In my sleep, in the middle of the night, there was vague awareness of Stella being up, moving around, doing things, and then being back in my arms. Later, struggling to wake, I knew she was not next to me. Able to open my eyes, I saw that she was in one of the lounge chairs, reading. Got myself up and over to the bathroom, did all the necessary maintenance and went out to the living room where the gorgeous lady was closing her book. She stood and moved to me and there was a strong hug and a smooch and a question. Coffee? “Badly needed.” Do you want me to make some?” She said, “They have a Continental Breakfast room and I’m a little hungry. Can we go there?” “A minute to get dressed and I’ll be with you, Miss Beauchamp. You’re so pretty this morning, I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
For me, the breakfast was coffee, nothing else. The small selection of foods was basic and looked quite good. No appetite at all at the moment, I took an apple and stuck it in my jacket pocket. Stella had a modest breakfast, smaller than usual. We sipped coffee, exchanged our cups. I talked of finding one or perhaps two bars or venues where we could find some bona fide Dixie for that evening. We could use today for sightseeing just as ordinary tourists might, but we could, at the same time, consider ourselves to be on a reconnaissance mission for the evening. One of the hotel staff announced the breakfast room would be closing in fifteen minutes. Wow, was it that late? Stella said, “Let’s go brush our teeth and go into town for this scouting mission.” I said, “Ma Certo, Principessa.”
A beautiful morning was well underway as we returned to the room. Taking turns in the bathroom, we readied ourselves for the day. Stella neatened the room. As we left, she asked, “Got your key?” I patted my hip pocket, saying “Indeed I do.” Helmets on us, then we were off to explore this famous town. Back onto Route 61 with only a few miles to travel. Quite a lot of traffic and going was slow. While temporarily stopped for some construction vehicles, she leaned forward, speaking loudly over the traffic, “The French Quarter is less than two miles that way” and she pointed forward and to the left. A block later, she signaled for a right hand turn and we took the next right onto Loyola Avenue. A mile later, the slowdown signal and a right turn into a wide driveway aimed at a building called the SomethingorOther Passenger Terminal. We approached the curb where she pointed and gave the closed fist ‘hold’ signal.
She dismounted from the scooter while slipping her helmet off, allowing her hair to fall free and surprised me with a big kiss and a fierce hug. Then she said, “Rosano, dear Rosano, this is killing me now. In the bottom of your trunk is a note from me which I don’t want you to read for at least a week. So this is it, Rosano. We’re saying goodbye right now. My dear, my precious friend … you have been the miracle in my life.” She was crying openly. Turning away, she walked toward the building. It was only then I noticed she had carried her clothing bag with all her things. The square corners of books showed through. So she was, in fact, gone. That quickly. It was over.
So surprising the finale. I was trying to process this, and a man in dark clothing with wide yellow cross straps approached the scooter. “You can’t stay here, buddy. You have to move on out of here, buses coming in.” Out of my trance, I merely said “Yes Sir, thanks.” Putting Tony in gear, I drove out toward Loyola Avenue. Turned left to retrace my route. Four or five short city blocks later, on the left, was a small city park. Head still fuzzy from the surprise, I crossed Loyola and pulled up in the shade of some trees. Time to settle down, time to regroup, to reason and repair. I was a wreck.
It was the manner and swiftness of our parting that truly stunned me. I knew the last two days had been so tough for her. A few items began to make sense now … her paying two days for the room, making certain I had the key to the room, the big food purchase in Baton Rouge, etc. In as many ways as she could, she had tried to take care of me. Maybe I should cry a little, but I couldn’t allow that. Stayed in the cool of the shade for perhaps an hour, a long, long hour, had a couple of smokes and drank from the water bag. Wedged in the scooter seat was the map we had been using. My navigator was gone. The Voice talking in my left ear, the good ear, was saying “Can’t sit all day in the park, Rosano. Go ahead, feel sorry for yourself, but only for another ten or fifteen minutes. After that, get off your ass and do something. How many times have you told other people ‘all love ends in sadness’. So now, Rosano, enjoy your own personal misery … then go get a cup of coffee and get your brain unscrambled. You’re well enough to manage a cup of coffee. Beside, you’re going to need to take a leak sometime.” Removed the Louisiana map from its wedged place, found it already folded to show the New Orleans insert, and decided to find Basin Street and the French Quarter.
