I was on my way to work yesterday morning, stuck in gridlock hell on the interstate. Bored, hungry, and suffering from a nasty head cold, it’s needless to say my day wasn’t starting off well. Then, the song Everybody’s Everything, by Carlos Santana began to play on the radio. I pumped up the volume, and my mind drifted back to The French Quarter, New Orleans, circa mid seventies.
The weather was warm, but not the “face shoved into a sweaty armpit” sultry that is often the case with NOLA in late spring. We arrived early on a Thursday afternoon, my three girlfriends and I, ready to eat, drink and party. I pulled into the parking garage of our hotel, and the valet parking attendant opened the car door for me. He was polite, extremely attractive, and spoke with a heavy accent. We chatted for a moment, and I discovered that he had recently arrived in the US from Cuba. He was really sweet, and asked if we would like to go dancing one night with him and his friends. We responded that we might take him up on his offer at some point, giggled flirtatiously, and went on our way.
We spent the next few days doing what most young people do in The French Quarter….consumed dozens of oysters on the half shell and drank beer at Felix’s, sat on the curb outside of Central Grocery, ate muffalettas and drank more beer, and finished our evenings with café au lait and beignets at Café du Monde. We shopped during the day on Royal Street, and hit the bars on Bourbon Street at night.
On Saturday evening, we’d just finished a huge dinner at a fancy restaurant, and decided to go back to the hotel to change into more casual attire before walking the streets. The valet guy….his name was Carlos….was just finishing his shift, and asked if we were ready for our dancing gig. We decided “what the hell….how bad could it be? It would be an adventure….something new!”
And was it ever! Those guys showed us a side of New Orleans we had NEVER seen! Smoky clubs in dark, creepy alleys on the fringes of the quarter, Cuban cigars, Mojitos, Latino music with a beat that pulsated the crowd into a frenzy! It was fabulous! And Carlos….what a gentleman he turned out to be. He opened doors for me….stood up when I left the table and returned….held my hand as he guided me to the dance floor. We literally danced all night. Our last dance was to Everybody’s Everything.
Carlos lived nearby. “Are you hungry?” he asked as we exited the steamy club. “Starving!” I replied. “Come to my place, and I will make you Huevos Habaneros (eggs, Havana style) and coffee that will put Café du Monde to shame!” I sat barefoot and crossed legged on the kitchen table in his tiny, but very neat apartment, watching him whip up our feast. Eggs with onions, peppers, jalapenos, and tomatoes, sizzling in a skillet….strong, sweet black coffee in demitasse cups that belonged to his grandmother….the warm breeze ruffling the red kitchen curtains. It was sensory overload. He sat on the countertop, and we talked nonstop as we savored our meal. He told me stories of growing up in Cuba, about why he came to the US, and about how he wanted to be a great chef one day. And if those eggs were any indication, I’m sure he is!
He walked me back to my hotel as the sun was coming up. The street cleaners were washing off debris from the night before as we strolled down Bourbon Street. When we reached the hotel, he took my hand and gently kissed it. “You are a lovely lady,” he said. “You make me feel like a real person….not just a car parker.” “And you Carlos, make me feel like a lady,” I replied. We laughed and blew kisses to each other as he walked away. I never saw him again….no idea what happened to him.
So yesterday morning, after I finally made it downtown, I stopped at Café Brazil for breakfast. I ordered eggs, with onions, peppers, jalapenos, and tomatoes. I was in a much better mood! “Carlos, mi bello amigo, wherever you are, this is for you,” I whispered, as I took my first sip of strong, sweet, black espresso...C