Tips On Your Trip To The USA & Jazz Fest

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THE TRIP

We are about to embark on a trip to one of the most musically rich and diverse places in the world. So I hope you are looking forward to experiencing some wonderful music.

Welcome back to those who have been before. Welcome to those who are about to go for the first time.

Please read the hints below and feel free to add any of your own.

FINANCES

1. Make sure you have enough US dollars or Travellers’ Cheques in US dollars or a mix of both.

Allow yourself A$75 a day for food, drinks etc and you should have plenty.

2. Find out what US bank your own bank deals with so that you can use your ATM card over there without incurring a fee. e.g. Westpac has reciprocal rights with the Bank of America.

3. Your tickets to most museums and to Jazz Fest are included in the cost of the tour (see itinerary to be posted this Sunday, April 6).

4. Please note that many US bank notes are the same colour no matter what the denomination so when you pay for something you’ll need to be be careful that you don’t tip someone ten dollars instead of one dollar!

5. Always check your change. New Orleans is the home of the double fold where notes are sometimes folded in half, leaving you with half the change you expected. I am told that this happens at various stalls rather than stores.

ON THE WAY

American authorities have no sense of humour, so never – under any circumstances – make any sort of joke about hijackings, bombs etc. I was once threatened with arrest for dropping a pair of shoes into a tray!

They still love Australians over there so if there is a problem be charming and they will help you.

Many Americans will think that you are a personal friend of the Crocodile Hunter’s family, Keith Urban and Nicole Kidman. Telling them you just live down the street from any of these people could result in free drinks. (Don’t mention Mel Gibson).

If you have trouble being understood try to talk like Elvis (Presley, that is) and this should work.

‘Why thank you, m’am!’ is always a handy expression.

AMERICANS

Apart from some of them not having a sense of humour (irony, in particular) Americans are some of the friendliest people you will ever meet.

Try to meet some and talk to them on your travels and you will make lifelong friends (either that or they will invade us).

Don’t be surprised if some Americans seem to have a slight gap in their knowledge of the world outside the USA and they ask you if there are cars in Australia.

Some Americans may confuse Australia with Austria. When you correct them you can also tell them that in winter we actually have more skiable snow than Austria!

You will find that, within an hour of meeting an American, you will have heard their complete life story. You may like to get a recommendation for their psychotherapist.

In Louisiana you will notice that most of the people you meet are also musicians.

You will never be alone at a gig in the USA. Don’t be surprised if complete strangers start talking to you as if they have known you for years.

However, at a gig, Americans like their space so don’t crowd them. Some of them also expect to be able to leave their space on the floor to get a drink. Treat their space as reserved and they will not get upset.

Some Southerners take their politics seriously, so if you decide to wear a Clinton or Obama badge or t-shirt be aware that a pick up truck full of good old boys might be just around the corner waiting for you. Okay, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration but Pat did encounter some abuse at Jazz Fest the other year when wearing a John Kerry badge.

BUYING THINGS TAX FREE!
New Orleans is a Tax Free port! This means that you can get your sales tax back on many items that you purchase, including CDs.

Simply show your passport and the store will fill in a form for you. You get your tax refunded at the airport when you leave or you can get the tax free forms at the airport and send them later.

The best CD store is the Louisiana Music Factory just opposite the House of Blues on Decatur Street.

The best computer store is CompUSA which is out of town on Veterans Boulevard. I am not sure if it does Tax Free anymore but will check.

Many computer and electrical items are much cheaper than prices here but some do not have an international warranty. Don’t get talked into buying the store warranty. Who wants to ship something back to the USA to get fixed.

Apple does have a worldwide warranty.

Shops on Canal Street can offer bargains but it is sometimes a hassle bargaining and getting followed down the street by pesky salesmen. Also some of their products are out of date, used or have obscure model numbers.

Be aware of the old ‘bait and switch.’ This is where you go in to buy a particular item and get convinced to ‘supersize’ to something you didn’t actually want because it sounds like a bargain (it never is).

PHONES

You can buy phone cards almost anywhere that will give you cheap calls back to Australia. If you bring your mobile and it is a tri-band or quad-band you need to ring your service provider and tell them you want global roaming. Be aware that this can be very expensive.

