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Two views of New Orleans.

My first knowledge of the great Mississippi came as a child when my father packed us into the family car on Sunday nights for the ritual drive down to Canal Street. This was a big thrill, for Canal Street was a spectacular delight of decorative lights, dazzling store windows, people waiting at streetcar and bus stops for rides out to their isolated neighborhoods.

Then Dad would head for the foot of Canal Street, which was the Mississippi River. Here, at the docks, right beside the L&N train station, he would park and we would get out. I always raced to the edge of the dock to stare at the strange, muddy currents of the river, which was wide enough to be a lake. I would look up - and downriver, to the very edge of its sharp bends, as if I might fathom the past hidden beyond the curve downriver, the future upriver. To me, the river was the oldest living person in New Orleans. It was the great highway out into the world beyond streetcars; its opening began with the ferry to Algiers. I always wanted to ride that ferry, but we never did. The sound of austere ships' horns was enough to trigger my imaginary trips into the out there, for I knew the river in New Orleans led to anywhere and everywhere.

Even now in deep dream I am walking always at night, the Canal Street of my childhood, headed for the river and its ferry. I suppose it will always be there, deeply ridged into the earth of my subconscious, containing hidden understandings of wherever I've been and wherever I might go.

My Street

My street in the old black neighborhood called Treme reverberates with music. This is the original land of marching bands, parades, and jazz funerals. I have my own block band. These kids, aged 9-13, call themselves the Lil Rascals. They parade up and down the street at all times of the day and night, except when they're in school, blaring out quotes from popular marching band tunes on their trumpets, tubas, trombones, and drums. They're starting out right - not in the rehearsal room, but in the theatre of the street, soaking it up as young conjurers, wielders of magic.

In their minds they will be the dream New Orleans band of all time; we just don't know it yet. The tiny trumpeter, who looks to be about ten, reaches for the skies with his high notes; he's capable of ripping off a few phrases in mid-block at 10 p.m., when you think he should be in bed. If thousands don't rush into the street to dance and shout tonight, then someday they will. He's practicing.

Sometimes I open my door as they pass, and taunt, smiling, "I'll be glad when you kids get tuned up. But you sound better than last year."

Most days after school, they rush over to the French Quarter to hustle tourists. One day I asked my favorite little trumpeter his name. My name, he answered, is "Money."
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Title Annotation:Section 1: Black South Culture
Author:Dent, Tom
Publication:African American Review
Date:Mar 22, 1993
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