On New Orleans, Belatedly

I’ve always wanted to go to New Orleans. My little brother – rather, younger brother, as my little brother towers over me at 6’4″ – is getting married, and I am now a bridesmaid (although I tried to explain I really didn’t need to be one), so I was invited along to the bachelorette party in New Orleans.

Now, I do love my brother’s fiancée quite a bit, but the thought of me, a Colorado woman whose very low maintenance beauty routine generally consists of “when’s the last time I wore makeup and where is it?”, traveling to a beautiful city with beautiful Dallas women who know how to curl their hair intimidated me immensely. However, I own a super sexy black dress, and I’m Katie Fucking Barry (sorry Mom, it’s a figure of speech), so I figured “I got this,” grabbed my makeup bag, stuffed it in a backpack with my laptop, and headed down there.

I spent the time waiting for the flight seated at a bar, chatting to an oil and gas intern who had recently relocated to NOLA and had been in Colorado for a conference. He was fresh out of college and seemed to enjoy his chosen industry, although did not express love for living in New Orleans. I spent the flight seated next to a very loud contractor who thanked every flight attendant for coming to work that day, as if they had any choice, and who proceeded to advise me on upcoming home remodel work. He was attending his sister’s book launch in New Orleans, and clearly had not been on many airplanes. I prayed he’d stop talking at some point, because he was so loud, but he was so enthusiastic and kind that I just let him continue, whispering back responses. We talked about books, and his pet bird, and wood floors. He promised he’d read American Gods.

I really do have the strangest but most wonderful conversations with people.

I arrived too late and exhausted (I had spoken at a conference for court reporters on cannabis and employment law, complete with a super amazing Jeopardy PowerPoint I made before flying to New Orleans) to meet up with the lady crew, so I curled up in a twin bed (note to self: never again) and fell asleep, after realizing that I’d left all of my jewelry and my toothbrush in Denver.

Shit.

I woke up in a strange house in a strange neighborhood, and immediately set off to procure dental hygiene products. Our Airbnb was in an interesting neighborhood. I’ve lived in Chicago, and in interesting parts of Cape Town, so I’m really not bothered by much. I strode into the nearest store, which was an oddly compiled bodega carrying everything from canned beans to beer to purses to free condoms to one tube of toothpaste.

Joy secured, I returned to my temporary home. The women were surprised I’d walked in the neighborhood alone. I  reminded them that daylight is a beautiful thing. This Airbnb, a remodeled shotgun house with a cute red front door, was full of weird gnat-like flies. Obviously, I wasn’t sure about the local insect game, so I withheld judgement until I realized that this is absolutely not normal. However, I made my peace with the flies after the first two hours of continuous aggravation. The showers were odd. It was a nice reminder to me that I should absolutely pay someone to do my tile work for me. They had done a decent job remodeling the place, complete with bright turquoise accent walls and exposed brick and newer appliances, but man, were they inept at tile work.

And I have to imagine that neither am I. So as my bathroom remodels get underway (ha, eventually?), I will have to remind myself that my DIY mindset does not extend to actual DIY practice. And I will have to bring in skilled assistance or risk being mocked mentally by anyone who ever uses my bathrooms.

We got ready to go to fancy brunch. However, immediately after brunch, we were headed to an alligator tour. (I have so many thoughts about this tour – we paid $105 each for this adventure, and I found similar ones on Groupon for $16….so I complained, but only mildly.) I donned overalls that my brother’s fiancée had brought for me. They looked great on her, but I was just swimming in them. At least they were comfortable! (I’m generally too long for one piece things, which is annoying. I guess they don’t make clothes with the long torso-ed in mind, and it ends up touching you in places you’d rather not.)

We made it down to brunch, two of us wearing overalls, one wearing obscenely short shorts, one wearing a vest made out of Bud Light boxes and held together with leopard print duct tape, and a fanny pack with a naked male belly button on it (as though it were an outcropping of exposed stomach), and attempted to enter the restaurant. The man guarding the door, I mean, the host, dressed in a suit and bowtie, looked us up and down and said, “None of this is going to work,” while he waved his pointed index finger back and forth, up and down.

So, banned because of the way that we were, we went next door (same freaking restaurant) and sidled up to the bar, where I ate delicious gumbo. (Rabbit, duck? Something gamey that I’m not usually keen on. But still enjoyed. Would eat again.)

Then, the alligator tour commenced. I’m a naturally curious person, and I love adventure, generally. I enjoy nature and I enjoy water, so this was bound to be a good time. We climbed into a giant SUV with a couple, and were carted off into the swamplands surrounding the city.

I am in love with trees. I have been in love with trees since spending most of my childhood in and around the apple tree in our backyard, and the trees in the South do not disappoint. (See also my obsession with tulip trees in Kansas City. Not trying to say that’s the South. Adding additional context for tree love.) They are both formidable yet graceful. They loom large above you, and I imagine I could happily build a cabin and live beneath one forever.

I had never been on an airboat before. These things are awesome. They glide over floating foliage, loudly, and gather speed. I held my arm out, as one should, feeling the wind on my exposed skin. I loved it.

We navigated through a larger water channel before turning into a smaller passage, and eventually arrived to float among some plants. The guide brought out marshmallows, hooked them onto a pole, and then we met our first alligator, who floated up next to the boat, eager for food.

A smaller alligator joined that one, and the two of them chased pieces of raw chicken and marshmallows while I peppered the guide with questions about the alligator market (which is not what it once was, despite their utility as a food source), alligator lifestyles and territorial habits, and their lifespan. Turns out, they’ll eat anything, they grow to about 17 feet, live for up to 70 years, and grow very slowly. They’re very territorial, and are left to fend for themselves immediately after birth. You used to be able to get about $5,000 for a decent sized gator – but now the going rate is roughly $500 for the same gator. Hunters are given tags based on the land that they own, and it’s a good thing for population control. Alligator skin isn’t as popular as it once was for outerwear, and as such, the industry has suffered. I do believe I ate a gator nugget in Florida once.

