A job telling stories and the skills to do it, where I can show my love for New Orleans, her distinct history, architecture, people, places, I owe to my fellow tour guides. We all share a little history, a little mystery, unbelievability, mysticism, music, Mardi Gras, military history…I love telling the stories of the great outlaw Privateers Jean Lafitte and Dominique You, who changed the course of history in the Battle of New Orleans in 1815. The famous Storyville Madam, Lulu White, whose wealth was astounding; yet, she died in poverty. The exploits of corrupt, peacock politicians like Huey and Earl Long, Edwin Edwards, and Ray Nagin, who strut their way into people’s hearts and ballot boxes and still end up either shot dead in the State Capital, dead in the arms of their stripper girlfriend, or in prison. Legendary musicians like James Booker, who everyone knew from the Maple Leaf, Jackson Square, OPP, or Angola. Yet, he unceremoniously OD’d in the Charity Hospital lobby. And the local 70s NBA star, “Pistol” Pete Maravich, who New Orleanians remember like it was yesterday.
Stories make us who we are as a city, as a people, and as a family of citizenry. The truer the story, the stronger identity we have. Some of the stories seem too crazy, too impossible to be true; yet, they are. Mary Helen said, “Don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story.” My maxim mirrors the old saying, “Truth is stranger than fiction.” It’s probably true that each of us tour guides has a favorite story to tell. I remember the one Dave would tell about Louis Armstrong:
Louis played 200-300 nights a year for the better part of 50 years, around the world. Until the day he died, he always had a tremendous amount of passion. One time when he was playing with the Dukes of Dixieland and the drummer for the group asked, “Louis, how can you…? Here we are in the studio and you bring it, play and act as if there’s 10,000, 20,000 people out there?” Louis says, “Wellll, you play for love. You play for God. I play for my wife. I play for the fans and I play for all the people I’m playin’ with.” In the opening of “What A Wonderful World,” Louis can be heard saying, “It’s all a lotta love.”
I find there’s an energy in telling a story – everyone focuses on you and you lead people’s imaginations down a path as the story unfolds – an unexpected twist and turn, a memorable character, a vivid scene, a clever insight, or a bawdy political joke. A story well-told feeds the ego through a sense of accomplishment and sharing, and it also, quite literally, supercharges you and makes you glow. Effectively transferring the past into the present and on into the future by placing it into the hearts and minds of your audience feels like a spiritual thing
After I graduated high school in 1982, my godfather, a Catholic deacon, asked me what I wanted to do with my life and I told him, “I don’t know. I like to meet people.” He told me, “There are only so many people you can meet.” Looking back, that was a pretty strange thing for an insurance salesman to say. Now I get to meet and talk to people from every continent across the world (except Antarctica, yet, my only great disappointment in my career life). And Mom, people pay to hear my silly spins on history now.