Tag Archives: travel

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.

Side quests 

It has been a dream and still is my dream to live and love in Australia. As some of you may know I had purchased a plane ticket for the 11th of september to fly from Seattle to Sydney where I could then buy a car and figure things out from there. By flying out of Seattle I could save 200+ on airfare and I could visit a new city; all I had to do was get from Denver to Seattle.I started the trip by finding a Craigslist rideshare to Bozeman Montana with an older guy that was heading back to school. He was great to talk with and we got to know each other well enough that I feel like texting him right now to see how he is doing. Anyways, on the first night of my trip I was able to get to the Bozeman hot springs. I spend the evening talking with mostly college freshman and soaking in the hot water. After the hot spring it was time to look for a camp spot. I do not like paying for a place to sleep, ever, and so I will usually just pitch a hammock between two trees that are secluded enough to not get woken up by anyone in the morning. This night was different. Behind the hot springs I found an abandoned camper truck, unlocked, and ready to be slept in with mattress and all. I must admit there was some old old chicken in the sink and junk on the floor, but the mattress was clean and I was able to lock the door and thus got a fairly fucking decent night of sleep.


The next morning I woke up with the sun, put my large pack on my back, my small pack on my front and started hiking to the highway by which I could throw up the thumb. It’s a 200 mile journey from the hot springs to Missoula. It took me three rides and most of the day to make the trip. The first guy picked me up on the side of the road and sent me off about three miles down the road. The second ride was with a lady that made her daughter sit in the back so that she could give me a ride a few more miles down the road. Sweet of her to be able to trust a hitch hiker even with her children present. The third ride got me to the Missoula off ramp and was with one of the more interesting persons that I have met in a long time. The guy looked like he was in his early thirties but turned out to be ott 45. He was driving from South Carolina to go camping with a few friends in Idaho. He told me of his train hopping days that lasted from a mid teen all the way through his mid thirties. Through dumpster diving and knowledge of the forest he was able to go for years without needing money of any kind. He was able to cross the American borders without a passport. Now he has his “sweety” and a son that he is raising on a farm/commune in SC. When he dropped me off in Missoula I thanked him for his stories and the ride

In Missoula I was able to meet up with an old friend who gave me a place to sleep, a shower, and endless conversation. Missoula this time of year is smoked out by forest fire to the point of not being able to see the sun. Breathing in the air makes it feel as if you’re coming down with a hard sickness and I had to leave.

For the last part of my trip I decided to take the night bus. It would get me to downtown Seattle and I could sleep for the entire ride there. I remember talking with a lady during one of our stops. We got into chit chat and I learned that this was a lady in a terrible place. She had drug problems and was being taken away from her kids. I told her, at least it can’t get any worse. She said- I beg to differ. At the next rest station it’s something like 3 in the morning and the entire bus is emptied into some random bus station. We are zombies when I hear some shouting and see an old guy get slashed in the face with a knife. The culprit dominates the bus station brandishing the knife shouting about injustice for about three minutes before an officer shows up with a fully automatic weapon and the man is put to the ground in cuffs. I see the lady I had talked with earlier who whispers- still think this day can’t get any worse. Little did I know at the time that my day was to get a whole lot worse.

The next rest station it must be something like 4 in the morning when they make us get off the bus again so that we can fill up on gas. I am half asleep when they announce that its time to get back on the bus. What I think I hear is that it’s time to get back on a bus that’s not my bus and so I stay where I am, half asleep. Minutes later I realize that my bus has left without me. I call Greyhound and they tell me that I can wait where I am at for the next bus which comes in 12 hours. I spend the rest of the night asking people if they are going to Seattle and getting what sleep can be got out of gas station bench. I end up buying a new bus ticket with a different bus company the rest of the way to Seattle.

