January 26, 2013 – 11:00 AM – New Orleans, Louisiana

I have a rather long history of memorable New Orleans evenings. One of those evenings – spent drinking in the lobby of one of the nicer downtown hotels with a rather large contingent of New Orleans police officers – was most of the inspiration for naming Choppy (whose full name is Tchoupitoulas, after the street here in New Orleans near where this event occurred). The details of the evening are classified to protect all involved, but suffice to say, the drinks were provided by the hotel and I got a ride back to my own car in a police car. I’ll let you imagine the details, which would normally invite an exaggeration of the events that occurred, but probably don’t with regard to this particular evening.

Last night – the first of many nights that Choppy and I will spend in or near New Orleans during Mardi Gras/Carnival – was not that sort of epic evening, but it was certainly memorable.

To be fair, most of the night was great, as I went to a Mardi Gras ball, and, in a move that is surprising to few who know me, invited myself to sit with the table nearest the open bar, made new friends, and shut the place down.

The ball alone would have been memorable; however, the cab ride there made it one of those evenings that my trips to the Crescent City have become famous for.

Choppy and I are staying outside the city; it’s cheaper and easier. Plus, the hotel has a pet policy that allows me to leave Choppy here alone, which is not always the policy, even at pet friendly hotels. Rather than drive into the city last night for the ball, I did the responsible thing, and got a cab, ditching the dog for a few hours of drinking and dancing.

I probably should have known I was in for a memorable cab ride when I realized the driver had disabled the meter.

The initial part of the cab ride was fine; we chatted about him coming to the U.S. from Algeria and his girlfriend who made him drive her family in from a city about 20 miles away from New Orleans every evening and other mundane cab sort of things. Particularly amusing (at least at the beginning of the conversation) was the driver’s habit of adding “I swear to God” at the end of every single sentence.

When we got downtown, I realized there was a parade going on – it being a Friday during Mardi Gras, I probably should have realized this well before going into the city, but I didn’t even think about it.


The cab driver, despite his disabled meter, did have a GPS system directing him. The GPS system, not realizing there was a parade going on, directed him to get off on an exit that would require us to cross the parade route to get to the ball. If you haven’t been to Mardi Gras, you should know that it is impossible to cross the parade route during the parade. Not difficult – impossible. Here’s how the conversation goes in the cab:

Sarah: You can’t get off on Carondolet. We won’t be able to cross St. Charles.
Cab Driver: It will be OK, I swear to God.
Sarah: I don’t think we’ll be able to cross St. Charles. Just stay on the interstate and we can take the next exit.
Cab Driver: I’ve lived here for six years, I swear to God. We’ll be fine, I swear to God.

This is when I should have insisted on going to the next exit, but I didn’t. Because, while I haven’t ever lived in New Orleans (let alone for six years), I have been going to Mardi Gras nearly every year for over a decade, and I am well aware of the impossibility of crossing the parade route during a parade.

And so, we got off on the exit that would require us to cross the parade route. Unsurprisingly (to me, at least), we get caught in parade traffic, and crawl through the streets of downtown, unable to cross the parade route. GPS happily continues directing us across the parade route, and the cab driver tries to turn at every single closed road, inciting a string of police officers and traffic controllers to scream at him. Unfazed, the cab driver reassures me that “We’ll get there soon, I swear to God.”

Eventually, after apparently realizing that he can’t cross the parade route, the cab driver offers to park the cab and walk me to my destination. I decline, citing my safety (which, at this point, was probably in more jeopardy in the cab than walking the streets of downtown during a parade). A reference to the safety of a woman walking the streets of New Orleans at night apparently was the opening the cab driver needed to go on what is probably best described as a racist rant – which is actually the second time this has happened to me while in a cab, which kind of makes me wonder what about me inspires cab drivers to go on such rants.

It’s at this point that I take over the driving directions.

Now, thankfully headed in the correct direction, albeit in a roundabout way so as to avoid the parade, the cab driver announces that we need to stop to get gas (or, as he put it, “We’re going to run out of gas, I swear to God”). I take this opportunity to post the craziness to my personal Facebook page via my phone, so that when I am the victim of some crime during the world’s longest cab ride (quite likely a phone theft), there will at least be some record of what happened to me.

Finally, with gas in the cab and me giving directions, we make it to the hotel, well over an hour after the cab ride began (and with a very thankful me happy for the flat rate/non-metered ride).

The cab driver gives me his card as I get out, and tells me that he “would love to take me back to the hotel, I swear to God.” I take the card, with absolutely no intention of calling him, but terrified of the potential problems if I don’t accept the card.

I have never been so happy to get out of a cab. And I really needed that open bar at the ball, I swear to God.