Pizza In New Orleans
Guy’s monologue breaks momentarily as we both notice another hitchhiker with their thumb out. I ask Guy what his opinion on the situation is “Should I pick him up?”. Guy seems to evaluate for a brief moment before saying “Oh yea! This guy is old, pick him up!”. I slow down the car and get over the shoulder of the highway. Once i get to a full stop I am a bit further away than would have been ideal. In the rear viewer I see the name trying his best to run to catch up to us. I'm too scared to back up so I just sit in awkward anticipation as guy moves his seat to the back. The man approaches the door and he appears to be in his mid seventies maybe. His face is long and drawn out as he gasps for air but his blue eyes remain fixed on me and I see his grateful. I apologize for making him run which he explains is’t a problem, except his doctor told him not to since he just had open heart surgery. “Get in!” I say.
About a mile up the highway we pull off an into a gas station. Tom, our brief new in car resident goes inside with the hopes they also sell gerry cans here. I take a stretch and Guy explains it usually isn't wise to pick up people who don’t have a backpack, but since this feller was old we made an exception. I thank guy for his expertise on the matter. Guy has been hitchhiking around America for over two years. Tom comes back with two empty milk containers and as he fills those I look for other containers. “No need” Tom says, “This will get me back here.” One of the containers doesn't have a lid so Tom covers it with his hand while balancing the other between his legs as we turn back onto the highway in the opposite direction.
As I am saying my farewells to Tom he throws me a twenty which I try to refuse but he insists. This is the first time I actually made money on the road. Nice. We let Tom go at the roundabout on the highway. Guy gets back in the front and we continue on south. I wonder if Tom’s truck was actually out of gas. Tom said the gauge did not read empty and I wonder if it was something else. I think about going back but instead we go onward.
After a seven hour monologue from Guy I’m surprised I don't know everything about him. When I first offered him a ride I had to suppress my regret. I had an ill opinion of Guy at first but most of that was filtered through the bad mood I’ve been having. I offered him the ride two days before we decided to depart. I thought things like “He talks too much, he smells, he talks too much.”. The point is after all to meet people and Guy seemed very friendly so I decided not to let my mood get the upper hand in this situation.
I wondered in those first two days that Guy knew each other at the hostel if he noticed how much of a jerk I was being. Other than offering him a ride I was pretty dismissive to any other attempt at friendship. He probably did notice but for a twenty one year old Guy had a very noticeable “I’m not going to let this bother me” attitude. Guy talks a lot. He will talk to anyone in his path and it will be relentless. He listens well enough to which is impressive but mostly he talks. Guy tells stories well and accurately and hopefully someday he puts them down. Guy had been living on and off the road for just over two years. His torn clothes speak directly to the lifestyle he lives and served the purpose of utility before anything else. His cargo pants where faded green and he had not one but two utility belts attached by clasping buckles. One hung around his waist and the other was attached to his leg like a gun holster. He always had on a black t-shirt and over that was a fisherman style cargo vest. The vest was also faded green and had a few holes of wear and tear about it. I was with Guy four nearly four days and never saw him wear anything else. Guy carried everything he owned with him in a large hiking pack which looked like it was definitely from the seventies. Inside the pack is mostly foodstuffs and camping gear. Outside there hangs some cooking pots, spare shoes, and, a stuffed teddy bear. The day before we leave for New Orleans Guy decides to sleep outside in an alleyway. It was the coldest windiest night of our stay at the hostel.
By the time we reach New Orleans I feel confident that I know Guy pretty well. Guy is just a month away from the coveted age of twenty one which is a minor gripe of his. He talked about it kind of sucking that he is living his dream travelling through all the great party cities of american but not being old enough to partake. It’s not so much about not being able to drink, it's that he can not get into any of the bars to take in the music scenes. I think he will really enjoy the bar scenes once he can get it. He is one of the most impressive speakers I ever met.
On the highway coming into New Orleans we see tropical lush greenery encased in swamp lands as far as the eye can see. There are houses floating on docks and there is no way into the except by river boat. I find my hostel easily enough once we get into the city thanks to the offline GPS.
The man behind the desk is drinking a screwdriver and occasionally remarks about how happy is to be able to do something like that in this awesome city. Between my attempt to pay for the room and get some information Guy proceeds to talk to the manager about anything and everything. I knew he shouldn't have had the coffee at the rest stop. Guy’s interjections and ensuring rants slow my check in time down immensely. I look for patience but my brain has begun to throb with fatigue, dehydration, and annoyance. Guy gets direction to a part of town where we can find “dirty kids”. “Dirty kids” is a global term of endearment for street dwelling travelers. I take guy to that part of town just as the sun is setting. I cut him loose and wish him the best right after we hug and exchange contact information. I follow the GPS backwards because luckily it did not erase itself after reaching this destination.
