Challenger Logo by Alan White   A Science Fiction Fanzine   Winter 2005-6

Here's a memory of New Orleans from one of the great ones …

Morning Call

Earl Kemp

One of the first real jobs I ever had, in Chicago in the early 1950s, was working for The Pullman Company. I was a bottom rung office clerk and was working for peanuts. However, in those days, real jobs had lots of real fringe benefits and working for the railroad carried one of the most desirable, free travel almost any time and anywhere the trains ranged to.

Because I was so underpaid, I figured out a way to enhance my salary somewhat by doing an inordinate amount of that free traveling. I took a number of hesitant, exploratory trips here and there. My very first ever science fiction convention was made possible by that free travel, and the kindness of a number of BNFs who persuaded me to attend that 1952 Midwestcon in Bellefontaine, Ohio. The train only went as far as Lima, but Dr. C.L. Barrett picked me up from there and opened the door to paradise for me.

At times I would take the train to New York and visit (read annoy and bother) every significant science fiction person I could get close to, becoming friends with some of them that lasted for decades or death. Hannes Bok, John Campbell, Marty Greenberg, Doc Lowndes, hero after hero, and all the while me feeling like I was on the top of the world.

Like having a private train limo, almost: Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Detroit…the entire Midwest was luxuriously open to me.

Those bennies were almost always extended for me in a number of other ways. The Pullman Conductor on the train, depending on space available, would almost always upgrade me to a compartment or a drawing room. The railroad carrier itself would pick up my dining and bar car tabs. While I was traveling, I was living a lifestyle far in excess of the rest of my life, enjoying accommodations and services normally beyond my reach.

And New Orleans became my most favorite of all mythical towns to imprint upon my memory up until that time. I have to confess that, over time, New Orleans became eclipsed by many other real-world mythical cities. I can even recall thinking of New Orleans as being a deeply discounted, cut-rate version of Rio de Janeiro, but that was decades afterward.

For me, New Orleans was a non-stop, weekend-long, uninterrupted party that required a lot of preparation, penny saving, and illegal subterfuge. The usual trip went something like this:

I would make application for a weekend pass to New Orleans leaving Chicago on Friday afternoon and arriving back on Monday morning. By far the best such schedule was the one on the crack Panama Limited that was an extra-fare, luxury "superflyer." It left Chicago around 5:30 in the afternoon and arrived in New Orleans at 7:30 the following morning and returning to Chicago on a reverse schedule. That would leave me making a mad dash and showing up at the office just fashionably late and sporting a hangover that was almost unnoticeable.

The only problem was, the Panama Limited didn't accept travel passes unless they were accompanied by a written request from the passholder's department supervisor. That was no problem because his secretary, who made out all the passes to begin with, could sign his signature better than he could. She did it every time I wanted to go to New Orleans and he never knew a thing about it, or that I was even out of town for that matter.

And I went to New Orleans as frequently as I could in those glorious, segregated, free white and not quite yet twenty one years. Almost everything I could think of wanting was right there, just waiting for me. I would get a room in the Monteleon Hotel right in the middle of the Quarters, insisting upon being located in the "old" section, and relax in unaccustomed luxury, the room being the single most expensive item for the whole weekend. From there, all of the French Quarter opened up just for me and I played it to the hilt on many occasions.

 

For some reason I feel compelled to accentuate the segregated part of the 1950s because it was very real at the time. Everywhere you turned in New Orleans, in those days, you encountered story-book cliché type costumed Aunt Jemimas and Uncle Toms, shufflefooting around their "betters" and performing every trick known to man, woman, inbetweens, and a number of domesticated animals.

And there I am:

Wandering up and down Bourbon Street from bar to bar, taking drinks along--in Hurricane glasses - out into the street as if I did that every day of my life but never did except while there. In and out of joint after joint catching musical numbers here and bits of others there: Al Hirt's, Pat O'Brien's, Antoine's…and Morning Call….

Daylight hours prowling voodoo shops and mysterious looking, smelling, and sounding weird occult hustles and pralines and scented candles and chocolate flavored high-yellow hookers and….

Taking the ferry out to Algiers just for the hell of it. Driving the causeway--thrilling experience--out into Pontchartrain…lazying about on the lily-white beaches and getting sunburned from exposing all that Chicago skin to so much Cajun sunshine.

Daniel F. Galouye was one of the main reasons I went to New Orleans in the first place. He was a science fiction writer and I was pretending to be a science fiction fan so it worked out well for both of us for a bunch of years from within the 1950s all the way into the '60s. I even managed to get him to come to the Chicago Worldcon in 1962, but that's another story.

Dan worked for the New Orleans Times-Picayune when he wasn't writing science fiction short stories for Imagination and other magazines and novels for Bantam Books. I liked him quite a bit and it was always a pleasure to be with him. He showed me some very good Cajun eating places within easy reach, even walking distance, of the French Quarter.

Among them was Morning Call, a place that specializes in morning-after coffee with a special kick. Being there so impressed me that, years later, in 1960 in Who Killed Science Fiction?, I wrote the following:

 

"There is, in the Vieux Carre of New Orleans, a quaint restaurant named Morning Call. Here there can be purchased coffee with chicory only, and some obscure pastry twists from a deep-fry vat that are referred to as "doughnuts." One goes to Morning Call in the morning naturally, after a night on the town, after carnival is dwindling to an end, as the early rays of sunshine bounce off the Mississippi and glitter across the Quarters.

"Here one relives the experiences of the night, the delight of Al Hirt's trumpet at Dan's Pier 600, the pleasant song-fests at Pat O'Brien's and last but by no means least, the moment of truth that comes for you and the dark-haired beauty in the little apartment over Rampart Street.

"And one gags on the syrupy chicory-coffee and sprinkles confectioner's sugar from a shaker onto the grease-soaked doughnuts."

#

For a good decade, New Orleans was my favorite city. My memories are filled with it and the good times I've experienced while being there.

I eagerly await New Orleans' rebirth and my next occasion to experience her eternal delights.

 

[ HOME ]     [ Current Issue ]     [ Archives ]

Challenger is (c) 2003-2005 by Guy H. Lillian III.
All rights revert to contributors upon initial print and website publication.