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  • New Orleans has thrown me a good number of sucker punches, but there's also one that it helped me throw. It happened the day I arrived.

    August 1986, age 19: I'm moving to town from Alabama in a Datsun 310, pulling a small open trailer full of furniture. Just after crossing the lake and hitting New Orleans East, I-10 suddenly became quite wavy ("The East was built on a swamp," I had heard). I hit bumps and the Datsun was bouncing. I checked the mirror: my 5-shelf bookcase was bouncing around too. Further in, I started wondering: "Why does everyone here speed up as the road gets worse?" But I sped up too. Some more bad bumps. Nearing the I-10 high rise over the canal, I checked the mirror again: no bookcase; it was simply gone. My heart sank and my mind raced: "What just happened here? What did I just do?" Had I just thrown someone behind me a sucker punch, raining wood and splinters down upon them? "But wasn't it at least partly because of the city? Why would a highway be like that? And why were people driving so crazy? I want to be a good citizen!" I was horrified, and still am.

    About 10 years and quite a few sucker punches later (so many break-ins, flooded cars, etc.), I slowly came to realize I was in for yet another one. I had gone to school, worked for 6 years, then quit my job (right after I had borrowed a lot of money to help start my own company). Everything was on the line, and I was charging up credit cards more and more each month. Prospects were there for future work, if I could just hang on. Facing overdue rent and equipment payments, a client threw me a simple job: digitizing a box of audio microcassette tapes. The money would be enough to stave off repossession of equipment that would happen in a week. All I needed was a microcassette player, but there was no money; I had already borrowed to the limit from every card and everyone. At Campo Appliance on South Claiborne Ave. near MLK (it's long gone now), I picked out a player; it was $45 and the appliance salesman with the really wide tie smiled. I said I would need to apply for a credit account, and he frowned. At his desk, I filled out the forms and he checked my credit record. "You owe a lot of money," he said. He went to the manager. I waited and waited under the green flickering fluorescents, watching people try out TVs and stereos, buy washers and fridges, and kicking myself, wondering why I had ever moved to New Orleans. And then the salesman returned, with the tape player in a bag and the receipt. On behalf of the city, I suppose, the guy with the wide tie gave me a rose.
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