By Mike Rogers
The French Quarter in New Orleans is a haven for street entertainers. Some are good, some are bad, and many are terrible. Still, once you work your way through the rubber twisters and the spaced out bums there’s lots of enjoyable folks to see and hear. Magicians come and go. For years Cellini owned the streets of New Orleans where magic was concerned. He did it with class; I’ve seen none better on the streets. He now charms the tourists of Europe. Though the magicians come and go there’s one cute piece of business that will always remain unique to the streets in the French Quarter. It’s relationship to magic stems from the fact that it’s a scam using unique play on words. It goes like this.
“I bet I can tell where yo got yo shoes.” Every tourist who has ever trekked the streets of the French Quarter has heard that line. It’s simply something that comes with a trip to the Big Easy. But what’s it all about? The tourist is approached by an obviously street wise youngster, probably about ten years old. The kid will point to the tourist’s shoes, and with a southern street jargon accent say, “I bet I can tell yo where yo got yo shoes.” His manner of speech is important for the success of this little swindle.
Most visitors ignore the kid and walk on. The kid hangs in and now sweetens the deal. “I tell yo where yo got yo shoes, I tell yo what time yo got yo shoes, I tell yo what day yo got dem.” Now it starts getting interesting. Just what in Hell is this kid up to?
Still the tourists normally keep walking, yet what if curiosity takes over? The kid will now venture further into the scam. “I bet yo five bucks I can tell yo where yo got yo shoes, what time yo got yo shoes, what day yo got yo shoes.”
It becomes too much. The sucker springs for the bet. The kid will insist the sightseer front the money before telling him where he got his shoes. When the kid has the money in sight he will resolve the mystery. Keep in mind, this has to be done by a youngster, obviously uneducated, and speaking in the street jargon of a young boy in the south.
“Yo got yo shoes on yo feet right here on dis street in New Orleans at 10:30 on Monday.” Of course the kid names the time at the moment and the day.
At this point most people, realizing they’ve been “had” will laughingly pay up. If not, chances are the kid will grab the money and run.
This simple little scam has been pulled on the streets of the French Quarter for as long as I’ve been going to New Orleans, and that’s a long time. It’s as much a part of the French Quarter as the Lucky Dog carts, those garish hand pushed carts in the shape of hot dogs seen on every corner. It’s anyone’s guess as to who the lucky one is.
Meanwhile, who can tell me where I got my shoes?