I think I’ve mentioned before that I have an affinity for rivers, so the Mississippi draws me the way a magnet pulls a chunk of iron. A few blocks off St. Claude Avenue there’s a levee along the Industrial Canal, right where it meets the river. It’s an unofficial dog run that Woody and I discovered a few weeks ago, and we now visit regularly.
Tugsboats, with and without barges, often have to wait here in the canal for the St. Claude drawbridge to swing open. This allows me to look them over carefully as I stroll down the levee, while Woody dashes around off leash getting his feet muddy.
It’s a good area for bird watching, too. On one recent trip to the canal, I spotted a beautiful Blue Heron flying in and perching on the bank, and there are always Redwing Blackbirds, Terns, Ducks and Egrets around too. A few hundred feet along is the river itself. A local fisherman we met down here one morning told me he’d catch 50 or 60 pounds of catfish in a day at this spot.
The Mississippi at New Orleans is a commercial river—I haven’t spotted a single pleasure boat in the traffic up and down, whether I’m looking from the canal entrance or Crescent Park. I looked it up the other day—the cargo moving up and down is about 30 percent petrochemical products and 30 percent agricultural, with the remaining 40 percent split into a bunch of smaller categories. Sailboats and the like are confined to Lake Pontchartrain, just north of the city.
Some tugboats push rafts of six or eight barges in front of them. This seems positively heroic going upriver against the current, which runs at about 3 knots in this section. Going downriver with the flow, they can travel at a pretty good clip. It surprised me to see that they often just push the raft aground along the riverbank and park for a while. I’m not sure why they do it; maybe they’re waiting for dock space upriver. Other tugs are rigged for nudging bigger ships in and out of docks. I’m still looking for a chance to spot that operation.
Immense, brightly painted tankers hailing from faraway places like Singapore and Hong Kong also pass by, often just a few dozen feet away. It’s close enough to really feel the size of these leviathans. They have to make a 90-degree turn to follow the curve of the river as they pass in front of the skyline of downtown New Orleans. This makes Crescent Park an ideal position for a boat-spotter, giving me a chance to see first the starboard side, then the port, of a big tanker as it heads up the river. Oddly enough, the empty tankers are more imposing, floating much higher in the water than their loaded counterparts. I try to appreciate the physics involved in persuading that much mass to change direction. Whoever’s driving that thing swings a big-ass rudder, for sure.
The most impressive vessel that I’ve spotted (so far) was a container ship with boxes the size of railroad cars stacked like Lego bricks, six high and 12 across in 20 rows from bow to stern. The back of my napkin says that must be in the neighborhood of 1400 containers full of everything from shoes to bicycles to Mardi Gras beads, being brought in from overseas manufacturers for sale at your local Walmart or Target.
It’s an endlessly fascinating parade for an old river rat like me, and I can spend hours just sitting and watching. Come by and join me if you’re in the neighborhood.
We just couldn’t resist. We bought tickets for the final day of Jazzfest and had a last round of food, crowds, souvenirs and music. Out of several impossible choices, we opted to finish up in the Blues Tent with Buddy Guy, who rocked the place with his trademark polka dot guitar and matching shirt.
We discovered this year that there’s a different side to Jazzfest entirely. It happens after the fairgrounds close down at 7:00. If you have enough energy, you can hit the clubs around town all night long for top-line talent at bargain prices. I heard that Tom Jones dropped in on John Cleary’s set at Chickie Wah Wah on the Friday night before his Fest performance. (I felt kinda like I was stalking Tom McDermott around town and the Fest, I saw him so often. His set with Evan Christopher at the Lagniappe Stage was an inspiration. Check out this clip if you’ve never heard them play.)
Already can’t wait for next year…