About the Post

Author Information

Andrew is a staff writer at the “The Hudsucker”. He is a 30 year old lawyer living in Ottawa. Besides legal jargon, his brain capacity is taken up by reality show trivia, video game walk-throughs and room escape strategies. Andrew is also happily in a long-term, long-distance relationship. Follow him on Twitter as @sublymonal.

Newcomer in New Orleans

I have to say, I couldn’t have chosen a better time to see the city of New Orleans, Louisiana this summer, from a writer’s perspective.

I went at the end of August – on the cusp of the New Orleans Saints football franchise’s start to a season without coaching prodigy, Sean Payton.

I went just before the city braced for another hurricane, 7 years to the day after the tragedy of Katrina.

I went as summer ended and school began again and I was in one of those moods where I just had to soak up every last moment of summer and New Orleans, in all it’s humid, uncensored, boisterous glory was just the place.

Let me just start by saying I love the city and I would go again in a heartbeat. That being said, it’s not for everyone. I’ll attempt to describe it with a metaphor: some vacations are taken in “censored” form. For example, if you go to Mexico, you likely stay on the resort most or all of the time and see very little of the reality of Mexico. New Orleans is not like that. There is no avoiding the reality of the city. It’s there and in your face whether you like it or not. Most of the time, I liked it. I liked walking along the top of the French quarter, avoiding most of the tourist trap shops with hot sauce, voodoo paraphernalia and knock-off Saints gear, and instead just taking in the sights, sounds and people. Everywhere we went – both in the days before and after the football game – there were people in New Orleans Saints gear, which was great for me because that is my team. So I bought a few pieces of merchandise and sported them everyday we were there, just for the hell of it.

The highlight of that first day of my trip was stopping in the sticky heat at a small, open air café to get a drink with my dad. There, a small jazz band was playing and at the head of it, an African-American man of about 60, sang with the voice of someone 1/3rd his age. His band mates each played no fewer than three instruments and together they made sweet music, covering jazz classics like “Summertime”.

Seems all nice and well, right? Well, it was until nightfall and then you’re walking down Bourbon Street, surrounded by a mass of noisy, drunk people, still in their football jerseys but all looking to party. My dad and I obviously weren’t, but we did have a good time people watching as we got swept away by the tide of people and surrounded on all sides by nudity, music and alcohol.

Typical Meal at Cafe Beignet. Image Credit: Food Network

The next day, we were determined to see more of the city. Several people had told us there really wasn’t more to it than that area, but I digress. We went to a tourist trap to start our day called Café Beignet. Their speciality is in their name: beignets are deep fried dough sprinkled with powdered sugar. They come out piping hot and taste like heaven with a cup of the strong coffee they serve. It was worth the crowd, that’s for sure.

We then explored that area and found, partially, that New Orleans could be tasteful. Endless antique shops lined the streets, each one with a specialty of it’s own, including one where the owner spent his whole life collecting signed memorabilia and selling it. You name it, he had it. My dad was particularly drawn to a copy of the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack on vinyl signed by John Travolta and all 3 of the Bee Gees (two of which are dead now). It was quite the place.

Our sightseeing was cut short by more important matters: we had a football game to attend. Sure it was only pre-season, but it was New Orleans. These people lived and breathed football. To give you a little background, this is the city that went through Hurricane Katrina and had very little to believe in and then comes Drew Brees who, together with Sean Payton and a pretty amazing offensive line, brought a miserable Saints franchise back from the ground up and won the Superbowl, inspiring the whole city to try and do the same. You can really feel that emotion in the air as the crowds descend on Champions Square, the area outside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome where the fans congregate before a game.

Champions Square Pre Game. Image Credit: Andrew Rogers

Champions Square Pre Game. Image Credit: Andrew Rogers

There’s usually a musical act or two and always plenty of food and drink provided. I have to say, it was a crazy scene and it felt surreal for me to be there after seeing it on TV so many times. And all these people in Saints gear, with one woman in purple sticking out like a sore thumb.

Naturally, when the doors to the dome opened I was first in line. My dad and I rushed in with everyone else and headed straight for the Saints store to stock up on a little Saints gear before the game. After lightening my wallet significantly, we took our seats in the second row at the sidelines.

It would take a little more than words to describe the emotions I was feeling at the time. Mostly awe, I guess, as I stared around the stadium – amazed by its size but also confused by how small the field was (It looks so much bigger on TV, I swear, kudos to the camera guy).

