I would like to say that after the events described in my last post that Jean and I have gone on to have a long and happy relationship. Yes, I would like to say that. But I can't.
Now I forgot to mention that when Jean and I were first paired up, I asked one of our old stable hands why I was assigned to him. "Because you're the only one who can handle him," was his reply. Believe it or not, that was a huge compliment, coming as it did from a grizzled old bastard who generally hates all drivers.
Anyway, in the week following the events of the night of Sept. 7, Jean and I worked together. Business was picking up, but when it was slow I would drive him all over the Quarter on training exercises, or in his case, exorcises, since he was still showing signs of demonic possession. All in all, though, we as a team were making good progress. As a rule, I like a mule with a little bit of attitude, so I was really getting to be quite fond of my boy Jean. He seemed to be willing to tolerate me.
During our training sessions my main goal was to desensitize him to the conditions of the Quarter, such as flashing lights, loud music, shouting people, garbage trucks, and impatient cabbies, and it was working. I would trot him up and down quiet streets like Burgundy and Dauphine, and once he was a little winded, I would take him to progressively louder and more chaotic parts of the Quarter and make him just stand there, talking to him the whole time. Toulouse and Bourbon was a good spot. But one of the best was the corner of Bourbon and St. Ann. There is a bar there that always has loud music, rowdy people, and, best of all, a giant glittering disco ball which throws random shards of bright light out into and onto the street. This corner has spooked many a mule, but Jean was okay with it. We were making great progress, and I was proud of my boy. But pride goeth before a fall.
I don't know if I mentioned this before, but you really have to be an optimist to be in this business, especially since the storm. While the job may look easy, there's a lot of hard work and hustle involved. We get paid straight commission and tips. That's it. And it's a small commission. So every time you roll out of the barn you tell yourself, "We are gonna roll tonight"--meaning you are going to be busy. You just have to believe it, or there's no point in even going out.
September 14th was no exception. It was a Friday, traditionally a good night, and I was excited. There was just something in the air that said it was going to be a good night. I had a reservation to pick up two couples at Bourbon and Toulouse and take them for an hour tour, so I felt like I already had a head start. I went down to the Square and picked up a tour, had a great time, and dropped them back off. Yes it was looking like a good night. Since I had about forty minutes before I had to pick up my group on Bourbon, I decided to work Jean a little more, just to make sure he'd be calm enough to stand in front of the hotel while we waited for our group. We made a couple laps of Burgundy and Dauphine and headed for the pick up point.
Jean behaved himself and our group was right on time, and they were great. It was one of those tours that turns into a conversation with people who are genuinely interested, and who ask questions, and want to know about the rest of the city and its future. We were having a wonderful time.
About half way through the hour one of the passengers asked if we could stop for a drink. Being a good host, I said,"Of course," and headed for Laffite's Blacksmith Shop. The courteous staff will actually bring the beverages out to the carriage, which always delights people.
Tonight, though, it was pretty noisy inside Laffite's, so I tied Jean to a one-way sign so I could go inside to get a waiter. The waiter, a nice kid named Josh, came out and was taking the drink orders when all hell broke loose.
To be honest, I really don't know what happened. What I do know is that just as I was untying him, something (I know not what) spooked Jean and we were off to the races. As he lunged forward, one of the shafts snagged the I.D. pouch around my neck, preventing me from reaching up and grabbing the reins and dragging me down the street. I managed to wrap the lead rope around my right hand and was struggling to grab the reins with my left hand, but it was no use. At this point I was just along for the ride. One of the last things I remember was somebody screaming "Runaway MULE!" At least they didn't call him a horse.
By now we are FLYING down St. Philip with Jean at a full gallop. I remember looking up and seeing one of my terrified passengers tugging on one of the reins. I remember looking down and seeing a blur of big shiny hooves, waaaaaay too close to my face. I remember feeling the lead rope slip from my grasp. And that's about it.
To this day I don't know what stopped that mule. I've asked around and nobody does. (Although I did learn later that the waiter from Lafitte's, Josh, had tried to run after the carriage to stop it but couldn't match Jean's speed.) I just know that we stopped almost at Chartres Street. And I know that somehow, I'd gotten run over by the carriage, although I don't remember it happening. Somebody was kind enough to help me up out of the street and plop me down on the steps of 619 St. Philip. I guess I was in shock, because I wanted to finish the tour. But by now a small crowd had gathered and they told me there was no way that was going to happen. Someone called 911. I called my wife ("Hey baby, I've had a little accident") and called my supervisor to come get Jean. None of my passengers, thank god, was injured.
Jean wound up at the barn. I wound up at Charity Hospital.
I sustained four ribs broken in 10 places and a broken foot, and I haven't worked since. My wife has never left my side, a true angel. Especially since I can be a real bastard sometimes.
I am happy to say that I am up am hobbling around, after a fashion. I've progressed from wheelchair to walker. Sometimes I can use a cane. I like to visit the stables when I can, just to get a mule fix until I go back to work, but Jean is gone. After the accident the company sold him to a farm for $300.
I hope he likes his new home.