Many of us brought cell (mobile) phones in Memphis last year. You can get a free phone with a pre-paid card for about US$30 and can top this up with you credit card or buy top up cards at WalMart* or Walgreens. This enables you to be in contact at all times (which you may or may not want to be).

*Please avoid WalMart stores unless absolutely forced to go there as I am told that they destroy local businesses and have a bad reputation when it comes to employee benefits.

Be aware that with a US cell phone you also pay to receive calls. (How bad is that?) Encourage people to be brief when they ring.

Using a phone card with its 1-800 number will make your cell phone calls a lot cheaper if you are calling long distance or international.

My cell phone no. is 901 216 1461

FOR JAZZ FEST

1. You need to wear LIGHT clothes and COMFORTABLE shoes.

The weather will be hot and humid, so come prepared.

Men. I hate to get personal but wear boxer shorts not jocks. You can thank me later.

Bring some paw-paw ointment in case you get blisters or rashes. Sunscreen and other items can be purchased there.

You can buy a comfy camping chair for about US$12 at Walgreens, so you do not need to carry one over with you.

Freeze a bottle of water overnight and you can make the ice last all day. There are taps to fill up in the grandstand and near the US Postal Service stall.

GETTING TO JAZZ FEST

We usually catch a cab out to Jazz Fest and this is only US$4.00 per person.

Then we catch the Esplanade bus back, get off at any cross street on Rampart (Ursulines etc) and make the 10 minute walk to the hotel.

You can catch the Esplanade bus that runs along North Rampart and it will only costs you $1.25 each way. You must have the exact change.

If you are going out to Jazz Fest make sure you catch the bus running on the river side of the street.

You will notice that there are no bus timetables on display anywhere in New Orleans (and possibly the entire South). This is a hint about their efficiency. Be patient.

AT JAZZ FEST

You can buy the souvenir posters at Jazz Fest if you don’t mind lining up for a while. Or you can buy them online at www.art4now.com and they will be sent by air mail straight after Jazz Fest.

There is the official Jazz Fest poster and the Congo Square poster.

WALKING AROUND

You will immediately notice that most Americans drive on the right hand side of the road.

So the rule ‘Look left, then right, then left again’ that we learned in school should be adjusted to ‘Look right, look left, then look right again!’

LAUNDRY

There are several laundries nearby. An excellent one – the French Quarter Laundromat – is on the corner of Ursulines and Bourbon (just a few minutes walk). You can leave a bag of laundry and have it washed, dried and folded for US$7 plus tax! As far as I am concerned that is a bargain!

You can drop your laundry off on the way to Jazz Fest and pick it up on the way back that night. How good is that?

The laundromat on North Rampart was once the famous studio of Cosimo Matassa.

FOOD

Food is plentiful and mostly tasty. Almost none of it is in the Heart Foundation recommended list. They call Louisiana the ‘heart attack capital’ of the USA.

The crawfish is like a yabby. It is not, as I once falsely claimed to much consternation, the introduced Queensland red yabby (but they are farming them over there).

After Katrina, it was not safe to eat the oysters but has become marginally more so over the past two years. If you are even slightly wary do not eat them.

Hush puppies are balls of fried corn bread. If someone offers you some don’t be worried that they are trying to sell you a pair of shoes.

Be aware that what Americans call an entree is actually a main meal. They have appetisers beforehand.

Because almost everything is fried, theoretically it should be germ free! (That’s my excuse).

If you are a vegetarian do not despair, you can get salads. Or at least that is what they call them.

You will notice that several of the Jazz Fest Stalls do cater to vegetarians.

If one of our group, usually Tony Wood, offers you pork cracklin’ at Jazz Fest check the grease dripping from the bottom of the bag first!

There is a Verti Mart on Royal Street (near Ursulines) and a number of all night stores, including the A&P where you can buy food late if you get the munchies.

For some obscure reason tuna is labelled as ‘chicken of the sea.’ (I must find out why).

ALCOHOL

You can also buy alcohol at the A&P on Royal until the early hours of the morning. Beer, spirits and wine are relatively cheap; in fact, sometimes you can buy Australian wine cheaper there than you can get it here.