Onto my Lambretta, again started on the first kick, I traveled back up a block or so to a minimarket to take a leak and buy some coffee. Bought a large one, and a pack of Parliaments, and sat outside on the scooter, reviewed a few thousand little details of this journey I had half completed. I wanted to see Chicago and wanted also to touch foot on Florida, just to be able to say I did, and then make it to Connecticut in time, but not too early, for my sister Phyllis’s wedding. There were no shortcuts if I wanted to do that. Three places in three very different directions. After drinking as much coffee as possible, I headed back down Route 61. Where Stella and I had taken a right turn, now it was a left turn instead. It required a few minutes before I realized I was already on Basin Street, which actually seemed rather ordinary. Driving around the block, I found myself on North Rampart Street (it was South Rampart that hosted the parade in the Dixieland number). Heading into the French Quarter, I encountered Burgundy and then Bourbon Street. Famous Bourbon Street, noted for strip joints and bawdy shows, none of which was of interest to me today. Bourbon Street reminded me that I hadn’t had a drink for quite a time. While I knew the street name celebrated a French royal family and had not been named for the American whiskey, I thought the mistaken identity still served my purpose. Began to do a bit of noodling, driving at a moderate pace this way and that, saw an impressive bunch of wrought iron decorative treatments on balconies and elevated walkways. Ironwork which I cared not a hoot for today. Generally, I was moving closer to the river. From the map, this turn in the river was about as far downstream as I wanted to go. At this point, the Mississippi had to be a half-mile wide. For a confirmed desert rat, it seemed almost beyond belief. The huge amount of water flowing so peacefully past. Stopping the scooter where I could watch the river activity, I lit up a smoke and tried to enjoy the fact that at least one of my minor goals had been achieved – to see the river near the Gulf. I watched one or two moderately large ships moving with the flow toward the Gulf and one larger ship moving upstream. Pleasant to watch, tranquil, but my mood was very down. Did I want to seek out music this evening? No, a decided no. Listening to the blues was not a needed thing today. Deciding what I wanted to do next seemed important in pulling myself out of this mental sinkhole. Having seen what I had intended to, it was all diminished considerably … no beautiful lady with which to share. Bummer. Big time bummer. I’d go back to the motel, maybe snooze, and decide something later. Started up and found my way back through the French Quarter and then back to Route 61 headed to the motel. So that was my big day in New Orleans. Not very impressive. A big fizzle, in fact.
Perhaps a mile from the motel, I pulled off the road to stop at a bar. I would have that Bourbon, after all. Dismounted, locked up the helmet, scooter, and a convenient lamp post all together. The bar had a small price guide posted outside the door. That was something I had never seen previously. At a glance the prices seemed ordinary. Out of the warm, bright afternoon, and into the darker, cooler pub. Nice feel to the place, not at all dingy as so many are. Nice smell, too. Sat down at the bar, put a five dollar bill on the counter and ordered a Jack Daniel’s On the Rocks, side of soda, please. Drink served, some beautiful stuff Jack Daniel’s is. The first few tiny sips tasted so incredibly fine. Three guys seated at a table at the far end of the bar to my left were having a good laugh at something. I couldn’t catch much of what they were doing, but my immediate impression from the voice sounds, was that they were Brits. Things quieted down. My thoughts had just started to turn to my lost companion. In through the front door came a huge, muscular man almost shouting, “A Lammy, can you believe it? A Lammy! Who is here that pilots a Lammy? (referring to the Lambretta).
Reader’s Note: It turns out the three guys at the table and the fourth one who came in shouting “Lammy” were not Brits, but Aussies from a cargo ship somewhere in port getting repairs. In my recounting this little story I will not attempt to imitate accents or speech patterns. Just know: the Australian accent added to their genuine overall coolness. For my entire life, I have been strongly prejudiced in regarding the Kiwis and Aussies with great favor.
The three at the table all gave loud greetings at seeing the fourth, while I raised my arm and turning, said, “That would be me.” He walked right up to me, stuck out his hand, which I shook, “Jesus, I do love Lammys. And from Arizona, did you drive it here?” I laughed and nodded yes. He grabbed my drink and the five dollar note in one hand and grabbed my arm with the other, saying “Right this way, if you please,” almost dragging me over to the table of three, now suddenly become the table of five. He said, “My name is Collin, and yours?” I said “Rosano, the name is Rosano.” Almost shouting he said, “Friends, this here is Rosano, he drove a Lambretta motor scooter from Arizona to New Orleans, so show the man some respect and introduce yourselves.” And with lots of noise, comments, and congratulations, they did. Collin continued enthusiastically, “Rosano, you Italian?” I nodded yes. “Fine,’ he said, “You must be one tough sonuvabitch. I am so goddamn jealous. How long did it take?” I answered “About five weeks, but I went to Denver, Colorado first.” One of the others jumped in and said, “But that’s a thousand miles out of your way.” I said, “Nine hundred, actually.” “How many miles have you traveled to get here?” Answered “Twenty-five hundred.” Collin, hearing this, said “Wait a moment. He looked at the ceiling, in the universal body language for unwritten calculation, and announced, “That’s equivalent to this crazy bastard driving from Sydney to Perth on a Lammy, can you imagine! Now, that is truly stupendous! You might be a wee runt of a Dago, but you have big balls, my friend. Could you take the time to tell us about your trip?” I asked, “Are you serious?” At least three, maybe all four of them, agreed rather rambunctiously, “Goddamnit yes!” and so forth. It seemed so peculiar to have four grown men, older than I, want to listen to me. I laughed and said “How about I take a leak first?” One of them said, “Absolutely, at least it shows you’re a human being.” Saying “Excuse me, Gentlemen,” I left the table and headed to the restroom. On my return, the Aussies were getting seated again … they had gone outside to see the scooter. There was a second Bourbon on the Rocks alongside my first, and the five dollar note tucked under it. Before I could protest, Collin said “Your American money isn’t acceptable here. First tell us why and how you came to be the owner of that scooter.” I said, “OK, but don’t hesitate to interrupt me with questions or shouts of disbelief or cries of dismay or just plain heckling if you get bored.” That got a laugh out of them, one saying “he’s really asking for it,” another saying “big balls, indeed.”
