Part 2: A weary traveler in the Big Easy with a dead battery.
As I left the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and walked back to my car, I was in a great mood. The sun was low on the horizon and Patti Smith’s performance had been perfect. Even the rain made for a good story. The parking lot, which in reality was usually a vacant lot with a fence around it, was still full of cars as the crowd made its way out.
I got in my car and tried to start it, only to be greeted by silence. I tried again. Nothing. I checked all the lights. Nothing had been left on. The owner of the car next to be came and I pulled the jumper cables out of my trunk and we hooked up my battery to his. I turned on the car and it jumped right up. I thanked him and he left. After letting it fully charge for five minutes, I turned it off. Mistake. It wasn’t holding the charge and it was dead again (although better to find out then than on the highway later).
By now, the parking lot was nearly empty, and it was getting dark. The man at the gate (whose name, shamefully, I do not remember, but I think it was James, so let’s go with that) wandered over. We lifted the hood and looked at the engine — to be fair, he looked at the engine. Short of the engine not actually being there I wouldn’t know what I was looking at.
After a while he informed me that the battery was indeed dead, and did I want him to take me to a hotel? Well, the chances of getting a room on JazzFest weekend is remote. Especially when one has no money. James offered to meet me in the morning and take me to get a new battery. I decided to sleep in the car.
The parking lot was empty, the night was dark. The gatekeeper stayed with me for a while, chatting about this and that. He didn’t live far away. Then he got a call from his wife and left me to the night.
Normally, I would expect to be full of anger at the universe, bemoaning my fate to all and sundry. But I was still basking in the Patti Smith glow. There was nothing I could do, so I looked at the stars, listened to the sounds of the city, and dozed fitfully until the sun came up.
James, as promised, showed up just before 8 a.m. We unhooked the battery and drove to a garage he knew that would sell me a new one. On the way, as he smoked a joint, he told me I had got him in trouble.
“I don’t have to be here until 10:30,” he said. “So, when I got ready to leave, my wife asked me where I was going. I told her that I was coming to get you and take you to get a new battery. She yelled at me, ‘Do you mean to tell me you left that poor man in his car when you could have brought him here?’ Boy, did she chew me out.”
We laughed and I apologized for getting him in trouble.
The battery was bought, James put it in the car, and it started right up. I thanked him and slipped him my last $20 as we shook hands, apologizing that it wasn’t more. He tried to refuse it, but I joked he needed to get some more smokables. I cranked Patti up on iPad and headed away from the Big Easy.
Seeing Patti Smith was a true pleasure, but James made the experience so much more memorable with his kindness. And I would like to have met his wife, she sounds great. The adventure is one of which Patti would approve, I think.
That’s how JazzFest is. Good people, good music, cool experiences. It’s a shame it’s postponed this year. I need to go back.