A Stop In Mamou To See Fred’s and Tante Sue

I left New Orleans around 2am after eating one last big, fat, juicy sandwich at Verti Marte (a super delicious deli on Royal St. and a must for anyone that likes good food). I drove until I felt like I needed a nap which was around 5:30am. I got up by 9:30am and I made it to Mamou a little after 10am Saturday morning.

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I found Fred’s and before I walked through the door, I could hear music going as I walked up. Once inside, I could see the action was in full swing. The appearance is a lot like most any small bar, dimly lit with photos and local nostalgia on the walls and a casual but hoppin’ atmosphere. Ordering a bloody there is like a right of passage, so, I had one and it was quite good, pricey of course, but it was good enough to get a second one before I switched to MGD. There was a band playing and plenty of people and couples dancing; mostly folks a few generations older than I. There was also an old lady walking around with slices of boudin for people (a tradition originally held by Sue before she was let go). A conga line even broke out for a while. At one point a woman invited me to dance with her so I obliged.

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The Bar

It’s hands down the most lively bar scene I’ve ever experienced so early in the morning, and they’ve been doing it for 70 years. The whole thing is aired on a radio show as well, which has been done almost since the place opened.

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The Band

The whole time I was looking for Tante Sue. I didn’t know exactly what she looked like but that she had white hair and is a fairly old woman. Eventually I went outside to check on my dog and I met a guy who told me it was Sue’s birthday, and there was supposed to be a party. After I walked back to the entrance to Fred’s I ended up talking to another man who was sitting outside on the bench. We talked about my trip and where I’m from and he told me about some of the really good local Cajun musicians, and how the band that was playing was more like rock and not true Cajun. I mentioned that I was hoping to see Sue and he informed me she worked next door and wasn’t at Fred’s anymore, and, at that very moment he pointed her out since she was literally just about to walk into the bar next to Fred’s. I excused myself and hastily walked up just in time to open the door for her and walk in with her. We talked about how I discovered Mamou, how I heard of her, and that I was glad to meet and talk to her. I wished her a happy birthday and then we got a picture taken, but only after she strapped on her leather holster custom made for a bottle of hot damn. It was her 85th birthday.

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Tante Sue and I

(The photo below was not taken by me, but it shows her holster)

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This is not one of my photos, but it shows her drink holster

Since I heard she wasn’t at Fred’s anymore, I had to ask about it. Apparently she was fired after being there 69 years. Kind of a bitter end. The place came under new ownership quite a while ago, and Sue was part of the deal, but at the beginning of 2016 they decided they didn’t want her there any longer. Anyway, the experience was different, interesting, and a lot of fun; I met some good people, heard some good music, and I’d recommend it to anyone passing through the area.

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A poem I found on the wall about Sue

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One of the many pictures on the walls

Rebirth Of A Poet

I’ve been writing poetry off and on for about 15 years, and up until recently, my primary focus has always been on music, visual art, and photography. One of the first people I met and really connected with in NOLA is a poet named Beatrice, coming from Detroit. She was walking down the sidewalk with a cat on her shoulder and I had to take her picture for my other photoblog. We became friends from that moment and a week or so after meeting, we started to hang out fairly often. Eventually she introduced me to some of the other local poets in the French Quarter who basically setup as poets “for hire” on Royal St. during the day. They also typically sit all together in a row.

IMG_20160402_150351“Cubs” was one of the first I met and is a mainstay for the Royal St. scene. Anyway, the process is simple; a person can ask for a poem about any topic or subject, then the poet might ask a few questions or chat with the person for a bit, then write them a personalized poem on the spot using a typewriter. When it’s complete, the pay is based on whatever a person wants to give or tip.

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Poets lined up on Royal St. (I’m farthest left)

I definitely thought it was a pretty cool and interesting concept but never actually thought to try it until over a month later, only after meeting and having a conversation with another visiting poet named Tania, from Spain. While we were talking about street poetry, and to be specific, how she got into it, I said I’d like to try it and she responded by saying that I should, and that it’s like a drug.

