As a modified military brat (I like to say I’m from Georgia by-way-of Texas), I’ve always been fascinated by places with strong cultural identities. When I graduated undergrad, I was determined to get to New York, where I stayed in Queens, befriended a local bartender, and lost my breath as I watched a group of young boys break dance on the corner of the street.
Another place I’ve always wanted to visit is New Orleans. I received letters from Tulane as I was applying to colleges in 2005-06, but I was a coward. I was too afraid to venture off to the city while in its early rebuilding phase; I didn’t want t o imagine what that would look like. To be fair, I also bailed out on Texas Southern and Spelman, and opted to stay close to home at CSU. Thankfully, I’ve conquered my spirit of fear.
To celebrate my 26th birthday, I finally made that trip to N’awlins, and spent five days in the city last week. While driving through Alabama I realized that I had left behind my travel journal, but made a commitment to write anyway. On my last full day in the city I journeyed to the lobby of my hotel and what came out took the form of a letter:
June 9, 2014 8:53 p.m.
You were hot and sticky, loud… full of foul odors – the smell of vomit, urine, and horse droppings on the street. But, you were also – are also – full of history and life, centuries of traditions, laughter, smiling faces and dancing. Carefree, I have felt liberated because of your spirit. The damage sustained by this beautiful city, and the sheer joy that exists in spite of this, reminds me, beckons me to live each day like it’s my last. I hope I can and will take this reminder with me as I embark on my 26th year of living. I hope I will continue to feel beautiful and alive like the people here have made me feel. I want to remember that life is a gamble, even when the bets are low (like the penny and quarter slot machines that your first-time visitors love to play), or even when the stakes are high (like those who are so accustomed and accomplished to gambling that they refuse to place anything less than a hundred dollar bill on the table).
Nola, I must say it again, I have felt so alive here – bursts of energy have kept me from sleeping even when my body was literally shutting down. Here, it doesn’t matter if you are a PhD candidate, or a mother, or a business exec, or a seemingly not-so-average adventure seeker willing to paint your breasts and walk around topless or dress up like a devil and wear heels down Bourbon Street. Here, you just are. Here, you let your hair down and enjoy the spice of life, of gumbo and po’ boy sandwiches, of seafood and spiced rum. Then, you pull your hair up into a high bun when it gets too hot to go on and continue to let the good times roll.
Ahhh.. New Orleans, I could have never imagined you in all your glory. You have thoroughly surprised me. And I can’t wait until we meet again… Until then.