By Tim Stevens
As my Facebook friends know, I spent four days in New Orleans, LA last week, experiencing the city for the first time. This week, in honor of that trip, I bring you a tale of my time there. It will be like when your friends show you photos of their trip to some such place. Except this will be interesting. I promise.
I call this one…TERROR ON THE TROLLEY
New Orleans is, predominantly, a walking city if you are tourist. However, for those who wish to get where they are going with less effort, the city does offer a trolley system that includes the St Charles Line Streetcar which carries passengers from Canal Street—just in front of the famous Bourbon Street 24 Hour Festival of Debauchery (patent pending)—to Claiborne Avenue, covering some 13 plus miles of the city. I, being a man who appreciates mass transportation and the luxury of using technology to avoid exercise, encouraged my wife to snag aforementioned trolley somewhere a blocks west of Napoleon.
Hating the sound of my infernal whining (Her actual words!!!!!!!!! Maybe…) she acquiesced and we stood in wait for our metal steed to come and sweep us to a block or so away from our lavish accommodations. What we did not realize as we stood in wait is how this streetcar trip was not merely a chance to take a load off our feet, but also would prove to be an invitation to madness!
One car came and it was filled to the brim with people. They pushed and pulsed against one another as the trolley came squeaking to a step in front of us. They looked tired and bedraggled, a metal tube of humanity and its most exhausted and uncomfortable. My wife and I took stock of the scene and politely waved the driver on, assuring him that “we’ll just catch the next one.” He smiled weakly at us as if to say, “Won’t you take me with you,” before closing the door and easing the car down the tracks once more.
Our assumption that, like previous times, one car so full meant another was close by and nearly empty, proved false. A moment or two wait was revealed as but a silly hope, a childish dream, and so we stood and waited and the sun focused its energy upon my shorn dome giggling to itself with glee, “I’ll give you skin cancer yet, Mr. Stevens. And more importantly, you will look so very ridiculous with the top of your head burnt. So very ridiculous.” I could offer no witty reply so I simply kicked the ground and cursed—for not the first time—my awe-inspiringly smooth melon.
Thirty minutes passed and finally, our steel savior arrived (said with all due deference to our Lord and Savior who I believe celebrated a bit of anniversary this week and has our congrats on that. Happy 1,975th Resurrection Day, sir!). This car too was populated by many a person, but there seemed more wiggle room and the people appeared to be a heartier stock. Hesitating only a moment, Janelle and I hopped aboard the ride and grabbed leather for our journey west.
The situation (note: not to be confused with The Situation who, as I understand it, is something of a big deal and will be for about, I don’t know, three or so more minutes) looked up rapidly as, at the next stop, a couple vacated their seats and Janelle and I swooped in to secure them for ourselves. How were we to know that this seemingly fortuitous event was, in fact, nothing more than the first step to disaster?
As we took our seats, I briefly noted the family occupying the area in front of us. They appeared to be a husband and wife with their young—probably 8ish year old—son between them, plus another woman—who I am assumed to be the wife’s younger sister—with a baby girl, the couple’s daughter, on her lap.
As the car began to chug down the tracks, the younger woman, who I’ll call Tabitha for the sake of ease, began to lean herself and the baby out the window, pointing out the sights in an English accent that sounded a bit like I imagine Kate Winslet would after having thrown back a couple or five of New Orleans real signature drink (forget that Hurricane nonsense), the Sazerac.
The mother admonished Tabitha for this action, demanding, “Keep her head inside.” I confess my first thought was, “Ahh, another overprotective parent. Great.” Yes, it was judgmental, but seeing as this column is called “Complaint of the Week,” I find your feigns of surprise a bit difficult to swallow.
Tabitha, to her credit, listened, but continued to stick her own head and arms out the streetcar’s window, cooing to the child about architecture and flowers (“Oooo, the lilies, look at the lilies! OOOOOOOOOOOOO! AREN’T THEY PRETTY). Although she sounded quite sure of herself, the factual underpinnings of her statements seemed questionable at best. At one point, I am almost certain she identified what was clearly an American Townhouse as a Creole Townhouse and who would make such a ridiculous mistake?
Anyway, I soon had to let the mother off the hook as light poles, telephone poles, and trees began to become increasingly frequent neighbors to the trolley tracks. As the car picked up speed, they started cropping up every few seconds or so. But Tabitha was not afraid. She continued to toss her limbs out the window with (literally) reckless abandon, whipping them back in the car mere milliseconds before they would be sheared off by a large unforgiving object hugging the next turn. It was simultaneously horrible and hypnotic. I found myself waiting for the inevitable flying limb and spray of blood, but unable to stop watching. Attempts to look away were either fruitless, as she was planted in such a way as to fill most of my eyeline, or ill advised, as looking left across the cab would leave me staring at two fourteen year old girls. I’ve seen that TV show and I want no part of the Chris Hanson visit.
After what most have only been five stops, but felt like, I don’t know, a literal eternity, the family stood up and began to gather themselves to leave. Tabitha kissed the child on her lap on the forehead and handed her to the mother. The father opened a carriage, asking the son to help. And then, as the doors opened, something miraculous happened. The father reached out his hand to Tabitha and said, “It was a pleasure to meet you.” And the mother mumbled something similar. And then they were off.
To review, Tabitha was not the mother’s younger sister. She was no aunt, no friend, no neighbor, no tour guide. She was total and complete stranger who held their baby on her lap for some 8 or so stops, occasionally dangling said baby out the window, and flailed about wildly risking her own face and limbs. They allowed this to happen with only one moment of “hey, knock it off” for the whole ride. She was a stranger.
After they got off, a young woman and her child, in a car scene, made the mistake of sitting next to Tabitha on the bench in the front of the trolley. When the trolley turned the corner and the wheels squealed loudly against the track, Tabitha reached over and plugged the child’s ears. The young woman was not even remotely close to amused. I, on the other hand, could do nothing but laugh.
Tabitha, if you are out there, thanks for the memories. I think I can say with some level of security that I shall never see another like you and, given my line of work, that is certainly saying something.
I know several people who read this every week who don’t comment below because, well, the Internet and all that. If that applies to you, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your comments (and if I get enough, I can do answer columns every now and again). Also feel free to request me on the old facespace (http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=836564484). Just be sure to say why you are doing so (I read you on Brendan’s blog, for instance) so I don’t ignore it.