THE heat enveloped me as soon as I stepped outside the air-conditioned comfort of the terminal at New Orleans Airport, wrapping itself around me like clingfilm until, within seconds, my shirt and trousers pressed damply against my body. The temperature was only 87 degrees, modest by the ferocious standards of Las Vegas – but then this was not the dry, desert heat of Nevada, where the short walk from the carpark to the hotel foyer evaporates the last drop of moisture in your mouth. In New Orleans (Noo Awlins to the natives) dehydration was an enviable condition, but whatever the discomfort I was not about to start complaining.
Most of us, with even a modest share of luck, will realise at least one of the pipe-dreams that sustain us through the dreary daily routine. But I was truly fortunate, and I knew it: on that September afternoon in 1978, I was fulfilling three of my daydreams in a single operation.
Close family ties with the country had made America a place I longed to visit, and I had always promised myself that if I ever got to the States, a trip to New Orleans would figure prominently on my itinerary. Apart from being the most beautiful city in America (some might say the only beautiful city in America, although San Franciscans would disagree) its music had always made it a special place. Kid Ory, Armstrong and the rest had made Bourbon Street, Basin Street, and Rampart Street as familiar to me as Tottenham Court Road and the Haymarket.