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Essence of the morning


St. Charles Tavern at 6 a.m. (Photo by Patrick M. Burke)

It’s about 6 a.m. when I park the limousine and settle into a table next to the picture window at St. Charles Tavern. I had hoped to catch a bite at the Please U a few blocks farther up St. Charles but, well, it’s Sunday, and the Please U doesn’t do Sundays.

The food is not so different, but the Tavern is noisier and, this morning, more noisy than usual. This morning’s denizens are obviously survivors from Saturday night’s Essence Music Fest, with lots of shrieking and banter of the sort that I’ve been witnessing for the past few days at Louis Armstrong and all across the CBD. In the midst of this fashionable inappropriateness, a couple at a more central table embraces in an uncontrolled display of steamy public affection, chewing hungrily on each other’s faces while their table mates eat and chat in seeming oblivion.

The waitress brings coffee and a menu, and then lingers in hopes of a quick meal decision. I consider asking her to wipe some sticky from the table, and then decide not to press my luck. Instead I order eggs, potato, toast and bacon, enough to cover any serious appetite for the rest of what will probably be a long day.

And, in truth, it already has been a long day and it’s only a couple of hours old. My 5:15 a.m. pick up went sideways on me, an issue that “the office” will have to handle. I was where I needed to be when I needed to be there. The client’s agent met me in the hotel lobby and said that no limo was ordered. Not my problemo (or problimo as the case may be). I have my paperwork. Which helps explain how, with two and a half hours before my next pick-up, I’m experiencing fine dining at the St. Charles Tavern. A livery driver’s life is intriguing if nothing else.

A fly cruises a slow sortie past my coffee cup, then beats itself senseless on the window.

In only a few minutes my order arrives, so perhaps here I can comment on the fare at St. Charles Tavern. To those who remember The Hummingbird Grill, the St. Charles Tavern can relate. It is breakfast with its drawers on, mostly. Like the Hummingbird, the food is less the point than the atmosphere. Someday people will remember being here in the same way as having been at the “Bird.” The eggs have a little griddle black, and at the slightest touch the bacon crumbles like a 17th Street Canal levee. These aren’t criticisms, just observations. Ruthie the Duck Lady wasn’t pretty either, but we loved her ways.

From across the restaurant, the waitress catches my eye and gives me a thumbs-up. I return the gesture; one in our wish to bond, waitress to customer; two in our relationship with the surrounding cacophony.

Somewhere in a lost moment of focus, the osculating couple has moved the act outside, outside my window to be exact, pawing each other madly against a USA Today newspaper box. Nearby, a man in a flowered shirt is engaged in animated conversation and it is almost a minute before I realize that there is no one listening to his conversation. He is, in effect, a one-man talk-radio station to the universe.

I return to my eggs and bacon and hash browns and toast for a moment. When I look up again, the scene outside is gone. There is no one outside at all, and only the din from the other patrons continues, as well as a fresh cup of coffee that I hadn’t noticed before. Time warp.

The waitress approaches again and offers to clean off the used dishes, then asks me if I’m someone famous. I had noticed that she had watched me with a curious glance earlier. Suddenly I understand. I get this a lot, and have for the past 20 years. They think I look like HIM; he whom I look like. You know, THAT guy. By now I accept that I must look somewhat like him. It’s my burden. It’s also HIS burden.

Having paid and left a tip, finished the rest of my coffee and water, I make my way toward the door, hoping to catch the eye of my waitress, hoping to again give her our conspiratorial thumbs-up. But she is deep in her duties bussing tables near the kitchen and the noise creates a barrier between her world and mine. I push past the door and, stepping outside, wonder if she’ll look up in a few minutes and experience that same time warp seeing me suddenly gone, then move on with her day.

Local author Patrick M. Burke contributes stories about New Orleans to NolaVie.


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