Wednesday Roam — N’Orleans, 1970

New Orleans food is as delicious as the less criminal forms of sin. — Mark Twain

I often think of New Orleans…or N’Orleans or N’Awlins…depending on my remembrances, perspective and perhaps alcohol content. Back in 2013 New Orleans hosted the Super Bowl…it was Super Bowl XLVII, which I think is the 47th Super Bowl. I guess we can throw cursive writing out of the schools but have to keep Roman numerals so we can count Super Bowls.

Anyway, I was paying attention to the media hype running up to the Super Bowl game in New Orleans. CBS was broadcasting the game and milking it for all it was worth…this is like the “Black Friday” of television. Jackson Square had become the venue for several broadcasts and there are countless features about the many charms of N’Orleans.

N’Orleans is one of my favorite cities. What surprises me is the large number of grown-up people, seemingly adults and experienced, that are TV personalities who said they had never been to New Orleans and are there for the first time. Good grief people….where have you been?

For people my age (aging boomers) going to New Orleans was almost a rite of passage. You know…get a driver’s license, HS diploma, draft card, etc., etc., The Road Trip to New Orleans, etc. We won’t go into some of those “etc.”s…every generation has a few and mine had a lot. I’m sorry that gas prices have put spontaneous road trips out of reach for most of America’s younger generations. They seem to have lost something important. It is something of a bonding experience….between friends and to the country.

I’ve been to N’Orleans probably six or seven times and never get tired of it. Some places you can visit once and declare you have seen it and never need to go back. Modern cities are like that for me. Cities designed or developed after the invention of the automobile have always bored me to tears. Kansas City is an automobile town while St. Louis is a pedestrian city (ooops — full disclosure…I was born in St. Louis and still say I’m “from” there after living elsewhere 38 years). San Francisco is experienced as a pedestrian city while Los Angeles is more of an automobile place. To my mind, Houston, Dallas, Phoenix, and Miami missed out on something. There is a stage of development where a city gains a soul and some places jump over that and are just places. But I digress…I’ll save that tirade for another time and I’m sure some people will disagree.

I first went to New Orleans on a spontaneous Labor Day weekend trip back in 1970. There were three of us and we were all about twenty-two. I still use that trip as a yard stick on how tired I can be before I collapse. If I get that tired I need to pull over and get off the road. We drove out of St. Louis on Friday night, stopping briefly in Ste. Genevieve to pick up our third traveler, and then headed south through darkness and the Mississippi delta, which starts just a few miles south of Cape Girardeau, Missouri. We hit daylight somewhere near Vicksburg and finally made it to New Orleans by mid afternoon. We checked in to the Monteleone Hotel in the French Quarter and crashed in the beds for about three hours before hitting Bourbon Street around six or seven…still early. Okay – now this was the Monteleone Hotel before it became “The Hotel Monteleone” that it is today. Our room was sparse and cheap…painted that light institutional green if I remember right. There were drain pipes running up one wall for something. We only slept there so we didn’t care…and we could walk all over the French Quarter, which we did.

Labor Day weekend isn’t Mardi Gras but it was still very busy and crowded. It was the end of summer and a lot of people were having one last fling. We had a great time. The movie “Easy Rider” had been all the rage the year before so we had that as sort of a mental travel guide. We had Beignets at the old Morning Call by the city market, cruised through the local cemetery, hung out at Jackson Square, saw Preservation Hall, Pat O’Brien’s, the Old Absinthe House, plus a half dozen dives. (No parental guidance!!) We didn’t have much cash…but we managed. “Young Intellectuals” can make a beer last a while.

They say New Orleans changes people and in one way it changed me. The place is known for its cuisine. We were too poor (and grubby) to sample anything in a “real” restaurant but we managed to find a few spots back in the alleys or off on a side street where we could find some good food. I was a fairly picky eater up to that time but I learned to enjoy food and realized the fun of trying different things. I never ate a real salad until New Orleans. There were so many different kinds of seafood – a shrimp is not just a shrimp. I think I met my first oyster on that trip. I couldn’t identify some of the food but it was good and enjoyable.

We were road-crazy and gas was cheap so we left New Orleans and went to Pensacola and camped out on the beach. We wanted some time in the ocean…or the Gulf…any salt water would do just fine. It wasn’t too long before the sand fleas made us regret leaving New Orleans. We managed to get some sleep and headed back home the next morning. That drive home was surreal — that is the memory I have of being tired. We got home safely and actually made it to work on Tuesday. I suspect our productivity was off a little.

Other trips to New Orleans have been less frantic. There is still a lot I haven’t seen so I’ll go back again. The food is worth the trip.

(Modified from the original posted on The Red Room in February 2013)


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