I’m gone, up in Illinois now and already procrastinating all the cleaning/sorting/packing that needs to be done.
Most of my stuff was packed by Friday so I could fully enjoy my last day. It started with one last run in Audubon Park and smoothies from my smoothie lady at Smoothie King. Then it was a mimosa toast and goodbyes with the family.
It wouldn’t be a weekend in Louisiana without a festival so it made sense to head down to the French Quarter for the Satchmo SummerFest music festival. Fit in a lot of lasts there: last New Orleans Moonshiners show, last Abita, last snowball, last crawfish.
Afterward was cocktails/apps with the roomie’s friends and White Linen Night, an annual street party with art galleries, food and beverages.
Rachel’s friend works for American Institute of Architects, which had a bicycle car to promote the annual DesCours architecture installation. I got to fulfill a childhood dream and steer it. At age 8, most girls wanted a pony. I wanted a quadracycle. I used to steal the Hammacher Schlemmer catalog as soon as it came in the mail and drool over all the cool and totally unnecessary gadgets.
As has been the story all along, I came with friends but ran into people I met down there and people I didn’t even know were in town. My aunt called it “the Louisiana luck:” how things have fallen into place since I moved down there. Research, freelancing, volunteer work, visitors, friends, travel, summer sublet, temp job, full time job, caravaning home with the roommate, perfect timing. Let’s hope it followed me north and sticks when I go west.
And then there was one…
I will miss… morning walks to Audubon Park to see the giraffes. This summer I lived about a 10 minute walk to the edge of the backside of Audubon Zoo. In front of the zoo there’s a golf course circled by a 1.8 mile paved running/biking path. Behind the zoo is a park up on the levee (the Badger or Fly) and the Mississippi River. If you drive around the zoo and through the Fly, you end up on the other side of the zoo where, if you look left, you can see the back of the giraffe exhibit.
When I woke up earlier than I wanted to, I walked down to the park and watched the giraffes. They were always there, usually eating. They weren’t always there at other times of the day but I could count on early mornings. I love them. Giraffes are so awkward and foreign, yet graceful and poised. They aren’t as cute as pandas or as entertaining as monkeys. They’re so different from what we see everyday that I can’t help but watch them.
But if you didn’t know they were there, you’d miss them. New Orleans has almost too much to do. A weekend here is guaranteed to be a blast. A week is enough to visit the really good places, the places New Orleanians go. Even people who have lived here for years and years miss events, forget the festivals, take traditions for granted.
One of the quotes I’ve come to live by is “Bloom where you are planted.” Make the most of what you have in front of you. For me, that means exploring a new place — learning it, living it and loving at least some part of it.
I can do without… crappy roads and people who don’t know how to drive on them. I was expecting a flat tire or two. I was not expecting to replace three tires due to wear and one because it was going to explode. (Everything checked out A-ok for the drive north.) Potholes, giant cracks and steep shoulder dropoffs do not make driving interesting — they make it dangerous. For the longest time, there was a rectabgle the size of a coffee table missing from the road a few streets down. Instead of fixing this gap, someone had stuck a dowel rod in the hole and tied a neon pink cloth to the top.
Illinois has bad roads, but I’ve never experienced such bad driving in one place. No signals, driving too slow, speeding through red lights, turning in front of buses. Those happen everywhere but more so in Louisiana than other places I’ve lived. Crazier things happen. On Wednesday a truck crossed the street but had to stop in the middle of the road in front of me because there were cars ahead of him. Instead of waiting or reversing, the driver drove up on the median into the grass and turned so he was going my way. Then he pulled through the intersection and did a left turn.
(Two is such a small number)
I will miss… my family and friends. After one last family dinner, my cousin asked, “Are you sad to leave?” Honestly, I hadn’t thought much about that, even though I’ve been writing these things I will miss posts. Any sadness over leaving these things behind has been overshadowed by my excitement to Wyoming and start my new job. I get past difficult situations by looking ahead. I have to remind myself to stop and mourn. I stopped the car by the river on the way home tonight. I cried. In seven months I accomplished much but the most valuable gains from my time are the relationships it has touched, created and shaped. I was fortunate to move to this crazy place with a family and one friend. Now my family includes my friends (old and new) and my family are close friends.
At dinner tonight, the restaurant owner kept getting confused that I wasn’t one of the kids: “Are you coming back for Thanksgiving? Christmas?” “No, no, no, she’s not from here.” Explaining the reason why I moved to New Orleans gradually became easier. The simpler the better, I learned. I think I finally got it right a few nights ago: I wanted to live in New Orleans so I came down here to research my final master’s project. When I finished that, I wasn’t ready to go so I stayed while I looked for a reporting job that fit. And now I’m moving to Wyoming. And yes, I am sad to leave.
I can do without… humidity. Humidity just has to be accepted here. There’s nothing you can do about it. When you leave the air conditioning, you’re going to sweat and you’re going to be gross. My skin didn’t adapt well and I found myself in the acne aisle for the first time since high school. I won’t go into detail, you know how your body reacts to heat and humidity. Imagine it at its worst for a longer than comfortable period of time. Running in the mornings and evenings was cooler but sometimes just as intolerable as the middle of the day because of the humidity. I’m ready for drier air and drier… everything.
I will miss… slower pace of life. New Orleans was the best and worst place to live while completing what became a 218-page master’s project. Since my schedule was flexible, it was easy to go with the flow of others (which were also very flexible.) No one stares you down if you’re five minutes late. When I needed a break, I walked around a part of the city I hadn’t been to before. There’s never a rush to get anywhere so there’s no anxiety over missing out or losing time. When Alex and I sipped our martinis last week, we were pressured to stay rather than pay our bill and leave so they could clean up. My aunt likes to say, “It seems like all we do down here is kill time between meals.” That’s not a bad way to live.
