Today’s subject is risk. I cringe to think of the list of things that I did as a younger man and was lucky to survive. I try to ingrain my children with the mantras “use your brain” and “think this through”. I doubt I will have any success because experience is the only teacher that holds a captive audience. I found a picture today that reminded me of an interesting experience and a definite risk.
I had just met Supermom about three weeks prior to a cruise that I paid for in advance. Well, let’s back up. I had just managed to get her to talk with me and go on a few dates prior to this pre-paid trip. I had been trying for months (more on that HERE). She had arranged a vacation with her mother and some friends too so we would both be dreaming of paradise elsewhere, while in paradise.
My buddy Charles and I were the two-man party team heading for a cruise out of New Orleans. In true style of young men in their early twenties, we didn’t have much of a plan but we did have his sister’s Mustang and swimsuits for the cruise. Charles also had money. I did not. I had promised to share the cost of the lodging before the cruise and therefore it had to be cheap.
Our basic plan was this: (a) Drive to New Orleans, (b) Sleep, (c) Leave on a Cruise Boat the next day.
We drove to New Orleans and got into town about 7:00 pm. We looked for a hotel that was near the interstate and affordable. The exit we stopped on would be on the news about a year later during Hurricane Katrina. We had no idea what “the 9th ward” actually was.
As we drove into New Orleans I noticed a hotel on our right that had an advertised rate of 39.95. I knew it because it was painted in big black letters on the sign. No name for the hotel, just 39.95. I could tell this establishment had formerly been a Knights Inn because the original logo was slightly visible under the layer of white primer paint on the sign. Seemed legit. This is before Expedia and smart phones so we pulled in the parking lot. It was like we crossed into another dimension when we pulled off of the interstate. The sky darkened. People were nowhere to be seen. The cars were from the nineties and we were firmly in the year 2003. Charles’ sister’s car was a shiny target in a parking lot of future recycled steel.
Charles parks and disappears into the lobby to check for vacancy and pay for a room. This is how I know we were stupid. We didn’t have reservations or a pre-paid room. We drove up nice and slow and had a good look at the place and thought, “Eh, not bad.” I was busy making escape plans in the case that Charles didn’t return. What would I tell the police? Would I still go on the cruise? If I went to the police department to identify him would they give me his wallet for gas money?
A few minutes later he comes out and is holding a large metal key. He gives me the all clear – thumbs up and a wave to start bringing our bags inside. We shared a fear of the car being stolen so we carried everything we owned into the room.
The room smelled like ill-gotten sex and old unsolved murders. I don’t venture to guess what the original color of the floor was or if the original room had baseboards because the carpet was black and the walls were rotten along the lower six inches. The door to the hallway was about seven feet tall and solid wood. It felt like the door was made to keep something out and, at times, something in. We pulled back the curtains and the windows were barred. There was a steady thump from a nearby room. I have no idea what was making the noise. We piled the bags on a side table and sat on the end of the beds staring at the room.
Around 7:30pm we realized we didn’t eat dinner and started to brainstorm about what to eat. I pulled open the drawer on the nightstand table and it was bare. Not even a Gideon’s Bible. When a southern hotel doesn’t have a bible you might be in a rough area. I lost the Paper-Rock-Scissors battle and had to venture out to the front desk to try and borrow a phone book.
In the last thirty minutes the sun had set beyond the city skyline and the world looked even worse. I ran to the front desk like a cockroach under a light. As I burst through the lobby door two small children in underwear looked up from their place on a busted leather couch where they were watching Jerry Springer. The lady behind the counter was sitting on a stool talking on a spiral corded phone and smoking a cigarette. She spun a few degrees my direction and moved the phone to her shoulder. In her best customer service voice she asked, “Da fuq u want?”
“I was hoping to borrow a phone book.”
“….” She goes back to talking on the phone.
“Maybe I can just look at it real quick?”
She rolled her eyes and reached under the counter. A few seconds later a beat-up Greater New Orleans Yellow Pages flopped in front of me. I looked out the front window to see what was down the street and sure enough there was a Domino’s Pizza. I looked up the address in the phone book and quickly memorized the number. As I left I noticed the two children laughing and I think they might have been acting like they were shooting at me.
Back in the room I called Domino’s and the customer service representative (CSR to those in the biz) informed me that, “We don’t deliver there?”
“Do you mean that you don’t deliver? I can see your sign from my window.”
“No, we deliver. Just not there.”
“Fantastic. Do you know the police response time?”
“Why? Who is this?”
I hung up the phone and realized that I may have tipped off the neighborhood that an odd couple of white dudes were in the “39.99 hotel” and were calling around sounding like cops. Strike two on my decision making.
We went back to the drawing board regarding food and decided that we needed some supplies for the cruise. We decided to venture back out into the world and find a Walmart. We encountered the “Sophie’s Choice” of the night when we considered how safe our luggage would be in the hotel. We loaded everything back into the car just to be safe.
We found a Walmart and got some toiletries. Next door was a grocery store that would have plenty of choice for food. On our way into the store a Mexican guy around our age saw us walking in and smiled. He threw his hands in the air and exclaimed, “White People!!!” I guess we looked like the two whitest people who ever lived. It was all very strange considering we were leaving the country and likely wouldn’t feel as foreign as we did in the 9th ward.
Somehow we made it through the night and the car was still in one piece. We didn’t sleep. We did lay down in shifts while the other kept watch. Maybe not quite to that level but close. The exit was uneventful by comparison. A toothless fisherman in a busted Ford Bronco offered to trade vehicles, “straight up” and then laughed for an uncomfortable amount of time. I returned the front desk key to the same smoking lady who was still on the phone and the kids were still watching TV. Maybe it was a new set of people? Maybe not. I don’t care.
I jumped into the car and we drove back through the portal (On-ramp) and went on the cruise. I still don’t fully understand our decisions but all’s well that ends well, right?
If you have improved your judgement over the years, this post is for you. You’re welcome.
-Underdaddy to the rescue.