They say that the devil went down to Georgia but after stepping outside of the Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans I’m quite positive that he set up shop here instead. We, my registered travel companion Douandy and I, decided the night before while having a beer in Chicago that since we had the next two days off we should go somewhere within a two hour radius. I borrowed my roommates back pack, packed the next morning, and hopped on 2:00pm flight to New Orleans. While at the airport I felt mildly on edge that me, someone who usually plans every detail of something before I do it, had no place to stay, no idea how we were going to get around, or anything that we were going to do while there.
While in Chicago O’Hare’s airport we downloaded the app Couchsurf and pressed our luck.
Lesson 5: Couchsurf is an app that allows people to host their couch free of charge for travelers passing by or low on cash.
We sent 20+ messages prior to take off hoping that something would fall into place however, when we landed and checked the app, all we’d received were declines. Worse things have happened. As I proceeded to change clothes in the airport bathroom, I searched “Top things to do in New Orleans” and Bourbon Street was quite obviously first on everyone’s list. With only 24hrs until our next flight we used Google Maps to find the easiest route and fortunate enough there was a bus outside the airport that could drop us off just a couple miles away for $2. This was perfection at its finest.
The bus ride was about 45 minutes down the very country side of Louisiana (LA). When we got downtown we walked in a few unnecessary circles until we ran into a Pedicab stopped at a red light. Hopping on the back on his bike, we asked him to take us to whatever restaurant near Bourbon Street he could recommend for fried fish. He was about our age and gave us recommendations on bars, food, and good music and turned out to be $10 well spent.
He took us to this small, dark restaurant right passed the French Market called Coops. After getting sat at a two person table I noticed the entire bar consisted of old, well-kept, dark wood. It had to have been the original architecture of the place with a stained glass logo above the door, and it looked like it belonged in a Quinten Tarrantino bar fight scene. We didn’t do this, of course, but as I sat and people watched I couldn’t help but think, if anything crazy were going to happen, this would be the place.
Being in LA (not L.A.) we felt obligated to order the fried seafood platter and though it was delicious, even between the two of us, we couldn’t finish it. After having dinner and a beer, we wandered across the street to sit on the rocks watching the Mississippi River before we began our well fed adventure. Despite it being a greenish brown and smothered by hippie teenagers threatening to throw each other into the river, it was rather relaxing.
We decided during our 30-minute break that our best option was go down Bourbon Street and start doing what any tourist would do when they don’t have work the next two days, drink. The street had a decent crowd considering it was 8:00pm on a Monday. Strippers and bouncers were hollering at passersby to come in for a “good time” and ten too many shot girls practically throwing booze at you in order to get you to buy a drink and come into the bar. If it was like this on a random Monday, we couldn’t imagine how it must be during actual Mardi Gras.
While trailing behind a few haunted tours, that we clearly didn’t pay for with our cheap ass budget, we noticed that nearly everyone was walking outside with open containers. Convenient because after about ten minutes the tour group stared to wonder who the random 23 year olds trolling in the back of their haunted experience. Naturally we dipped before questions were asked. We went to the first bar we saw, bought some beers, and left as if we were waiting to get in trouble but no one cared. Once I sweat through my shirt I figured it was about that time to sink shower and change in a restaurant bathroom like the homeless kid I always thought I’d end up being. No one looked at us weird once we assured them were mostly civilized travel gurus and even offered to let store our bags behind the bar and charge our phones. Bless.
Once we were done, we continued down Bourbon with our back packs on and drinks in hand until we ended up at the place called Cat’s Meow. The age range was probably 23-55 years old and it was a crowded karaoke night. We met this group of friends in their 50s, who after a five-minute conversation loved the idea that we took a random trip and insisted on buying our drinks. Yes, people down south really are that friendly.
As a courtesy we stayed long enough to hear them sing before wandering to yet another mini adventure, which to no surprise, was a drag show near a strip of gay bars. Unfortunately, it was almost over but that didn’t stop them from inviting Douandy on stage so he could do his best Tina Turner impression during the finale. It was fantastic.
By this time, it was nearing 1:00am and we still hadn’t found a place to sleep but we decided to let future us worry about it and wander by the river. Someone overheard us discussing it and told us of a few Hostels nearby that we might be interested in.