And so the tale began. I talked of going through the Salt River Canyon, the Petrified Forest, the little dog taken by a coyote (one of the Aussies saying “American dingo”). And there were many questions, about the scooter, the countryside, about my food and water supply. Easy to see these guys were truly interested and I would not unduly abbreviate the telling. Told about the rainout and the flooded tent and they had a good laugh over that. Then the party in the trailer with the four knockout women from the University. I mentioned Enrico up in Boulder, then Stella, and our journey together across some of the prairie, which they thought had to be magnificent compared to their ‘outback’. Recalled the East Texas part of the journey and the disappointment of that area. Then talked of the last few days coming south to New Orleans and the parting with Stella. It seemed they were as surprised as I was. I had spoken for nearly an hour and these guys had been drinking steadily all the way through. Finally, one Aussie said, “That was just a few hours ago. You can’t just let her go that easily. Goddamit, man, she is suffering … you could find her if you tried.” Another chimed in “No, he’s not going to try regaining something that no longer exists. He’s right to just leave it be.” They got into a wildly animated discussion while I finished my first drink, and took the first little sip of the second. The comments were flying back and forth. These guys were loud, fun, and seemed rather intelligent and thoughtful in their verbal exchanges, not at all ignorant or unschooled. The conversation turned to some of the comparisons of US geography with that of Australia. I mentioned always being interested in going there some time in my life.
Collin asked my age. When I said twenty-one in just a few days, he asked if I had any skills. Cooking, I can cook creatively and make very tasty stuff, most of it with an Italian flair. He eyes got a big as saucers and he asked “So you think you could cook for 20 people?” I answered, “With a decent helper, it would be ‘piece of cake.’ He asked, “How would you like to go from this bar here to Australia? “You and your scooter, free passage, plus some reasonable pay and guaranteed return passage.” Taking a sip of my drink, I said ‘You are being serious, aren’t you.” He said “If you knew how sorely we need a decent cook on board our ship, you would promptly weep.” I said I had no passport. He came back with “Our captain can get you a valid US passport in two days. We’re in port for a week with repairs. So there’s time.” This was sounding interesting. I said, “Tell me about your ship, in terms I might understand, because my knowledge is close to zero.” And he did, describing a medium-sized cargo carrier, heading to Asia, after passing through the Panama Canal. Oh wow, sounded exciting. Collin said, “Let me get you another drink.” I said “No, for sure no, but thanks. I’m already past my limit. Collin, I think you’re being up front and honest with me, so I want to seriously think on this for a night. How can I get in touch with you when I decide?” He shook my hand saying “The exact way you did today … tomorrow afternoon, the four of us will be here, maybe another one with us. If you decide ‘yes’, you be here tomorrow same time, and we’ll get the process moving.” We talked more, and I did enjoy these raucous Aussies. They had a life force and spirit I absorbed and admired. We talked for at least another hour, with me answering more questions about myself, the trip, the scooter. From bits of conversation, I learned a fair amount of the cargo would be construction explosives. Explosives. Would that influence my decision? It may have already. Three hours, a heartening and uplifting three hours with some good-natured, and rambunctious Aussies, combined with two whiskeys, went a good way in helping me lift my mood. Finishing off the watery remnants of the second drink and standing up, I stuck my hand out to Collin, thanking him for his consideration, saying I had enjoyed this time with them, would seriously think about joining them, but right now, it was time to leave. This huge man grabbed me in a strong hug, saying “You little bastard, you are fine company. If you say ‘yes,’ we’ll put you on payroll tomorrow.” The others gathered ‘round, slamming me on the back, shaking hands, hugging me, saying they hoped I’d come aboard. Of course, they were a little drunk, and that had to be weighed. I was working my way toward the door, but they were just hollering one thing or another and followed me out to the scooter in the bright late afternoon. Unlocking and donning my helmet, gave the scooter a kick, and it didn’t let me down, starting with the customary blue puff of exhaust. Those awesome Aussies gave me a round of applause and were still talking as I put the ‘Lammy’ in gear, waved a ‘goodbye’ and putted over to Route 61.
A few minutes later, I was at the motel office, asking if there were any messages for Room 6 (None. Was I hoping my beautiful lady had a change of heart?) and asking the opening time of the Breakfast Room (usually open by 6:30AM). The morning paper was on one of the lounge chairs. Could I take it to the room? No problem.