Notes from the underground: Living in Nola

When Chris was 23 years old; he left his home and the lake of his home and took a Megabus to New Orleans. It was there he learned the streets and how to revel in some of the darkest places on earth. He spent only 4 months there until life came and swept him away. This is his story from the first four months of his solo journey to explore the world.

I had a backpack and a hockey bag filled with all my possessions when I got off the Megabus in upper Marigny, New Orleans. I was headed to a housing situation I had put together through Craigslist housing weeks before. The house was in Central City and on the other side of the French Quarter; maybe a 2 mile walk. I had been exchanging emails with a girl that turned out to be my age. She and two others had been working as a traveling punk rock band and ended up running out of money in New Orleans. They let me rent the middle room of their shotgun for 400/month. Walking across the French Quarter to this house was one of the riskier parts of my life, but at the end of my first night in Nola I had made it to a safe place to sleep, I had $500 to my name, and I was so motivated to live I could hardly sleep.

My first few weeks in Nola went so fast. I needed to find a job and so I bought a bike and spent my days handing out resumes and emailing for jobs from the public library. At night I would head to different bars in the city to get to know the locals. I started working at a local bar as a bar-back and was just finding my groove when I got in trouble with the cook for “not respecting personal boundaries”. I worked another job at this karaoke spot called The Cat’s Meow right on Bourbon Street, I hated this job though. I was the lowest position in the club and mostly just handled the trash. I quit working there as soon as I got a job delivering Pizza with my bike at Magazine Pizza. It was good money, I worked nights, and it was great for someone that wanted to get to know the city. All this in only two weeks.

Two Weeks in and at this point it was a full on Quarter Rat. I knew many of the local street people. On the nights that I wasn’t working I would go and explore the night life of Nola. Sometimes I would go out with 2 of my housemates. The drummer and the singer were a lot of fun and were invaluable for learning different and new parts of town. There was a third member of the band I was living with. She was younger and not as social. One night the three of us went out to this bar Tracie’s in the Irish Channel. Just down the street from where me and the band were living. We played pool and darts and through some other bar shenanigans I ended up doing cocaine in the bathroom with a stranger. It was some of the best blow I have ever done in my life and after that I bounced all of the bar and drank so much I felt invincible. The drummer ended up getting lost and so it was just the singer and I for the walk home. She was cute and I was attracted. There is a problem with cocaine though, and that is that it wears off. When it came time to make the move I could not, she wanted me to but I could not. The next day I was headed pee in a cup for a job working a pedicab in the Quarter. I failed that test for cocaine! The pedicab manager didn’t care. He let me take the test again so long as I passed; and that’s how they handle things down in The Big Easy. People rules are greater than market standards. And this is how I love to live.

It was the third and younger member of the band that I didn’t get along too well. I don’t remember what our disagreement was about but one day she kicked me out. I was out of the house and she threw all of my things on the street and locked the door. It was afternoon when I picked up my things and walked to the nearest hostel. They had a dorm situation where for something like $20 per night I could sleep in a bed in a dormitory and keep my things in a place where no one would steal them. I was picking up as many shifts from work as they would give me and I knew that I would be able to afford to rent my own place in only a week or two. I decided not to pay rent at the hostel in order to save more for the house. One morning at 4am a hostel employee came into the dormitory and yelled loud enough to wake everyone up: “Someone is not supposed to be here!” I admitted it was me immediately, got my things and left. That day I wandered down to the quarter to try and figure something out. I ran into my juggler friend who said that I could crash in this squat house and that night he took me to an old and abandoned house in the 7th ward. 

Back during Hurricane Katrina the levees broke and it was the lower class areas of town that flooded first. I was in Nola years after Katrina but there were still many houses that had not been renovated, many of which had become inhabited by locals. Rumor had it that if you lived in a single place for 4 or more years and no one came to contest your ownership, then you became the legal owner of that property. The entrance to the squat house that I stayed in was in a sort of back alleyway and there would have been no way I could have found it on my own. It consisted of three houses and a courtyard. There were maybe 5 people staying in this area. Some of whom I recognized from town. The houses would have been underwater during Katrina and the walls would crumble when touched. There were holes in the roof but with some cardboard on the floor it wasn’t the most uncomfortable place to sleep. 

