It was a hot and humid day in New Orleans and I was working on some of the grimiest stained glass windows I had ever seen. The windows were made by my great grandfather, nearly one hundred years prior for the Cathedral of St. Joseph. In the early days, this massive church was lit at night by hundreds of candles on giant chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. On the nights that the church was to be lit up, an unlucky person would climb 150 feet up into the attic and crank large winches by hand to lower each chandelier to the floor, where others would light all the candles. The relevance of this is that candle soot loves to collect on the inside of stained glass windows. Many years of candle soot and a hot sweaty day equals one very dirty David.
One day I decided that I had simply had enough and was going knock off early for the day and go home. Our living quarters was an apartment on the second floor of a very old building, near Bourbon Street, in the French Quarter. I had to run the few miles as my coworker and I were sharing one service truck. No matter, the day was still early and I had nothing in particular to do. I was just done.
I must have been a bit of a sight as I was a skinny white guy, in shorts, a raggedy shirt and covered head to toe in grime, and running. Running is not at all common in New Orleans. Drinking and staggering around fits in much less conspicuously in that particular area.
As I was motoring along, I passed a large black man, slowly going my direction in a wheelchair. He had a scraggly grey beard and It was obvious that he had lost any care about how he looked. It seemed that he had everything in his possession attached to the wheelchair, including the rather conspicuous pee bottle hooked on the back. I’m not quite sure what the purpose of the pee bottle was, considering that the end result was surely going to be the sidewalk, either way, but who am I to judge.
Anyway, as I passed him, he jokingly called out “I’ll race you!”. I ignored him at first, as I had grown accustomed to doing, but then something occurred to me. ‘I have nowhere to be, nothing to do’ I thought to myself. So I stopped. “Do you want me to push you?” I asked. His face lit up in a smile. “Sure” he said. I got behind him and started pushing and running as fast as I could. The two little wheels in front were wobbling like flags in a storm. I was wondering if I was perhaps doing something that we might both regret but he seemed to be in delight. I had forgotten to ask him where he was going, but then it occurred to me that he probably had no destination in the first place.
After only a block or two, we ran into a red light at a very busy four lane cross street. As I slowed, the large scraggly man yelled out “Don’t stop! They’ll stop for us!” With that, he put both hands in the air as high as he could reach, twisting his body vigorously back and forth in the universal ‘STOP’ gesture.
I’ll be damned if four lanes of traffic didn’t stop. Now what do I do? ‘They’re all waiting’ I thought, while wanting to die of embarrassment. With no better idea, we charged forward again at a high rate of speed, large grizzly black man, pee bottle and skinny, grimy, white me. For some reason, I never seem to witness others in my predicaments.
In hindsight, I wish I had done more of these things.