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Tania, on Royal Street

What happened was, I picked up a job at a donut shop a couple weeks after I landed in town, and it was alright, just like any other relatively mundane or menial line of work, but for better or worse, it didn’t last. Now I’ve had a lot of different jobs, and they all seem to get derailed sooner or later, regardless of how “good” it seems to go, so because it happened once again, I took it as a sign that time that maybe the cosmos really want me to be doing something else, something I’m truly passionate about and good at, which is anything creative and artistic.

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Having fun with chalk. It was just Cubs, Dante, and I that day.

Now I’ve learned that street performing as a musician can be tough as a solo act in NOLA, and I don’t consider myself to be that special compared to the other musicians here, so I didn’t count that as an option for getting by. I also didn’t have much art on me to be able to sell. But what I did have was this poet for hire thing on the brain, and since I live in a micro house, a heavy, bulky typewriter was out of the question, not to mention what it would cost to get one and maintain it. Luckily I packed my pen and ink set. So, instead of typing poems, I decided I would write long hand in cursive calligraphy. I figured I’ll make one more genuine shot at really following my dream vs. settling with a day job. So I started about a month ago now, and I’ve averaged about 12 hours a day, everyday, except when it’s raining. Basically I’ve been doing it non stop since I started. Royal St. by day, and Frenchmen St. by night. I’ve never had a better job or “worked” with such beautiful souls. I don’t think I’ve had as much success with anything before in my life.

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On Frenchman Street. The girl wearing the glasses is Kaile, proprietor of “The Spontaneous Prose Store.”

Over the course of my poeting career so far, I’ve seen some interesting things at poetry corner (our unofficial name for the operation… also known as Writer’s Block); I’ve seen a fellow poet so drunk he peed on the sidewalk as children were walking by, all whilst sitting on a milk crate, I’ve seen myself and the other poets that were with me get sprayed from a balcony with a hose from a miserable woman that spends her summers in New york, and when she comes to New Orleans she hates on the poets. She said she was “watering her plants” but was literally hosing us down, typewriters and all. I’ve seen people cry, I’ve seen people be rude, but most of all, I’ve seen people be very kind, appreciative, and generous for what we (street poets everywhere) are doing and for what we’re putting out into the world.

There’s so much to be said for how we as individuals come to do something in our lives or how we discover a new path. A lot of the time, it’s something outside of us that inspires us, to try doing what we’ve witnessed, but in our own unique way, or, doing something totally new. Before I came to New Orleans, I had written poetry only sporadically, but now, it’s like I’ve had an awakening, or, reawakening of a talent with lots of passion behind it. At the same time, I finally found a way to make a fair living at doing something I enjoy. It’s just one more thing I can be thankful for, and attribute to my New Orleans experience. It’s also how I’ve been able to give back and be a part of the culture.

So when I first started, I was using my dip pen, which is just a basic plain old black inkwell pen. But by my 3rd day I glued an osprey feather to it that I found back in Maine to give it an authentic look. After a couple weeks of saving, I also picked up a beautiful handmade inkwell from Venice, Italy, as well as a wax seal to give the whole process that extra bit of class. My seal is a skeleton key, which I chose for two reasons; one is, my last name, Chavez, comes from the Spanish word for key, and the second is that poetry, like any form of art or literature, is a metaphorical key. Also, I can proudly say I’m the only poet in New Orleans, and perhaps the country, that is hand writing poems in calligraphy. And to be genuinely original in NOLA is not easy.

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Writing poetry on Oak Street by the Maple Leaf Bar, during a block party and crawfish boil

There’s something special going on here. It’s a very sacred place, and I knew it before I ever arrived, but I never could have imagined just how profound the experience really is, especially for anyone who is open minded and eager. It’s not just a place where you can walk around with open liquor, party all day, and find music everywhere. NOLA is alive, and she pulls people in from all over the world; artists, musicians, writers, photographers, singers, and all, and shapes them or reshapes them or fixes their compass, and gives them a key to unlock any door, and sends them on their way.  Treat her right and she’ll do wonders for you.

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WHY PEOPLE, NOT PLACES, ARE THE BEST THING ABOUT TRAVELING (PART 2)

From  Maine, I stopped in Boston to sleep, and then New York City (4th Nov. ’15, 7:30PM) was one of my first “real” stops.  I was only there for a few hours- enough time to walk my dog, get a slice of pie, and get a feel for the city. I didn’t meet anyone special in the short amount of time, but the few people I talked to were quite nice and we had a good conversation about my house truck.

