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Posted on March 7th, 2023

The Soft Core of the Earth – What Dicky Betts Sang

I’m not a fan of heat and humidity. I abhor it. If the temperature never got above 70 degrees and the humidity hovered under 40%, I’d be just fine with that. I also love cold weather, so temperatures that dip down into the 30’s don’t phase me at all, and I can stand a little lower if I’m appropriately bundled, too. So, it should go without saying that life in the Southeastern United States should not be something I embrace, particularly between May and October. But the strange thing is, arguably my favorite city is in the South, and it’s often the stickiest and hottest of them all – New Orleans, Louisiana. The Big Easy. I’ve been there so many times I’ve lost count. But I also haven’t been there in quite some time, 5.5 years to be exact. And while I used to have an annual trip for the better part of a decade (and probably longer), that has fast fallen by the wayside. So, thankfully, I have a return trip coming up soon. In fact, by the time you’ve read this, I’ll have gone and returned (unless I drink myself to death. Stay tuned.)

Every time I went to N’awlins, I had a ritual that I’d listen to the Allman Brothers’ song, Ramblin’ Man, as sung by the great Dicky Betts. While I loved – and still love – the whole tune, there’s the one line that I always cranked up as loud as I could and would inevitably get stuck in my head for the duration of the weekend: “I’m on my way to New Orleans this morning, headed out of Nashville, Tennessee; they’re always having a good time down on the bayou, Lord, them Delta women think the world of me.” Of course, I always swapped Nashville with wherever I happened to be living at that time, but man, it sure helped to get me in the mood, as if I needed it.

My trips to New Orleans have changed in many ways since my first visit in 1997 for Mardi Gras, when I had no idea what to expect. Three friends and I drove down in a clunky old Geo Metro that broke down on the side of the road in Arkansas on our way back home. That resulted in us getting picked up by a state trooper and dropped off at the nearest gas station, where, as luck would have it, a Greyhound bus was to arrive within 30 minutes headed north. I would be remiss if I failed to remind you that Dicky sang about being born on a Greyhound bus in that same song, so I guess it was appropriate. Though, I didn’t feel fresh the way one enters the world when I boarded that bus, as I was barely alive from the debauchery I partook in. Let’s get back to that, briefly.

We all planned to sleep in the car on that trip, which really means we weren’t going to sleep at all. In fact, only two of us stayed in the car that first night; the other two slept on the concrete behind a bush. The second night no one slept because we went to an all-night rave. Well, I left the party about 3am, I think, to go sleep in the car, and that must’ve actually happened because I awoke to us having gotten a parking ticket. Anyhow, for all the shenanigans and discomfort of the trip, I was hooked and started plotting my return trip for the following year, which I did indeed make, and six more years in a row to follow for Mardi Gras (and other reasons mixed in and to follow). The Mardi Gras streak was only broken by Katrina because I couldn’t get anyone to commit. Sometimes your friends just leave you hanging…

I’ll be standing by the ‘Huge Ass Beers’ sign. (Image retrieved from here and comes courtesy of Kendall Hoopes.)

And pretty much every trip since then has been centered on debauchery, regardless of the occasion: St. Patrick’s Day, New Year’s, bachelor’s parties, and eventually, conferences (my last trip). I don’t think I know how to go to The Big Easy and behave like a sober functioning adult. I don’t think I want to learn. And spoiler alert, nothing will change this trip either, even though it’s technically a “work” trip, too. I’ll make the necessary appearances, but I can almost guarantee I’ll be accompanied by a drink. And I’m barely a drinker these days. But when in Rome… right?

I was talking to my friends about my excitement for this trip, and I mentioned that I didn’t know how much time I’ll actually spend at the conference. I think I claimed 10% – one friend countered that maybe I should be there closer to 75%, so we’ll see what it shakes out to. The last time I went, for a past conference, it ended with me only making two sessions. They were consecutive, starting at 8am, and occurred after a night of heavy drinking (of course)… The only reason I actually went to the conference was because it was in NOLA and also because a band I wanted to see happened to be playing there. I bought two tickets and couldn’t get any of the losers from the conference to accompany me, so I gave the extra ticket to some gal I met at the show, and we hung out all night. That night started with me somehow accidentally walking through the VIP entrance and heading to the bar for a free drink. I was caught pretty quickly but was able to get three more vodka sodas to take with me as I was escorted to the cheap seats. The night ended with half of my clothes in the hallway which I found the next day. I’ll let you fill in the blanks…

I wouldn’t say that I’ve “grown” much since then, and I’m certainly not looking for less of a good time. So, I can only assume I’ll find it – for three nights in a row. That I have a couple old buddies who live down there now only confirms that outcome. So, maybe I’m not doing justice to the city and its culture by traveling down there with bad intent, but I’d like to frame it differently: you can always get another job, but you can never relive a great party. When The Big Easy calls, you gotta accept the charges. As they say, laissez les bons temps rouler! “[I’m] always having a good time down on the bayou, Lord, them Delta women think the world of me!”

Marco Esquandoles
Mr. Good Time

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