Please note that Fosters on sale in the USA is brewed in Canada and does not taste as good as it does here. Only drink Fosters as a last resort – or if someone else is paying.

Only drink Corona if you are stranded out in the desert under a blazing sun in 110F heat and you may die of thirst unless you take a swig. Even then, think twice.

There are plentiful local brews. My favourites are Dixie and Abita Amber.

During the day you can get a Muffuletta (a focaccia on steroids) at the Central Grocery Store on Decatur. This should be enough to last you an entire day and into the evening!

Be aware that on a hot Jazz Fest afternoon alcohol will dehydrate you so you need to bring water with you or buy some there.

AT NIGHT (MEMPHIS, NEW ORLEANS etc)

Be careful and be aware of your surroundings at all times.

Remember, many people in the USA have guns and some of them have arsenals that would equip a small army. Please, do not get into an argument under any circumstances!

Once upon a time it was not de rigeur to criticise the President but now that almost everyone hates George W Bush it is not so risky. Yet be aware of what the general feeling is before you make a political or religious statement.

Do NOT under any circumstances use an ATM late at night unless it is in the lobby of our hotel or you have other people with you (preferably an armed guard with a German shepherd).

Try not to take any credit cards or large amounts of cash out with you at night.

Be aware that shoulder bags are targets and can be easily snatched.

Always walk down busy or well-known streets. Bourbon Street is generally noisy and full of drunken tourists but if you are walking back from a club late at night you should try to use it.

If someone approaches you and says, ‘For a dollar I can tell you where you got those shoes’ the answer is ‘Yes, I know, I got these shoes on my feet.’

Having said all that, I can say that we have not encountered any problems so far but I have heard stories and it is better to be safe than sorry.

CABS

If you are at a club out of town the bar staff will be happy to order a cab for you. You could even pre-arrange a pickup when you are dropped off.

It is sometimes good to leave a crowded gig just prior to the end in order to make sure you get a cab. At larger and better-known venues such as Tipitina’s and the Rock ‘n’ Bowl it should not be a problem.

Do not wander back to the hotel late at night if you are ‘under the weather’ – catch a cab.

Cabs are cheap and more frequent now. After Katrina they were hard to find (most of them having been washed away).

Also, be aware that some cab drivers will take imaginative routes – sometimes this is to access a freeway – so get your bearings and don’t be afraid to ask, ‘Why are you going this way?’ or ‘Why does that sign say Welcome to Baton Rouge?’

Indian and Pakistani cab drivers may want to talk about cricket. Try to humour them and make sure you have reached your destination and paid before they start talking. Producing a membership card to the Melbourne Cricket Club may prolong the conversation or have them arrange a marriage to one of their relatives.

TIPPING

Unfortunately, we are expected to tip almost everywhere. This is because many wait staff, bar staff etc, only get paid US$5 an hour or less. Some get only US$2.75 per hour or less!!

So don’t begrudge having to tip. It is a way of life there and expected. Not only that it is the only way some people can make enough money to survive.

The usual tip is 10% but I try to give slightly more to my poor American cousins.

I have been informed by a long-time resident of the USA that we should tip 15%.

Tipping in a bar, especially the House Of Blues, will generally mean that you get better service.

If you want to truly know the meaning of the words ‘cold shoulder’ try to settle a bill without including a tip.

Sometimes if you go to a restaurant in a group of 5 or more there will be an automatic ‘tip’ of up to 18% added. This will be indicated on the bill and you do not have to tip extra. Apparently, this has become common because our British cousins are so resentful of tipping!

Brian Wise

Brian Wise was the Editor of Addicted To Noise‘s Australian site from 1997 – 2002. The site won two ONYA Awards as Best Online Music Magazine in 1999 & 2000. He has also been Editor since its reincarnation in 2013. He also presents the weekly music interview program Off The Record on 102.7 Triple R-FM (rrr.org.au) in Melbourne. It is networked to 45+ stations across Australia on the Community Radio Network and is a four-time winner of the Best Music Program Award from the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia. In 2012, it was nominated as a finalist in the Excellence in Music Programming category. Brian was also the Founding Editor & Publisher of Rhythms Magazine and is now its Senior Contributing Editor.

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