Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Tokens of my affection

Last night I drove downtown to pick up 180 Regional Transit Authority (RTA) tokens. No, I'm not planning on giving up my car or becoming environmentally responsible by advocating for mass transit. Not that there's anything wrong with that, mind you. A very important part of the upcoming Ten Commandments Hike involves our use of the historic St. Charles Avenue streetcars for our return to the starting point. Streetcar fares like buses are $1.25 each. Anyone who knows the difficulties with having to pay for hundreds of people boarding one or two streetcars using cash know full well the reasons we dispense RTA tokens to our participants. The only problem is that the tokens are only sold at a handful of stores across New Orleans, none of which are particularly convenient for me. The one store that sells tokens into the evening hours is Unique General Store, a huge convenience store located near the intersection of Canal and Royal Streets. This means that it is located in the historic French Quarter, although for many New Orleanians there is the feeling that first block with its many modern edifices along Canal Street is well out of character. Suffice it to say that the block is busy. There are quite a number of people drinking beers and congregating along the sidewalks there and inside the aptly-named Unique there is a veritable United Nations of visitors and residents. In my earlier days I would have had no problem getting down with my people and acting like a very cool cucumber. But in order to find a legitimate parking spot free from the ever-vigilant meter maids, I had to enlist my mother to travel with me. She was not amused. While I went indoors to find a manager, she was exposed to a cacophony of sounds and a kaleidoscope of sights not usually heard or seen by her. After locating a manager I had to go to the rear of the store, my hand inside my jacket clutching several hundred dollars. I felt uneasy as I negotiated what seemed like a palaver between me and the natives there. "Can I please have a receipt?" I asked the manager through the windows that formed a small office. His right eyebrow rose as if to mimic a look from one of John Belushi's "Samurai" skits on Saturday Night Live. "Is a plain piece of paper okay?" he shot back. I assured him it was. He handed me 18 small bags, each containing ten tokens, and I was instructed to count them. 15, 16, 17, 18. "Yes, that's right. Thank you very much." I turned to move towards the front of the store, but the exit seemed a lot further away than it did when I had entered. There were several people congregating in the front and I had to do my best Fred Astaire impression, pivoting masterfully here and there as I found myself back on the street and turning towards my car and my mother. As I approached the vehicle, I could see her demeanor was not unlike that of a deer caught in the headlights. She was not amused. I opened the door, giving her a slight startle and began to negotiate out of the parking spot. In a few seconds we were away and much more relaxed, feeling our mission was a success. I felt very pleased with myself until this morning. That's when I heard from the Scout office that another 20 people had signed up overnight for the hike. That meant another two bags of tokens and another jaunt down to the French Quarter. How lucky can I get?

No comments: