Monday, December 11, 2006

Cristophe the cab driver

To preface this, let me say that when I set out to write SINNERS AND SAINTS, I knew that my heroine was going to be a classic fish out of water. A certified forensic nurse who worked in St. Louis, she has to wade through the good old boy network of New Orleans politics and police to find her missing sister. Well, I love writing both a heroine and a hero. The dynamics are always fun, and each brings a unique perspective to the story. And I didn't want to fall into the cliche "she's dating a cop who can get all her info". But who would she--a trauma nurse--trust in a strange city? Easy. A firefighter. Only this guy couldn't be on the job. He had to have lots of free time. So I created James Guidry, a scarred ex-firefighter-turned-New-Orleans-cabdriver. He's a native, Chastity can hire him to help her, and he knows the city. Voile! The problem was, I didn't know any cab drivers. I knew forensic pathologist, forensic nurse liaisons(that's another entry), cops, authors, artists and tarot card readers. And it seemed not one of them knew a cab driver either. So I went searching.

It was 2AM on a weeknight that I hit the jackpot. My friend Karen and I had been doing research out at one of the lakeside bars that probably isn't there anymore. A great place with beer and boots and a surfeit of Dwight Yokum. After a few hours, we needed a ride home and called a cab. And who we got was Cristophe.

Yeah, just the name probably says it all. A man of more than one race, although I didn't closely quizz him on which ones, he was slick and sleek and handsome, with long hair tied back in a queue, skin the color of cafe mocha and a delicious New Orleans accent. He had statues of saints on his dashboard and jazz on the radio. And he said he'd be happy to answer my questions. We went over schedules, maps, routines, problems. We reached my friend's house. Cristophe wouldn't let us out. Not yet. "I cannot tell you all about my beloved N'awlins in ten minutes," he protested. "I'll tell you what. Let me take you to my favorite restaurant in the Fauberg Marigny, and we'll talk, and I'll tell you all about my life, and we'll watch the sun come up." And that's just what we did.

Of course the longer we talked, the more I learned about New Orleans. Not just what Cristophe said. What he didn't say. The statues on his dashboard weren't saints. They were his loas of voodoo, there to ensure him safety, money and success. He wasn't really from New Orleans. He was from Queens. And I have a real suspicion that his name wasn't Cristophe(it was a while later before I found out that Cristophe was also a character in an Ann Rice novel). But he was the epitome of the best of New Orleans; its whimsy and creativity and bravado. The fact that anybody(but a local, evidently) can remake themself into whatever image they please there. A lot of the flavor of SINNERS AND SAINTS came from that cab ride. And not a little of James Guidry. I have two grease-stained place mats from La Peniche,crammed full of notes. I have material for more than one book. And I have the satisfaction of knowing that I mortified my daughter.

As Cristophe dropped us off, we exchanged phone numbers in case there were any more questions. The next day, my daughter called me from St. Louis. "Mom," she said, sounding truly bemused. "Some guy named Cristophe called? He said he has some great places to show you?" You can imagine how confused she was by a hot young guy calling her MOTHER. "Yeah, baby," I said. "That's right. I'm cool." I'm not sure she's gotten over it yet.

Next I'll tell you about the lovely, inimitable Kareena Boudreax.

eileen\kathleen, the evil twins

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I like reading your blog for the reason that you can always bring us fresh and awesome stuff, I think that I must at least say a thank you for your hard work.

- Henry

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