July 19, 2015
I’m not sure I’ve ever been so compelled to start writing as I was driving in from the Louis Armstrong airport on my arrival to New Orleans. This is my first time visiting the Big Easy, and while I’ve been somewhat nonchalant about planning for this mini vacation, I’m excited to see what I can and my taxi ride in is both quiet and loud. My driver says nothing, but my mind is busy with thoughts and memories.
It’s been nearly 10 years since Hurricane Katrina devastated huge portions of this city, and another five since the BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill, but this city has endured corruption, floods, and industrial disasters with a smile, albeit hardened, on their face.
The drive from the airport is smooth, but I see the homes and cemeteries along I-10 and am instantly transported. The Superdome comes into view and a flood of memories hit me, from the live footage of the stadium’s roof blowing off during the storm, to a stupid lyric in a Christmas song when I was in 4th grade chorus performance. I’m acutely aware that this city has some meaning to me, buried deep and slowly coming to the surface as I get closer to the historic center.
I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect, and still don’t as I start this post. My room wasn’t ready, so I ventured out into the French Quarter in the hottest part of the day. After about an hour, I’m now enjoying my first NOLA beer in a recognizable establishment on Bourbon Street, specifically Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop. As I order my second, two guys from Scotland sit next to me at the bar and I’m reminded how small the world is, and how much of a tourist trap I’m in.
After returning to the hotel to check in and to attend a class, I made my way back out for dinner at one of the restaurants featured by the hotel. I’ll admit I was multitasking during class, checking the menu and chose two dishes I would never order anywhere else I visited. As soon as class ended, I was out the door, starving for more than just food but an experience.
About 15 minutes later, I was able to sit up at the bar at the Royal House Oyster Bar. Taking the bartender’s recommendation, I order a Hurricane alongside my predetermined choices of a half-dozen oysters chargrilled and the New Orleans sampler featuring their crawfish etouffee, gumbo and jumbalaya.
The oysters arrived first and immediately reminded me of escargot, which made me smile thinking of the possible history of the butter, garlic and cheese on my grilled shellfish. My sampler arrives shortly thereafter and is better than I could have ever expected. I don’t like raw oysters, and have never been a fan of crawfish, but all the dishes were delicious. The service was also great. My only thought during the meal was the hurricane was too sweet for my taste, but that could be my recent bitters phaze.
My day and night have been great, albeit extremely hot. I’m used to Florida heat, but I think the buildings and lower sea level here may be a contributing factor. I will also say that I am astonished as to how polite and friendly the locals are to strangers. From the hotel staff, to the woman at the grocery store, everyone has a smile and something nice to say. Even the bum asking me for alcohol money (no joke, total honesty here) was incredibly friendly when I explained I had no cash.
I can’t wait for the next two days. With any luck, the experiences will continue, now that I can be officially disconnected from my reality to experience someone else’s.
Laissez les bon temps rouler.
Louisiana, mini vacation, New Orleans, NOLA, Vacation,