New Orleans, LA
I found an antique store on Frenchman Street. The walls were covered top to bottom in local folk art, wooden chairs, and flare unseen by many outside Louisiana. There was a glass window case with trinkets inside, and it was there I found a mechanical pencil from the early 1920’s. I bought it for $5, satisfied and convinced I got the better end of the bargain. My attention returned to the streets after a brief chat with the shop owner, a nice guy, who told me about the time he found that pencil. It was during the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, and he went scavenging in the debris. He found it in an old cigar box, along with a speeding ticket from 1916. We laughed at the idea of getting pulled over back then, and I later told him about my trip with candor. He, like many before him, wished me well as I left to collect my things and catch my train for El Paso.
Perhaps I hadn’t noticed it coming into New Orleans, but I noticed it leaving – our country is littered – there’s a lot of wasted space, talent, and resources out here. Only now on the train do I allow myself to reflect on that. “Step out into the world with your head high.” That was a public service announcement advertised on a billboard in the projects outside metro New Orleans. It was a motivational proposal for all those broken by poverty to simply “step out into the world” with a sense of confidence. How many of these people have heeded this advice? How many will ignore it, and resume their no-where, no-way routine? Vice has such a tight grip out here.
A black man is passed out on a train-side bench, his arm hangs off the end of it, as if it’s been there for hours, and a big white police officer approaches cautiously, as if he might walk upon a dead body on duty. Our train slowly observes before switching tracks West for El Paso and beyond.