by Same Hutchins
My disappointment at bailing early on Cajun Country was tempered by the anticipation of a night out in New Orleans. Stephane took the wheel and put it on the floor headed east on Highway 10. My companions didn’t do a lot of driving, but when needed Stephane was great at taking the stick and piloting us home. I’m an excellent driver and therefore pretty particular about whom I’ll ride with when I’m not in control; I had no issue with ceding the truck to Stephane.
Good thing, too, as I needed to get on the phone and set us up in the city. My job can be social in many ways, and it was time to work the phone. We were unexpectedly headed to New Orleans for a night of relaxation and enjoyment followed by a day of scouting, it was early evening already and I had a couple hours of highway driving time to make arrangements.
As well connected as I am in that town, it was only five months post-Katrina. I had not been down since the tragedies connected with it. Having been involved a bit in some relief efforts I knew who was back in town and who was still stranded elsewhere as part of the diaspora that had been created. Still, one couldn’t be sure how our visit would go. It worked out, though, and soon we were set up in the Renaissance Hotel in the Warehouse District. A truly great Hotel and definitely the right place for a comfortable night. A few more calls and we had plans for drinks and dinner, and someone was waiting in the lobby for us with some excellent pot. New Orleans here we come.
The Katrina effect was apparent as soon as we wheeled into town. Five months later and most of the traffic signals on Poydras Street weren’t functioning. No police working the intersections, it was fend for yourself time. Trees down everywhere and not many people to be seen. It felt so odd overall. This was going to take a little getting used to. At least the valet stand at the hotel was manned, but even there we were told that they didn’t have anyone to cover the late shift. They would be shutting down at 10.
“Don’t worry sir, I’ll leave your car right out front and the keys will be at the front desk,” I was reassured. “But you want to be careful going out too late, things are still a little sketchy at night here.”
The hotel may have been half-empty and down to a skeleton staff, but my guy was still working and greeted me with a big hug and a smile. As we made the exchange he held me at arm’s length.
“Thanks for coming back, man, we appreciate it. The city needs your support. Bring the film here. Tell everyone we’re back and to come see us again.” Yes, it’s the kind of city where even the drug dealers are civic boosters. You don’t find that everywhere. Says something about a city.
After settling into our luxury rooms with 600 count Frette sheets and steam showers we re-convened in the lobby. My companions were truly pleased by the accommodations for the first time since we left New York. In short order we were burning a joint as we drove slowly up Magazine Street. It all came back to me in a rush, how much I love the city. Amidst the damage the bungalows still lined the street, their weathered stoutness hidden beneath riotous bursts of color. I found myself tearing up with joy and love for my surroundings. My God I love New Orleans. It is a city of music and magic.
We picked up my friend Mario in one of the many low-key bars that would instantly be the coolest place in most cities I’ve been in but was just another gin mill there. A few drinks later we were in Jacques-Imo’s. If you are reading this and have not been there you should turn off your computer, fly to New Orleans, and have a meal there before finishing these words. It’s that good. Nothing I write can quite convey the full experience but I’ll try with an illustrative story.
My first visit there many years ago found the place three deep at the bar. I somehow found an empty stool and squeezed my way into a glass of Stoli. Johnny Cash was singing “Ring of Fire” in the background. A drunken mess of a man next to me dug his elbow into my side.
“Hey man, you know this song?”
“Bet you didn’t know he wrote it about Jimmy Carter.”
“Are you an idiot? He wrote it about June Carter. His wife.”
“Oh. Really? Huh, I guess that makes a lot more sense, doesn’t it?”
Having a hard time believing anyone could be that big of a drunken fool I turned to get a look at the guy, and what a sight. He was a short, bearded guy wearing chef’s whites, boxer shorts and sandals. He was guzzling a good Bordeaux right out of the bottle. Extending his hand, he said:
“Hi, I’m Jack. This is my restaurant.”
Common sense would have taken me right out the door, but sometimes a lack of such is your best asset. Now, years later I returned to see Jack and brought my new friends. Even though the rest of New Orleans was a ghost town his joint was hopping. He greeted us with big hugs; made sure we had drinks and whisked us to a table. Dishes started magically appearing on our table. Fried oysters, spinach salad, alligator cheesecake, chicken livers on toast points, steamed mussels, etoufee, each more delicious than the last and those were just the appetizers. Jack grabbed a bottle of wine off of someone else’s table and filled our glasses. It would have been an even more memorable meal with a few less bottles of wine, as it stands I know we had a great time even if the details are a bit fuzzy.
We wound up in Mario’s bar, the now-defunct King Bolden. The drive there from Jacques-Imo’s was a little sobering as we saw how banged-up the rest of the city still was. We hatched our plans over a late-night bottle of whiskey. Mario and I both pushed New Orleans as a location for our film. Katrina or not, there are so many stories to tell there. We went late into the evening toasting one another and kicking around ideas for our film. Stephane and Darius were starting to fade a bit when Mario pulled out an illustrated highway of Route 61, the blues highway. We ended the evening with a drive through the deserted streets while excitedly discussing Robert Johnson and the deep south. Good times and great material were at hand.
STAY TUNED FOR THE NEXT INSTALLMENT OF THE SCOUTING LIFE.
Sam Hutchins has been working in film production for twenty years. He started as overnight security on the set of “Working Girl” while attending film school at NYU. Since 1995 he has been a location manager for some of the top names in the business. He’ll be blogging from a unique insider’s perspective on the filmmaking process, as well as speaking to his colleagues in the production community to share their experiences with you.