After nearly a week of catching up with friends it was time to get out of Florida. A friend of mine says the drive between Orlando and Tallahassee is a death trap because it is so boring. However I feel that is more the case on the endless stretch of I-10 between Tally and Pensacola. The only thing to break up the endless monotony of road and swamp is the need to constantly watch your speed because I swear there are State Troopers every half mile. It was that way 20 years ago and the same is true today. But god it’s awful. Trying to find something ‘decent’ to eat at a gas stop was also a challenge. PLEASE GET ME OUT OF THE PAN-HANDLE!!!
I actually made brilliant time, but that was probably because I had forgotten about the time change! LOL! My stop in New Orleans was actually the first time I ever had to book a hotel room. My love affair with Priceline has not been diminished. That website has never done me wrong as far as hotels go. The most I’ve ever paid was $60 and that was a 4-star room. For $40 I got an really awesome room in the heart of downtown with a pool and breakfast. I didn’t get my USA today though. I hadn’t put a lot of planning into N.O. since I’ve been there before and felt it would just be better to take it as it came. I did however contact a couch surfer prior to my arrival. I’ve tried to explain couchsurfing to several people and they usually just look at me dazed and confused. But for those of us that use it and understand it it’s a travelers best friend. Megan was a born and bred New Orleans girl and did me a huge favor by picking me up and taking me out to The Marigny. A far less touristy area than the French Quarter but with just as much music. It may have been a Monday night but there was still a buzz about town. We hopped between several places soaking in the music and culture and did do the ‘mandatory’ walk down Bourbon St. This was my first visit to New Orleans that wasn’t centered around Mardi Gras or Jazz Fest, so it was interesting to see the Quarter less crowded (and less inebriated too). Even on a Monday night that block smells of puke! It was a great night, even if I didn’t come home with any beads this time…;)
Megan gave me some really great tips about places to check out the next morning, since I’d never ventured out of the quarter before. New Orleans was soupy as soupy can be so I hopped on a Trolley Car down to the Garden District. Perhaps I should’ve just stayed on, for $1.25 it was a bargain. Walking thru the Garden District reminded me of being in Savannah. I can see a lot of similarities between the 2 towns. Some of the architecture was breathtaking and Crepe Myrtles were everywhere (many shrouded in beads). I came across LaFayette Cemetery and finally got to see what I’ve always heard about. The cemeteries in New Orleans are unique. Because the city is built below sea level, the graves are above ground to prevent them from floating away. It was cool to finally see this in person.
After sweating my way thru the Garden District and visiting a few galleries I just couldn’t take it anymore and headed back. While waiting for a trolley car a local man was talking with me talking about the heat and giving me the history of every storm to ever come thru the area. For sure all this heat does cause a danger of another storm brewing. It’s like being in a real life pressure cooker, sooner or later the steam has to break and release.
This was my first visit back to New Orleans post Katrina and it was very important for me to see first hand what has become a major part of our country’s history. There are living reminders of it everywhere. Just like 9/11 it’s there, and it makes it’s way into nearly every conversation. I knew I wanted to visit the 9th Ward but didn’t know where to start. So I did what anyone these days would do…I googled it. One of the things that came up that caught my attention was a bicycle tour of the 9th Ward with Katrina highlights. Spending hours in the car driving, I’ve been looking for any source of exercise possible. When I called though I was told they aren’t doing the tours right now due to the heat. Well I can understand that. However the guy on the phone was just ‘sitting in his kitchen’ and gave me a wealth of information of leads. He highly recommended I visit the House of Dance & Feathers. I called up Ronald to make an appointment to go by. Ronald is one of those special people that make the world a better and more interesting place. He has a make shift museum in his back yard that is full of Culture, bead work and information. Ronald can tell you anything about Katrina that you want to know. I spent over an hour sitting and talking with him and felt really fortunate to cross his path. After my time with Ronald I drove all around the lower 9th; passing houses that had been re-built, houses with ‘Do Not Demolish’ spray painted, houses that still looked like the hurricane had hit and empty lots where no one was coming back. I drove around the block where the “Brad Pitt” houses are, or as Ronald calls them ‘Architects Gone Wild’. I saw what he meant. Ronald told me that several Architectural Schools from all over the states had designed them. When I talked to locals in the neighborhood they told me that each one had been designed by someone different. They were definitely ‘interesting’. I tried to understand how the ‘system’ worked…or didn’t work. Why some houses were re-built, but others weren’t. Many people aren’t coming back at all. Many took a ‘pay-out’ from the government. But if the residents don’t come back, how can the community rebuild and move forward. The economic downturn and lack of jobs is a double whammy to NoLa now. Even though I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness, there is also a pride and love of New Orleans from many of the people there. People like Ronald are making sure the world does not forget them and that the lower 9th will come together and rebuild.
As I made my way out on the highway I felt flooded with mixed emotions about what I had seen and learned, but incredibly grateful for the life I have.