I slept in the squat for one week and have never been more money motivated in my life. I was picking up extra shifts at work, looking for a cheap place to rent, and spending almost no money. I remember going to Subway where I had worked out the way to get the most calories for your dollar with getting the sub of the day and maxing out on the veggies. I found a second job that I would work during the day generating leads door to door for a security system company. It was these days that I would hang out in the quarter with the juggler friend who showed me the squat house. He had painted a large sign that said “Sidewalk Circus” and would juggle all day in the quarter. Me and a couple other street people would hang out in this group. Frank the French Canadian could play the guitar, Bobbie could do rope dart and walked around with a staff with real animal bones on it and was generally a legit shaman all in all. I would mostly just try and talk to girls. There were more of us and the adventures we got into were so much fun. One night we were out and in the chaos of the night I found myself talking to a girl who playfully called herself “Trouble”. I insisted on learning her real name but she was stern in not telling it to me. Eventually we went our separate ways. Out of nowhere came a guy, taller than me who told me to stop hitting on his wife. I opened my arms as if to give him a hug and tried to tell him not to worry. He punched me in the face once and tried to punch me again but I ducked and grabbed him. We would have gone down wrestling but the fight was broken up only seconds after it was started. I had a black eye for a week. I had an interview at a white tablecloth restaurant that I didn’t get, and I had to stop working door to door because the owner didn’t like sending someone with a black eye to the door of people he hoped to be handling their security. It was  a major setback but I was still able to find the perfect house to rent and had planned to get out of the squat house in only a few days. 

I had set up a space to sleep with cardboard and my sleeping bag in a corner to the squat house. I put my clothes and other things in a corner but there were so many strangers in and out of that place that many different people had gone through my things and anything valuable was taken. It wasn’t a big deal. I didn’t have much to take in the first place. On the best of nights spent in the squat we played banjo and drank whiskey random French Canadians; on the worst of nights I would do my best to be as friendly and non-threatening as possible as some more dangerous people would roll through. I would spend as little time as I could in the squat. One night I was out in the Quarter at a place called CheckPoint Charlies and to this day I have not seen a more raunchy bar. There was a punk rock show going on and I jumped in the mosh pit to have some fun. It was a dirty mosh and elbows and knees were being thrown left and right. At one point a guy behind me stood in a way where his crotch intentionally brushed near my butt. I turned and grabbed him and then threw him into the mosh. This started a new mosh where everyone was throwing each other and it was fun. Then, out of nowhere the girl that I had been speaking to a few days before, Trouble launched herself at me from the crown. She grabbed me and started biting and scratching me. I tossed her off then started throwing as many other moshers in between her and I as I could. Then, out of the crowd came the guy that had punched me in the face and in front of everyone pointed out the door. I now knew that he went by the name of “Trash” and at this point I was more than ready to fight and followed him out the door. A crowd of 20 or more people formed a circle around us and started to jeer. I made the first move stepping forward and taking a swing. He dogged me, pulled my coat over my head and kneed me in the face. I was stunned but was able to grab him and push him against the wall. We scrapped for a bit longer but he had won the fight. I left and he went back into the bar. I walked back to the squat house and tried to get some sleep. 

That night was the only time I ever got sleep paralysis. I woke up late in the night unable to move. I saw what I thought was a shadow thing that had me in its grip. I tried to move or make a sound but could not. The shadow raised a gun and pointed it at me. Eventually I was able to make a small squeak and right then the shadow disappeared and I was able to move. After that night I was left with a chill however, one that would last until I got my own house and was able to put a locked door between me and Now Orleans.