I’ve never been much of a vacationer. Growing up, we didn’t go on many vacations. It just wasn’t that big of a deal for my family. I can remember a couple trips to the beach, one or two visits to see distant relatives, and a week at a cabin at a state park. Outside of those instances, my travel experiences were mostly centered around school or church trips. As I’ve gotten older and my independence has been wrested from my grasp, the hassles of travel have kept me mostly within a couple hours drive of central Mississippi.
This year has been one for the trash can more than the record books. I’ve been exhausted mentally, physically, spiritually, and emotionally, and have been saying for the past couple months that I need a break, a getaway, some time to decompress and clear my head from everybody and everything around me. But, that sort of freedom to roam was just something I talked about but had no real plans to act upon because of the physical realities of being me.
Then, for no real reason other than boredom, I was mindlessly scrolling through the Bookface a few weeks ago when I happened upon a name I hadn’t seen in a while, and shot off a message something like, ”Hey! I haven’t heard from you in a while, and I hope things are going well.” A back and forth resulted, and a few minutes later, we’d worked out the logistics for me to spend a few days in New Orleans in two weeks.
I started looking for a hotel and felt some of my exhaustion being replaced with excitement. There was probably some nervousness mixed in as well, but I started playing a Dr. John song in my head to drown it out. The wheels were in motion.
A few hiccups later and a one-day shortening of my stay saw me get the Honda loaded and point it South this past Saturday morning. I put on my Good Stuff Spotify playlist, turned up the volume and set my cruise for the terribly bumpy–Get with it MDOT!–trip to the Big Easy.
I arrived at my hotel a little early to get checked in, so I sat in the lobby watching MSU giving a pathetic effort against an easily-defeatable 3rd tier football team from the northeast. Just as the teams were trotting to their respective locker rooms at halftime, Stella came strolling in and tapped me on the shoulder. Perfect timing…
After getting checked in, we started things off with a table full of chargrilled oysters at a well-known place not far from the hotel. She and I talked for a long time as hoards of LSU fans filtered in and out trailing their scent of old corn dogs and cotton candy. Stella, being a local, didn’t notice, but the smell lingered in my nostrils until the middle of the day Monday. Once the table held nothing but empty shells and emptier glasses, we headed for the French Quarter for Pimm’s Cups and Sazeracs as we wandered aimlessly planning where to go for dinner.
We made the mistake of thinking that I’d be able to find parking in the quarter and crisscrossed the narrow one-way streets for what seemed like two hours before giving up and parking in a garage near the end of Canal Street.
That turned out to be perfect, though. We meandered along the waterfront and listened to a band play in some terrible tourist-trap restaurant for a while. Then, she told me that the streetcars had just been retrofitted with chair lifts and wanted me to try taking a ride. I agreed to see what it was all about and in just a very few minutes found myself on board a streetcar for the first time in my life that I’m aware of, strapped down for safety, and flitting along the tracks toward the French Market. I’d never ridden on one before and enjoyed the breeze as we clacked along the tracks, starting and stopping with bells ringing. It’s not a big deal for most folks, I know, but it was something that had always been inaccessible to me. I have to give kudos to the super-friendly drivers and the city of New Orleans for putting chairlifts on the streetcars and also for putting in curb–cuts at most all crosswalks.
We disembarked a few minutes later at the French Market just in time to see the vendors packing their trinkets and closing for the day. I didn’t mind missing the market very much because most of what I saw for sale was cheap, Chinese-made, touristy whatnots.
The sidewalk was stuffed to capacity with folks as we walked back toward Jackson Square. I soaked in the sights of the wrought iron balconies, architecture, and narrow streets, and the sounds of jazz coming from the bars and restaurants we strolled past. All of a sudden I heard someone yelling my name and turned around to see my neighbors who’d come down for a concert later that night. They were finishing their dinner at a sidewalk cafe’ and invited us to join them, so we sat and chatted for a few minutes as a jazz trio played right behind me.
The sun was below the horizon and the purple evening sky began absorbing the remainder of the day when we decided it was time to forge on with establishing our dinner plans. So, we bid them adieu and hopped aboard the next streetcar back to where we’d left my car.
After a stop-off at the hotel to freshen up, we managed to get a last minute reservation at a restaurant where I had probably the best steak I’ve ever been within 20 miles of. It was buttery, tender perfection, and the first bite halted our conversation as it practically dissolved…
Whoops. Sorry. I drifted off for a minute.
When we’d finished eating and stumbled to my car in a stupor of meat-drunkenness, we went back to the hotel and sat by the pool drinking a bottle of cheap, grocery store wine from paper cups and talked. We caught up with what had been going on with each other, solved the North Korea situation, devised a plan to replace the President with a scarecrow to see how long it would take people to notice the difference, and decided to build a tiny house retirement community. Then sometime around 3 a.m., fatigue got the better of us and it was time to call it a day.
The next morning, I remembered that when I checked in to the hotel, the cute young desk clerk gave me a slip of paper and said to come back by the desk for a voucher for a free breakfast in the IHOP located across the lobby. Well, the free “breakfast” was not much more than bread, coffee, and oatmeal. I’ve had better breakfasts at crappy government seminars. Stella and I supplemented the approved items with actual breakfast foods, and through the residue from the previous 24 hours, we recounted the fun we had and began planning my next visit.
A few minutes later, my car was packed and we hugged goodbye. I watched her turn right out of the parking lot and disappear into traffic as she made the short drive back to her house, and I headed north, setting off on the three-hour drive back to my house. My car was much lighter on the return trip, though. I lost several bushels of stress sometime in the previous 24 hours. I don’t think I’ll call the hotel’s lost and found to inquire about it, though. I’ll let somebody else have it.
Stella, thanks for everything. Until next time…