We haven’t had the opportunity to do nearly as much traveling as we’d have liked to over the years, so I try to make the most of it when I have to go somewhere for a conference and combine it with some tourism. One of the places that was on Barbara’s list for a long while was New Orleans.
Neither of us had ever been to the South (apart from a fly-though of the Atlanta airport and a 16-hour speaking stopover I made in Huntsville a few years back). I’d been promising a family member in Tallahassee a visit for years. Plans kept falling through, though, until Macromedia scheduled its yearly conference in New Orleans for just after Halloween last year.
Finally, things started to fall into place. I planned flights into Tallahassee, a convertible rental to New Orleans, and — in our typical fashion — looked for a condo or other accommodations where we could cook meals.
I found a nice, inexpensive apartment near the French Quarter, but the rental agency had trouble getting hold of the owners. I let that situation go on for a little longer than I should have, but eventually gave up and booked a more hotel-like room with kitchenette.
Then, in September, Hurricane Ivan formed and headed for the Gulf Coast. Concerns that the levees would be breached by the storm surge if Ivan hit New Orleans directly were voiced by New Orleans emergency manager Walter Maestri, who was said by The Washington Post to have 10,000 body bags ready in case a major hurricane ever hits New Orleans. Ivan’s eye veered east of the city, doing its worst in Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi instead. The hotel I’d picked was under renovation at the time, however, and the booking agency sent me a message in early October that emergency work in the areas affected by the story was affecting non-essential construction work, so the hotel wouldn’t reopen until after the conference. So I took what I could find at the last minute, which ended up being a room in a renovated coffee warehouse on Tchoupitoulas with windows onto the hallway.
That said, the trip was remarkable. After spending time with my cousin and her family, we drove along the Florida Panhandle coast into increasing signs of Ivan’s work. When we hit the overpasses of I110 in Pensacola, we could see blue tarps on the roof of nearly every house. The medians of the streets had debris, appliances, and garbage piled high as people cleaned out their water-damaged houses.
That was behind us by the time we got to New Orleans, which had survived another close call. And despite late October temperatures near 90 degrees that even New Orleaneans were complaining about, we had a fantastic time. We sat and watched the river traffic, we spent hours exploring Metarie Cemetery and riding the trolleys, walking through the French Quarter, and people-watching.
On Saturday, the night before Halloween, we wandered through the Quarter and ended up at a bar called The Abbey, where we offered space at our booth to a couple as the place — fairly small — began to fill up. It being the French Quarter and the day before Halloween, she was dressed as a nurse and he was dressed as Harry Potter. We got to talking, then Andrew and Monique invited us home for dinner the next afternoon, before they took their daughter to the zoo. Andrew had forty pounds of shrimp for a broil and fry, he did up some onion rings, it was fantastic. That gesture and meal will be my memory of the city and people of New Orleans.