I get to Seattle. First thing that hits me is how beautiful the stone buildings next to the water look. It strangely reminds me of St. Paul. I go to the Greyhound bus station where they give me my large pack that was checked under the bus. No one can find the smaller pack that I had carried on with me when I boarded the bus. I go through the blurry ass camera footage to see something that looks like what might be someone walking away with my pack. They tell me that Greyhound is not responsible for carry ons shoe me out the door. It’s Friday, my plane leaves on Monday; my passport, drivers license, birth certificate, and social security card were all in the pack. I’m fucked. Expedited passports are about 500 which is too much for me to spend and then expect to make a responsible start in Australia. It looks as if I will be staying in Seattle for a while.

Putting the large pack on my back I head to the pedicab garage downtown. On the way to the garage I meet two guys who are working on a school bus. They yell some sort of nonsense at me through the window and invite me aboard. Inside is covered with tools and supplies by which these guys are flooring it out so that they live in style and avoid paying rent. They give me a beer and we smoke some weed. The one guy works at the same cab company that I plan on working for. He lets me sleep on the bus with him that night and then in the back of this truck the following night. Over the weekend I make money and friends on the rickshaw. Looking to buy a subaru later today by which I can live, love, and save up some money for a trip to Australia. It’s a definite setback but I really do love my life. Seattle is beautiful and now I have time to explore. Today I interview for bartender and then will jump on the cab to get some exploring in. I currently don’t have any identification but have not yet been carded even though I frequent the bars in town. Looking forward to the Seattle jungle and have plans to visit the forest with another forest dwelling creature from Minnesota. Starting fresh in a new city is one of my favorite things to do. I feel like a baby on a mission. Everything is so new and there is so much to do. Now, it’s time to build.

Out of fire

It was shortly after the first acid trip that life began to spin violently out of control. I can not pin down the exact moment when the spin began but it happened sometime on the Fourth of July when Jayson, the girl and I took acid in the city of Lahina. If I told you we tore shit up it would mean little. 
The Son and I woke up on the beech with the intent to hustle and everything was going our way. Hitch hiking from Paia to Lahina may have taken more time if we drove. The time it takes to start a car and get out of a parking lot would have been a greater amount of time than the time we spent with our thumbs out on the side of the road. After we got to Lahina we made friends with homegirl and spent our day at that 5 star hotel on the beach. We bring up the idea of homegirl taking acid with us and soon after we are sucking paper under the banyan tree. 
Heavy dose of reality, a whirlwind of faces, insights, conversation, and street theatre staring the three amigos. Power trippin hard was I. Nothing was beyond my grasp. It was at the end of the night that we stumbled into old aunties Fourth of July party. After our hostess filled our plates with stale chips and cold ribs I found myself berated by a cackle of drunken aunties. The conquering attitude of which I walked into the party with was taken from me as I said farewell. It was in the last section of our walk did I make a move to kiss homegirl only to find my balls swiftly smashed, figuratively. The deep rooted jolt to my personal security began to express itself and sour the night. Homegirl left. Jayson and I were agitated with each other but in that strange way we had become brothers. We fought and made up and fought only to find that our mental fortitude had been utterly sapped by the events of the night. In the morning I left Jayson asleep under the bush that we passed out beneath. 

 
A feeble attempt at rebuilding took place over the next week. A seemingly impactful experience with a warrior guru and a trip into the junk food sections of the super market. The downward spiral had begun and a blind eye I had turned. 
A night that I had nothing to do Jayson had no trouble convincing me to head to Lahina for round two. Again we sat under the banyan tree keeping the handshake under our tongues. This time was different. This time was strange and I was unprepared for a disturbed reality. I watched helplessly as my friend grew in stature to take the lead. Knowing the rules of engagement I followed the brave fool throughout the town knowing that for this man there were no limits and that jail was a real possibility, however he had something that I did not, he had strength. It was a wild blur of a night climaxing as we borrowed a canoe and attempted to take on the ocean only to tip ten feet from shore. 
Back at my jeep, all of our stuff wet, Jayson’s phone unable to turn on, as the sun was rising we finally had rest. Tired as we were it was here that we made our fatal mistake. We left Jayson’s backpack leaning on the outside of the car. All of his possessions were in that pack. When we awoke it was gone. He was destroyed. 

