Monday, December 29, 2008

I get a good review!

This came in today’s email:

Dear Mr. Dawes,

Spoke to [name deleted] this afternoon and she gave me your cell # - no answer, but will try again. We spoke yesterday near the cathedral. As you may have recognized late yesterday as you passed on Dumaine, I often observe carriages and the degree of help and information the host provides. You are at the top for courtesy, knowledge and informative chatter that I see from our gallery and on the street.

Been coming here almost 40 years and never a carriage ride. You give me incentive to finally take a real French Quarter tour. Will be in touch.

[name deleted]
This man waved down my buggy when we were paused at the Cabildo (for two minutes on the Louisiana Purchase) and asked for a business card. He then told my guests that they have the best guide in the Quarter, and he wants to take the whole tour. I said thank you, I’d be happy to give him a tour, and we moved on. The guests laughed and asked if I paid the guy!

So, it looks like I have a potential passenger! But tour guides yell stuff like this at each other all the time.

I'm blessed with a bellowing baritone voice that can control a crowd, and I deliver my lines to all in earshot, whenever I can get away with it. Sometimes it earns me a fare.

Here's a line I feel free to shout across the street when things are slow in the morning:

Hey, y'all come over here and get a fascinating buggy ride! All our mules are strong and good looking, and all our guides are above average!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Mules in my family history.

Public works are in the news today: Obama Pledges Public Works on a Vast Scale. My dad was in the CCC, as a commisioned officer and company commander. He knew how to plow with mules and drive a wagon.

Mules have touched my family history several times.

In 1903, my grandmother Momma Kay became a 16-year-old single mother when a mule kicked her first husband Adolphus Cecil in the head. Three years later she married Harvey McKay and bore 12 children, of which my mother Addie was the oldest.

During the last great depression, Dad was living on a farm in Cajun country. He could rent his mule team out for more money than a man could earn... and fed his wife and three kids.

When I was a teen in the late 1940’s, my dad bought a depression-era project farm in Cajun country. We had a saddle horse and powerful plow mule, Sarah. We used her to snake discarded cross ties from the railrod right-of-way for recycling as fence posts. She seemed capable of pulling any weight, as long as she was pulling in the direction of the barn. We kids rode her bareback, very slowly. Dad rented her out for $5 a day to stretch telephone and telegraph wires. It was apparently faster than using a manual block and tackle.

My dad bought home a little donkey, a Mexican burro. We also had goats, pigs, a dairy cow, and 10 to 20 head of beef, along with chickens, ducks, guinea fowl, dogs and cats. 'Hey Burro' was a stoic and gentle creature, at least with children. But all the livestock... horses, the mule, even the huge Brangus bull accepted her as queen of the yard. At a feed bucket or trough, she would trot up and flick a hoof at the noses or near the eyes of the competition. They would blink and back up few yards to wait their turn.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

My Resume

I posted a Resume suitable for a buggy driver. To view it, go to this companion blog:

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

More time off!

I've been missing the time I used to spend doing Web work and studying Wikipedia, so I've arranged to work only four days a week instead of five. I may be taking three midweek days off instead of two.

I have turned over the 'tacking up' job to one of our stable hands, Randolph. This saves me a half hour a day of work: grooming Bonnie, harnessing and hitching her to the carriage.  And giving cash tips to Randolph gets me some good suvival tips.

I'm gathering up pictures of one stop of my route using Google Maps "street view". I'm planning to build a short slide show featuring the Napoleon House, the Royal Orleans, and the Supreme Court buildings, using an audio recording from my 1/2 hour buggy tour. Click Follow this blog in the right column to get notices when things changer here.... 

Thursday, October 23, 2008

How to take the ride!

Do you want to take the ride? I must turn over $60 to the company for a half hour tour. I can take one to five people... a babe in arms or a doggie in your lap doesn’t count, and one person or two very small people can ride shotgun. It works out to $12 a head for five people. I typically work Friday through Monday, perhaps on Wednesdy. I'll usually be at the Jackson Square hack stand between 9:30 and 3:30pm. It's best to call me at 504-322-4703 to set things up...

Impairments may not matter. Stepping up may be difficult on some carriages. One or two drivers can assist anyone who can climb stairs to get on board. I find it easier getting on board than lurching up from a low-slung car. Hard of hearing? Me too! I can shout the whole tour over the the background noise. And perhaps you can sit in the shotgun seat, where you won't miss a word.

If you need to get to the quarter, the Canal Streetcar is a possibility, like the lot on the river next to Jackson square. If you get dropped off by an auto, you may sit in Jackson Square, benches are about 20 yards way... or sit in my carriage until the driver parks and returns. Your driver can turn toward the river at St. Peter (Jackson Brewery) and head into the downriver lot.

I carry a camera, and will be pleased to take your pictures sitting in the carriage, feeding Bonnie a slice of carrot, or hugging her head. I will usually email it to your pictures the same evening!
I guarantee a delightful tour, covering the most important sites. Focus is on history, culture, architecture, cuisine. My stories will have you laughing, with solemn moments, as we talk about what we lost in Katrina, and sone of the joyful changes that we are experiencing.

