Five of my closest friends and I piled into a rented mini-van last Wednesday night and headed south on 65. We arrived just as the sun came up over the Mississippi — a perfect setting for chicory and beignets. We knew this was the last sober breakfast we’d have for a while.
Driving into the city on I-10, we saw the devastation firsthand. Empty strip malls sit rotting; roofless apartment buildings crumble in; recognizable storefronts and restaurants are worn, faded, no life to be found.
On the outside, the French Quarter looks the same — Pat O’Brien’s and the Tropical Isle still stand tall on Bourbon, balcony dwellers still throw plastic beads for cheap thrills, bouncy Cajun music blares from gift shops and Lucky Dog stations man all corners. We were instantly welcomed by the locals, who seemed curious to find out where we were from and why we were there. They were the first to offer free drinks, walks home and even a little tongue action (really). But when conversation turned to “the storm,” as they call it, they politely expressed that the wounds were still too fresh, unhealed.
Noon to midnight drinking was pretty much the norm for our three days. The highlights: I accomplished my goal of drinking five Tropical Isle Hand Grenades in one sitting (and didn’t get sick … that day); a bar turned on the U of L game Friday night for us; and on my birthday, a DJ put me into a kiddie pool filled with ice as I greeted in-comers with a ratty toilet scrubber. I’ve got pictures.
No other place on earth has as much spirit and resilience as the Big Easy. I’m glad I could celebrate a milestone in such a beloved place … and remember most of it.
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