I am currently watching a newscaster broadcast from New Orleans as people behind him are evacuating into the Super Dome. Highway 10 is clogged with cars leaving one of the most beautiful cities on Earth. They say the city is going to be destroyed tonight. People are expected to come back to find no power, contaminated water and no homes. They say that if the levees break, water will flood up to the fourth stories of buildings.
I had the good fortune to visit the Big Easy twice. Once with my mom, step dad, and Angie when I was 16, and once with my high school friend Jessica when we were 19. Here are some of my memories:
Angie (who had never been further from home than northern Minnesota) being completely mesmerized by Bourbon Street, begging to walk up and down the strip and being held hostage by the lights, the music and the crowds. Every day she would call her mom to tell her about some of the things she had witnessed. Things that I’m sure my mom would have rather Angie’s mom never known about. Angie and I drank our first daiquiris on Bourbon Street and I swear to God ten years later I still haven’t had one half as strong. Tom was propositioned by a female impersonator that night. We also passed by a small nightclub and stopped in our tracks to hear an amazing guitar riff floating out of the door. We read the next day that Eric Clapton had made a surprise appearance at the nightclub.
The first time I tried grits was down there. They tasted like cardboard. After the first bite I made a face. A young, black woman sitting at a table near us had been reading a book. She looked over at me and said, “if you put lots of salt and pepper on them, you’ll eventually get to like them.” By the time we left, I was eating grits like a true Southern belle. I eat them here in Florida. Lots of salt and pepper.
We met a guy outside the Hard Rock Café who was wearing a rubber apron, a fishing hat and holding a guitar. His name was Windex Pete because on occasion his liquor habit had gotten so bad he acquired a reputation for drinking Windex. I got by picture taken with him.
We went to Jazz Fest while I was there with my family. There were up and coming jazz acts as well as some of the most established musicians. And food. It’s such a shame I don’t like seafood. I can still remember looking down upon the carcasses of countless crayfish strewn about the grass, people spitting out the shells as if they were eating sunflower seeds.
I remember sitting with Jessica drinking coffee and eating beignets at Café du Monde. We were in absolute deep-fired-pastry-powdered-sugar ecstasy. It was the first time I had vacationed without my parents. There was a perpetual feeling of excitement and adventure and we entertained fantasies of Hurricanes on Bourbon Street bought by twenty somethings we had bewitched. The plan would have worked if it weren't for bouncers.
We went on a Haunted History tour of the city and heard all sorts of creepy stories. That night in our hotel room just as we were both about the fall asleep, we felt a huge trembling in our hotel room that shook us in our beds. We were scared senseless.
One of our goals in visitng New Orleans was to spot Harry Connick Jr., one of the cities most famous natives. We looked up shows in clubs all over the city on the off chance he might be playing. We tried to imagine where he might eat, drink, shop. On one of the last days we were there, we went on a wonderful walking tour of the Garden District. Towards the end Jessica non-chalantly piped up saying, "I suppose Harry Connick Jr. has got to live in area like this..." to which the tour guide responded in a perfect Southern drawl, "Honey, Harry Connick Jr. lives in New York City." Thus our quest was over.
The last time my mom and Tom were down in Tampa visiting, I mentioned what a shame it was that they couldn't seem to vacation anywhere but Tampa anymore. We got to talking and decided it might be fun for them to fly back to New Orleans for the next vacation where Dean and I could drive up and meet them. We could spend time with them somewhere else, in a city we all would love to see again. Unfortunately, I don't think we will be able to go back there any time soon. And if we ever do, the city I remember so fondly will have been washed away.