Going Downtown

For us living in Kenner, even though “downtown” New Orleans was less than ten miles away, going “downtown” was somewhat akin to a trip to Jerusalem and held near religious significance. We made these trips maybe once a quarter.

We didn’t just hop in the car and head for Canal Street like we do today. This was more like an expedition, requiring careful preparation with a ritual-like execution.

First, it was expected to be an all day affair, leaving early in the morning and return about sundown.

And you dressed for the occasion.

That means the women wore nice dresses and fashionable shoes, usually heels. I was forced to forgo my shorts for nice trousers, a pressed shirt, and shoes and socks. And my hair was greased and combed.

My grandmother drove her Ford downtown. She ALWAYS had Fords; never knew her to own anything but Fords, and in the nearly thirty years of our shared time on earth, I can recall only three, and the first two had standard transmissions. We piled into her Ford and made the trip down Airline Highway to “downtown.”

She always parked in the same parking lot on the corner of Iberville and Burgundy. We then made a circuit of the stores on Canal Street, first the upriver side and then the downriver side. My favorite was Kress’ Five and Dime Department Store, which had a great toy selection. We usually ate lunch in the D.H. Holmes cafeteria and ended up back at the parking lot in the late afternoon loaded down with packages.

Many years later, when I started dating, one of our frequent destinations was downtown to one of the movie houses on Canal Street like the Joy, or the Saenger, or the Lowes, or the Orpheum on University Place, because they got the first run movies. In those days (late 1950s-early 60s), these dates required coats and ties for the men and nice dresses and heels for the ladies.

The Joy had a curving staircase to the balcony level (which was perfect for necking, BTW). One night, after the movie, when Janis and I were descending the stairs, I was not paying attention to my date as I should have been. As I made my way down the stairs, Janis, who was one step behind me, suddenly passed me on the way down. Trouble is she was bouncing down the stairs on her butt, skirt all in her face and high heels in the air. She reached the bottom before I could catch up to her.

That date did not end well.

But most other dates downtown did end well, usually for pizza at Gibby’s on North Rampart, but that’s another story.

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