Tractor Pull

2/17/1995

My daddy said, “Son, put your guitar down. We’ve got to build some fence, got to plow some ground.” I told my daddy, “Try and understand, this John Deere tractor don’t fit my plan.” And I hit the road, chasin’ down a dream and I need a little help. I’m trying to get to New Orleans.

New Orleans…it’s more than a place. It’s a feeling…with atmosphere so thick you can almost touch it…a total sensory experience.

New Orleans…Gay ’90s hackney coaches minded by sleepy, ancient handlers who guide the old mules almost as well as they tell tales that weave the real history of the Vieux Carre with the legends handed down through generations and sometimes made up on the fly to fit the mood of the clientele.

New Orleans…Jackson Square and the flagpole in the park that marks the meeting place of pirates who once visited this mystical place years ago and now where lovers circle hand-in-hand in a ritual mating dance in between the winos who stagger or sleep at will. The Cathedral of St. Louis, King of France, looms over the entrance as it did when Walt first visited and later modeled the Disneyland Castle after its architecture.

One can lean against the huge, bronze statue of Andrew Jackson and breathe the very lifeblood of the French Quarter…the damp smell of the river that wafts across your face with the ocean breeze that seems to blow constantly, except in the late summer, when nothing moves. With the breeze comes the exciting aroma of Cajun cuisine that boils daily…the sweet basil, thyme and oregano accentuated by the bit of the red, white and black pepper…and the ever-resent Tabasco Sauce that’s made on an island just around the corner. There’s the crisp, mouth-watering scent of the special donuts made at the Café Desmond and covered with enough powdered sugar to induce an instant diabetic coma to even the most healthy individual. Add a strong cup of chicory coffee and you’ll have a rush that can last for weeks.

The most powerful smell, of course, is of stale beer.

Past the café is the famous market in the French Quarter where you can purchase almost anything. It was started long ago by the French and Spanish, then continued by the Cajuns for generations. Now it is almost exclusively the territory of Indians and Arabs…the international traders. It is one of the few places, however, where you can still thump a melon before you buy. If you don’t know the benefit of that practice, never mind.

Sidetracked up in Illinois, I’m not that smart, I’m an innocent boy. She called me baby, she called me Honey, she called a cab and took away my money. On the road again, somewhere south of Moline and I need a little help, you see, I’m trying to get to New Orleans.

New Orleans…home of the French Quarter…possibly the most unique place in the world. A leisurely walk across the cobblestones and you’re immediately transported into another world…or perhaps all the world wrapped into one. The lilt of different dialects filters through the air as tourists and natives amble down the sidewalks. Artists of all kinds fill the streets. Those with brushes paint pictures of Elvis in front of a wrought-iron fence, houses surrounded by wrought-iron fences and just wrought-iron fences. All are hung for potential customers on the wrought-iron fences that line the streets.

There are mimes of all kinds, jugglers, clowns, magicians and bums with attitudes. These are, after all, French Quarter bums who demand a noble acknowledgement of their status.

Don’t know why I gotta go. If I don’t try I’ll never know about e’touffe and Cajun Queens. I need a little help, you see, I’m tryin’ to get to New Orleans.

And the sounds. Ah, the sounds of the French Quarter. The bleeting, billygoat grunts of the barkers enticing the tourists inside to see all kinds of abnormality set the natural rhythm of the music that spills out of nearly every doorway. In the French Quarter, Jazz rules…and Dixieland Jazz is King. The famous Absinthe House, where Louis Armstrong learned his trade is the central point, manned by great, mostly black masters nearly as old as Satchmo. The Duke of New Orleans coaxes magical sounds out of his sax outdoors in the Mediterranean Café, his tempo measured by the house-drawn carriages that clip-clop down the narrow street.

Past the Jazz is the thrill of excitement and danger. Venture too far down Bourbon Street and the beautiful, painted ladies aren’t ladies. Venture further into the darkness and, if you’re lucky, you can view a pagan, Voodoo ritual and watch a live chicken being sacrificed. If your luck turns, you’ll be the chicken.

It is on the far end of Bourbon Street, deep in the bowels of the Vieux Carre, where one can find the den of the famous Miss Rudolph…Queen of the Witch Doctors. Richard Prior paid homage to her on one of his early albums. As one who can testify from experience, you don’t want to go there. Miss Rudolph is a hefty woman of unknown age with the tattoo of an eye on one, huge breast. After you drink one of her potions, that eye will wink. She has a three-legged monkey that bothers everyone who enters…except Miss Rudolph. The fourth, withered monkey-foot dangles from her neck. Miss Rudolph will tell you she can grant you magical, sexual powers. Trust me. She can, but the downside is a bitch. I suffer from spells ever since she scratched me with that monkey-foot at age 16. Years later, I still see the blinking eye.

If you go to New Orleans, you need to remember a few, loose rules: Don’t kiss anyone you aren’t absolutely, positively sure about…remember, this is the place where the Queen of the Mardi Gras is a King. No matter what they say, six raw oysters are enough. Don’t throw Hurricane glasses into the fans at Pat O’Brians. Don’t attempt a morphine buy, no matter what the girl says. And steer clear of the Voodo dens and panel discussions. The ultimate sacrifice isn’t worth it.

I hocked my watch, bought a burger and fries, tried to pretend it was red beans and rice. Midnight in Memphis, hello to Graceland, next stop…Louisiana. I’m on the road chasin’ down a dream. And I need a little help, you see, I’m tryin’ to get to New Orleans.

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