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A Magical Halloween, in New Orleans, in 2016

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Our trip was different, it was to be a classic affirmation of everything that was right and true in the national character. A gross physical salute to the fantastic possibilities of life in this country, but only for those with true grit. And we are chock-full of that man!  – Dr. Hunter S. Thompson

 

One would think after a two-day train ride from San Francisco to New Orleans, across twenty states amidst a volatile 2016 election between a corrupt tangerine and “Crooked Hillary”, punishing one’s mind, body, and soul with no sleep, barrels of booze, questionable food, and a rainbow of suspect conversations, that a crew of five late 20-year-olds with nowhere to go but somewhere new, would be catching the first plane out of NOLA upon arrival simply based on base physical limits.

Why would anyone submit themselves to such trials? Well, why not? Our voyage was an attempt to escape the flames – metaphorically and physically – burning in the country. Whether we were aware of that fact or not wasn’t really the point. The aim was crossing a bridge between coasts, something neither of us had done before. That’s why I got on the train. Lastly, it was a challenge, yet in another way, it was a responsibility, calling the media’s bluff on a millennial culture labeled weak, privileged, and glued to their screens.

It was 10 o’clock at night when the four of us arrived in New Orleans the day before Halloween in the year of our lord 2016. I think it was a Friday. Humidity punched through the windows, kicking all of us in nuts. The first order of business was to meet the one that had not gotten on the train. As we waited on the UBER (the best way to get around if you’re too drunk or in a tough spot) I called him. Off in some unknown direction, a freight train horn bellowed.

“Freckle,” I said when the phone clicked. “You here?”

“Yeah I’m fuckin’ here,” he barked. “We’re staying on a goddamned school bus?”

I chuckled. “It was a good deal.”

We were lucky enough to know somebody in NOLA, but in our case, my “friend” wanted nothing to do with me.

“Ya’ll are too sketchy,” she explained. “Don’t come here.”

The truth hurts, but I couldn’t argue with them,  which is probably why we found ourselves sleeping in a literal school bus. It was gutted, installed with 5 “beds” (planks of wood with a foot of foam laid on top), and owned by a woman named Otter. I had found it on Air BNB and chose it strictly chose for the price, obviously. She had one of those hairless dogs, jet black, with eyes that possessed a void-like quality. I made the mistake of looking directly into its eyes and immediately wet myself. Some things cannot be avoided. After getting berated by the crew for my choice in lodgings, the five us made our way to a small bar down the street where we got a beer, shot, burger, and fries for under $10. 

“What’s the catch?”  I asked our waitress. 

“No catch,” she said with a grin. “Just New Orleans.”

Our next day I decreed “Mitchell Day”. Whatever I wanted, went. Strangely, no one had any objections. We rocketed down to the French Quarter, passing graveyards, crooked houses, train tracks, and schoolyards filled with children dressed up as pumpkins, skeletons, and Satchmo, finding ourselves at one of the greatest establishments on God’s green Earth – Willies

This particular spot was right on the strip, filled with churning vats of frozen neon pinks, greens, and baby blues liquor concoctions. Names like “Liquid Lava”, “Everclear Fear”, and “Blackout” were just a few of the titles these devilish beverages had. I was in heaven, I had found my calling. I went with half “Jungle Juice”, half “Everclear”, and took everyone down to the Mississippi River. The water was a murky brown and the air was boiling hot, but as a cool breeze spun with the sounds of trumpets and laughter, everything relaxed. A wedding ceremony was making its way along the bank. Kids were biting into multi-colored snow cones as seagulls screeched overhead. Everything seemed to pixelate into a dream-like trance. After an afternoon nap, we got some BBQ at this place called The Joint with ribs that would literally make you weep. Belly’s full, we went and changed into our costumes.

Walking from the bus to a bar/venue called Hi-Ho in our Teenage Ninja Turtle shirts and matching hat with their faces on it (Coen was just wearing a tiny cowboy hat and nothing else) a crew from a called shouted at us, NICE COSTUMES ASSHOLES! Of course, we said nothing back. Defending our honor for an obvious fact seemed like the right thing to do. What I would later be told is that not being on your A-game on Halloween is like wearing a Dodgers jersey to a Giants game: pure toxicity. I cast my teenage turtlehead in the trash and continued on.

Hi-Ho had a large, barren stage cast in blood-red light. The first act was some hipster western string band wearing assless chaps and neon pink cowboy hats. After three quick rounds of $1 Budweiser bottles, my old friend Bagel showed up; the one that wanted very little to do with us and rightly so.

She had long pink hair, mystical white designs on her face, dressed in a flowing light blue mermaids costume without the tail. Before I could even get a hug in, she introduced me to her ex-boyfriend. He was in nothing but a silver sequin cape and whitey-tightie underwear. Confused on a few counts, I almost bopped the bastard in the nose because of everything Bagel had told me about the fool. I held back and hit the Bud until it was gone.

“Bagel,” I said hugging her. She smelled of cheap bourbon and cosmos flowers. “Good to see you.”

“You seem…here Duran,” Bagel said hesitantly.

“Here now, there later.”

Natalita

A loud, explosive boom erupted from the stage. Every head that had been jabbering turned on a dime and watched as a woman – totally nude – walked out to face her underlings. Natalita was the artist’s name. She was maybe 5feet tall and covered in olive-colored mud with a snake wrapped around her shoulders. Think Salma Hayek in Dusk Till Dawn but with a hard, electric switchblade voice backed up by gritty synth-pop. Power emanated from her, raw feminine energy that was unabashed, fearless, and dangerously entertaining. There was nothing left to do but get pounded by the bass and treble infused witchcraft rolling over all of us like an electric wave. 

The Country Club

The next afternoon (sleeping in was next to impossible but we tried) we got ourselves to The Country Club. For only $15, we had full access to their pool, hot tub, restaurant, and bar. Quite a deal when it feels like Hades out on the streets. We soaked our ravaged bodies, swapped inebriated tales from the night before like seeing a band masked in Trump’s faces or the impromptu big band session with saxophones, tambourines, horns, what seemed like every instrument, fighting off the dawn so they could just keep playing. 

And that’s really what the crew and I came to realize through the purple haze of jam-packed bars, the rainbow slide of daiquiris, and an uncatchable moon: moments do not come to those who sit on their ass. You gotta get on the train, get in the city, and seek them out. 

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Mitchell Duran

Mitchell Duran

Mitchell Duran is a freelance writer of fiction and non-fiction. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. Winner of the ClarkGrossman and Wilner Award in Short Fiction, his work has been featured in Drunk Monkeys, The Millions, Music in SF and more. He survives in San Francisco.