I can do without… slower pace of life. The South has a reputation for being slower and therefore lazier, and less inclined to change and progress. I’ve heard visitors use this complaint to explain why they think New Orleans shouldn’t be rebuilt or won’t become a “modern” city. Although I think that view is too extreme, I’ve experienced frustration because of the slowness of things: waiting 20 minutes at the Post Office because one of the two employees decided to take her break when the line was long, meeting for brunch at 11 and eating at 1:30, waiting 10 minutes for the gas station attendant to finish a conversation with her friend who was visiting, everyone takes the entire week off around Mardi Gras… I get annoyed when I can see a better, easier way to do something than how it’s being done so I was surprised the inefficiency of this city didn’t bother me more. I think this was, in part, because I had the time and flexibility to slow my own life down, just for a short time.
I will miss… bar hopping on Frenchmen Street, Uptown, MidCity… This city knows how to drink: Bloody Marys at brunch, mint juleps on a hot afternoon, ice cold seasonal Abita at night while listening to live music. Bars populate the city. Some line up along one street. Others are nestled into neighborhoods. We went to Frenchmen for good live music. (The music here is like the food — it’s abundant and rarely ever bad), Magazine Street to meet people and further uptown to spend a whole night. I had my favorites for each occasion.
I can do without… going out in the French Quarter. Parking sucks. Bourbon Street smells like a week-long frat party the morning after. The drinks are overpriced and you have to watch out for drunk tourists more often than inattentive drivers. During Mardi Gras, a girl sitting on the sidewalk leaned over her fishbowl of red drink and puked on my feet. End of argument.
I’ve decided to add a night to my last week and leave on Sunday instead of Saturday. This gives me a third day to pack and relax before hitting the road. Also, my roommate Rachel will be driving north on Sunday. We’ll caravan and if I get tired, I can stop with her. Once again perfect plans slide into place on their own.
I will miss… running on the neutral ground. (Neutral ground = grassy median between opposite sides of traffic.) One of the most positive results of my time in New Orleans has been learning to run. Two pair of shoes, three injuries, four races and hundreds of miles later — I like running. I used to think why I didn’t run: running requires strong self discipline, a mental toughness. Those all things I like to beat myself up over on a daily basis. The problem: knee injury and boredom. In Louisiana I ran for the scenery and I raced for the free beer and jambalaya.
I can do without… the Louisiana left-hand turn. The neutral ground creates a no-man’s land of road between stoplights. Most of these intersections don’t allow a left-hand turn. Instead, cars pull through the intersection and do a U-turn at the next street that crosses through the neutral ground. Once on the same street (heading in the opposite direction) it’s possible to make a right-hand turn onto the road originally intended to turn left onto. It’s dangerous: Hesitation could mean an accident from both the rear and oncoming traffic. It’s also just plain annoying, especially if you’re going somewhere you’ve never been and don’t have GoogleMaps in front of you.
Broadening my Louisiana life experience, I met some reporter friends in Houma to go crabbing. What’s crabbing? You go fishing and come back with fish. You go crabbing and come back with crabs.
The process is pretty simple. Find some water. Tie a string to the dock or a stick or other object that won’t move much. Tie a piece of meat on the other end of the string (we used chicken necks.) Throw the line in the water. When a crab grabs on, pull the string into shore and scoop up the crab with a small net.
It started raining so we left with nine, but half of them were decent sized. We threw them in a pot with corn, potatoes, garlic and sausage and there was more than enough food to go around.
One had just done a story about a crab meat factory, so he had some insider secrets on how to best get the meat out. If we ever break crabs together (breaking is one of the steps,) I’ll share the secret with you.
I will miss… snowballs on a hot day. As I’ve written before, a snowball is not a snow cone. You could say it’s just shaved ice and syrup, but that’s a bare-bones description. There are dozens of flavors and fresh toppings and hundreds of combinations. And there’s always the right amount of syrup. A snow cone runs out of juice halfway through. I’ve never had anything close to a snowball outside of New Orleans. It’s one of those things that will have to stay and be appreciated when I visit.
I can do without… the annoying commute. So my “commute” is only 4 miles, or about 10 minutes, but it is the most horrible way to start the day. First I have to reverse onto a busy street, blind, thanks to surrounding cars. Then I have to be “directed” through “traffic” by two rent-a-cops outside the wealthy Isidore Newman School. There is never cross traffic and usually the one cop has his Blackberry in one hand and waves on traffic with the other. Finally, there are usually at least two guys standing by a truck outside my office who think I like being whistled at when I get out of the car each morning.
Commander’s Palace is a New Orleans classic, one of those things on my to-do list that always put off because it will always be there. With one week left, Alex and I made a reservation for a Friday lunch. Although Commander’s is known for the food and attentive service, it is also known for one of its lunch specials: the 25-cent martini.
Why stop at a three when they’re four for a dollar?
I’ll admit I had low expectations for the food because it is such a tourist destination. But everything we had was excellent: famous turtle soup with sherry, shrimp and tasso henican, Creole spiced drum with eggplant and spinach, steak with a basil sauce and cheese bread, Creole bread pudding soufflé with Jack Daniels cream sauce and peach upside-down cake.
Senators Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Harry Reid (D-Nev.) argued in 2001 that bringing back the extravagant business lunch (tax deductible) would help stimulate the economy (Newsweek). Our drink tab (only $1.25 because a few were on the house) wouldn’t do anything much, but if everyone had to take Friday afternoon off to recover from the lunch — unpaid, of course — that might help.
We dressed in style — Alex in his vest and me in my hat — and relished the afternoon. Another item crossed off the list and another New Orleans memory added to the bank.