I also learned a lot about water and land ownership rights. Turns out, in Louisiana, you can own water as though it were land, where in other places, you cannot. (You generally buy land with bodies of water on it, but you do not have claim to said water other than by the deeding of water rights, which are generally shared amongst those whose land butts up again or includes that body of water.) I need to do some more research, and learn how to more effectively communicate my understanding of water rights, but from what I gather, there are different applications of water rights depending on the potential for usage of a given waterway, and your water rights extend roughly 6 inches below the surface of the water. (Again, this is not legal advice, and should in no way be construed as such. I was drinking alcoholic beverages and asking questions that I don’t know the guide was qualified to answer.)

I enjoyed the afternoon immensely, and it culminated in me holding a baby alligator! He was very squirmy, and clearly not in the mood to be manhandled by humans. But he was sweet, and I imagined he’d feel right at home in my bathtub with Carl for a brother. They could hunt mice and squirrels in my backyard, and I would build him a pond for summer relaxation.

We left the alligator tour and went and ate the best fried chicken I have ever eaten in my entire life. I love fried chicken. I would eat it all the time. And man, the sides. Sweet potatoes, collard greens, mac and cheese, beans, rice. Heaven. This is what my heaven buffet includes.

We went home, napped (very necessary), and then became beautiful for our evening adventures. It included Hurricanes at some famous bar, then somewhere else, then a club. By this point, I was ready to go home, but they refused to let me go alone and thus, I danced wearily for several hours, while holding onto a railing, until we could leave.

The next morning brought beignets and I was able to pick up a new set of tarot cards. My friend Madeline had gifted me some in high school, and I’ve since lost them. While I am in no way blessed with the ability to remember anything about the tarot, I do enjoy possession of said cards, and was happy to procure them. The voodoo shop was lovely, cluttered, and full of things I could have spent hours looking at.

We wandered until it was time to check into my hotel, and we all hauled ourselves and our stuff there to wait until it was time to go to the airport. As soon as they left, I  immediately put on the bathrobe (because in theory, bathrobes are amazing but who actually bothers to use them in real life?), and then sprawled out across the bed.

I ordered room service. Obvious mistake, but the exhaustion deadened my bones and my fear of committing some GrubHub faux pas in a hotel lobby loomed larger than it should have, so with that, an over-priced Caesar salad and turkey club were whisked to my room. I opened the door in my bathrobe, hoping that wasn’t too weird. But I would imagine they’ve seen worse?

The next morning, I had formulated somewhat of a plan, and took the streetcar to a cemetery. I am obsessed with graveyards. I find them to be beautiful places of quiet reflection, the immensity of life somehow compacted into tiny markers of who once was. I’ve often stared at gravestones, caught in my own head, thinking hard about what it is to live a full life and then be reduced to a few lines of text for future consideration. In New Orleans, due to the sea level situation, you can’t really be buried underground, as your grave would just come back up, rejected by the earth. So instead, you are buried above ground. This cemetery housed graves going back to the late 18th century, I believe, and I wandered and wondered until the heat of the day and the weight of laptop digging into my back signaled that it was time to depart.

I perused a local bookstore for about an hour. I could read forever. I have lost my gift of immediately knowing a book is worth reading by looking at it, overwhelmed by the offerings of language and stories. I selected two, finally, one, a memoir by a well-known blogger known as The Bloggess, because she’s magical and hilarious and I would happily support her by purchasing her book, and the other, because the story felt compelling. I also had one more book in my backpack, American Gods by Neil Gaiman, a man whose writing I adore. So now, with three times the books I had with me when I started this three-day adventure, I sat wearily and made a new plan.

I had a few hours. I was exhausted. I was sweaty. The air was thick. Since I’d just spent $30 on books, I didn’t want to Lyft anywhere and I wasn’t sure what else I needed to see; although I had a couple museums in mind, I did not have the time. So instead, I decided to take the city bus to the airport, figuring I could just curl up at a bar somewhere with a book. So that’s exactly what I did.

I am not the most adept at public transportation, nor am I the least, so I figured that even with my several hour window, I’d manage to arrive in time. One streetcar ride, to the end of the line (I got to ride past the Loyola New Orleans campus, so that was cool), two buses, and a half mile walk in between seemed not that daunting. I made friends with a woman at one of the bus stops. We talked for half an hour about everything from high cholesterol to Chicago and weather and fried chicken. She said the locals don’t love the fried chicken place I’d fallen in love with as much as they used to, and I agreed that once something gets too popular, its quality generally decreases. However, I swore I’d come back to sample more chicken offerings, and we laughed about the quality of fried chicken in Denver. When she left the bus, she waved at me and shouted for me to have a blessed day. I loved her.

I arrived at the airport, having lost more fluids to sweat than I ever have in my entire life, exhausted and content. I found a quiet bar, curled up, and brought out my book. After the couple next to me left, a large man sat down, and immediately began talking crazy. I gave him some insight into adoption, after he told me a completely rambling story about a niece that had been given up for adoption who had reached out to the family, but the family was not getting along and so they refused to give him her information, and this and that and everything. So, I directed him to where he might find additional resources for tracking her down and I assured him that knowing is important, and that meeting her might provide some important closure for his sister, her birth mother.

With no ability to create any sort of insightful conclusion, I conclude. Alas, that was New Orleans. I’ll go back; it was beautiful.

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