The joys of mule driving...

Buggy driving has put me out in the weather 5 days a week, working steadily for 8 or 9 hours a day. All my little health complaints just evaporated! I have learned that at age 74, full-time work was good for me! My mule Bonnie is a sweetheart, she trusts me most of the time, and does not go out with other boys. The community of drivers is supportive of this old rookie. The artists, waiters, street sweepers, scruffy street people, and most of the law enforcement people are your typical New Orleans-loving kindred spirits.

My customers are usually tickled with my tour. I usually get rave reviews and good tips. I learned early on to purge out my Blue State wisecracks for clients who get grim with the first one -- one set of four ladies, age 20 to 25, from Ohio, who looked like debutantes, were silent throughout and gave me a $2 tip...

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A slow but fun Tuesday...

Only four half-hour tours today... but great fun anyway!

Here are five of the seventeen ladies visiting from a retirement home in Algiers. We split the gang up between three carriages. Each paid $12. They clearly had a great time. Of course, I got to tell them about the pivotal role played by les gens de couleur in New Orleans.

These Canadians were thrilled by my stories about the lives of the French in early New Orleans, their contribution to our culture, and the special relation we have with modern France.

They liked Bonnie too. Bonnie likes them and just about anybody...

Monday, October 13, 2008

Schedule, content, tour details...

Yesterday was another excellent day. I gave five tours, got nice tips. I’m very happy with my short route; the stories are getting punchy and focused. BUT it takes 40 minutes. I need to concentrate on getting it down to 30.

I’m committed to working five days a week through November. My son John called last night to say he had California friends, who wanted to take a tour today, but I have other commitments.

Here’s my probable schedule: M-W-F-S-S, 9am to 3-4pm.. I will be taking Mondays and Thursdays off. To reserve a spot, call 504-322-4703. Two hours notice should be enough for me to work you in.
Cost is $60 for a half hour, for one to five guests. Some guests choose to add a visit to St. Louis #1 cemetery, an additional half hour. I can arrange to meet guests anywhere in the Quarter. If the Jackson Square hack stand is open, I use it.

You can save a little money taking one of the 8 passenger surreys. There, you have to wait until it gets 5 to 8 passengers. Most any guide will give you a good show. Some are Cabildo-trained guides with backgrounds as good as my own.

Of course, being a French Quarter tour, the French connection is primary. We also feature the contributions of the les gens de couleur (people of color), since people of mixed blood have always been a major part of our pleasurable survival. Others who add spice to our gumbo are the Spanish, German, Italian, and Vietnamese. The latest wave that adds a whipped cream topping are the angels who came after Katrina, the hard-working Hispanics, and Americans who came to help us out temporarily. Many decide to stay permanently. My daughter, a school teacher in California, spends many vacations here, often doing rescue and charity work. Lots of challenging and satisfying work is still undone. The rewards are great, since New Orleans is such an accepting and fun-loving community...

Sunday, October 12, 2008

A good day in the Quarter!

All the carriage companies were out in force yesterday. My last ride of the day was a Cajun family from Lafayette. This young gentleman was thrilled to ride shotgun with me:

It was like last Saturday. Perfect weather. When I pulled back into the stand, folks jumped into the carriage as the previous patrons were paying for their ride.

Hard to tell who was happier, the passengers, or the drivers...

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Unforseen difficulties are keeping me off the street for a few days. I should return for the weekend.

Last Sunday, I got one of the better artists in the Quarter to take my picture with Bonnie. I'm snuggling up to her and stroking her velvety nose. She doesn't mind snuggling up. It's very reassuring to have such a large creature be so docile.

I did a little more study on the Web. Donkeys and horses were domesticated about 6,000 years ago. Mules appeared whenever jacks were kept around mares. Their keepers found features that made them superior to either parent for some uses, and bred them to do the heavy work of transporting stuff. The donkeys are believed to be from Egypt, and today's mules can take the heat, which makes them good for New Orleans summers.

Mules are sure-footed! They are used for a hair-raising trip down into and back up the Grand Canyon. There's a great painting of Napoleon crossing the Alps on a big white horse... actually, he rode a mule.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

A good busy day! All I had to do was smile, no sales talks needed. I have a collection of tales from five years of walking tours, classes, and hours of Wikepedia. My clients leave happy: tips are good. Today I cleared about $180, and tomorrow (Sunday) could be a good day too.

In between tours I coax the animal lovers over to my mule for pictures and to stroke the velvety nose... like this cute little lady is doing:

My mule's name is Bonnie. She is 20 years old, has been on the street for 16 years. She listens well. She is very fit: she can trot for a mile without getting winded.

She isn’t perfect... she does not like puddles, manhole covers, gratings, or even black asphalt patches. I must be alert to keep the carriage out of trouble when she shies away from stuff.

But she is also fastidious. She only makes waste in the privacy of her stall, not on the street. Her diaper is empty at the end of the day, so I don't have to wash it out.
The other evening, she snuck into her stall when my back was turned and I found her rolling around in the sawdust to scratch her back. Today, I gave her a good brushing and she didn't have to roll around in the sawdust... I'm learning. The morning and evening grooming sessions are clearly building a bond.

