I had the five o-clock shadow thing going in conjunction with the nicked-up neck. I was looking less like G.Q. Smooth and more like R.J. Skank. But so it goes.
The banquet itself was a nice time. The no-sleep thing was really kicking my ass around then, though. All Xen'ed up, and still fighting from nodding off. Total "Jack Bauer in 24" type mode. Todd Napier's exit speech as he handed off control of the fraternity presidency post was emotional. And then there was Craig's speech... which might have bored 95% of the room (since it focused on Evansville's Phi Tau chapter), but which I found fascinating. It detailed the rise and fall and return to strength of Evansville's Phi Tau chapter, and his experience and role in helping it get to where it is today. I was glad I was there to hear it.
We went out and hit Bourbon Street again Saturday night, though this time perhaps a bit more curtailed. Less alcohol, for sure. Highlight of the night had to be this random hot blonde who came up and started rubbing my head. Fellas, the shaved head thing has its advantages, believe me. Didn't have to say a word to get this gorgeous blonde chick who I'd never met to come up and start touching me. Advantage: Lou. This was supposed to be "Hawaiian shirt night", I suppose so all the Phi Tau's could recognize one another. I wore the closest thing I have to a Hawaiian shirt, my red "fire" shirt, which seemed to work just fine.
Sunday morning hit, and we were off to Tampa and Boston and Evansville and Waco and Terre Haute and New York other parts in-between. But it was a very fun weekend, a chance to hit one of my all-time favorite cities (though I realized during the course of the weekend just how crazy traffic can be in New Orleans). Fun times, a little nostalga, and a nice break from the norm...