Saturday, January 06, 2007

Recapping, or at least trying to give justice to, New Orleans

I think the most important thing to take away from the New Orleans experience is how safe you feel when you’re in the areas you’re supposed to be. Stray away from Bourbon or the streets near it at night and who knows what the darkness holds, but at least for the period of time we were down there, the police were out in full force. However, due to the relative lawlessness of the entire French Quarter, they didn’t really do anything. Every once in a while they’d break up a fight or tell somebody to get rid of their glass bottle, but they just chilled out in their SkyTowers or on their horses and made sure nothing nasty happened. Stay in the light, keep your cash in your front pocket and make sure you’re not rocking out any glass or metal on the streets, and New Orleans is your oyster, served in an upscale restaurant with an eternally-long line.


During the day we were legitimately braver, as if you can’t travel in a pack of twenty-something, two-hundred pound college guys, it’s probably not a city anyone wants to be in. The riverfront, complete with riverboats and the occasional cruise ship – which are terrifyingly large – was a nice walk, with the aquarium, a mini-amphitheater for street shows, Jackson Square and Jackson Brewery all lining it. Decatur Street runs next to the river, parallel to Bourbon, and features a bunch of nice restaurants and shops, as well as the French Market, a slightly more expensive local flea market. We didn’t venture too far north of Bourbon in the French, as Royal and Decatur provided most everything we needed.

Running perpendicular to the river and bordering the west side of the Quarter was Canal Street, a four-lane, shop and palm tree-lined monstrosity that was your commercial area of the city. A massive, upscale-mall along with fast food joints, a Shula’s steakhouse, your big-time hotels (Sheraton, Marriott, Ritz-Carlton) and a ridiculously nice Harrah’s that destroyed me in my limited time spent there.

Rob had a predisposed fear to the street, and I could understand why for two glaring reasons. The first was that between the pair of two-lane streets ran two lanes for streetcars or whatever municipal vehicles decided to use them. Incorrectly assuming the street cars were not running, Tommy, Dan and I were nearly wiped out by one two hours into our arrival. The other problem with Canal that is in an attempt to make up for the flood damage, they’re constantly repairing side walks, which means you find yourself out in the street more often than you’d like to be. There’s also a limited police presence there, especially if you cross over to the other side opposite the Quarter.


We lucked out in the taxi that brought us in, because instead of just taking the interstate on the upper side of the city, our salt-and-pepper haired cabbie took us right through the areas rocked by Katrina and the ensuing floods. The damage, just on the main path, is still so far from being replaced it makes you wonder what the sense of urgency is in repairing the city. Countless empty houses sat next to one another while entire businesses were left to rot, funds not available to repair the less-established ones. It boggles my mind an investment group hasn’t swept in and just revitalized everything, although I’m sure they’d like to make sure the levee system is in a little better shape before doing so.

In an extremely selfish move, I didn’t want to acquire When The Levees Broke until after my trip, so now I’m going to hunt it down and watch Spike Lee’s massive documentary on the damage done and George Bush’s hating of black people afterwards. I didn’t even get to see the worst of the damage in the poorer sections of town, so I can only imagine how bad the damage is.


They love them some Saints down there, and Sunday was a blast with all the black and old gold spread out over Bush, Brees and Colston jerseys. “Who Dey” is just as annoying as “Who Dat”, but at least they get to play “When The Saints Go Marching In” as a fight song. I’m still rooting for Chargers vs. Saints in the Super Bowl, but if I had to pick just one, it would be N’awlins carrying an entire city on its back as they’ve done this season. It’s great to see a team have a love affair with a team that doesn’t make me totally sick.


LSU fans were, for the most part, rather pleasant. Louisiana girls are as pretty as projected, but nobody warned us how skeezy most of their male counterparts were. While older LSU fans carried a sort of distinguished Southern charm to them, the frat guys – I’m just assuming they’re all frat guys, this is the south – their younger counterparts were just weird. I liked the fight song, didn’t mind “Tiger Bait” and was simply confused by the term “Hold That Tiger”, as it sounds derogatory in relation to the tiger.

We also got to bond over our mutual hatred of Nick Saban on Wednesday, after the perpetual snake-in-the-grass jumped to Alabama from the Dolphins, spurning Miami in the same fashion he jilted Baton Rouge two years prior. As one LSU fan told me after the game, “We’re not rivals, so it’s okay. Just be lucky you’re not Alabama.” You might want to mark that little skirmish in Tuscaloosa down on your calendar for this coming season.


Some of our favorite haunts while down there:

Bourbon Street Blues Company: Access to a second floor balcony – if only we’d discovered this on New Year’s Eve – a 3-for-1 happy hour and general mass of Notre Dame fans most of the time made this our favorite Happy Hour destination. The downstairs was always very loud and very smoke-filled, but this fit the bill for starting the days off right and as a “We Never Card” regrouping place.

(They didn’t card to the point that one time Jake went to get his ID out and the bouncer shoved him inside instead of looking at it. New Orleans is the greatest place ever.)

Utopia: I didn’t really like Utopia because it was so damn loud and pro-LSU to an extreme, but it also featured 3-for-1 Happy Hours and our first introductive to the crazy fire fountains that love on Bourbon. We spent the better part of New Year’s Day afternoon there watching the ends of the one o’ clock games and the first half of the Rose Bowl. Sporadic carding made this an iffy choice abandoned as the week went on.

Tropical Isle: Now we’re talking. Home of the Hand Grenades, the Horny Gators, reasonably-priced and good food and a sweet house band that could play just about anything, this was converted into the second-biggest ND hangout some of the nights. Initially, I didn’t like the taste of Hand Grenades, but they grow on you, especially since they’re offered in smoothie or mixed form. Kind of crowded, but maybe my favorite place down there.

Pat O’ Briens: The cavernous, sprawling, courtyard-based pro-Irish establishment that featured a half dozen bars, sweet dueling pianos and the original Hurricane. Two problems with Patty O’s, the first of which is that the real Hurricanes don’t taste all that great because they’re so strong. If you get crappy ones without any alcohol, they’re like fruit punch, but the ones at Pat O’s are much, much stronger. They also carded pretty hardcore, and even when a pretty blonde cheerleader pleads that she was pick-pocketed and promised she was 21, they still wanted a bribe to get in. Still, when not overcrowded, a blast.

Cat’s Meow: Amazing karaoke, extremely expensive drinks and pretty strict carding, to the point they took Rob’s fake and sold it back to him for twenty bucks on our next-to-last night there. Sort of put a damper on the whole thing, but they do make the best White Russian I had during the trip. Again, though, amazing karaoke set-up, and an essential stop.


We didn’t get to explore as much of the city as we wanted to, including all the mansions in the Garden District or other historical areas. We also didn’t get to drink where others had planned – Uptown for Rob, Frechmen’s Street for Patrick – because it was simply too much fun hanging out where everyone else was on French Quarter. I originally predicted I’d know a few dozen people down in the Crescent City, but by the end of the trip, I was running into an insane amount of people I didn’t even realize were going. I truly cannot imagine there being a better bowl host city than New Orleans, from the light carding and no open container laws to the centralized location of everything. Despite how poorly Wednesday went – see below – the overall trip was such a blast even that couldn’t dampen the overall spirits.

I’m sure there’s a lengthy list of things I forgot, so expect an addendum to this sometime in the near future.

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