No, not being one to be chatty with total strangers, I've not fallen for this. But it's on the news, and so prominent that people talk about their first time at being duped. I guess such a light-hearted view of criminal activity is tolerated here, after all, this is a state that made political chicanery an Olympic sport.
I poke fun at our TV news in Los Angeles, but I will welcome the unending freeway chases, quarter hourly Michael Jackson updates, and even the 24x7 coverage of the 4 point earthquake that knocked a shopping cart into an SUV in Simi Valley. The news in this city seems to start the same way every night: "It was another violent night in the city, starting with a [double | triple] homicide in...." I wish I could say I was kidding, but I’m not. Murder tops every news episode I’ve seen while here. The 6:00 news will talk of one murder, while the 10:00 news will bring information about that one and the two that happened between 6 and 10. Seriously. As loosely as English is used here, perhaps someone confused hospitality with hospital.
The arms race didn’t end here
Much in the same way battles were still being fought here after the civil war ended, there seems to still be an arms race going on here. In my last visit here, the cab driver made a point to tell me he had a gun under his seat, in case we had any trouble driving through the city. I guess in his eyes, that was a tip worthy admission.
This year, in my cab ride to get robbed of my wallet in the French Quarter Friday night, one of the draw bridges was up. This cab driver nervously approached the bridge (I guess he forgot his piece). To his relief, I agreed we could go around. He confessed he doesn't like being stopped on that bridge. There are ladders along the side where someone can climb up and pull out a gun on you. This is from a cab driver who must take this route all the time.
Somehow, this I shrugged off too. I had visions of go go boys dancing in my head.
I used to just think my parents were being overly-cautious (they do have a flare for that). I'd reassure them by telling them, "I live in Los Angeles, mom, I think I can handle New Orleans" or "Dad, I catch trains at 3 am in New York all the time when I'm there." (Mental note: omit 3 am train story from future conversations with parents; it appears to be about as reassuring as the phrase "but I always use a fresh needle").
But I digress, aside from being a city of miscreants and bigots, it does have some charm. The river of puke and urine that flows down Bourbon Street on any given Saturday night certainly adds a bit of character and smell. And if that's not enough, there is the scintillating conversation with colorful locals.
'Tis the seasoning
Case in point, on a trip to a suburban Wal-mart (which can certainly be an adventure in and of itself in the best of cities) in search of some pepper spray. In view of my brush with the criminal element, I thought it might help me feel a little safer (I’ll be damned if anyone’s getting my new empty wallet). After searching around unsuccessfully, I found myself in, what can best be described as, the armory department. Seriously, there were aisles upon aisles of firearms and ammunition. If the military and the U.N. were looking for Saddam's weapons of mass destruction, I wonder if they looked at the local Wal-mart, because I'm pretty sure I saw them between the B.B. guns and the surface-to-air missile launchers on aisle 15.
I would be understating it if I said I felt a little uneasy in this section of the store. (Just this section? Really?) There were numerous people walking around in camouflage (hats and all). I'm not sure what they were hunting in the store, but I was sure wishing I was wearing something from the Paul Frank Desert Storm line. I wanted to complete my transaction and quickly. I looked for a Wal-mart associate and found an elderly lady in a vest in one of the aisles, seemingly reorganizing the land mines some child had foolishly disheveled.
I asked the toothless woman if they carried pepper spray, and she replied informing me that the spices were located on the other side of the store and pointed. We laughed at her joke.... or rather I laughed at what I thought was her clever joke. It was neither.
She didn't seem to understand what tickled my funny bone. Concerned she was both armed and unamused, I quickly regained my countenance, and demurely said, "Oh, not that kind of pepper spray. The kind I'm looking for is a personal defense spray."
The look on her face caused me to anticipate and stop her next thought (for both our sakes), as I just knew she was thinking, "What the hell does this guy want with a feminine deodorant spray?"
"It's sort of like mace," I quickly added as she slowly pulled her hand away from what might have been her holster.
"Oh, we don't carry nothin' like that," she retorted quickly.
To me, the irony of not carrying "nothin' like that" standing in the midst of an arsenal that would make the former members of the Waco compound blush, could not be escaped. To her, the irony was located in the cleaning department, next to the starch.
"I guess pepper spray doesn't meet your strict, lethal requirements," I said. (In my head of course. Without Grand Theft Auto in the PS/2, I was clearly outgunned.) I felt my question had been answered, and my sarcasm probably unwelcome. The clientele standing around holding and admiring the breadth of firearms available was a bit too unsettling, so I decided I'd thank the toothless woman and quickly make my leave.
I won't say I have a fully formulated opinion on gun control, but I'm pretty sure being able to say, "Honey, could you pick me up a glock when you're getting toilet paper and beer at the Wal-mart?" and have it actually make sense would probably fall under the "might not be a good idea" category.
At least buy me dinner first
On the positive side, so far no one has tried to use my credit cards, leading me to hope they may have just thrown my wallet away rather than commit identity theft. The thought of someone, other than me or tequila, tarnishing my image is unsettling.
I did waste no time contacting the airport to make sure I don't get trapped in this hell masquerading as a city. This being New Orleans, and crime being rampant, they're well versed in handling the recently-robbed-ID-less.
"Don’t worry, sugar. Just bring what you got and come early so we have time to search you thoroughly."
I don't like the sound of that.
This may be one of those times your mother always warned you about: make sure you have on clean underwear.