In 48 hours, I am going to do something I’ve never done before: drive to New Orleans from New England. Every spring for the past seven years, I blithely (not really, I worry about them a lot) have sent van loads of my students along the same path I will follow. Because I usually fly, I’m left to experience the trip vicariously through their discussions and journals.
This trip will be different. I’ll be travelling with my son, Stuart, who is relocating to Los Angeles. And we’ll be driving a loaded Toyota, not a 12 passenger van. And, we won’t be driving straight through.
My first trip to New Orleans, way back in 1977, was by car, but it too was different. First, my cousin and I were driving from Eastern North Carolina and not Northern New England. We did the auto equivalent of sauntering, travelling from Charleston, SC, to the Sea Islands, to the Okefenokee Swamp, to the Florida Panhandle; well, you get the picture. It was also summer and we thought it would be a good idea to cut costs by tent camping. The humidity throughout the South, but especially in New Orleans, was stifling, as usual. But if you stepped out the tent to try to get some air, you’d be attacked by robin-sized mosquitoes. I remember taking a tepid shower at 3:00 am just to try to cool off. It didn’t work. And that was before two days exile in Baton Rouge, courtesy of a broken clutch cable.
With that as a basis, I was not impressed with New Orleans or Louisiana (I still have mixed feelings about the rest of the state). The waterfront had not been cleaned up. The Jax Brewery was a vacant shell. It was interesting, but dirty and smelly and I felt no compelling reason to go back. However, destinies are seldom built on first impressions; this will be my 13th trip to the Crescent City. It will be my son’s first, but I have assured him that he is not required to share my love for the City. I know.
The southern detour is because I’ll be attending a conference in New Orleans, which coincidentally, is the main reason I went back to the City for a second and third time. And it was on that third trip, just days before Katrina, when I fell madly in love with the place. I’ve also set aside a day to volunteer in the Lower Ninth with a small group of stalwart conference-goers. As a result, Stuart will have plenty of chances to explore. Obviously, I have a myriad of suggestions, but I want him to have a chance to experience it on his own terms. There will be time in the evenings for us to enjoy food and music and the less touristy things the City has to offer.
So, before daybreak on Sunday morning, we will embark on Bill and Stuart’s Excellent Adventure. And I’ll try to keep you updated on our road trip to New Orleans and then, on to Southern California.