Back in the early 1980's I discovered that I had some talent as a cook. Cajun cooking was all the rage, Paul Prudhomme as well as Emeril had gained a lot of national attention. Although I'm half Greek, I always felt like I had the heart of a Cajun and since an early trip as a boy I loved New Orleans. long the way I had read about a chefs course at a technical college down there and early one morning I hopped aboard the fabled "Southern Crescent" and headed for New Orleans. I found a cheap "wino" hotel a couple of blocks off Canal Street on South Rampart street. You know the kind where the attendant is behind a plexiglass window, kind of run down, lots of character both in the old building and the people staying there. A mime street performer and a waiter always dressed in his tuxedo waiters shirt no matter the time of day. They were always out on the front stoop smoking cigarettes. For $45 a week, I rented a room that was up an old wooden flight of steps with very high ceilings, huge windows , a hot plate and a big shower that I shared with a lizard. It was August and you could set your watch by the afternoon showers. During those showers I would sit in the window and read Stephen Kings "The Shinning".
I initially checked out the school , did some registering, even went to some chef meetings where they supplied tasty treats like smoked oysters, smoked fish and beer. It was going to be a couple of months before school started, so I needed a job. It was a bad time in cities like Houston and New Orleans. There was an oil glut and a lot of people were out of work. I would go to put in an application and a hundred people would be there. I saw an ad that Paul Prudhomme was hiring an apprentice. I quickly put in an application. This was before cell phones, so for about three weeks, every morning I would go by and check with the front desk person, then hang out in front of the building for an hour or so. At one point they gave me a tour of the upstairs kitchen. A huge place that took up the whole upstairs floor with high ceilings and big ceiling fans. I never got the interview, I was always told that Chef Paul was getting ready for a competition or something similar.
I finally answered an ad to sale ice cream, one of those push cart things. It was in the evening and instead of being around "Jackson Park" , I guess because I was new, I was given the corner of Bourbon Street and Bienville. Not a lot of people go to Bourbon Street to buy ice cream. On the, opposite corner, there was a guy selling those flower crowns. A real out going guy who called himself Dallas, although he was from Florida. Neither of us made much money, mainly just enough for some beer . Five or ten dollars. Twenty was a good night. But Dallas knew the ins and outs of the city. Instead of buying dollar beer on Bourbon Street, Dallas knew a place around the corner or so where he would go and buy us thirty five cent beer while I watched his stuff. He at one point told me he and three other guys lived in an abandoned warehouse and invited me to bring my bed roll and join them. I declined knowing I had two huge suitcases with all my worldly belongings. A few days later he told me that they had woken up that morning and in another part of the building during the night someone had their throat slit.
That's where things stood, still looking for a cooks job in the morning then hanging out on the corner of Bourbon Street with Dallas in the evenings. One night we were hanging out and coming down the street was a girl with a big round face, big round eyes and a big smile with a couple of teeth missing. The girl wasn't fat, she was just round all over, kind of like a beach ball! She was a happy soul and oh so kind! She bought some ice cream, Dallas came over we were just hanging out chit chatting then after a short while she went and bought a six pack for the three of us. We were standing there drinking our beers when she pulled out a big photo album and started showing us all these pictures, some of them signed from the cult show called "Dark Shadows". It seems she was on her way to Las Vegas to a "Dark shadows" fan based convention. We chatted and drank our beer and after a couple of hours she bought me two packs of cigarettes and then she was on her merry way to the nearest truck stop to hitch hike her way on to Las Vegas. She was a really sweet girl.
I hope she made it.