Sunday, April 15, 2012
My Four Days in the Big Easy
Last Monday we took off to New Orleans for four nights. I am not a huge fan of traveling, and am terrified of flying, so I only fly once a year. Two years ago: Vegas. Last year: Miami. This year: NOLA. I do not understand how planes NEVER crash. How is it possible? 28,000 US flights a day, and nothing EVER goes wrong. I don’t get it, and for that reason, it boggles and terrifies me.
We stayed on the 12th floor at the Marriot in the French Quarter of New Orleans. The hotel was OK, but the view from our room was nothing to text-pic home about. (At one point we got up to the 41st floor and took in the city from way up. That was great.) Before going to NOLA we called on people to help us put together a list of the best places to eat and the most interesting things to do, and the consensus was NOLA is so much fun. Our first stop was Bourbon Street, the famous strip of bars and gentlemen’s clubs, etc. Worth seeing, but in a word: Scary. It was like walking down the middle of a carnival show, full of freaks, and pick pockets, and drunks. Some guy tried scamming us with a pitch about helping retired teachers feed kids in Africa. Yeah, OK, dude. If I hit Bourbon when I was 23 I would’ve loved it. But now? I was happy to get off of it.
Everyone talked about how good the food is, so that was something I was super excited about. I love going out to eat, and we went to the most recommended places. Our first night, we hit a spot called ACME Oyster House. After waiting in the 45-minute line, we had our first taste of Po Boys, fried & breaded fish sandwiches on toasted French bread rolls. They were fantastic. The Gumbo was great too. I had two cups. But the rest of the time our lunches and dinners were just OK. At one restaurant we waited 55 minutes for lunch, and it was empty. At another place the waitress used the most filthy word in the English language in conversation with us. Southern hospitality? I didn’t really see it until the owners of a French Quarter candy shop chased us down the street and gave us a free bag of their famous pralines. They had closed for the night and were worried we'd be 'disappointed' so they hooked us up. That was cool.
On our second night there, a bartender at a dueling-piano place scolded a customer for only giving a $1 tip on a $10 dollar round of beers. I’m sure we went to too many tourist spots, I get that, but we only chose the places that were recommended again and again, so I don’t see how we could’ve missed the hot spots by that much. I think we hit a home run on night #1 with ACME then just a bunch of base hits (food wise) the next three days. How many times can you have a Po Boy? Or Crawfish? Or Gumbo?
“But, Brian, what about the Jazz?” We took in a free show at Legend’s Park. That was cool. We tried hitting Preservation Hall a few times, but the line to get inside was over two hours every night. No way. We took in the French Quarter Fest for a few hours on Thursday. What do you want me to say? It was Alive at Five on steroids. I like jazz for a little while, but there was no way I was listening for more than a few hours, at most! So again, the music, like the food, was OK. Even NOLA’s view of the Mighty Mississippi was kind of, uh . . . industrial.
What did I like? The Beignets at Café du Monde. I had about 30 of them in four days. I also liked going to Archie Manning’s restaurant in Harrah’s, and getting my picture taken under Eli's framings and wall quotes. But things got pretty ugly when I instigated a heated debate about how much better Eli Manning is than Drew Brees. Those NOLA fools actually think Brees is better than Eli. Ugh, Southerners. I liked the WW2 Museum as well. We duped the woman at the ticket counter into giving us the student rate. It would’ve been $38 otherwise. Yeah, $38 to walk around a museum.
Here’s the problem: I’m from New York. Nothing overly impresses me. The Vegas Strip? Loved it, sure, but it was Times Square with slot machines. South Beach? A junior NYC on the ocean. NOLA? Not even close. Boston? What is this an 8th-grade field trip? I only go to Bean Town to wear Larry Bird jerseys and jump around. New York City is the best city in the history of the world. Nothing else can touch it, and every other city I’ve been to is trying to be NYC. The food is tops in NYC, the entertainment, the sheer awe of it all. So when I wonder why I’m such a lousy traveler, I remember that I’ve been spoiled by the Big Boy about 150 Miles south of my house.
And the best part about going to NYC? I don’t have to fly, which means I don’t have to spend a pre-trip week on the Internet, stressed out and reading about the worst aviation wrecks in recorded history, convinced it's gonna happen to me. It's enough to make you crazy.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention the fighting spirit of NOLA. You're talking about a US city that has existed on the edge of destruction, and any actual NOLA native you meet is proud of their city's enduring nature, and it is almost Anti-American not to be proud of them as well. But I'm glad to be home again, back in the Cap Region. The 43rd best place to live in America. 43rd? There’s no beating that.