Urban Wandering

I write this while sitting in a boutique hotel (it has fewer than thirty rooms and doesn’t have a pool) a block and a world away from St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans. I’m here to attend a music law seminar, visit with friends and clients, and get new ideas for stories. Always with the new ideas.

I resolved that on this trip I would pay a visit to what might be one the most infamous address in New Orleans, that being 126 Exchange Place ( also known as “Exchange Alley”). The street was and is one of the less fashionable areas of the French Quarter; it runs “north” (that term doesn’t mean the same thing in New Orleans as it does everywhere else) off of Canal Street between Chartres and Royal Streets. In the first third of the Twentieth Century it was notorious as a gay cruising spot, and I suspect that such activity has not entirely absented itself from the area, for reasons that I need not go into here. From the 1940s through the late 1970s or so it was what real estate agents would optimistically refer to as a “mixed use” area, with gambling dens, gin joints, and rooming houses comprising the primary industries.  It was at one of these rooming houses, located over a pool hall at the same 126 Exchange Place, where a divorced woman named Marguerite Oswald lived between 1955 and 1956 with her teenage son, a lad named Lee Harvey. There is no plaque noting Oswald’s relatively brief residency there, or anything at all that would incline one to perhaps linger somberly for a moment and reflect how badly lives can turn and then  affect so many others, incidentally changing the course of history.  The minimal signage, in fact, pointedly discourages loitering while informing any potential loiterers that the property is under twenty-four hour surveillance and that loitering is forbidden. And yes, there are exterior surveillance cameras that track one’s progress. Another sign above one of the sets of freshly painted double doors on the property indicates that there is a “resort” business of some sort within, though there is no listing that I can find online under the name given. The property is not on the real estate tax records, either. ‘Tis passing strange, as a great detective once said.

I took a picture of myself — what you young people like Jordan Dane would call a “selfie” — in front of the property and waited for a moment to see if someone would come out and ask what the fu-heck I was doing, but nothing occurred.  Maybe I will wander by again at some point on my way to and from the seminar site, just for grins and giggles. This short brush with history, however, nudged my muse.  I got two pages from it. What occurrence, event, accident, or happenstance has nudged your creativity recently, for better or worse?
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17 thoughts on “Urban Wandering

  1. The minute I saw your picture at the top of this post, I thought ” Joe did a selfie.” Glad to see you’re not alone. Your muse is with you. New Orleans is a powerful magnet for creativity. Have some chicory coffee and Beignets for me.

  2. The minute I saw your picture at the top of this post, I thought ” Joe did a selfie.” Glad to see you’re not alone. Your muse is with you. New Orleans is a powerful magnet for creativity. Have some chicory coffee and Beignets for me.

  3. A very thought-provoking post. There was a time when Lee Harvey Oswald was just a guy. And did it ever cross Marguerite’s mind, what a place in history her son would occupy?

    My muse is a shy, night loving critter. I am an outgoing, morning type person. We rarely meet. But I am trying to open my imagination to ordinary things occurring in day to day life that could be extra ordinary under the right circumstances.

    Also, the small tidbits in the newspapers. Such as the two cars recently pulled out of a lake, each with three skeletons that went down with the cars forty years ago. There’s all kinds of story lines in that small article.

    • Oh, indeed, Amanda! I can think of a couple just from the small snippet you provided.

      Re: Marguerite…I doubt that she ever thought, particularly as she sat in that rooming house, that one day the actions of her son would put her before a investigative committee. You just never know.

  4. Last October, I wrassled my little RV out onto the road and went to a writers’ con in Texas. I camped for the night at a famous (if you are into the RV thing) park. Innocuous on the surface, it became the basis for the “Heaven’s Gate RV Park” that is a big chunk of the setting for my WIP.

  5. There’s nothing like on-site research and personal experience to stimulate the creative mind. I’m looking forward to an upcoming trip to AZ to research my next book. I’m sure I’ll find lots of inspiration.

    • Nancy, several years ago I drove across the country to Phoenix with Marcus Wynne, the urban nomad, and the stories we generated from that trip are STILL coming! Hope you have the same experience!

  6. Interesting how history brushes up against us everywhere we go, if we know where to look we can see it right there.

    Likewise with the muse. Last year I was on a sea kayaking trip with one of my sons and found the muses working me over at our base camp about on an island many miles off the grid in the middle of sub-arctic ocean wilderness surrounded by green water, snow capped mountains and glaciers. Orcas and sea lions played around us. A bald eagle family nested high in a tree above our camp. As I enjoyed the solitude and quiet I started to think, “What if we were stuck out here. What if a war started on land and we couldn’t get back.”

    And now I’m nearly done with the first draft of the WIP that trip awakened in me.

  7. I was at a national park wandering around with my dog Max. Actually it was Max was taking me on a walk, but that’s another thing. We saw a road with a chain across it and naturally decided to see what was “down there.” I was a typically unused roadway. Chunks of rock and brush littered about. The Max did a runner and I went after him. Then…all at once…it hit me: What if he found the entrance to a secret tunnel!!! Woo-Hoo! Leading to…

    So that image keeps coming back. Whaddaya think?

  8. I, too, was last inspired in New Orleans (just hours before meeting you for lunch…thank you, again).
    While walking to grab a coffee in the French Quarter the deep rumbling sounds of a trombone trumpeted through the air (not unusual in this city and always welcome). I turned the corner to see a second-line in progress. Women in masks and fancy long vintage dresses with peacock feathers in their hair danced down the street beside men in seersucker and zoot suits. A young girl with a gold flapper dress and parasol led the way behind the brass band as everyone sang the words to L’il Liza Jane and waved white handkerchiefs.
    The opening scene for my next travel and food article was born.
    You never know where inspiration will hit.
    Victoria Allman
    Author of: SEAsoned: A Chef’s Journey with Her Captain

  9. Victoria, the pleasure was all mine. It was great to meet Captain Patrick as well! Hope to see you both again sooner rather than later. And I can’t wait to read that article!

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