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Megan, her nephews, and I, just before departure.

After New York I stopped in Oaklyn, New Jersey (5th Nov. ’15, 1:30AM).  I had friends to visit; Megan, who I met while she lived in Maine, and her brother Andy’s family, but, before I met with them, I ran into a couple driving a conversion van who also liked to travel.  I was parked at a Wal-Mart and they were drawn in by my house truck.  We talked, got along, and they invited me to their place for a bon fire the next night. I took the offer, and just like we would back home, we hung out, including their two kids & some of their friends, had some drinks, ordered pizza, and stayed up late listening to music and talking. The next day they all took me out for breakfast.  Later we played street soccer with the kids and some of the neighbor’s youngsters. When I got together with Megan and her family, we had a good time over some drinks and tunes, and I had my first “tomato pie” with them, which I loved. I’m forever thankful to all the people I spent time with in New Jersey.

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My friends in Maryland.

 

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Victoria, my 1st CS host, and Kwan, her Workaway guest from S. Korea.

From there I made it to Severn, Maryland (9th Nov. ’15, 8:00PM) where I had my first experience with couchsurfing.com.  All I can say is that if I have any other CS experiences that are even half as good as my first, I’ll consider myself lucky.  Victoria was everything a good host should be;  warm, welcoming, and fun to hang out with.  She had other guests from S. Korea that I had the pleasure to meet and get to know as well.  She also brought us all on an excursion to DC, which was a first for me.  We checked out the Art Gallery, Botanical Garden, and a handful of monuments including Lincoln.  We even got into a game of Cattan after getting home.  At first I thought I’d be staying a couple days, but I enjoyed the company so much that I ended up staying for a week.

 

IMG_20151117_162945 My next stop was Washington, DC (17th Nov. ’15, 4:00PM). When I arrived, the very first person I talked to was a military man named JB.  He was very talkative, and very friendly.  As usual, he was initially attracted to the truck. A few days earlier, I connected with a girl named Shatha, via couchsurfing.  Even though she wasn’t able to host, she offered to spend time with me while I was in DC.  Initially she saw my trip on CS and loved the whole idea. She ended up buying concert tickets for us, so the next night we went to see The Wood Brothers at the 9:30 Club.  Shatha is a wonderful, lovely woman, and we were immediately very comfortable together.  I went to shake her hand when we first met, but she insisted on a hug. After that, we had lunch, went for a walk by a lake, and spent the rest of the day together, ending off with some live music at a cafe. Long story short, we quickly became close and even had the chance to enjoy a brief but potent romance.

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At the Botanical Garden before the concert.

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Wood Brothers Concert

The next night I landed in Fairfax, Virginia (18th Nov. ’15, after midnight). The people I met there left the biggest impression on me so far.  Like my previous stop, I thought I’d stay for a few days, but it turned out to be just over a month.  I split my time between Fairfax and trips to DC to play trumpet and explore the attractions.  Once again, I met so many great people and became very close with many of them in a short time.  I got attached and felt right at home, but not home as in Maine, but as in, where I belong. The second week there I realized I could easily stay forever.  I already made a lot of friends, 3 of which I consider best friends, I fell in love, and there’s an artsy little café called Epicure that I even managed to become a regular at. It’s actually a spot Shatha took me to on the first day we got together.  I didn’t want to leave, and all my new friends felt the same.  The feeling and experience of connection was very strong for all of us.

 

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Playing on the mall in Charlottesville

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I made a jaunt to Charlottesvile, Virginia (20th Nov. ’15, 6:30PM) for the weekend to visit some friends with the intention of returning to Fairfax.  Naturally, I made friends everywhere.  When I was unpacking my truck the first night, I heard drums coming from a nearby house, so I investigated and ran into a group of guys warming up for an online show at concertwindow.com.  The next night I busked on the walking mall downtown, then went to a place called The Whiskey Jar where a nice jazz quartet was playing.  I met a handful of really cool people there.  One of them was the father of the sax player who was performing.  He even bought me a couple drinks.

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Sax player’s dad (Terry) 2nd from left.

