Day one in The Big Easy began predictably. We set the alarm for 8:00 so we could get some free breakfast before it ended at 9:00, then came back upstairs to sleep for a few more hours. Then, it was rental car hell for the early part of the afternoon. After drifting nearly aimlessly, feeling more and more frustrated, through the city for a bit, we finally found our new rental car place. The people were super nice and accommodating – and their car was about 300 bucks cheaper (and roomier and nicer, too!) than we were going to be charged for the first car. With two cars now, we returned the original death cart and had to fight to get some erroneous charges off of our bill. Geez, what a way to start a vacation! Note to self – always reserve everything in advance. EVERYthing. Don’t leave anything to chance. I like leaving certain things to chance but something as important as a vehicle to get one around is not something to screw up. Since I had originally set up the details for this trip, I felt awful about this and I kept apologizing profusely to Shawn, who never once got annoyed or frustrated with a single thing. He just said, “Hey, you know, every time we travel together we learn something new for next time.” How can he be so patient and virtuous? I was ready to strangle someone yesterday and feeling so stressed about this whole thing, blaming myself, blah blah blah. He was like my rock yesterday, keeping me calm, never once saying one negative thing. Like I said when we went to Chicago, he’s the best travel companion ever!
So, with all of that out of the way, we were finally free to start enjoying ourselves without having to think about all these details. Everything was set! So, we headed down to the French Quarter, parked the car, and did some walking. We heard some great street musicians, including a near-toothless trombone player who says he played with James Brown. The weather was absolutely stellar – warm, a little muggy, breezy, sunny, beautiful. By this point in the day, we were just about ready to eat our shoes. I will say, though, that there are drawbacks to being a vegan and traveling in a place like New Orleans, where something as simple as beans and rice is loaded with sausage. After much happy wandering, we found ourselves in beautiful Jackson Square, where we finally sat down to dinner at Cafe Pontalba. I got some vegetarian pasta with tasty Creole sauce and Shawn ordered his first ever crawfish po-boy! It’s fun to travel with someone who eats and drinks things that I don’t – that way I can live vicariously.
After dinner, we headed back to the hotel for a power nap to recharge, then we headed back into the French Quarter. The plan was to try and meet up with Tina’s old friend Jan, who has a house gig on Bourbon Street. When we got to the club she said she was playing at, however, we found that she wasn’t there. I called her and left a message and then we proceeded to wander up and down Bourbon Street taking in the many sights and sounds. There was a little of everything, just like I remember – jazz, blues, country, DJs, karaoke – all spilling out into the streets through forever-open doors fighting to gain purchase on the ears of passersby. Night-time is the right time for the French Quarter. The dreamy, art-house feel of the day gives way to the balls-out bordering-on-debauchery of the night life here. Bourbon Street is closed to through traffic and the streets swell with people looking for music, booze, titillation, fun. But between all the art galleries, barely-legal clubs, bars, head-shops and alcohol pit-stops, the main draw here is music. Music music music.
Eventually, we got in line at Preservation Hall and paid 12 bucks to see what I think is the absolute best music in all of the city. Those who know me know that I am not at all a religious person, but taking in a set at Preservation Hall is very close to a religious experience for me. It is moving beyond words. The walls are unpainted and dingy. The windows are caked with many years of dust and grime. The ineffectual ceiling fans are filthy. There are few seats, most on hard, backless wooden benches. And yet every night, for 3 sets a night, people crowd into this tiny room, with no PA, no air-conditioning, no plumbing, to hear the amazing sounds of these musicians. The set began with a wedding proposal in the front row. Just as the band was getting into place, a man got down on his knee and asked his girlfriend to marry him. The band joined in the celebration by playing Ray Charles’ “I Got A Woman”. Fantastic! They played a few more tunes, including “Chinatown, My Chinatown” and the best rendition of “Ain’t Misbehavin'” that I’ve ever heard in my life. I even told the pianist that as we were leaving. The drummer/vocalist was a character larger than life and as we were leaving, I asked him if I could give him a hug. His face lit right up and we hugged for a moment. Shawn said later, “I think you made that guy’s night!” He also expressed a desire to come back to Preservation Hall “every single night til we leave!”
From there, we wandered up the street to Pat O’Briens to take in the world-famous duel piano bar there. With the bar packed to the gills with what we gathered to be some sort of elementary teachers convention from South Carolina, we sat through a few numbers, including the usual piano bar staples like “Sweet Caroline”, “Piano Man”, “Your Song”, “Hey Jude” and, my favorite of the night that we heard, a rousing rendition of “Dixie Chicken”. It seemed like we were on an entirely different planet there after experiencing the awesome joy of Preservation Hall but still great in its own right. Tina called while we were there, and we all, once again, wished she were here with us. We finally pulled ourselves away from the pull of the city and got back to the hotel exhausted.
Now, as I type this from our breakfast nook downstairs in the hotel lobby, the weather is getting very nasty outside. Severe weather is forecast for today. As soon as I publish this post, we’re going to sleep for a bit longer and then head back – where else? – to the French Quarter tonight.
Take a look at the first round of photos by clicking here and thanks, friends, for traveling with us!