What better way to cure a Hurricane Sandy hangover and escape a bitter Nor’easter than by flying down to the place that knows bad storms the best…New Orleans! By pure happenstance (my little sojourn was planned about a month or so ago), I was flying down to the Big Easy for some rest and relaxation in the wake of Hurricane Sandy and just before a Nor’easter battered my home state of New Jersey. It was also Election Day – more on that later. I had chosen New Orleans as my destination on a whim. I had never been there (alas, an aborted attempt to go my junior year of college still haunted me) and I wanted to go somewhere different, somewhere a little more exciting…somewhere completely unlike my normal R&R spots in Upstate New York. A morbid thought also burrowed its way into my mind, as New Orleans is one of the few places in the US that at some point in my lifetime might no longer exist. Little did I know that much of the Jersey Shore and parts of NYC would fall into this category as well just a week before my trip.
Sunny 70-degree weather, cool nights and leisurely bustling but not overcrowded streets greeted me as I touched down in Louisiana. Good food, good drinks, good people and a city like no other (this has to be the most laid-back city in the United States) – it was just what the doctor ordered.
Below is the patented Schleicher Spin rundown of my time in NOLA.
- Get lost in the French Quarter during the day…preferably in the late morning/lunchtime hours. With all of the construction going on there currently, it’s impossible not to get lost (and believe me, you want to, as there’s nothing like stumbling through the streets admiring the Spanish-era architecture and odd shops around every corner), but because it’s a simple gridded neighborhood you can always find your way safely back to home base. During the “off-hours” you’ll find less crowded streets that are still pleasantly littered with the most interesting mix of people: barmen hosing off the sidewalks from the night before, overnight construction workers clocking out and hitting up the bars, old couples strolling along without a care in the world, well-dressed business folks looking to grab some lunch, and a few early bird kids walking briskly with their drinks and open containers. I wandered around for a few hours and stumbled into a new joint called Bourbon Burger (formerly the Cajun Cabin) where they serve up gator and turducken burgers and provide optimal street watching views from the bar.
- Take the free ferry ride across the Mississippi River at the bottom of Canal Street to Algiers Point…preferably at dusk…as the twilight views of the New Orleans’ skyline from the ferry can’t be beat. There’s not much going on in Algiers Point (allegedly the architecture of the quaint residential streets is something special, but I didn’t see that) but at the bottom of the ferry dock on Deleronde Street is a local watering hole called the Dry Dock Cafe. I scarfed down an amazing burger there (seriously, one of the best hole-in-the-wall bar burgers I’ve ever had) and enjoyed cheap rounds of drinks (far cheaper than any place in the French Quarter). It’s also a great place for people watching – as the owner and the workers there are characters, and so are the locals who patronize the place. My favorite was Pat, an older lady with a new look/hairdo and a penchant for wine who was recognized by another patron immediately by her laugh alone – and let me tell you, this lady has a LAUGH that I will never forget. This is a place routinely mentioned in guides as “Not for Tourists” which means you’ll find tourists like me looking for a good story and people waiting for the ferry looking to catch a quick drink (which as in the city proper are always available to-go). I surely didn’t regret stopping there, and neither will you.
- Stay in the Central Business District. Seriously…it’s quieter…filled with business people minding their own business…and it’s just a few blocks from the French Quarter so you can still walk everywhere and have all your fun without having to sleep where everyone else pukes and parties until the cows and gators come home.
On my second day there, I also took a “Haunted History Tour” offered up by Rev. Zombie’s Voodoo Shop on St. Peter’s St. (between St. Louis Cathedral and Bourbon Street) where the colorful tour guide regaled us with the “real” history of New Orleans while taking us through the upper French Quarter, Congo Square, the edge of Treme, and ultimately to St. Louis Cemetery #1 where he gave us the straight dope on New Orleans’ unique burial practices and went on a well-argued tirade against Nicholas Cage…who has essentially desecrated the holy place by buying a lot there and putting up an offensive pyramid burial chamber that is a total eyesore and has apparently been hexed by every respectable voodoo doctor in the city. I did not take a picture of it out of respect for the rest of the souls resting there appropriately in proper graves. Good luck getting any eternal rest there, Nic, you “arrogant coke-head.” Those were the tour guide’s words…not mine…I still love Nic for Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans – and I wonder if he got this idea to buy a lot here before or after that film? Overall, I found the tour very informative and darkly humorous (there were also some Whitney Huston jokes), but it’s not for everyone.
The one thing I would’ve like to have done was take in some live music…a local jazz or blues band at a real authentic joint. Luckily there is literally music in the air (and the best kind of music in my book) all over the city, but had I stayed one more night…I probably would’ve taken in a show.
And now for Observations Profound, Banal and Practical:
- I flew down on the night of the Election, and I found it quite compelling to have such an amazing view of the Mississippi River from the high perch of my hotel room while watching the returns and the ultimate announcement of President Obama’s victory over Mitt Romney. Regardless of the politics of it…I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of something profound as I gazed out the window at the port and the river where for centuries enslaved Africans passed through in bondage while hearing the news that the first African-American President had won re-election. If that’s not Progress (from the grander non-political/rights-of-man/human-evoltion perspective)…then I don’t know what is.
- Even the most rundown bars in New Orleans have marble countertops. I reckon it has something to do with the humidity in the summertime as the marble will stay cool and won’t absorb the moisture…so go on with your fancy-self, Nawlins!
- Everyone in New Orleans smokes. According to the history lesson from the aforementioned tour guide – New Orleans has always been a smoking culture because when you are surrounded by a cloud of smoke all the time, it wards off the mosquitos from the swamps and in the olden days you would be less likely to contract malaria and die. So the smokers lived and procreated while the non-smokers died. Smoking is a family tradition/hereditary here. And it isn’t as big of an issue as you might think as just about everything is open-air, and you can’t smoke in the hotels (though you can in the casino – ugh). The people are so damned friendly and laid back you’ll give them a pass on the smoking.
- There is a unique big-city smell to New Orleans…from all the smoking (both people smoking, and food being smoked and charbroiled)…from the river and the swamps…from the old buildings and all the reconstruction going on…from the overall stank of life. But it’s not so bad in November. I would compare it to Philly or New York City on a good day…though I imagine it get’s unbearable in the summertime when everything is hot and humid and everyone is sweaty and it probably gives Charleston, SC a run for its money as the smelliest city in the US. Again, I can’t stress enough the benefits of going there in November…when you can sit in the sun on a bench in Jackson Square and not sweat and the hippies playing hacky-sack on the grass don’t stink to high-heaven.
And now for some pictures – which good ones are hard to come by there because there is almost always someone wandering into your shot. Also, you’ll be too busy taking it all in to want to stop and take a picture every ten seconds. So relax, capture a picture when and if you can…when the time is right…and LIVE in the city while you are there…that’s how you’ll remember it.
Written and Photographed by David H. Schleicher