42.   N.O. and it's numbers

The timing for my second night in New Orleans, on the return journey, could not have been better. The storms had passed and I arrived, unawares, that it was the first day of the French Quarter Festival. I was pleased to find budget accommodation. A streetcar (called tram in Australia) was a cheap and convenient way to find my way to the backpacker hostel. I always tried to live frugally where I could, knowing I would be criticized back home, no matter how little money I spent.

I didn’t waste much time at the desk, after being told that there was much action at the French Quarter, which I had planned to visit regardless. The brochure stated that the previous year 450 000 people visited the Festival. I spent 5 wonderful hours walking amongst the happy crowd on the Riverwalk, a promenade beside the Mississippi River, and in the world-famous French Quarter nearby. Music, food, smiles and entertainment were the order of the day.

 

One street performer, no two, opposite Jackson Square, New Orleans, during the 2005 French Quarter Festival. The Cathedral in the background is called St. Louis.

 

There was a variety of music, ranging from jazz, blues and rock ‘n roll to the encompassing sound of a 9-man-band, playing from Dixie to Gospel. The majority of activities centered on Jackson Square, where a large stage provided non-stop entertainment. For a moment of peace from the exuberant crowd I slipped into St. Louis Cathedral, the oldest continuously active Cathedral in the United States. An invisible organist played a hymn, which I remembered from my earliest childhood in Sunday School: Fairest Lord Jesus. What a bonus!

I looked for a place to have a coffee. Normally I don’t like crowding into a busy Café, but somehow I felt drawn to walk back across to the other side of the Square, cross the road and into a busy Café. Neither do I normally ask, if I could sit at the table with strangers. But that afternoon I did. Two people sat on their own with an empty chair at their table. I asked, if I could join them and ordered a coffee. There names were Ivan and Judy. They were on vacation from Arizona, where they had moved to a few years earlier, because of the climate. 

I felt a little obtrusive inviting myself to sit with them, but am glad I did. They were so kind and insisted on paying for my coffee. I checked out the name of this Café on the web,    (www.frenchquarter.com) to write this chapter. 

 

Cafe du Monde is on Decatur. Coffee since 1862.

The name of this obviously popular establishment was Café du Monde, located on Decatur Street since 1862. How strange, ‘du’ in German means you, de is the internet code for Germany (Deutschland) and, in my language, Mon is more than the abbreviation for Monday. (Yes I am a German man, but only technically).

The informative map on above website tells me that the sidewalk between the Café and the river is called the “Moon walk”. It was named after Major Moon Landrieu. As I look at this name I see, o man, ‘and’ and ‘dieu’, if you allow me to drop the r.

The tables and floor all over the Cafe were covered in a white powder. Nothing to do with dangerous chemicals, but the product of a local specialty, beignets - a kind of pastry, which is covered in white, powdered sugar and served free, when ordering coffee. I was quite sad to have to say good-bye to Ivan and Judy. We had only just met, but I felt I had known them for years.

A shop in a narrow side street of the French Quarter looked like it was also a post office. I entered to buy stamps to send a few postcards. Two young people were being served ahead of me. They spoke with an Australian accent. They were from Melbourne on their way to attend a ‘Coffee Conference’ in Seattle. We didn’t talk much, but I commented, if New Orleans wasn’t a bit out of their way?

Walking back to the streetcar via Bourbon Street I regretted not having another day here. I’m sure had I stayed longer, I would have discovered more magic in this fun loving city.

 

In 2004 the French Quarter Festival attracted 450 000 visitors. A year later there was at least one more. Central stage in Jackson Square.

 

To return to my Backpacker’s Hostel I had to pass an old, large Catholic Church. A number of times I had noticed the large banner, hanging from the iron fence, which read UNITED IN / PRAYER. The annoying part was that the top right hand corner had not been fastened properly. A triangular section was hanging down and covered the word IN. (The word PRAYER was written underneath UNITED IN). 

I carried with me a roll of clear tape to stick tickets etc. into my diary. I used some of this tape to fasten the banner properly. On the morning of writing this, 8/7/05, exactly three months later, a thought came to me: How strange - the letters NI stood out on the sidewalk in Hollywood (Chapter 40) and the letters IN drew my attention here in New Orleans. (And remember, New Orleans came before Hollywood).

The evening was taken up with writing my diary, and eating a little snack I had bought at the Supermarket. I retired to bed reasonably early. Ten pm is early for me. That’s why I woke again at around 3 am and listened to the radio. I held the radio close to my ear as not to wake others in the dormitory. A Christian station discussed an issue (I didn’t record the details) and asked listeners to phone in. It must have been a subject I felt strongly about. I had an urge to phone.

