The year was 2001, the month February. New Orleans was knee-deep in Mardi Gras festivities. It was my first trip to the bayou. And did I mention it was Mardi Gras? My friend (who shall remain nameless) and I flew down to stay with another friend’s parents, who had just moved into a suburban neighborhood in Metairie. The parents opted out of our exploration of the French Quarter and instead dropped us off on the outskirts of Bourbon Street. “Just stay on this street — there should be enough to keep you busy. Hold onto your purses. Have fun. We’ll see you at 7 for dinner,” they said as they shoved us out the door and sped off.
“We must start with a hurricane from Pat O’Briens,” I said to my friend, acting like I knew what I was talking about. We entered the massive crowd, clutching our pocketbooks, wary of all the drunken strangers shimmering with mounds of beads around their necks. After being bounced around for a block, we dove for cover into the first bar we saw, the Tropical Isle at the corner of Bourbon and Toulouse. “Screw the hurricane — let’s just get a drink,” I demanded. “We’ll have two of these Hand Grenade thingies.”
Four Hand Grenades, two Tropical Itches and seven hours later, we had experienced everything Mardi Gras is about within the four walls of one bar. We watched a man piss himself while attempting to drink 10 Grenades. One of us lifted our shirt for a strand of large plastic beads — the nicest of the trip, I must boast. We made friends with bartender Eddie and a crew of frat boys from Florida. We met Elvis. But one thing we forgot to do — eat. Which reminded us that we had to meet the parents for dinner.
We piled into the back of a white-leather-seat cab and slurred “to Houston’s, please.” Both of us left Tropical Isle with empty Grenade cups. But when I looked over at my friend, hers was mysteriously filled to the rim. “I can’t believe you got a refill without me!” I shouted, noticing her green face and a “refill” that continued to overflow. “Oh,” I said, relieved. “That’s not a refill, it’s a refund.”
I’ll never forget the look on that cabbie’s face.
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