Back at the hostel I ask the manager where to eat. He tells me about a place that has a special on today for five dollar pizza. I am sold. The manager goes to a place of euphoric recall as he talks about his days studying at eating five dollar pizza. At this point I no longer want to drive. It is dark and I’m not used to the roads plus I am pretty tired. I attempt to set up a lyft account but can not because I do not have a valid phone number. For some reason I am totally against calling a cab or asking anyone for directions so I decide to go for the twenty minute walk that the GPS suggest.
I take up a quick stride. It is dark and the houses here look like really good places to shoot horror movies. Don’t get me wrong the houses are beautiful. They are also very old, vaguely dilapidated and immensely unfamiliar. I am in a suburban outskirt neighborhood. I feel like I am definitely a visible tourist and probably a decent target for a scam. My assumption of everything comes from a place of fear and mostly since then I’ve been learning that the fear is in my head. I later find out this town is considered very safe. I see strange looking places for car washes along the way. They are made up between residential houses and locked up by chain linked fences. The houses here are somewhere up to one hundred years old or more. They are large and full of color and with their porches and pillars look quite inviting. None of them have basements and some are standing on formidable stilts. Colorful neck beads are hanging from everything. They hang from house gates, street signs, tree branches and even power lines. I keep my stride quick and pass two bars along the way to my destination of Wit's Inn. I check my GPS to track my progress but it had erased the map so I fall back on my guy instinct to find my way.
I find a large busy street and hang a left. The style of houses continues to be the same down this way but some have become business. Beads still everywhere. I see two yoga studios, a lot of lawyer offices, and a few bread and breakfasts. In the direction I am going I see many lights coming into view as I reach a commercial part of town. This area is called midtown and here I notice tram lines going down all the middle parts of the road. There are people walking about this part of town going from restaurants to little shops. I do not see the bar I am looking for in the haze of other establishments. All the usual franchises are here and also many other local shops. I want the pizza I was described so I walk all the way down the road until it goes back to a residential zone. I cross the street and come back up and finally find the pizza shop / bar. It’s very empty inside which I consider an added bonus.
I sit at the bar when asked. Lately I have been trying to sit at the bar in an attempt to be more sociable. Inside Whit's Inn is dimly lit and decorated with crawfish traps. Strange twisted pieces of iron also decorate the walls and hang from some of the traps. I start a tab with the bartender and begin looking over the menu. I try to order a pizza selection and the bartender reminds me it's five dollar night. “Oh yea! That's why I came here.”. With the deal you get to choose one topping so I go with Genoa salami.
I try not to look around much while I wait. Once in a while I look at a piece of iron or stare at the old cathode ray tube television that is playing sports highlights. You can change the jukebox song on this bar from an app on your phone. There's a myriad of timelines here juxtaposed and standing on itself. The bartender doesn't like the decor much he says. Once the pizza arrives the tender tells me they can redo it if it is too overdone. I am all about crispy pizza so I shoo him away with a joke and smile. He leaves and my hands prepare the slice for my gaping maw.
They burnt it just right. The sauce squeezes between the cheese and crust to meet my tongue in a merriment sting of hot flavor. I can taste the sweet seduction of ripe roasted tomato and selected fine herbs. The sauce is finely balanced between zest and sweetness. It is a joyous tart river base for the cheese, salami, and baked crust to mulch into while my jaws do the dirty work of pre digestion. The grease is the greatest indicator of savored flavor. As I suck the grease in my mouth the story of its incubation make itself known to me. I visualize each ingredient saturating in their own flavor producing a unique moisture and all joining together to mold over and over again into themselves forging the dense liquid that now sends signals of satisfaction all over my brain through the vessel of dopamine.
In my mouth the mozzarella cheese is the great combiner. During the revolutions the cheese uniforms the crust, salami, and coveted grease, into small balls easy enough to swallow. I can feel my stomach plugged already and this alone is oddly satisfying. I thank the bartender and give what I think is a fair tip. I take a brisk walk back to the sci fi themed hostel and enjoy a comfortable sleep in my own room. I had been lucky enough to score a private room due to the fact that everything else was as completely full as my stomach was. That’s how I had pizza in New Orleans.