Sunday, July 10, 2011

My Fourth of July Weekend Part 2: New Orleans

After our swamp tour on Saturday morning, we drove about twenty minutes from Slidell to the great city of New Orleans. Our plan was to spend the day there, exploring a new city and enjoying an entire day of zero Teach For America discussions.

It was glorious.

Driving to our hotel took us directly past the Louisiana Superdome, which was crazy to see in real life after hearing so much about it on the news during the Hurricane Katrina aftermath.

Unfortunately, I didn't do much research on the geography of Katrina's destruction before I visited New Orleans, so a lot of the city's history felt disconnected to me. I really should have looked up the areas of the city that were untouched, damaged, or destroyed, so that I could understand the area better. But I didn't, sadly, and I felt like just a tourist out there to take pictures.

After dropping off our things at the hotel, we had lunch/dinner on Bourbon Street. Best crab cakes ever.

Then we explored the French Quarter. This church looks like it belongs in Disney World, doesn't it?

The French Quarter is such a beautiful neighborhood. In parts where the tourists are fewer and farther between, the apartment balconies are full of comfy deck chairs and are covered with hanging potted plants and flower trays. I would love to live somewhere with balconies like that. Someday I will. Though maybe in actual France instead of the French Quarter?

After exploring the French Quarter all afternoon, we headed back to our hotel for the world's most refreshing power nap. Absolute heaven.

A day of intense sun, heat and walking everywhere is the fastest way to wear you out completely.

But after a nap, we were all ready to go out again and check out Bourbon Street at night -- when its true colors shine through.

So we all got gussied up and went downstairs to ask the hotel clerk where this trolly line was supposed to be located, knowing that we'd be crazy to try driving to Bourbon Street on not just any Saturday night, but the Saturday night when New Orleans is filled to the brim because of the Essence Festival (Essence Magazine is the largest black fashion magazine, and they have this huge awesome music festival every year in New Orleans).

The hotel clerk gave us directions to the trolly line -- about 6 or 7 blocks that way. Okay, perfect. So we all started walking. It was an empty stretch of blocks, as the hotel was located in a kind of industrial(ish) area. But we were with friends, so no big.

About two blocks from the hotel, I notice that there is an SUV parked up ahead. I kinda nudge the people around me, and we walk on as opposite side of the sidewalk as possible (which isn't really possible when the sidewalk is only four feet wide). Just as we are past the SUV, we hear a voice and turn around to see a police officer step out of the vehicle.

Undercover cop, huh?

"Now, just what are y'all doing out here?" he asks, hiking up his belt.

A chorus of "Just walking to the trolly station, sir" ensues. There's a bit of a squeak of panic in some of our voices.

He surveys us with a bit of a sneer. At this point, I'm really confused about what is happening.

"I can tell y'all aren't from around here, now. Where are y'all staying?"

We all point to the hotel sign, about two blocks away. More choral responses of "Over there," "Just down that way," etc.

There's a pause.

He looks us over.

Then, without hesitation, he says, "Are y'all drug dealers and prostitutes?"

Stunned silence.

"'Cause that's who stays there."

More stunned silence.

What is going on?

"Now, this isn't a place where you should be walking. It's dangerous. Are y'all aware that there is a really large black music festival going on this weekend? I just want y'all to be safe."

I'm in disbelief at the incredibly racist assumptions slipped into that statement and I can't say anything. Excuse me?

Someone tells the officer that we weren't aware this was a dangerous neighborhood, we're excited about the music festival, we're from out of town, and the guy at the hotel didn't seem to think this was a dangerous route, but thanks for the heads up.

He just stares back and snickers.

"In this situation, y'all are what I like to call Moose," he continues. "You stick out here in this neighborhood."

The officer then promptly flags down a taxi driver (who was magically driving by just then), and we are all trying not to laugh at the absurdity of the exchange at this point.

We then spend the rest of the taxi drive decompressing and trying to figure out what just happened.

While part of the exchange was funny ("drug dealers and prostitutes?"), the other part was incredibly sad. To see that kind of racism in real life -- something people talk about but I'd never personally witnessed to such a degree before -- was really unsettling.

Sadly, I doubt that'll be the last time I see that.

Our taxi ride took us straight to Bourbon Street, which was incredibly crowded. Already. At 9:30 p.m.

So much fun.

The absolute highlight of the night (and maybe of the weekend?) was toward the end of the night, when we heard the Wobble song playing in a nearby club. Having waited all night to do the Wobble, we booked it inside and joined the entire club in dancing the Wobble. We may have been the only white people in the club at the time, and the woman next to me -- about halfway through the dance -- looks at me with some respect and says, "Girl, where'd you learn how to Wobble?"

I just laughed and shrugged. And danced a bit harder. Couldn't let her down then.

For those of you who have not yet heard of it ... the Wobble (brought to you by someone's wedding) is above.

The next morning, after "sleeping in" until 8 a.m., we all piled into our cars and headed to Cafe du Monde for a breakfast of champions -- beignets and coffee.

So delicious.

And then it was back to Cleveland, Mississippi for Fourth of July shenanigans. Such an awesome weekend.

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