I can be cold and even crewel at times but for a true friend I will sacrifice body and mind. Buying lunch was nothing. I invited him along as I did daily errands to keep him company as he went through his darkest moments. “Now everything must be take” I remember him saying. We traveled across the island to an old job to pickup a moped I had left in their possession. As I exchanged pleasantries with my ex coworkers Jayson invaded the lunchroom. Behind their backs I saw him go through backpacks and empty wallets. I excused myself and addressed Jay about the theft in private. “Put it back or walk from here” I told him. He walked. I was left to deal with my coworkers. At this time most of them still won’t talk to me, some of them want to fight me, and never did I get the moped back. 
The word broken is when one should be angry but due to fatigue or even hopelessness the anger is not present. 
I slept in the back seat of my jeep that night. The next morning was tour guide training and the team was meeting up to hike the legendary Haleakala creator. Seeing the team I forgot all about the nights before. We split into two groups. The boss’ group started from the top to hike down the mountain while my group started from the bottom to hike up the mountain. The idea was to meet in the middle so that we could exchange car keys and meet back up at the end, but we never saw the other group. Near the end of our hike I decided to sprint ahead with the keys so that I could hitch down the mountain to the car and bring the car to the top to pick up my friends. I did all of this before they finished their hike. Once we had all joined forces in the car we then needed to decide what to do about boss. I convinced my friends that because we had no idea if the boss was even on the mountain that we should go to the nearest bar and wait for him to call us over a beer. No one said no and I had the keys so we went. Half way to the bar we get a call from the boss. I whip a shitty and drag race to pick him up. It still took about 20 minutes. Pulling into the parking lot I can see he is mad. As I get closer I can see that he is beyond mad. My mind takes control and I go cold and rational. 
Boss- Where the fuck have you shits been, and why are you driving?! (Pointing at me)

Me- I’m sorry boss, we didn’t know where you were. 

Boss- You are so fucking stupid I can’t even believe and you know what, YOUR FIRED!

Me- In that case you owe me 140 dollars. 

Boss- I don’t owe you shit, get out of the front seat. 

I slip into the back seat as he gets I front. 

Me- Technically and legally you do. 

Boss- Don’t fuck with me, I will kill you. 

Me- You don’t have the balls. 

Boss- Get out of the car!

Me- No

He gets out and attempts to open my door while I hold down the lock. He runs to the other side of the car, grabs my backpack and whips it into the street. I still do t get out. He starts the car and drives over my back pack and as we are about to leave the parking I open the door to leave. As I get out of the car I front kick his tail light (my one slip from sagacity).

Boss- have a nice ride asshole.

  
I am left in the parking lot on top of a mountain with nothing but my backpack. 
Flash forward to a dream of a boy working on a great Roman war ship. The boy and a crew of men are commissioned to draw in a statue of the general which has been placed on the bow of the boat. The men pull the rope as one while the boy pulls whimsically. The boat is getting closer to shore and the statue is in danger of breaking on the rocks. Moments before the statue is smashed the boy gives a great pull in a show of strength that outdoes all other men and statue is safe. One of the men in the crew takes the boy aside and with a club smashes the boys skull in. 
Flash forward, I walk somberly down the mountain. With my thumb I asked passing cars for a ride down the mountain. It was not long before a man pulled to the side and I got in. We exchange the basics and soon I relate the story of the enraged boss who left me on top of the mountain. It was here, through the man who drove me down the mountain that I learnt to climb once again and the downward spiral was stopped. 
The man who drove me down the mountain turned out to be a master in Kung Fu and even offered classes (much to expensive for me) on self defense. Kung Fu, he explained, is about avoiding negative energy. Not only negative energy in the form of a fist flying at your face but also other sorts of negative energy such as a vengeful ex girlfriend or whatever. It’s all about redirection and reflection which is less tiring what with not having to take on everything that comes your way. There are times when you will be cornered he said, and these are the times when we do what we were born to do. These are the times to kill he explained. 
I left his car and returned to my jeep. I decided then that it was time to start a different kind of life on the other side of the island in Lahina. It was in Lahina that I met Fred.