Click here to read a great column by ESPN’s Bill Simmons on his return to New Orleans for the NBA All-Star Break. Simmons does a good job grasping what it’s like to really “feel” New Orleans, and he compares the Crescent City to its pre-Katrina days.
One of the things I miss most about living in Louisiana (other than the food) is New Orleans. Living in Lafayette, I was a two-and-a-half hour drive away from one of the most entertaining places on earth.
My first visit to the Big Easy came in 1997, the year I turned 21. My friends and I stayed out until 5 a.m. each night we were there and each of us went back to college with stories I can’t repeat here.
When I began dating my wife Jennifer, we made several trips to New Orleans, and we, too, had a memorable 21st birthday trip … this time for her.
Yes, New Orleans is the perfect place to “party.” The beads are ever-flowing, and so are the hurricanes. Imagine Franklin Street in Chapel Hill after the Tar Heels win the national title, then multiply that by 1,000. Then you’ll get what an average night on Bourbon Street is like.
It’s not for everybody. And the older I get, the less appeal Bourbon Street has for me.
But Bourbon Street is just one small part of New Orleans.
Like Simmons says, there’s no better feeling than sitting in Cafe Du Monde, eating beignets and watching the people stroll by in the French Quarter. There seems to always be the faint sound of jazz, even if you’re just imagining it, and there’s always a strong vibe from the people around you.
New Orleans in August is sweltering, but even then, it has its charm.
I was in New Orleans two weeks after Hurricane Katrina for a story we were doing at the paper I was at. I talked to people who were refusing to leave. So I witnessed the destruction, and I saw what was practically a ghost town. What I didn’t see was the total devastation of the 9th Ward, and I didn’t see the crime and suffering that took place in the days immediately following the storm.
Those are images I only saw on TV, as did the rest of the nation, but those are the images that have been etched into people’s memories.
I’m happy to say I was in New Orleans again 15 months later … just days before I left for Sanford … and watched a New Orleans Saints playoff game at a bar on Bourbon Street, just blocks from where the game was being played.
New Orleans came alive that night, and many people point to that game (a Saints win) as one of the major turning points in New Orleans’ revival. A simple football game brought people back, and it brought the city together.
When the Saints won, I remember walking out into Bourbon Street and seeing the people get even crazier. Hard to imagine, I know.
Simmons says the city’s not quite 100 percent, and it probably never will be. But it’s close, and if you haven’t been, it’s worth your time. If you don’t like the “party atmosphere,” there’s the history and the architecture (and the shopping, Saints, Hornets, Tulane University, Audubon Zoo and the Aquarium). It’s also cool to see the above-ground cemeteries and older-than-dirt churches.
And if you do love the night life, it never ends there. And despite what you hear … for tourists, it’s safe.
I’ll be begging my wife for a stop off in New Orleans when we visit Louisiana this year. I don’t ever want to forget the “feel” of N’Awlins, and I doubt I ever will.