August 1, 2015
7 PM at the Satchmo Summerfest in New Orleans
So a man orders a crepe at the "Crêpes Â La Cart" vendor booth…
And as he’s eating it nearby, the young man who made it runs over to him waving a dollar bill in his hand.
As I am that man, I wonder, did I overpay for my crepe, did I leave money on the counter? A New Orleans moment ensues.
“Pin this on your shirt!” he says. I look at him as if he’s inhaled too much powdered sugar making those crepes.
“When I asked you if you were having a good time, you said that it was your birthday and you were lovin’it. In New Orleans, you pin a dollar on your shirt to show it’s your birthday. People will wish you Happy Birthday and even pin another dollar on your shirt.”
Uncertain but game, I wedged it between the buttons of my sweaty polo shirt. Sure enough, a few minutes later, some one shouted Happy Birthday! And so did Henry, the young security guard at the gate when I left a few minutes later.
When I stopped into Envie Espresso Bar and Café to buy a desperately needed cup of coffee, the young lady at the counter says, “It’s your birthday?” reaches into her tip jar and adds a dollar bill to my collection.
By now, I wish I’d known about this custom a few years ago when I came to my first Satchmo Summerfest, created in 2001 to commemorate New Orleans’ own Louis Armstrong’s 100th birthday on August 4th.
Coffee in hand, a few blocks down Decatur, a fellow sitting behind a typewriter shouts “Happy Birthday!” and apologizes that he doesn’t have a single. A bunch of kids on a street corner cheers my birthday a block later.
Jack at the typewriter says the rule is you can wear your dollars until you go to sleep but I want my 24 hours worth. Since I was launched into dollar birthday at 7 PM, I decide to wear my dollars until 7 PM the next day.
Sure enough, I get a Happy Birthday! and a dollar from this family when I started off the next day dancing to Jamil Sharif at the Red Beans and Ricely Yours Stage.
This city, full of contradictions and charm, is special. Guess where I’m going to be next August 1st. And I’m going to bring a bunch of safety pins.
Photos by Paul A. Tamburello, Jr. and friends