Rickie Lee joneses for the road

Review of her new memoir Last Chance Texaco: Chronicles of an American Troubadour by Rickie Lee Jones

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Yes, I am a longtime fan. I remember the SNL appearance and the beginning of her FM play with Chuck E; My friends and I (bc that was how you watched SNL then) were struck by the originality of the songs and of the singer herself. As suburban kids, we were a little awed but very charmed by her total commitment.
I carried her cassettes in my secondhand cars for decades, rewinding perfectly to replay and replay some of my favorite songs: The Horses, Company, Last Chance Texaco, Coolsville, Ghetto of My Mind… the list goes on too long to have it all here. Now it is digital and even longer.
But I think even if I wasn’t a fan of her music (and now someone who seems to frequent many of the same places and has a few people in common, neither of which is that unusual in New Orleans), I think I’d still have purchased this. I love memoirs. When done right, the well-told personal story is more fascinating to me than any tale.
The movement implied in one of her greatest songs had Rickie arranging her book in sections of “The Backseat, Riding Shotgun, The Driver’s Seat, and The Way Back Seat” showing how one’s journey/quest isn’t always led by its protagonist. Her story has elements that I and many other mid-20th century American kids recognize too well, full of broken homes, drugs and drink, friends and love dropping in and out, and violence out there on the road, which astonishingly, was often just a near-miss for Rickie and for so many of us. At least she had the job of a Troubadour to explain why she stayed (stays) out there for so long. Even with the romantic job description, she admits to the dead-ends she herself pursued, the people she may have moved on from maybe before their time in her life should have been completed. But that’s the deal isn’t it – if you keep moving forward, you’re gonna leave people behind. Leaving is the drug I think many of us can’t kick.
If you are looking for “famous people” stories, she throws in a few, but only because they are meaningful to her travels. This is an artist’s story, and so hers to decide what and who was important and life-changing and illustrative Her love and empathy for those who were a roadblock are extraordinary to me. I’m not as evolved & stay mostly pissed at everyone.
It’s extraordinary but not surprising, as her listeners and readers know, having felt the sweetness and tenderness in her work since the beginning.
In the song, it’s the last chance for love along a road that may not have options coming up again. In the memoir, there is hope and promise in Rickie’s story that she has come to see success is about choosing new happy over the old hurt, and always, the freedom to create over the pursuit of empty fame. She also accepts the importance of family, realizing that they always have the sign lit for each other.
And of course, her travel story is certainly not done yet. So, if you are out there and see a woman with a guitar, a smile, a sweet voice, and a lot of killer songs under her arm…



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Movin’ On Up

I suppose I don’t have to explain why in the fall of 2020, I decided to prioritize getting a healthier and more comfortable place to live and work. After 40 years on and off in the city (all in the Quarter or MidCity) I’ve lived many varied versions of the New Orleans renter. Since Katrina though, I’ve barely made a home, instead living as minimally as possible, and sometimes for years roaming about as a house sitter. Don’t get me wrong- I make great spaces with lots of funky touches but they are not everyone’s cup of tea when it comes to size or amenities.

I enjoyed it all really because I wanted to spend most of my time and money on creative people and pursuits. Still do. But with the lockdown, a lack of concern from the property owner where I had been living, and the remote work likely sticking around for a bit, I took a deep breath and did something many New Orleanians say they would like to do someday:

I moved to the Upper Pontalba* on Jackson Square.

To answer your first question, no, the waiting list isn’t outrageous. At least not currently. At least not on the city-owned side.

To answer your second question, no the rent isn’t out of scale with post K city rent prices (yeah I know…) At least not currently. At least not on the city-owned side.

The process was not super quick or even clear at times, even though the property management staff did a fantastic job trying to explain the system and being enthusiastically supportive of the current tenants and in getting new people in. Lovely folks.

If you have read this blog for a while, then you know I am have been doing research on the timeline and people of Jackson Square since the Pontalba Buildings were built in 1850. That research is to tell the story of how the French Quarter was meant to be transformed by these buildings and even though it didn’t really work out as its owner expected, the original city square was saved and beautified. My business card even has an old postcard of the Square and the Lower Pontalba.