A mule seems to mostly take after the mare, but then you notice the Jack coming through: a big head, long ears, pulling power, and agile legs with hooves that can kill a man or a mountain lion in a jiffy. come from the Jack father. At feeding times, some voice their impatience. They go "whinny whinny whinny-HE HAW" ... it may be a way of complaining to long missing jack and mare that made her, that the food comes way too slow here.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Slow day.

Two charters, I made $45. Other guides say it will get better soon. I practiced my banjo uke and chatted other drivers and tourists.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

I got my own mule today. I'm not sure of her name yet. She is a great worker: gentle, spry, responsive, stoic and dignified. She is a joy to drive... but like all mules, tends to get spooked a bit by anything in the road... like puddles of water, or manhole covers. This gets challenging for the driver, who must restrain the mule from getting us into harms way.

Work has been very light, but intensely satisfying.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Saturday and Sunday were busy busy.

I was ‘on the street’ 1 hour (2 tours) Friday, 4 hours Saturday (making about $200 with the tips) and 2 hours Sunday. I worked from 8 to 5 all three days.

I'm taking off today. Will work straight through to Sunday, if I can, so as not to miss a fine lunch at Sister Dottie's convent, and be fresh for Daigrepont's fais-do-do at Tips.

Buggy drivers can be any age, race, gender, educational background, or appearance. Most have been doing it for years. One company has a raft of student nurses working weekends. The drivers are helpful and kind to this new old rookie. During lulls, the artists who string up their works along the fence at the hack stand are usually talented and entertaining.

The tourists can be instructive too. Bosco and I were visited by a ‘mule whisperer’ who gave me all sorts of clues about making life better for the mule and the driver...

Imagine, I haven't held down a job for 14 years! In this weather, working outdoors every day is delightful.

No telling when I will post again. You can stimulate something by adding comments below, or emailing with edits, questions, suggestions, or well wishes.

Rookie hack driver

Sunday, September 28, 2008

This mule spent some minutes behind me on Decatur Street at Jackson Square. The bridle and the rest of the tack are as elegant as the animal.

Most of the big stables have at least one white mule. They of course must be worked routinely to be ready for special duty, like weddings. 70 years ago, I can remember seeing big grand white mule teams pulling garbage wagons... to stay in shape for their big yearly gigs, serving the floats of the kings of Mardi Gras.

The banana trees in the background tell us that the last hurricane (Gustav?) shredded the leaves and they are quickly being replaced with tall new growth just weeks after that storm.

The artwork on the fence is startling. It is growing on me. I may ask the artist to do a kind of caricature for me.

Friday, September 26, 2008

8 hours on the street, no serious mishaps, lots of waiting around, too many carriages and too few tourists. However, I did get two trips, one group of four and one single person. They seemed pleased with my banter.

Tomorrow is Saturday, it may be better. I'll try to get out there a bit earlier.

I'm still learning the ropes. There are hundreds of things to remember about mule care and driving the right paths. Fortunately, my 6 years as a walking tour guide in the Quarter made the important part easy.

The weather was great! The mule Bosco was smart and responsive. They all do their best to teach me! Red the wrangler my have my animal selected tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Going commercial Saturday and Sunday

Yesterday, I finally got my buggy driver's license:

The owner of Royal Carriages, scheduled me for my first days! Thursday and Friday, Red the wrangler will match me up with a mule. I'll get the tack and locker just vacated by a driver named Maya, who moved to another company.

This morning I drove her mule around the quarter. We had a pretty good ride. With Red's help, I finally found 'high gear'. All the mules are pleased to start the circuit at the fast trot... good to stretch a bit, I guess. When they hit the Quarter, they know to go at a slow to fast walk. One slowed to a crawl when she saw a stop sign. If you're on the typical route, the mules will turn at all the right corners. Most will automatically stop at Lafitte's bar on Bourbon. At shift's end, they know the rather circuitous route back to the stables.

So... the adventure begins. It's rather exciting!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Some time next week, I will get my city Buggy Driver License. During the week I’ll be at the beck and call of Red the wrangler at Royal Carriages. He will continue training me and will match me up to my own mule, who I will drive for 5 days, 35 hours a week, starting the Monday, 9/29. I have agreed to work for a one-month trial period.

It’s like going back to the farm for me... I love animals. I rode and worked the farm’s mule Sarah in my teens. These trained mules are intelligent, handsome, gentle creatures, and get excellent care.

It’s been 12 years since I had a full time job. My calendar is clear except for evening dance sessions: Irish sets on Tuesdays, folk dance on Thursdays, and fais-do-do on Sundays, so I’m not a candidate for the 4-11pm shift.

The Royal Carriage stables are in Marigny, and are kept very neat. 30 mules, about 15 carriages. The buggies are beautifully maintained, historically accurate replicas from 19th century models. The mules and buggies seem right at home in the neighborhoods we tour.

It's been quite an adventure already. Web mastering is so solitary, I want more face time. I really want to try this while I'm still young!