"Got caught up in a breakaway dream, destination City of New Orleans..."
That is the first line of a song from one of my favorite bands. I had never much thought about New Orleans. Until Katrina, of course. Thereafter I figured that everything that I needed to know about New Orleans I could learn from Treme or True Blood (I know, True Blood does not take place in NO, but it was close enough for me).
Until my wife surprised me with airline tickets for NO. And even when she sprung the news on me that the trip was my 40th birthday present, I thought "That's cool, couple of days away with my wife. It'll be fun." But I must admit that in the back of my mind, I was thinking that we could go to Chicago or New York or Boston, cities that I know and love. Still, it'll be great, right? We could go to Monroe, so long as we're together and away from the kiddies for a day or two.
Little did I know that I would literally fall in love with New Orleans after probably 20 minutes. It is truly unlike any other place that I've ever been, and actually reminded us of Detroit, with a Spanish influence. The airport is about 15 minutes, if that, from the hotel in the downtown warehouse district where we were staying, which was directly adjacent to the French Quarter. We checked in at about 11 a.m., changed into shorts and T-shirts, and hit the street, walking two blocks to the French Quarter (or, The Quarta, as the Creole pronounce it).
It took us about five minutes to reach our first restaurant destination, Acme Oyster, for lunch. Acme had been highly recommended to us by NO regulars we trust, so we figured that was a safe bet. Holy expletive!" were the first words out of my wife after her first bite of chicken gumbo, and the weekend just got better from there. For the next two and a half days, we ate and drank and saw music and looked at architecture and antiques we couldn't afford and drank amazing coffee and ate amazing beignets (pronounced BEN-yay, they are french style deep fried donuts covered in powdered sugar, and yes, they are awesome) and did all the other boring crap that you do when you reach your 40's.
But the most important thing that we did was talk to the people of New Orleans, the bartenders, the waitstaff, the tour guide, and literally people on the street. They were the kindest, most welcoming, unique group of people I think we've ever met. We asked them where to go, where not to go, what to see, and who to see.
And we asked about Katrina, of course. We were a little leery about this subject, kind of like asking someone how they're doing after being run over by a car, but we had to ask because its presence is always around you. Amazingly, everyone was always very forthcoming about the issue, how it affected their home, their neighborhood, their work, their family. Many even approached the topic with humor.
I feel like I could write a short book based on a two and a half day trip, which is utterly amazing to me. I don't really have a true point to this post, and it's certainly not about the law.
Maybe what compelled me to draft this post is what I took most from the trip, and that was the fact that the heart of New Orleans is like the heart of Detroit and its surrounding communities, like Dearborn. Like our area, NO is unbelievably diverse, but has the heart of a city that does not give up, that approaches difficulty with an 'us against the world' mentality that unites its different races and cultures into one culture. NO is not 'back' yet, but I took from New Orleans a belief that if they can recover from the worst natural disaster in American history, mind you with a government that makes the City of Detroit's look like a well-oiled machine, then we can do better. Our communities can be better, our schools can be better, and our businesses can be better and treat people better.
And with that, I'm going to stick my finger in the beignet mix we brought back. God, what tourists...
"Big hotels and big rig swells, crossing bridges for eternity..."
See you again.