So it felt like a sign when I had the opportunity.

The light is stunning and the access to the famous ironwork even on the 4th floor is very inspiring.
Modern French Quarter kitchens renovations are usually an afterthought and make them barely functional. This is not like that.

This move has offered a new vantage point for me, and also some inspiration too for my research and writing. I am sure that inspiration is true for some of my neighbors too.

Interestingly, the Lower side seems to have a very different tenant relationship and attitude about that building from its caretakers. I’ve actually known more people who lived on that side and so have spent a fair time in those apartments. All agree that the state side is not as updated, and the rents are higher. Lots of long term tenants headed out in the last few years when the rents skyrocketed, and those who remain tell me stories of their interaction with the state that are either combative or cold.

Over here as of now, this has been a very good choice for me and there are a few apartments available which is not that common. So maybe this is a opportunity for you.

http://upperpontalba.org/apartments/leasing/

*Upper is the St. Peter side, Lower is the Saint Ann side of the Square. Upper was donated to the city by local civic leaders (Alfred Danzinger, Jules D. Dreyfous, and William Runkel) via the Pontalba Building Museum Association in 1930 which then donated it to the City of New Orleans. As part of a Federal Works Progress Administration-funded project, the row houses are reconfigured into 50 apartments and the ground floor commercial spaces are converted into residential spaces. (Commercial spaces return in the 1970s to the Uppper Pontalba.) In the 1990s Morial Adminstration did the last major renovation on the Upper Pontalba to the tune of 8 million bucks.

The Lower was donated to the state around the same time before the Upper by William Radcliffe Irby* Once in a while, I do silently thank him. And I also thank our Micaela too.

*from 64 Parishes: On Saturday morning, November 20, 1926, Irby went about his day in his normal manner. He visited the bank, performed a few routine duties, and had a mid-morning cup of coffee. He next took a cab to the Tharp-Sontheimer-Tharp undertaking parlors at Carondelet and Toledano Streets. The Times-Picayune reported that Irby “greeted the attendants affably” and told them he had “come to make arrangements for a funeral.” He looked at coffins on the second floor and then requested a morning newspaper. When the undertaker went downstairs to fetch the paper, Irby, sitting on a sofa, fired a revolver into his right temple. He left a note “requesting simplicity in his funeral.” A second note cited an “incurable heart disease” as the reason for his suicide. He was buried in New Orleans’s Metairie Cemetery.

Best and Worst of 2020 French Quarter

I’ll do my best to refrain from making too many weary references to the past year. If I do, just kick me under the table and I’ll move on…

Walking around here during the holidays is usually a bustling, sparkly mood enhancement- lots of holiday lights, special events, and more local sightings than normal. Knowing most of you didn’t make it down here (and thank you for that), I’d like to bring you my “Best French Quarter moments.” And because it seems necessary, I am also going to list my “Worst French Quarter moments.” Here’s the thing: I am going to mix them all up. As I find more in my notes, I will add them.

Best/Worst of French Quarter 2020

Stanley’s adds seating outdoors and evolves its menu

Jewel of the South adds seating in parking lot next door and reopens

Many tourists ignore mask mandate

Manolito keeps making its signature drinks at window

Golden Lantern Bar follows the rules, does contact tracing and keeps its good cheap drinks and cheerful professional staff.

Mona Lisa has hilarious conversation with world via its daily window notes, also offers good Italian food

Mattassa’s continues its struggles, even with residents increased grocery needs and Rouses closing for long period in December

Valentino Hotels renovates

Le Richelieu Hotel renovates

Relaxed parking enforcement

Fewer cars in Quarter

Hard Rock* demolition is still not done by 1031 Canal Development

10 months later, neighbors’ remains (Anthony Magrette, Jose Ponce Arreola, Quinnyon Wimberly) are finally all removed from Hard Rock* collapsed building

Nelly Deli (Quarter Master) renovates

Cafe Envie on Decatur reopens in April with careful rules in place

FQ Rouses/A&P gets a whole new do inside with pretty floors and room to move about

My mom gets better after long spring/summer illness (not COVID) and comes home to her beloved Quarter

Blue bike racks become bigger eyesores

Copper downspout thefts increase again

FQ dogs are even more blissed-out with increased walks and long stretches of time with their people

Jackson Square artists’ carts and art are thrown into Mississippi River by malicious malcontent

Saint Ann construction is completed (?)