It was a crazy idea! Even if I had a mobile phone with me, which I didn’t, I could not just dial a number in a room full of sleeping backpackers and make a phone call. Then a thought-pattern, called possibility thinking, took over:

“There is a public phone box just up the street past the Catholic Church.

But I can’t just get dressed now and leave the hostel. It’s far too dangerous at this hour of the morning and you will wake everybody.

But if you had to go to the toilet it would be no different. And don’t you trust God to could keep you from harm?

It was not an audible voice I was responding to. It was my self-talk. Everybody talks to himself or herself. This is a normal part of life. Years ago I had become aware that my self-talk was a great deal negative. Often I caught myself verbalizing destructive thoughts toward others and myself. I lacked a healthy self-esteem, which led to a critical attitude.

But I changed to possibility thinking. With God’s help, knowing HE wants me to walk in victory, I changed from an unhealthy outlook to a positive, 'nothing is too hard for God' mind-set. Years later I can testify that no matter what showed up on the radar of my troubled mind, nothing was too hard for God.

There was a further reason, why the persistent thought about phoning the radio station didn’t go away. I had claimed that God often wakes me in the middle of the night to listen to an item on the radio. Numerous times I had sent an email or was taking action in response. Sometimes numbers on the clock radio confirmed the promptings in my mind. At the dorm in the New Orleans backpacker’s there was no clock radio in the room. But there was one more bit of data to start action.

The show host asked for people to phone in. I had been under the impression that the station was received all over the southern USA, not just New Orleans. The first person who phoned in was Dennis* (read on, it’s amazing) from New Orleans. The letters D&N, plus ‘is from New Orleans’, turned my thoughts into action. Very quietly I slipped a pair of trousers over my pyjamas, made sure I had quarters for the phone in my pocket and tiptoed past the 24-hour reception into the night.

Everything was well lit. The air was fresh, but not very cold, as I walked the short distance to the corner and dialed the 1800 number. Even with a brain for numbers, I got one digit wrong. My first attempt in phoning was answered by a business in Pensacola, Florida. I left a message on their answer machine. Quietly I kept reminding God, if he wanted me to get on air at this radio station, he would have to assist me.

I changed one digit of the number I had memorized and, to my surprise, got through. Except I woke somebody from sleep at 3.30 am. Possibility thinking does not give up easily and sometimes there are casualties of one sort or another. I felt only a little sorry for this gentleman, because I had only done what the radio asked listeners to do, phone them. 

“Hello, is this number 1800 727 7486 Radio …?”

“Yes it is”, a surprised voice answered.

“I’d like to make a comment about…”

I hadn’t finished my first sentence, when the sleepy male voice at the other end interrupted me. The talkback program had finished at 2 am. They were no longer taking calls, but were playing a replay of the talkback show. (This is what I understood).

I felt a real fool at that moment. But so should the radio station – asking people to call, giving a phone number to 1000’s of listeners, which switched through to a person sleeping! (My diary says that I smelled a set-up). 

In times like these I wondered, if I had acted in obedience to God or under compulsion, trying to act in my own strength and human possibility thinking. I will never know which it was, except I had proven that, where there is a will there is a way. Plus I had the satisfaction, if it was a test of some kind I had done my part to the best of my ability. 

I was back on my top bunk in the large dorm in a matter of minutes. The time was around 3.45 am. I didn’t get to sleep properly until what seemed like hours later.

 

*What co-incidental name, Dennis, and what amazing timing: As I am putting together the first draft of this chapter (Saturday 9/7/05) a major item on the news is about a hurricane in the Caribbean. Ten deaths were reported in Cuba. The hurricane is named Dennis. Just now as I edit, I hear on the News this Atlantic hurricane is exceptionally early in the season. 

A further bit a trivia regarding timing - 701 are the three digits of the zip code for New Orleans. The date of uploading this chapter is 7.10. 

 

Why did I see codes in everything? This store was located at 1232 ...

 

When I awoke around 7.30 am or so, I had only 25 minutes before I was being picked up for the shuttle-bus to the airport. Who needs to shower everyday anyway?

The nametag of the driver read Delta, the number of her vehicle was 282. On the way the shuttle picked a number of fellow travelers. One pick-up was from the Fairmont Hotel. A middle aged, slim lady looked just like somebody I knew from Adelaide. Two years ago the phenomena of look-a-likes was very prominent a number of times. On this trip I had experienced it as well, but taken less notice. This person stood out, because she reminded me of a Isobel (not my wife).  

My scheduled gave me a break at Houston’s George Bush airport. Normally I don’t just sit and wait in airport lounges, but rather go walking. I strolled with my little suitcase to the far end of the terminal. Suddenly, on the far left corner, outside a departure gate, I saw a group of ambulance officers and medical staff attending to a lady, who had obviously fallen ill during a flight, or at the airport. 

