Well, it’s happening. That trip to New Orleans I’ve always wanted to take -- the one I mentioned in a column a while back? I’m actually going.
And it’s all thanks to my Dad, a belated 50th birthday present.
It’s going to be a bit of a different kind of trip as we will be going together. By car. And staying in the home of a woman we’ve never met.
About a month from now, in mid-June, my father will drive down from the D.C. area, stay with me overnight and then we’ll drive through Augusta and Atlanta in Georgia; Montgomery and Mobile, Ala.; and Gulfport, Miss., before approaching New Orleans. It’s about a 10 and a half hour trip, non-stop. Obviously, we’ll take turns driving.
As for where we’re staying. That’s kind of an odd story. My father is a member of MENSA, the “hi IQ society, which has a number of special interest groups, or SIGs. One such group is made up of people who live in different cities around the world who can act as guides for other MENSA members and their families. My father did his homework, found this woman who is the “guide” for New Orleans -- who invited us to stay with her in her home for the four nights we’ll be there.
I’ll be honest, I was looking forward to spending my birthday trip in a swanky downtown New Orleans hotel, but I understand the need to save money in this day and age. As it turns out, the woman’s house is only about 15 minutes out from the French Quarter and near a cable car line that’ll take us where we want to go.
Neat! (I think I was on one once in San Francisco years and years ago. Or maybe it was Memphis -- my memory isn’t clear.)
We poked around the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau’s website to try to figure out some of the things we’d like to do.
There are some concerts, including at Armstrong Park. Jazz is, after all, one of the main draws for me.
There’s also something called the French Market Creole Tomato Festival going on around that time. I’m not so much of a tomato fan that I need to check this out, but the very name of the festival is intriguing.
I’ve had at least two people (including one friend who has family in the area) highly recommend the National World War II Museum. It features personal stories from the battle and home fronts, rare artifacts, an interactive submarine experience and a 4-D movie (hmm, 3D plus movement, I guess?) called “Beyond All Boundaries” featuring Tom Hanks.
The museum is currently commemorating the 70th anniversary of V-E Day (which was Friday), and the museum’s main exhibit is called “The Road to Berlin.”
I can’t wait.
Of course, there is so much to see of New Orleans itself: the French Quarter, Garden District, Tremé, Algiers Point, Jackson Square and all the different streets (“There’s a moon over Bourbon Street, tonight”).
Not to mention Lake Pontchartrain, which we’ll go over on I-10. There’s another bridge, the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, which I’m sure to those who don’t like being completely surrounded by water might be terrifying. Luckily, I’ve been on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, so this would be a piece of cake should we decide to check it out.
Of course, we’ll visit Preservation Hall. It’ll be a chance to watch and listen to an ever-changing lineup of traditional jazz masters, including the Preservation Hall All Stars.
I want to visit City Park, the cemeteries (although Dad says not all of them are really safe -- has he seen Ghostbusters or something?), the Warehouse and Arts District and, of course, check out New Orleans’ food.
More than likely I won’t be able to do everything, but at least I’m getting the chance to do, I hope, a lot of it.
No matter what, I know I’m going to enjoy myself because I’ve always enjoyed visiting new places. I’ve been lucky enough to live in or visit many wonderful cities across this country and around the world. New Orleans is the one I’ve missed, so this is going to be a real treat.
If there’s one drawback to the timing it’s that I’m betting the cast and crew of NCIS: New Orleans will be on summer hiatus or working on other projects. Still, it’ll be cool seeing some of the places they’ve used in the show.
The food, the music, the sites, the culture. I think I’m ready to hit the Big Easy and see what all the fuss has been about since its founding in 1718.
I also hope I’ll get to see this city’s resilience, as it ends its first decade of recovery from Hurricane Katrina. While New it may not be the same city it once was, New Orleans has survived. That, right there, makes it a place I want to get to know.