A true story by Jay Slusher…
Some time ago, in New Orleans, I was roommates with a good friend of mine, Motown up on Claiborne Avenue — the busiest street in the city, from Mardi Gras up until the first lockdown quarantine.
Interstate Ten (I-10) runs pretty much the length of Claiborne to the Crescent City connection, or the bridge that goes over the Mississippi River from downtown. Claiborne rises 35 feet high and eight lanes wide. Underneath is a world to its own: graffiti artist taggers’ venue, homeless encampment and, after Hurricane Katrina, it was an automotive graveyard for a couple of years. Had Katrina destroyed more vehicles than any other natural disaster in history? Most of them ended up there before being scrapped or sold off in South America, where they were reworked into right-hand drive, called transformers, because the steering column on the right and the instrument cluster on left.
Under the 10 is a lawless wasteland, home to the deranged and desperate and addicted because it offers shelter from the relentless Louisiana sun and rain. I’ve seen sections littered with used syringes and condoms and shell casings, dead bodies, hobo orgies, etc. I’ve walked it all hours, armed and in various states of intoxication. It’s also a very popular spot for family reunions and barbecues.
First, let me associate you with some terminology.
For the uninitiated, a “choppa” is street lingo for the Automat Kalashnikov 1947, otherwise known as the.AK-47 and used for when you absolutely, positively must kill every motherfucker in the room. It makes a distinct sound when fired and you DO NOT want to be down range when it’s going off.
The effects of the AK-47’s 7.62-millimeter round has on human flesh, vehicles and wooden houses like the one I lived in are devastating. The rifle itself is popular worldwide and especially here in New Orleans, apparently. I myself have owned one, a Romanian variant.
In fact, there’s Charlie Hoffacker, an NOPD homicide detective, a longtime veteran, ho does artwork depicting AK-47s, such as a rifle hanging on a street sign or “Choppa City,” his piece showing the gun slung with Mardi Gras beads. It’s actually really cool and a statement on life in the Big Sleazy in general..
Every Sunday on Claiborne Avenue, near St. Claude and Carrollton avenues, they have what’s called Super Sunday. It’s a swap meet, rap concert, hot rod and motorcycle show, filled with food vendors and folks selling everything under the sun, a shit ton of guys on sport bikes raising Hell and doing burnouts, kids on four-wheelers and random dudes on horseback. It’s really chaotic and no one seems to be in charge.
I remember one time walking through and there was a family picnic going on.
“You hungry Baby?” an older Black lady asked me.
Next thing I know I had a plate of ribs and potato salad in one hand, and a cocktail in another with a toddler on my knee, lmao! They treated me like one of their own and I was an hour late to work, but it was worth it!
New Orleans Police roll through this area regularly, usually with lights flashing, but I’ve never seen anyone on foot patrol — it’s loud and completely chaotic in some parts. Remember the scene in Road Warrior where the barbarian bikers are besieging the refinery compound? Similar to that. I expected to see Lord Humungus himself. It always seemed like a recipe for fistfights and gunshot wounds, but in the six months I’d lived there in 2019 and 2020, I never witnessed a bit of trouble and everyone was cool as fuck to me.
Mowtown and I often were the only white dudes in a six-block radius. But then again, we’re not your average White boys. Across the street there is the Mother-in-Law Lounge, which is owned by Kermit Ruffins and is the headquarters of Ernie K-Doe, the self-proclaimed Emperor of the Universe (RIP). Kermit now owns the legendary bar, where he’d have barbecue fired up on Sundays.
The city shut down Super Sunday during the initial quarantine. I remember like that because it was a lot more quiet and you could get some rest, unlike when you had nine motherfuckin’ dudes blasting their bass cannons in the back set or trunk of their Dodge Chargers. It was like a pile driver at your front door and damned near impossible to sleep until it died down around 1 a.m., usually.
We got cleared to go back to work after two months and my line of work is security/barbacking in the French Quarter. I was glad to get back to work and see all of my friends after two months, even if it was only for three shifts.
“That’s not firecrackers“
On a recent Super Sunday, I had the day off and they were really raising hell out here. They were partying like a meteor was about to hit and maybe it was. Hundreds of loud-as-fuck sport bikes, hot rods and random groups of dudes on horseback were right in the middle of the city.
It was 11:40 a.m on June 12, the wind was starting to die. Drew, a friend of mine and Motown’s, was there and parked his truck under the interstate. Mo was sitting in the doorway drunk as fuck with his stereo blasting. About 25 minutes ago, Drew went to check on his truck but was blocked in until he finally drove off at about 11:25. Mo had packed it in but there was still about 300 to 400 people out front, including a bunch of guys on sport bikes and a guy with a barbecue, who was packing it up.
I was in the second room back from the street and Mo had the third. I remember watching a cheesy sci-fi movie on Comet network and fucking off on Facebook when, out of no where, I heard a staccato burst of gunfire of what sounded like a dozen rounds going off.
I’m not sure, though, because of the acoustics from the 10 and a cacophony of background noise. Then I heard about a hundred goddamned sport bikes taking off! It was like being on the deck of an aircraft carrier. I swear to God, I’m so used to this shit that I don’t think my pulse even jumped.
I just started counting rounds, maybe it was 20? None of them were incoming, though. If I heard one hitting the house, I would have rolled off onto the floor. In that moment, I remember hoping that Kermit and his crew were OK.
“That’s not firecrackers,” Motown said, as he stuck his head out of the window in his room.
“Fuck no!” I replied. “Don’t open the door!”
I heard people crying for help and people running and screaming. I don’t need that in our house.
The sound of sirens appeared immediately and New Orleans Police were on the scene in less than two minutes.
I opened the front door, but the security gate was locked. Less than 60 feet away, two bodies laid on the street. One was shot the pieces, but couldn’t tell with the other one. Two nearby vehicles were riddled with bullet holes. Cops, paramedics and firefighters are everywhere. It looked like a scene from Grand Theft Auto. It’ s not my first exposure to extreme violence and death by no means but still, what the fuck?
An hour later, I left home to grab some food near Esplanade and Claiborne avenues at the only place still open. The crime scene van was still out front and so were several detectives. I told them that I didn’t see or know anything about what happened, but said I heard the shots. They confirmed it was one of those short-barreled AK-47, sort of like the one Bin Laden carried until operators took his ass out. I added that I heard two weapons fired.
The person who was shot to death was young, but the second person who died was a Black man in this early 40s and he wasn’t hit. The medics said he had a massive heart attack and died instantly. Poor dude. He was just having a good time minding his own business and boom, two dudes shuffling off this mortal coil in a heartbeat. I didn’t know them, but my condolences to their friends and families. RIP.
Later, I was chatting with people on Facebook. Most of my New Orleans friends did not bat an eye. We’re used to it. I can’t count the murders I’ve seen or been in proximity to. I was no choir boy even before I moved to New Orleans 25 years ago. I myself am probably fated to go down fighting in the mud, the blood and the beer. Given my nature and lifestyle, so be it. It’s better than dying from cancer, or whatever, after working in some shithole factory for 30 years.
This whole episode reinforced one concept even more for me: when you’re out on the streets, no matter what hour, pay attention and be alert because death is listening.