Driving Into New Orleans
“Poor Dean,” said Marylou, and she kissed
him. He stared ahead
proudly. He loved her.
We were suddenly driving along the blue waters of the
Gulf, and at the same time a momentous mad thing began
on the radio; it was the Chicken Jazz’n Gumbo
disk-jockey show from New Orleans, all mad jazz records,
colored records, with the disk jockey saying, “Don’t
worry ‘bout nothing!” We saw New Orleans
in the night ahead of us with joy. Dean rubbed his hands
over the wheel. “Now we’re going to get
our kicks!” At dusk we were coming into the humming
streets of New Orleans. “Oh, smell the people!”
yelled Dean with his face out the window, sniffing.
“Ah! God! Life!” He swung around a trolley.
“Yes!” He darted the car and looked in every
direction for girls. “Look at her!” The
air was so sweet in New Orleans it seemed to come in
soft bandannas; and you could smell the river and really
smell the people, and mud, and molasses, and every kind
of tropical exhalation with your nose suddenly removed
from the dry ices of a Northern winter. We bounced in
our seats. “And dig her!” yelled Dean, pointing
at another woman. “Oh, I love, love, love women!
I think women are wonderful! I love women!” He
spat out the window; he groaned; he clutched his head.
Great beads of sweat fell from his forehead from pure
excitement and exhaustion.
We bounced the car up on the Algiers ferry and found
ourselves crossing the Mississippi River by boat. “Now
we must all get out and dig the river and the people
and smell the world,” said. Dean, bustling with
his sunglasses and cigarettes and leaping out of the
car like a jack--in-the-box. We followed. On rails we
leaned and looked at the great brown father of waters
rolling down from mid-America like the torrent of broken
souls —bearing Montana logs and Dakota muds and
Iowa vales and things that had drowned in Three Forks,
where the secret began in ice. Smoky New Orleans receded
on one side; old, sleepy Al-giers with its warped woodsides
bumped us on the other. Negroes were working in the
hot afternoon, stoking the ferry furnaces that burned
red and made our tires smell. Dean dug them, hopping
up and down in the heat. He rushed around the deck and
upstairs with his baggy pants hanging halfway down his
belly. Suddenly I saw him eagering on the flying bridge.
I expected him to take off on wings. I heard his mad
laugh all over the boat — “Hee-hee-hee-hee-hee!”
Marylou was with him. He covered everything in a jiffy,
came back with the full story, jumped in the car just
as everybody was tooting to go, and we slipped off,
passing two or three cars in a narrow space, and found
ourselves darting through Algiers.
“Where? Where?” Dean was yelling.
We decided first to clean up at a gas station and inquire
for Bull’s whereabouts. Little children were playing
in the drowsy river sunset; girls were going by with
bandannas and cotton blouses and bare legs. Dean ran
up the street to see everything. He looked around; he
nodded; he rubbed his belly. Big Ed sat back in the
car with his hat over his eyes, smiling at Dean. I sat
on the fender. Marylou was in the women’s john.
>From bushy shores where infinitesimal men fished
with sticks, and from delta sleeps that stretched up
along the reddening land, the big humpbacked river with
its mainstream leaping came coiling around Al-giers
like a snake, with a nameless rumble. Drowsy, peninsular
Algiers with all her bees and shanties was like to be
washed away someday. The sun slanted, bugs flip-flopped,
the awful waters groaned.
from ON THE ROAD