The scene was rather calm; nobody hurried. I looked on for a while. It didn’t come to me to pray for her. My intuition told me, something was different, as if it was not genuine, almost as if it was all being staged. After a few minutes they wheeled her a way and I sat down on a seat beside a Newsstand.   

On the seat beside me, that’s why I sat down there, I had seen a postcard-size piece of paper, which had grabbed my attention, as if it was placed there just for me. Crazy, I agree, but this is just what went through my mind. In large letters I read what the card was all about: FORBES, the name I had previously deciphered as - For be it. (ES, you may recall is German for IT). 

Were people trying to tell me something? And what exactly was their motive and the correct message? Surely it wasn’t a hint to escape again in an ambulance as I had done 2 years earlier? To go underground was far from my mind. Things had changed dramatically in two years.

A short time later, as passengers were finding their seats on the aircraft, a further incident took place. It was impossible to ignore, especially since I had claimed that my family and I were allocated special seat numbers on flights, without being VIPs:

I had been allocated seat 9C on the flight from Houston to LA. A lady had already taken her place in seat number 9A, when another passenger came with seat allocation 9A claiming the same seat. Double bookings like this are nothing unusual. It was easily rectified, because the plane was not completely full. The passenger in 9A was moved to 7F! What do I make of that?

(If I play with the word allocation and add a C, plus exchange T for an S, allocation turns into 'all occasion'. But why add a C and take away a T?)

On the three-hour flight to Los Angeles a young lady sat nearby. She was carrying fresh flowers; fresh flowers on an airplane? They were ‘Bird of Paradise’. We used to grow them in our back yard. The young lady explained that she was on her way to her father’s funeral. I didn’t want to sound rude, so I refrained from asking, if flowers were unavailable in Los Angeles. (Unless the young lady grew them in her back yard and wanted to save money).

Right next to me sat a mom and her son. They were on from Atlanta, flying to LA to visit grandmother. The boy’s name was Clay, which made me think there was a ‘ton’ missing. Would you believe, until now I had concentrated on this aspect of his name. Only as I am writing I can see the other clue in the 11-year old boy’s name - the question, why I am going to (see) LA?

                    Airlines obviously liked my numbers too. They named flights after them. (107 today's date - Syd to LAX).

                           From Houston to New Orleans Flight 5 Y - from Gate C21!   

 

At the airports in New Orleans and Houston I was amused at an arrangement at the departure and arrival points. Outside the check-in desks inside the terminals, were thin posts, with arrows pointing to the left and to the right. One side was for ‘Elite’ passengers, presumably for travelers, who had upgraded from the basic fare. The other arrow directed ordinary people’s path, when entering or leaving the terminal.

Unless there was more to the set up, I saw only one difference in the two paths. The elite, privileged, chosen few had about 5 meters of carpet to walk on, before again mixing with all the rest of us mere mortals at the other end. 

If this was all, I couldn’t understand this nonsense. At Houston airport I had already walked a few meters out on the ‘ordinary’ side, when the funny side of my brain was activated. I turned around, much to the surprise of those behind, walked back and floated over the soft piece of holy ground, giggling and laughing in ridicule. Surprisingly, I wasn’t arrested and sent to a mental institution.

The weather in Los Angeles was sunny, but cool while I waited for a bus to Orange County. I had not been successful in making a motel booking and was a little anxious, when no bus showed up. The time was approaching 4 pm.  Another traveler, returning from South America, was wearing a sweater with the words PARIS in large letters. She suggested, hiring a car may be almost as cheap as the bus. 

Why not, I thought? Do something different - hire a car for a day. I made some enquiries: $ 33.55 didn’t seem too bad, and I liked those numbers. (Only later did I find out the insurance was not included and rather expensive). With a minimum of fuss minutes later I was sitting in a late model Chevrolet Cavalier, trying hard not to use the windscreen wipers as indicator lights. I had heard about automobiles driving on the wrong side of the road in the USA. I was thankful that ALL seemed to be doing it. 

My big surprise had come when I saw the registration number of my mule. With a little rearranging and dropping a zero the plate read: HI U 455. (Hi to you too. How did you know I was coming?)

Half hour or so later, cruising south on Freeway 405 (which leads St. Diego) I switched on the radio. It was pre-set to an FM station, 963 FM. I couldn’t avoid the thought that it may have been done deliberately by someone, who had known about my little find (the 90631 tag) outside Terminal 1 earlier in the week or read my story. But how did they know, I would be hiring a car and from their company? There were so many to choose from? Someone was working behind the scenes. I know HIM. He loves numbers.

My diary for April 9th 05 finishes with this entry: Another Sumatra Earthquake, 6.8 Richter. Exactly a week later, April 16th, Los Angeles, California, an earthquake was reported on the TV News. Earthquakes are very common in that region. This one measured 5.1 on the Richter scale.

 

Chapter 43

Index