It wasn’t long before the players and cheerleaders were out on the field and my palms were sweating the same way they did when I watched on TV. Sure it was only preseason, but it was my first game in the Superdome. I didn’t want to see the Saints lose but they had lost the previous two games and were up against the Houston Texans, a strong team and a big rival considering Texas was only one state over. The quirk about this pre-season game was that it was the second last one before the actual season started – often called the “dress rehearsal” game, so I would get to see most of the players who would actually play throughout the year.

I admit, I was slightly upset when my team started losing early on. But the thing about being in that dome is that the Saints fans (often referred to as the Who Dat Nation) never shut up. And they certainly didn’t that day. We kept the volume going and soon the Saints fed off our energy and made an amazing comeback to tie it up and then take the lead.

In the end, they won and I had plenty of pictures and memories to keep me company over the rocky season that was ahead for them. Afterwards, the crowds shuffled off to Bourbon Street for the after party but my dad and I were beat, so we resigned ourselves to ordering pizza and passing out for our next big day.

By now, there were murmurs going around about Hurricane Isaac heading towards New Orleans in the next few days. It’s no secret that the people of New Orleans have a reason to be afraid of hurricanes. Even seven years later, the wounds were still open and sore from Katrina. We witnessed a little of that first hand, but more on that later.

Defend New Orleans (Interior). Image Credit: Andrew Rogers

I had read a magazine some months back that wrote a feature on New Orleans, highlighting a few shops in the city and, the next day, my father and I were determined to find them. Little did we know that they were nowhere near the downtown core so we did a few crazy things that I’m going to say “don’t try this at home”, but really it was awesome. First, we walked way down past the interstate and ended up in the garden district. It was really cute, the part of New Orleans my mom would have loved, with vintage shops, little cafes and the like. There I found an awesome store called Defend New Orleans, one of the ones highlighted in the magazine. It’s out of the way, but definitely a well known spot in the city. It featured a lot of Saints-related merch, but with a bit of a hipster spin to it. The thing I wanted most though, and that I’m actually wearing as I type this, was a vintage Saints t-shirt that was part of the team’s merchandise line the year I was born. The second I brought it to the cash, the clerk told me I had great taste. I got along well with her, a hipster that fit right in with the store with her pink horn rimmed glasses and feathery hair. I told her all about my experiences so far, then headed on my way. My dad and I were determined to see more of the city so we made it our mission to find a certain quarterback’s house.

I hardly had enough information to go by. If you Google “where the heck does Drew Brees live?”, you mostly get New Orleans natives telling tourists to leave the poor guy alone and rightfully so, but I didn’t come this far to not be a little bold so I used my detective skills (let’s just say a certain picture that Mr. Brees tweeted helped me along the way) and soon my dad and I were taking the St. Charles streetcar out to Aubudon Park. It was a pretty area, with one of the local universities, big homes, a golf course and plenty of flourishing greenery with mardi gras beads hanging from some of the branches. It seemed like the right area, but how the heck were we to find it? After wandering up and down security patrolled streets like a couple of weirdos, a fellow Canadian who happened to live on the street pointed us in the right direction and soon we were there, standing at his gates, slightly disappointed. It was definitely the house but it was under construction with a dumpster parked outside and plenty of two-by-fours stacked in his yard. Needless to say, there was no way we were going to meet Drew that day. Either way, it was cool to have found it. My dad and I have always been the type to go on crazy adventures and this just felt like another one of them.

So we returned to the city sufficiently tired and decided to have a nice meal on our last night. A lot of food in New Orleans is fried, so by that point we were sick of fried food and just wanted something non-greasy. Plus, New Orleans was known for their seafood so we needed to find a little of that. We headed down to Bourbon Street again and found a place just before the street got wild called Bourbon House. It served oysters, shrimp jambalaya and other authentic Cajun dishes so we settled in and ate to our hearts’ content. Afterwards, we wandered around Bourbon again, taking in the sights one more time before we had to leave. The street was pretty barren with sandbags along many of the doors bracing for the hurricane. It was slightly eerie to see the people of this city, so alive and colourful when we first arrived, now running scared. It broke my heart to think a city as amazing as New Orleans could be torn apart so easily.

Fortunately, even in that dark, surprisingly quiet street, New Orleans found a way to remind us of its true character. On one of the side streets a small crowd gathered around two young girls. One armed with a violin and another with a guitar. They strummed and played a tune that seemed all too familiar. It was heartbreaking, like the city battening down the hatches for the storm, but it was also beautiful and spontaneous and in the end, the song really wasn’t so unfamiliar after all. It was Hotel California; it just sounded different here.

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