Now, this person was extremely intoxicated, so we barely listened but we needed to walk in the same direction. That and we hoped that he’d eventually just wander off. He was this scrawny, 30-something, blonde man rambling on about a circa 2003 Nokia phone he had to drop off to someone. Maybe he was a little more than intoxicated. We were thoroughly entertained by his rants during our journey, this was until he started telling us stories about his uncle who was in Hell’s Angels before he went onto discussing the issues with the KKK. Things escalated very quickly.
Lesson 6: if someone ever, EVER, mentions the KKK in southern LA at 1:00am, abort the situation, IMMEDIATELY.
Once we got closer to the river we asked which direction he was going in and went in the opposite direction. Thank God. I checked Couchsufing to see if we had any hits, and after realizing it wasn’t going to happen, immediately became content with taking turns sleeping on the stairs leading to the Mississippi River with our back packs strapped to us for a few hours before finding an early morning cafe. Considering it was nearly 2am and most breakfast places open at 6 and I had movie downloaded on my laptop, I thought it’d work out.
Douandy managed to lose his lighter and asked the guy and girl sitting by each other on the lower steps if he could borrow theres. The guy had dirty blonde dreads down to the middle of his back, skinny jeans and looked like what you’d think a hippie would look like in this day and age. Both of them seemed around our age and clean so we figured they probably weren’t homeless. Always a plus.
Once we used his lighter he asked Douandy for a cigarette and began seamless conversation with the two of them. They told us how much they loved Nola (New Orleans) and we told them about us possibly sleeping where we sat due to poor planning. To our surprise they were familiar with Couchsufing and offered to not only show us this cool 24hr restaurant with “tachos” but the possibility of a couch to crash on. Our night couldn’t have gotten any better.
We all walked a mile or so to 13 where we ordered four plates of tachos, which are loaded nachos but instead of nachos they use tater tots. Clearly every restaurant should carry these. After hour new friend Brenden, the hippie, offered to take us to yet another bar where we talked for nearly two hours before we caught a taxi back to his place.
Now originally we assumed that at best this place would be a slightly messy, small apartment like someone our age might have. Like mine. To our surprise it was this cute LA style house with high ceilings and ample couch and a futon space. He also had a solid movie collection, a couple guitars, and it was extremely well kept. We may or may not have been 100% surprised but always 10,000% grateful good people still exist.
Lesson 7: if you typically have good instincts, trust them. They may just find you a safe place to sleep and a new friend.
After we each took a separate surface and Brenden and I got into a heated but civil 15 minute argument about the 4th season of Dexter (which Brenden if you’re reading this, it was a damn good season and I stick by that) we casually passed out. I woke up feeling oddly refreshed not because of the good night sleep I got but that I wasn’t on the stairs of the Mississippi River and I whole heartedly felt safe. Douandy and I got up while taking turns to rinse our faces of the Nola air that seemed to be stuck in our pours, and changed clothes. We chatted a little and got directions from our host on how to get back to Bourbon for a much deserved breakfast before we left. When we said our goodbyes and wished him good luck on his interview, as if it were completely normal that we’d known each other for less than twelve hours and crashed at his place, I couldn’t help but wonder if this was the beginning of a friendship or if I’d never see or encounter Brenden again. Who knows.
After stepping outside into the swamp like weather, we went just a block over to wait for the street trolley. Just $1.25 for a 15-minute ride and we were right back where we started the night before. We got to see the street being literally rinsed of their filth with hoses of water and soap gushing into the alley ways. The bars were even opening up shop at 10:00am with already thirsty Tuesday morning patrons.
Once we finally reached the French Market again after a mile walk we ate, roamed a few more stores and stopped in a museum. That day, much noise the day before, allowed me to see NOLA in a different light. Not the endless party karaoke kind of light, but the family oriented, beautifully southern, visually eclectic kind of light. We sat on a park bench people watching as we basked in the LA sun until we decided A. It was too damn hot for that, and B. that we should probably head to the airport. After a trolley, a bus and an hour later we were in air-conditioned comfort on the couches in the lobby of Louis Armstrong sprawling out and fresh, unsweaty clothes until we had to board. We sat zombie status as we were reminiscing on what felt like a weekend but had only been 24hr hours with a 4hr nap. It was a great feeling of accomplishment to know we saw everything we wanted and more of a city with so much culture and history. Given we broke the seal, and by seal I mean wallet, each of us had just $10 left to get snacks at the airport. Regardless of feeling like the Devil himself set up shop in Nola, and possibly on my face, it sure as hell didn’t keep us from enjoying what may have been my most eventful Monday this year.