Aug 15, 2013 3:11 AM GMT
Linda Todd and her husband chose to leave their quiet Iowa town for a sleepy summertime vacation in New Orleans.
“I’ll never come back,” she swears. The retired schoolteacher’s blue eyes are wide with terror.
The Todds have kindly agreed to speak to us in their hotel lobby, after a lot of convincing to get them to leave their hotel room. Out of the window we see a chubby man charging down Bourbon wearing only a tutu.
Every year, hundreds of tourists in New Orleans are victimized by a phenomenon known as Red Dress Run. They book their vacations during the second week of August, when the grandchildren are out of school and the New Orleans hotel rates are low. Unfortunately for these unsuspecting out-of-towners, this is the same weekend as Red Dress Run. The annual event, sponsored by the New Orleans Hash House Harriers masquerades as a benefit for numerous local charities.
Surrounding the Todds’ Bourbon street hotel are thousands of drunk people in red dresses. There are tall, hairy bros wrapped in red bedsheets, their sweaty genitals nearly visible through their red cotton boxers. There are slender men in heels and sequined red dresses, rocking the look while they parade down the crowded street. It is only 10am.
“It’s a sad thing,” says Darren Trotman, a firefighter and founding member of Red Dress Rescue, a non-profit dedicated to saving the victims of Red Dress Run. “They just don’t know. We’ve had little ladies stuck in the middle of Bourbon Street, hanging onto their walkers while men in drag try to carry them off. I couldn’t stand by and watch them suffer, so we started Red Dress Rescue.”
During the sweltering event, Trotman is the first responder to tourists in Red Dress distress.
“We operate like a flood rescue,” he explains. “A bystander calls us in, we find the victim—usually elderly or at least confused—drowning in a sea of men and women in red dresses. Then we act.”
For Red Dress Run 2013, Trotman allows We Love Nola to ride-along with his special ops Red Dress Rescue team. As the temperature climbs, we scope out the street for a TID (Tourist In Distress).
“TID’s are usually easy to find,” Trotman says. “They’re not like traditional drowning victims who quietly slip away. These are people who stick out- they don’t wear red, they have this horrified look on their face, and they are usually screaming.”
Our first rescue of the day is Ms. Sheila Shwartz of Boca Raton. We see her walker flailing in the sky above the masses. We can barely hear her cries for help.
Trotman quickly ties a rope around himself and offers the We Love Nola team the other end.
“Hold it tight,” he says. “When I tug three times, I want you to pull.”
He begins to wade into the red sea, a crowded, stormy area between the intersection of St. Louis and Bourbon. He looks back at us.
“If anything happens, tell my children I never was at this fucking event.”
Trotman disappears, lost in the masses. After a tense moment, we feel the tug- one tug, two tug, three tug- and we reel him in, using all of our strength. He emerges, clutching Ms. Shwartz and her walker.
“My husband!” Ms. Shwartz cries.
“Forget him,” Trotman says, cradling the traumatized victim in his arms. “He’s gone.”
As if on cue, a white-haired man dashes down the street. He is only wearing red boxers.
“Oz or bust!” he shouts, then slips into the crowd and runs in the direction of the most lascivious intersection of Bourbon.
“Stan?” Ms. Shwartz says, dazed. “Was that my Stanley?”
“No,” Trotman says quickly, motioning for us to hurry up and get out of here.
Not all are happy about Mr. Trotman’s rescue operation.
“We’re just having a good time,” says Harry Lambert, an Uptowner who graduated from Tulane University and now works for Whitney Bank. He shifts in his red ass-less chaps. “Having this guy dragging people out of the crowd is a downer. It is definitely not in the spirit of Red Dress Run.”
The Todds disagree.
Terror in the streets.
“We wanted to go on the swamp tour,” Mr. Todd whispers. “The tour operator asked us where the hotel was. When we said the French Quarter, he laughed and hung up on me. We finally found another tour willing to come out and get us.”
“We almost got to the van,”says Ms. Todd says. “We tried to get in but the bus driver started saying he had to leave—“
“We begged him not to leave us,” says Mr. Todd.
“But he did. He stomped on the gas and we fell back into the sea of men in dresses, beer spilling on us, people groping. There we stayed until Mr. Trotman rescued us.”
They gaze outside again, holding each other. The Todds have not crossed the threshold of the hotel lobby doors since the incident. Outside their air conditioned shelter, men in dresses grind women in tutus.
“I wish I could have my mind erased,” says Mr. Todd.