Al Copeland: Another giant little man passes into Louisiana history March 25, 2008Posted by Mark Folse in 504, cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, New Orleans, NOLA, Odds&Sods, postdiluvian, Remember, Toulouse Street, Uncategorized.
Tags: 504, Al Copeland, Dudley Leblanc, John Schwegmann, New Orleans, NOLA, Popeyes Famous Fried Chicken
Al Copeland was New Orleans through-and-through, a character who could as easily come from the pen of John Kennedy Toole as out of old Arabi. He was one with the rogues’ pantheon that would have to include Dudley LeBlanc and perhaps John Schwegmann, men with enough ego to stand up and make perfect fools of themselves while laughing all the way to the bank. Like LeBlanc and Schwegmann, he has passed into history and myth.
From a little chicken-shack on St. Claude to the manse on Folse Drive, Copeland bestrode his city like a paper-maché Carnival colossus rocking down Veterans Boulevard atop a flashing triple-decker float. He raced world class offshore speedboats, flitted about in his “chicken copter” and his Maserati, and caught and released trophy wives like a tournament fisherman.
The closest I ever got to Al was watching him and his lieutenants go over customer comment cards after the monthly Popeytes manager’s breakfast, held at the hotel where I did banquet work in college. He would shush and chase us off if we tried to clear tables once that intense meeting started, so we would not disturb their pursuit of chicken perfection. I saw him close up again at the lakefront when a connection to my girlfriend’s family came to town with their own offshore racing boat (Still Crazy was it’s name, and I still have a grease-stained t-shirt somewhere). We could not, however, manage to finagle our way into the racing teams party out on Copeland compound on Folse Drive.
Al brought us the sort of spice we like, whether it was in a bucket with two sides and biscuits or on the six o’clock news. We all like to chatter about the older musicians passing on, but a big piece of New Orleans just checked out with Al. How many more little guys like him will the homogenized, box-box economy of the nation to north let rise up among us? We may never see his likes again.
Instead the comfortably milquetoast, Perlis-attired, revenant anti-Long sorts that fill the pages of Gambit with their advertisements are what remains to us, people out-of-state investment bankers are comfortable having lunch with at Galatoires, thinking they are slumming in wicked old New Orleans. They will bring Borders to St. Charles and Nike Factory Stores to Mid-City; Moloch will roll out the big Targets and little Starbucks like a stinking volcanic mudslide, obliterating everything in its path.
A little bit of us all died with Al, and if we aren’t careful soon all that will remain to differentiate us from Atlanta will be our broken and littered roads rolling beneath the faded beads dangling in the branches of the winter trees.
Kudos to KamaAina for catching my O’typo on Toole’s name. Oh, for an editor!