When you turn off of Canal onto Bourbon St. you’re greeted by various bars, strip clubs, and assorted places to grab some good ole comfort food. However, as you move further down Bourbon, the well-lit tourist-laden area becomes darker, and after a short stretch of gay bars, Bourbon is black, the cracked sidewalks stained with water, beer, urine, and vomit.
Shadow Walkers, like the crackhead my friend Mark and I prayed with, lurk near the border of touristy indifference and legitimate danger. It’s a smart play on the Shadow Walkers’ part: Before foreigners ever get the chance to realize they’ve wandered away from the drink specials and blues cover bands, they are forced to deal with what seems like a bum, drug addict, thief, loon, or some awful combination of the four.
Mark and I were on our way to Frenchmen’s St. to catch local music at DBA, a cozy but roomy bar with a no Bud, Coors, or Miller policy—all they carried were craft beers from around the country, which is truly commendable. But before we could enjoy fine beers and tunes we had to get away from Lou, the crackhead, who appeared from the shadows deep on Bourbon St.
“Hey, my brothers,” he said is a raspy voice. “Let me get a word with you.” There was a certain seriousness to his words, but he was tiny and his hands were empty. “You look like good people. My name’s Lou. What’s yours?”
“I’m Joe,” I said.
“I’m Mark,” Mark followed.
Lou’s hand was on my shoulder now. “Nice to meet you Mark and Joe. What are ya’ll up to tonight?”
Sensing he was trying to get us for some cash I played some D. “Ah, we’re just coming from the casino,” I said despondently.
“That place is bad news; they always get yo’ money.”
“Could ya’ll just listen to me for a second?”
We figured we could, and while nearly every part of our brains was telling us to try and get away from the situation, one part was very persistent and convincing in regards to staying there and humoring this seemingly homeless, possibly drug addicted black man.
So we nodded, “Yes,” to his request.
“You see, I used to have a family,” he began. “Then things got hard and I made some mistakes. I gambled too much and then I got into other stuff, you know?”
I nodded. Mark nodded. He continued.
“But I’m trying to get back on my feet and if you could help in anyway that would…”
“Sorry, I lost all my money at the casino,” I interrupted.
Mark nodded, “Yeah, I got nothing either.”
“Anything would help,” Lou insisted. “Even change.”
We stood firm and just shook our heads apologetically. Realizing we weren’t giving out money he decided to settle for divine compensation.
“Well, could you pray for me?”
Thinking a strong “sure” would get Mark and I on our way, I replied, “Sure. No problem.”
Mark followed suit. “Definitely.”
We began to move past him and towards Frenchmen’s, but he grabbed my arm and pulled himself in front of us.
“Here,” he said extending his hand. “Pray with me.”
So we did. It’s not that we had a choice, it was just common sense: When you’re approached by a very persistent crackhead in a shady part of town, you do whatever it takes to keep them in a good mood, so long as it doesn’t involve sacrificing your dignity. If they approach in a bad mood, well, hope they don’t have a weapon and get away.
But Lou seemed harmless, and if all it took was praying with him to get him to let us be on our way then it was worth it. We stood there holding hands on a dark patch of Bourbon St. Lou bowed his head and closed eyes. Mark looked at me, held back a laugh, and bowed his head. I bowed mine while keeping my eyes on Lou.
He was mumbling something to himself, under his breath. I began to mumble something under my breath—it wasn’t anything really, just pure mumbles, which I capped off with a clear, “Amen.” Mark and Lou both repeated, “Amen,” and Lou opened his eyes and looked up.
“Thank you, brothers. I really appreciate it. Let the Lord bless your night.”
“Yes, let the Lord bless yours too,” I replied.
We headed towards Frenchmen’s with a quicker stride and a sense of urgency. For the rest of the trip, we took the excessively lit Decatur to Frenchmen’s because Lou may have just been looking for someone to pray with, but the deep end of Bourbon St. is probably a place best avoided at night. It’s where the Shadow Walkers roam and no good comes from encounters with them, even if it’s just some fake praying on a dark corner with some random, sketchy dude.
written: Sept. 2009