The heat already envelopes your body in the early morning hours. If you’re lucky it will be a “dry” day with humidity in the 70% range and cloud coverage, but no rain. The opposite is much worse. Puddles of rainwater can filter out the city’s nightlife. The steam settles in around your feet and then slowly rises up your body. You’re a sweaty mess by the first block.
The smells — like most memories attached to senses — are the strongest agitator. Not all are bad. Over the greasy filament slipping from the trash cans and garbage trucks comes a different city smell. Bacon and butter being heated. Flour is browning in every oven. The streets turn into rows of childhood wishes. Of mornings not filled with heavy eyelids due to late nights. “I hope we get that for staff meal.” is the typical thought in the morning workers’ minds.
The people in the French Quarter in early morning fit into 4 categories. Business people, whether they are office workers or bar owners; back of house, who typically arrive by walking, biking, or being dropped off, but rarely drive their own car; a handful of severe late night ramblers (cuts off about 7am); early morning tourist (typically white) people looking to speed walk their meals away, and the lost: prostitutes, homeless, addicts, and troublemakers. Although they are typically asleep on stoops where someone lucky enough to afford to live in the current FQ can walk outside and find them.
I arrive later in the morning now. I dress for an office not a kitchen. I ride an elevator instead of walking sticky stairs to start the ovens, scare away the rats, and begin my day at 4:30am. I may not look like my old self or the majority of people now there. My life is removed from that set of daily turmoils and celebrations. A prior life and an alternate lifestyle. But I still remember.
Everything about walking around in the morning brings me back. I am 22 years old again, scared for the trajectory of my life, but impartial to real dangers around me.
Originally written for Medium.