Chicago is an icy hellscape, so I decide to celebrate the new year with a trip to New Orleans.
It’s 71 °F when I step out of Loui Armstrong Airport and into the sticky heat of the south. My driver says he moved to New Orleans from Jordan six years ago. He gives me a complimentary water bottle and a stick of Double Mint gum. I marvel darkly at the state of the massive abandoned buildings of downtown as I’m driven to my hotel in the French Quarter. The south reminds me of what the north would look like 50 years after humans went extinct.
I notice that the cemeteries are beautiful here. Each grave a mausoleum.
New Orleans is grimy. A lot of missing roof singles and moldy bricks. Crooked sidewalk slabs. Peeling paint. It’s January and it’s freaking HUMID as HELL. It feels like it does it July in northern Illinois. The ground is wet. Everything is wet and I can’t tell if it just finished raining or if the city is sweating.
I check into my hotel and begin to explore the city. Street signs are conspicuously absent at many intersections. The narrow streets make a maze of balcony’s and hanging plants. I get lost but I don’t care because I did the achritecture and vibe.
I wonder into an art gallery and the curator, a tall European looking man named Jerome chats me up. He says that the week before it dropped to 50 degrees and the locals were shivering, walking the streets in mink coats.
I go to French Truck Coffee and buy a New Orleans style iced coffee. That’s coffee, chicory and A LOT of milk. Plus A LOT of crushed ice. It’s amazingly delicious and refreshing. The best part is chomping on the coffee flavored ice crystals after drinking the beverage. I almost buy a French Truck Coffee hat even though in my secret heart I won’t ever wear it. I’m such a sucker for souvineers. My hatred for the predominant American religion of consumerism is matched in intensity by my addiction to spending. Suddenly, it feels much cooler outside.
I buy a Brick House cigar from a miserable troll of a woman on Canal Street. “Bad day?” I ask, referring to the toxicity of her vibe. “Everyday is a bad day in this hell hole,” she growls. Then, she nearly has a rage seizure when I hold my phone in front of the wrong area of the chip reading machine. “Alright! Jesus Christ! Fuck!” I yell out in the liquor store and the thing finally bleeps as I’m charged for my cigar. I exit and light my stogie. I regret not calling her a cunt.
I’m lonely and tired and I think the reason I feel lonely is that I’m so tired.
I go back to my hotel on Royal Street for a bit.
The homeless people look like they’ve been homeless for a long time. Canal Street reminds me of the Vegas Strip without the gambling and ritz – similar layout, atmosphere and heat. I’m not sure how I feel about palm trees. I like magnolia trees a great deal.
“I must bring back a piece of Nawlans to commemorate this trip,” I remind myself. I almost buy a Mardi Gra mask, but think better of it and continue down Decatur Street.
Like every main drag in every major city in America, black men cruise laps in Bonivilles and Impalas with oversized gold rims and tacky, iridescent paint.
Back in my hotel room I drink Budweiser and Milwaukee’s Best and watch a giant cruise ships awkwardly navigate the Mississippi.
Final assessment: I enjoyed the French Quarter, but I won’t be coming back anytime soon. I had no idea it was so touristy. The French Quarter feels like an amusement park recreation of a city. All of the interesting cultural characteristics that were once an honest expression of the personality of the city are now used as bait to lure rubes into oyster bars, voodoo shops. It kind of bummed me out to see how commercialized the Big Easy has become.