She’s flashy in sequins and gold spandex, and fluffy in tutus. You can’t miss her when she rolls by you down the street. Her bicycle has a canopy with bible verses painted around the trim, and Mardi Gras beads swish and sway to her pedaling rhythm. Never seen with a dour face, she cycles with her own groove, rockin’ and swayin’ and feelin’ her music. Occasionally, she stops and hops off her bike to dance. Sometimes she dances alone; at other times she gets a good grind on with the folks nearby. Where she chooses to stop seems random, but often it is not. Spotted dancing at places where life seems the most tough for folks, it is certain that she has an internal radar for where a little love is needed. She inspires a smile, a grin, and a little booty-shakin’. Always. Often, though, one can find her on Bourbon Street on an evening, and that’s when she rolls out her tip jar. Immodest, she will change her costume during Mardi Gras season right out there corner-side on St. Charles, particularly in the shelter of the Walgreens overhang at Felicity.
In the mornings, on Baronne St., a battalion of taxis are parked on the street outside the La Pavillon hotel. He is in that number. When one walks by, he thrusts his hand out of his open window with a hearty wave and a smile. Dark, grizzled, wise, his grey hair ever under a baseball cap coordinated with his plaid shirt of the day, his conversations always go, “Hey girl! How you doin’?” “Alright! How you?” “You headin’ to work now?” “Yessir, time to make dat money!” It varies, depending on the day. If one stops long enough, on the shadowed street with flower boxes lining the wall, one will discover that he has six children, all with children of their own now. He makes do, and smiles throughout.
Tiny, elderly, ensconced in rags ever-dusty, she is wheelchair-bound and cannot speak. One finds her perpetually outside of Williams Supermarket on St. Charles and, if she is not there, one knows she’s rolling around somewhere nearby. She never has assistance in her rolling – she does it herself, with her own arms. But one could wrap one hand around her calf. After a small stint of making groceries, when one exits she’ll say nary a word and simply hold out her hand. Her gratitude shows on her face, when someone obliges with a little cash. She tries to say, “Thank you,” but the words won’t come out. Her body language, however, is easily read. Despite the storm of vagrants who camp outside Williams Supermarket, she is ever the individual one feels compelled to hand a dollar or so to, saying, “Here you go, Mama.” She just inspires something. Who was she, in her youth?
Parking Lot Melvin
The most energetic man anyone ever did see, he runs to and fro managing his parking lot every day. “Hey!” he’ll call. “Where da boss at?!” One must keep him informed of the comings and goings of familiar people in this pay lot between Union and Perdido, as spots are scarce and if someone who pays monthly isn’t coming in, he has to give it up to the teeming masses finding a place to stash their vehicle in the CBD. Wiry, in his red shirt and cap, he camps at the attendant station and then ZOOM there he goes, when a car rolls up into his domain. He is always chipper in the morning with a, “HI THERE!” and in the evening with a, “YOU HAVE A GOOD NIGHT!” He speaks loudly, and quickly, and never stops running. Put the signs out on da street in the morning, pull the signs in from da street at night. The hardest-working man one will ever meet. Monthly, he purchases lottery tickets.
Guardian of the Corner Store
She’s always there. Morning, mid-day, night. The store is family-owned, and multiple folks therein have varying shifts. But she’s always, always there. Vietnamese, tiny but stocky, with long dark hair and horn-rimmed glasses, she guards the front counter behind its gun-proof glass with a surly passion and very limited english. She is Keeper of the lottery tickets, the cigarettes, the Ibuprofin, and the condoms. And the donuts. If one begins to frequent this place because of it’s one-block proximity to the house, she can be downright intimidating at the start. Always a frown, always a tough stance. Give it a year. During that time, consider it a sign that a good day is ahead when she actually smiles. Eventually, she’ll smile every time. Then, every day is good. She is beautiful when she smiles.
Crazy little Indian guy, and the biggest flirt one will ever meet. The King of the Subway at the corner of St. Andrew and St. Charles, he’ll notice when one walks by every day to cross the street to the streetcar stop. At Mardi Gras, if streetside camp is outside the store, one inevitably goes in there for sustenance. He keeps it up all day, juggling those crazy crowds. But he remembers. Afterwards, being more inclined toward local food as opposed to a chain sandwich and therefore not giving him patronage, one eventually does go in for the sake of convenience. Then he raises flirty-hell: “WHY you never come in?! I see you every day and you never come IN!” Small, slim, fine-featured, and young, dark hair just above the shoulders, his wall of flirt is a force to be reckoned with. Sometimes, if business is slow, he’ll step out of a morning to talk. When he goes back inside, others refer to him as “Romeo.” A resident of New Orleans for about a year, he came from New York, where he did fashion design.
She perches perpetually at the sheltered bus stop on the corner of St. Charles and Jackson. She’s big and, ever in a varying wardrobe waffling between Goodwill’s latest jeans/t-shirt combo and African print skirts, her short-haired dreadlocks hover just above the now-grey blanket that she has thrown over her shoulders. Winter or Summer, rain or devastating heat, she wears that blanket. One may run into her over by Magazine, coming down Josephine, but her ending destination is always that stop on Jackson. The biggest mystery of all the people one could encounter – up close, passing by her on the sidewalk on Josephine at 7:30 in the morning, she seems perfectly stable. Obviously a quiet and withdrawn soul, but steady. Why the blanket? Why that stop?
Alex, the Streetcar Man
THE BEST streetcar driver one will ever know. Small and wiry and of an age, he perches on the driver’s seat like a man who knows how to handle a tank. Always chipper at 7:45 in the morning, he’s the greatest way to begin a day. When possible, ride up front by him and talk. He loves to talk. When he gets to know your face, he loves to complain and give inside stories, too. He considers himself one of the biggest service-providers in the city. Not just himself, but the streetcar trade in the city as a whole. When things go wrong (breakdowns, construction, bad city decisions), he loathes it, as it gives his streetcar a bad name. He takes PRIDE in rolling that car, and his demeanor is an inspiration. Once he knows your face, he will STOP and WAIT at a stop, if one is stuck just on the other side of the street and cannot cross against traffic. If one rides enough, eventually, he will tell you his name, and ask you for yours. His schedule has become sporadic, and thus it becomes a wonderful day indeed to spot him on a car, or driving a bus. He’s been commanding that streetcar for 30 years. He’s retiring this year. It will certainly be a sad day when he is no longer on dat line.
The Hat Lady
She is always well put-together. But one can tell if she’s going to work, or if she is just out and about. When just out and about, she is ever and always wearing a hat. Mainly hats designed circa 1928. She’s often told that she looks like she’s straight from Gatsby, and she takes great honor in that assessment. Tall, slightly overweight but no one would know except the scale, she is self-conscious but has a flare for putting herself out there. Her bobbed blonde hair works with the hats, although at present she appears to need a haircut. At times, walking down the street, she has a surly glare – likely thinking about work or some other drama. At other times, she seems to be at peace, but ever watchful, and with a stare of awe about her face. She owns four umbrellas. Who is she, really?
I see that last one every time I look in the mirror.
The others, I’ve collected over the past year. Some of them, I see every day. Others, at least once a week. And that does not take into account the people I actually know. And I have not even touched the French Quarter. This city is incredible for characters, and living here I now understand why it is such a mecca for writers. Living here, I have stories in my head for years. It’s time to start writing them.