Soap hawkers on Royal continue to harangue passersby, rarely wear masks during COVID mandate.

Some bars ignore mask mandate

Mayor orders Willie’s Chicken Shack to close for duration after COVID restrictions are ignored

Clarinetist Tim Laughlin offers evening balcony concerts on Royal

Place d’Armes bell captain Chris Stall and valet staff maintain a cheerful and helpful vibe to neighbors and visitors throughout stay-at-home summer

Backatown Coffeehouse hangs in on Basin, keeps sweet potato pies and coffee flowing.

City Hall pays attention to the potential of the Quarter, asks for input

City Hall chooses the wrong place to suggest another pedestrian mall

Signmaker gets windfall with numerous “anti-mall” yard sign orders

#JazzFestingInPlace at WWOZ is a triumph

Neighbors sit outside nightly and talk quietly and safely on Chartres, on Barracks, on St. Philip, on Bourbon, on Saint Ann…

Reggie the cat remains at large; family still hopeful for return

Homer Plessy at the Little Red Schoolhouse announces renewal of its charter

After more than 100 years at that location, Tujague’s leaves its 823 Decatur home,

Tujague’s opens at 429 Decatur Street at end of the year

Chef Jerry Mixon moves on from Cafe Amelie

Vieux Carre Wine and Spirits keeps serving the liquor-needy.

Bike lane is added on N Peters/French Market to Elysian Fields

Pedestrian striping and traffic calming upgrades are added to area around Crescent Park bridge

Unhoused population get hotel rooms for short period in summer

Retail stores begin to disappear in summer. My last informal count: 15 establishments gone in last 6 months.

French Quarter Festivals does online Holiday Concert series, culminating in Christmas Even concert by Irma Thomas. Miss Irma’s “O Holy Night” rendition remains perfect

Heavy rain storms brought on by climate change are so severe across the city that even the French Quarter floods, a rarity (2 such came in October, November)

HNOC does #NolaMovieNight with clever social media commentaries during movies.

Neighbors on Saint Ann hold safely chalked early pandemic dance party with appropriate music

I decide to check off a bucket list item and move to the Pontalba apartments, hopefully increasing my work on Mercantile Jackson Square writing project

Frogs croaking from courtyard garden ponds and pools all through quiet summer months

City Hall baits the sewers to stem rat infestation

Mary’s Ace Hardware on Rampart reports bar owners, restauranteurs, and homeowners outnumber the usual contractors are coming in to their well-stocked, 2-story establishment.

Oversized and unmitigated “prayer event” is held on river in November, pointedly ignoring all mask and distancing protocols.

Protest for Black Lives Matter are peaceful, well-organized, and citizens follow mask and (mostly) distancing protocols asked for by its organizers.

NOPD attempts scare tactics by reporting phantom piles of bricks hidden near Black Lives Matter protest site, tells neighbors of phantom buses filled with counter-protestors, neither of which materialize or are proven with any photographic evidence.

  •  The Hard Rock Hotel is owned by 1031 Canal Development (Mohan Kailas).

Queens share respect

This post by entrepreneur, photographer, and FQ neighbor Arthur Severio aka the wildly popular drag queen Reba Douglas, is a gorgeous recognition of the interconnectedness of the diverse French Quarter community. From Bethany to Queen Reesie of the Guardian of The Flame, Arthur captures the respect and understanding that our queens share when they meet- whether it be a Chartres Street balcony, in the bright sunlight of our public spaces, or in a crowded back room.