My Fat Tuesday

When I was in college I was talked into visiting New Orleans for Mardi Gras.

“It’s an experience you must have!” friends assured me.

The trip entailed an eight-hour ride in a filled-to-capacity van to a friend’s aunt’s home, where we slept on the floor. This to facilitate spending several days wandering through tightly — oh-so-tightly — packed streets of people wildly enthusiastic about beads, boobs, and booze.

It was, indeed, an experience.

Most of it is now a long, crowd-induced anxiety blur, but I do remember one beautiful moment: on a side street where the distance between people actually increased to more than arms-length, a street musician belted a bright melody on trumpet, and I was moved to dance.

I don’t know that one moment was worth the days of hassle, but, then again, I still remember it nearly twenty years later, so maybe so …

Cheers, New Orleans.

Scene: Desperation at the Border

Returning home from Alabama, just after crossing the state line into Georgia, we stop for gas.
I walk into the store, which is a typical gas station shop except that roughly a third of its floor space is taken up by tables full of people hunched over lottery tickets, scratching.
Some scratch slowly, carefully, examining each and every aspect of the ticket before turning it over or tearing it in half and proceeding to the next.
Some scratch furiously, ticket to ticket across a two-foot strip of cardboard, stopping only when all the windows are revealed to examine what their money has been turned into — nothing, or a few more chances.
I walk past the tables to the back of the store. 
Across from the entrance to the restrooms there is a narrow hallway — maybe four feet across and probably twenty feet long — lined with video poker machines. Every machine is full, and there is barely room for egress behind the players seated at stools in front of the beeping, flashing machines.
I return to the front of the store, snacks in hand, to find three cashiers working, and each one has a line of 4-6 patrons, nearly all of them clutching handfuls of tickets, ready to redeem.
As the woman immediately in front of me hands over her tickets, the cashier says, “Twenty dollars. You want cash or tickets?”
“Oh, I want the cash,” she says.
The cashier hands over a $20 bill. 
The woman clutches the bill for a moment, stares at the three-foot tall lottery ticket bin on the counter, then hands the bill back.
“I’ll take four of those Lucky Dollar tickets, the five-dollar ones.”
The cashier takes the bill, spins the requested tickets off the roll, hands them over.
The woman stares at the tickets, then walks slowly back toward the scratching tables.
I pay for my snacks and depart.
Behind me, the slow shuffle from table to line and back again continues.