I arrived in New Orleans 3:15, local time, an hour later than scheduled due to storms in my layover city, Houston. Upon setting foot in NOLA, I found a cab and met the new roommate at our apartment.
She had already warned me that, thanks to Hurricane Isaac’s visit earlier in the week, our apartment and the surrounding neighborhoods were without power. This offers a variety of challenges to the newly arrived transplant. No electricity meant no way to charge my phone, and considering how short my battery life is, that’s an immediate problem. Furthermore, no internet except for what I can get on my fading phone.
But the problem that was most exacerbated by New Orleans was the lack of air conditioning. Take the unpleasant swampy feeling that you get in your pants on a particularly hot day, and then spread it to your entire body. That’s real, Cajun heat. How anyone inhabited this particularly spot in the world before the invention of air conditioning, I do not know. I literally woke up 5 times my first night just to splash cold water in my face.
Now, before I give you the impression that I moved into a disaster zone, let me detail my first 48 hours in the city, always the most exciting 2 days of the new move.
My roommate greeted me with a swig off a bottle of rum. We picked our respective bedrooms and once I settled my things in my room, she took me to explore the neighborhood. She pointed out the residences of some of her friends in the area before we turned onto the first of the main streets in the area which holds a line of bars and clubs, including the one she works at.
We stopped into one bar, itself out of electricity, but that didn’t stop the patrons from playing pool or the bartender from taking cash. Buying two vodka tonics in plastic cups, we next did something that everyone always says you can do in New Orleans, but I still found surprising: We left the bar and continued to walk the hot, sun-drenched afternoon with drinks in hand.
From there we swerved up and down blocks, passing bars and restaurants interspersed throughout the neighborhood, until we came to Decatur St (a round of applause) at the edge of the French Quarter. There we parted ways so she could get ready for work and I could continue to explore on my own and get some food (having woken up at 4a.m. in Seattle and eaten nothing but Chex Mix all day, the heat, drink and general exhaustion was setting in something fierce).
What I found in the French Quarter was a sight that’s become all too familiar in every city I’ve lived in: Anti-Gay protestors, their signs ablaze with Bible verses and lists of who all were going to hell (turns out, lots of us). Now, this is nothing new, but I was still confused why they were here today. Yeah, these people would surely love to protest the ills of New Orleans every day of the week if they could, but these protestors have to spread their hate a lot of places. Why be here today of all days?
Then I saw it:
Shirtless men as far as the eye could see, some ripped like Chippendale dancers, others resembling the burly animals that earn them the affectionate title, ‘Bears.’ “Southern Decadence” is a week-long celebration of gay and lesbian sexuality, like Gay Pride in any other city, but this is New Orleans, so there are no rules.
This would become abundantly clear that night when, after having stopped back home for a cold shower, I moseyed down to the bar where my roommate works. Early on a Saturday night, with no electricity, the place was sparsely filled with an assortment of drinkers around the bar. Not one beer in and the scene had altered dramatically.
A DJ arrived, playing off of a generator-sustained laptop while the dance floor filled with a cornucopia of revelers from all corners of the Kinsey Scale. King-sized lesbians were grinding, some with their shirts off, while skinny hipster couples bounced around like trendy Weeble-Wobbles and the bar top became a dance floor for scantily clad go-go dancers (is that redundant?). Even the doorman was buck-ass naked. Something for everyone. Sort of.
After less than 24-hours in the city, I had already experienced a quintessential New Orleans day. Though I was sober, relatively.
My night ended uneventfully, as I was too exhausted and hot to feel like participating.
The next day brought a little more personal energy but no less heat. Still no electricity, going on 4 days for those residents of the city who hadn’t just flown in the day before.
I headed out to find an internet café to charge my phone and get online. Unfortunately, half the city had the same idea. The spot was packed, every socket occupied. No luck there, so after a bagel and iced chai, I continued on, back through the French Quarter which had clearly not fully shaken off its hangover from the night before. Plenty of tourists filled the sidewalks, but the bars were not yet brimming over. Still early.
Tiring of lugging my laptop on my shoulder, I returned home, dropped off my things, showered (the second time) and, finding it too unbearably hot in my apartment, headed out again. I didn’t have any definite plans, just a hope that I could find a nice cool bookstore or ice cream shop to sit in and luxuriate in the air conditioning. What I found were t-shirt shops, antique stores and, of course, rows upon rows of bars.
I kept walking until I came upon the famous Canal Street, the 42nd Avenue of New Orleans, all full of tourists and large box stores and flashy lights (well, I’m assuming; it was still daytime). I followed Canal for awhile and turned off. I had in mind, like those miserable New York daytrippers in Gatsby, that I should find a movie theater to pass the time in air conditioned peace. But no luck. Instead, I stumbled across another famous neighborhood, though this one only recently achieving widespread cultural recognition:
I am unquestionably smitten with HBO’s series, Tremé, a show that helped push me towards my decision to move here with its doting look at the musical and historical significance of the city.
Having spent the better part of 3 hours walking in the hot sun, I could feel my skin starting to boil. I walked home in shade as much as possible and as I approached my neighborhood, I noticed the whirring sound of window unit ac’s blasting. Electricity!
I almost ran home I was so excited. It’s a good thing I didn’t, though, because that would have made the bitter reality all the worse. A couple blocks over had electricity, but not my place. It was still a sweltering heatbox, it’s torturous lack of air making me consider checking into a hotel or taking a trip up to Nashville for a day or two.
I took my third shower of the day and then sat out on the porch. A few minutes later, my roommate returned with some amenities for the apartment. As she put them away and we discussed returning to the porch, something caught my eye.
The ceiling fan was moving. Oh sweet Jebus, power! We rushed to turn on the air conditioning units and shut all the open windows and then giddily hugged. No need to sweat to death for a second night. Sweet, sweet relief.
I returned to my roommate’s bar for a second night, this time for both performances of the “Freakshow,” a vaudeville burlesque show that incorporated assorted dance routines, fire and razor swallowing, the music of Tom Waits and healthy doses of partial nudity. My cup overflowth.
My second night in the city was easier to enjoy knowing that I had an air-conditioned bed to return to. I struck up conversations with various members of the troupe, found myself genuinely engaged with total strangers (the whiskey helped) and settled into a bar that is predestined to become a regular spot.
But nights end. As did my first 48 hours in New Orleans, a city that is looking to offer me a unique set of experiences and challenges. Probably more than any other move, I think I can truly say I don’t know what to expect this year, both good and bad.
Fingers crossed it’s not Hurricane Jésus.