 

IMG_20151205_011726IMG_20151204_215224I returned to Fairfax, but had quite an urge to stay in Charlottesville. For the rest of my time in “NOVA” as they call it (Northern Virginia), I met a really good guy named Franco at the Epicure open mic, who originally came from Ecuador because of dangerous things happening back home.  He initially came over to compliment me after I played “Pure Imagination” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” on trumpet.  He thought and liked that I put a lot of passion into how I played.  We had strong chemistry as musicians and as people. I was also fortunate to meet one of his best friends named Erfan (pronounced like: “air-fawn”), who was an equally genuine guy.  When we all first met, we hung out on the rooftop of Erfan’s place with another mutual friend from Epicure named John (very musically gifted), drinking beer, playing guitar, singing, sharing stories, and talking about life.  IMG_20151209_234516During my stay, Franco, Erfan, and I, had a couple other good nights at Ishtar Café, a local hookah bar.  On my last night in town, Franco and I performed a song at Epicure (only practiced the same day).  Most of the people I met and resonated with, I met at the café, or, through people I met there.

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Franco (left) Erfan (right)

I would have stayed longer if I didn’t have plans to get to my Gramma’s house in Florida in time for Christmas; it’s not something I would postpone, so Dec. 17th. I headed south after dropping Franco off from the open mic. Drove until about 4AM, stopped to sleep, and was back on the road by 10am the next day. I made it to Vero Beach, FL Saturday, Dec. 19th by 3AM. I’ll be here with my Gramma and her “boyfriend” Geno.  My Uncle and two cousins will be joining us for Christmas as well.

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Looking back on the past month, and my trip so far, there’s no regrets. I’m grateful things have gone the way they have.  It would have been nice to spend time in the Carolinas & Georgia, but I can go back.  I’d do things the same way if I had the option to do it over.  I’m happy I spent more time with less people, versus less time with more people.  I got to know everyone, we formed bonds, and made good memories. It wouldn’t have been the same if I didn’t take my time.  On top of that, they’ve all helped me grow and learn about myself, and I believe the same is true for them. Money can’t buy that, and it’s not something you find every day.  So for me, when it comes to traveling, it’s not the places, it’s the people. Friendship is one of the best things we can ever be blessed with.

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Sandhill Cranes in the backyard

Why People, Not Places, Are The Best Thing About Traveling (Part 1)

Before my trip began, I never gave much thought as to the types of experiences I might have, what kind of people I’d meet, and what sorts of places I would see.  I left Maine hoping for the best in all of those areas, yet I had no particular ideas, expectations, or presumptions.  My mind was completely open and optimistic.  I’m now 48 days into my journey and I’m not even close to the halfway point (California), and, I realized a few weeks ago, that the best part of traveling has been the people, not the places.

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Seeing sights and scenery is great. I really love it more than many other things… Meeting people abroad, getting to know one another, and creating memories together is something totally different.  Regarding scenery and people, one is not better than the other, as I’ve mentioned, they’re simply different. You can’t compare them.  However, between the two, I personally enjoy people more, and I know throughout my entire trip that the people will always be my favorite part.  I can say it with plenty of confidence even though I still have yet to see what will likely be the most amazing sights on my whole trip, and probably my whole life up to this point, such as New Orleans, The Grand Canyon, or Yosemite.

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I just know that this trip has connected me with such outstanding people who have shown their best, and it’s been one right after the other.  For me, there’s nothing that can top that.  I suppose if you think about it, it’s easy to see how the same is probably true for anyone, whether traveling or not, and whether they think about it or not, that on our path in life, from beginning to end, there’s truly nothing better to encounter than good people.

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Neighborhood kids checking out the little house.

When you meet people that are genuine, kind, and resonate with who you are… let’s just call it what it is; it’s a spiritual moment, because two souls are coming together in a harmonious way.  There’s a rhythm that gets synchronized and a metaphysical spark.  Soon the exchanges extend beyond conversation and move to actions, and the rest is history.  Once a relationship begins, every minute from that point on will enrich each of your lives.  Even when the time comes for it to end, you still have the bond, feelings, and memories.  Ultimately they’re always with you wherever you go.  I just look at it as one of the many invisible things that adds to our individual and collective luster.

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Busker in Charlottesville