Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Yuletide Joy of Unregulated Pyrotechnics

This year, instead of flying home right away for my white Colorado Christmas, my parents flew down to Louisiana to partake of a New Orleans Christmastime. 

New Orleans has a very particular set of seasonal activities. Kind of like Liam Neeson in Taken, except, instead of finding you and killing you, they attract you and make you drunk and possibly burn you to death. 

First, there's the caroling in Jackson Square, the post-card-pretty heart of the French Quarter. I went to this by my lonesome, since my folks didn't arrive until the following day, and there I found everyone else in the entire city. At least, all the white people. Apparently organized caroling is a fairly whitebread activity. Who knew? 

Once jostled into the crowd inside the Square, someone handed me a song pamphlet and an unlit candle with a paper skirt, like the kind at a Good Friday service. It was windy, so I was going to just hold my candle as a sigil as we sang, but a kindly elderly man next to me leaned over to light my candle with his. 

I know he was just being nice and sharing his holiday spirit. But when he bent his candle to light mine, what must have been a liter of hot wax spilled from the top of his candle all over my arm. The man smiled at me and wished me a Merry Christmas as my wick flickered to life. I bit my lip and grimace-smiled back at him as my arm began to blister. 

We sang some Christmas tunes. Mayor Mitch Landrieu is apparently not a horrible singer. The whole city failed to reach the high notes on "Holy Night." Oh, and also: everyone was drunk. There was so much booze and so many open flames and so many people stumbling over themselves in the Square that I thought for sure we had an incendiary situation on our hands. 

Contrary to the laws of physics and luck, everyone survived, and my parents arrived the next day to enjoy the time-honored Celebration of the Oaks at City Park. This was a charming black hole of electrical energy, where millions of colored lights arranged in fanciful displays (there was a UNICORN!) attract humans like bug zappers attract...bugs. 

Then came Christmas Eve, and the bonfires on the levee. This is an old Cajun tradition: the building of massive pyres on the levees in Grammercy and Lutcher to light the way for Papa Noel, the Santa Claus of the bayou. We drove about an hour outside the city and, when we reached the river, found this: 

That is a sixty-foot-high wooden structure, packed with fireworks and newspaper, doused with gasoline, and draped in lights and entire strings of firecrackers. This was the first of 110 pyres built on top of the levee, constructed by a family who has been keeping this tradition for 57 years. When I asked if they take the lights of before setting it ablaze, the man stopped mid-kerosene-pour and stared at me like I'd grown another head. "It were five dollars," he said slowly. And that was how I realized that this tradition was unconcerned with environmental impact. This lesson was reinforced throughout the evening. 

Mom and Dad and I wandered up the levee as the sun set, talking to the families who built the pyres, as people trickled in from all over and house parties began to drop various basses across the road from the levee. At seven, the fire marshal (possibly the only representative of law and order on the scene) gave the signal, and the pyres were lit. 

Many of the pyres were covered with fire crackers and packed with fireworks, in addition to being soaked with various accelerants. The next half hour was brilliantly lit and ridiculously loud. 

Every one of those lights on the ground is an individual pyre. It was chaos. Children and dogs and liquor and fire and explosions everywhere. It seemed to me like a tradition that should post a death toll every year, but it was also beautiful and interesting and charming and holy crap the smoke inhalation alone probably shortened my life by half a decade. And so in closing, because it's Christmas and apparently the holidays impede my ability to write amusing posts, I'll leave you to regret the fact that your Christmas didn't involve imminent death by collapsing burning viking Santa pyre. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Terms of Endearment

I grew up in that great sprawling suburbia that is the Western United States. People are... different in Colorado than they are in the gothic heart of the South. That's not to say that they're better; people are people everywhere, but there are some glaring differences between the people of my mountainous homeland and the drawling Southerners that surround me now. 

Perhaps the most obvious separation between the cowboy-descendants of the West and the cholesterol-shovelers of Louisiana is the way strangers relate. Southern people are notoriously kind, and that stereotype, I'm finding, generally holds true: People in the line at the grocery store greet you as if they're some long-forgotten best friend from your youth; drunk strangers will help you parallel park in the absurdly narrow alleys of the Quarter; buskers will happily recite their in-progress autobiographies to anyone who will listen. 

People in the West don't do that. Now, I don't mean that people in the West aren't friendly. We just aren't so open. While in college, I conducted a small social experiment, just for the hell of it. As I walked around campus, I would give passers-by a small smile and nod, and recorded how many people greeted me pleasantly in return, even just by acknowledging my smile. 

I conducted this statistically insignificant study on 27 people that sunny Colorado day. 7 of them smiled back, or nodded, or passed by with a simple, "Hi." 

10 crossed the street to give me the widest berth possible, sensing that I was clearly unstable, possibly criminally so, because in the West, you can be kind to strangers, sure, but you simply don't greet people you don't know like that. It's weird and uncomfortable and borders on the invasive. We're not impolite people, out West; we're just...private. Unless you're in a social setting where it's more appropriate to talk to strangers, like a coffee shop or bar, you just don't. 

That is not the case in the South. In New Orleans (depending, of course, in what part of the city you are), everyone is your best friend. There's a homeless man named Mike that hangs out on the stoop beside where I lock my bike in the Quarter, and we always exchange pleasantries when I show up for work; there are bar tenders there who let me drink free because they know I'm local; there are trolly drivers who happily tell me about that one time they nearly tore a Prius in two when it blocked the tracks; there are strangers on the street who will give you food or music recommendations even though you never asked them for it; and yesterday at 4:30 in the morning there was an Indian man at a hotel concierge desk who told me for no reason about how he travels around the country delivering cars and motorcycles to distant buyers. There were also two heavily tattooed, exceedingly stoned midgets who just wanted to find a goddamned  Waffle House.

Seriously, people, I can't make this stuff up. 

It could be said that strangers are simply less strange in the South. Or more strange. Whichever way you want to take that. 

When I first moved to New Orleans, I was, shall we say, terrified. I had lived in the 'burbs all my life. I had no concept of what made certain areas of the big city more dangerous than others, and so I was perpetually on an adrenaline-fueled high-alert, never speaking to anyone I didn't know, never navigating the city streets alone, locking the car doors whenever someone walked by on the sidewalk. 

I remember one instance in particular, when I first visited New Orleans to find an apartment. This was almost two years ago. My parents stopped to fill up the rental car at the intersection of Jackson and Magazine - which, as any locals will know, is not even a remotely sketchy part of the city. It's on Magazine Street, for chrissakes. 

But I was filled with a strange brand of ghetto terror, afraid that my family and I would be caught in a drive-by or something, in broad daylight, on Magazine Street. Anymore, I know that Magazine Street is one of the safest, non-ghetto parts of New Orleans, but, hey, cut me some slack. I'm a suburban girl at heart. 

The other night, I was at Finnegan's, in the Quarter, having a drink with one of the first-year teachers at my school, and her boyfriend. They haven't lived in New Orleans very long, so I was showing them a bit of the Quarter, sharing a portion of the color and history there. As I got up to leave, I mentioned that I'd parked about 11 blocks away, so I should get going to make it to my care before the streets got too busy. My companions stared at me with concern, "Do you want us to walk you to your car, so you don't have to go alone?" she asked worriedly. 

I think I actually cocked my head like a confused puppy. "Wha?" 

She fumbled. "'Cause...the Quarter...dark..."

I smiled and reminded her that I spend most of my weekend nights working in the Quarter, leading my ghost tours, happily skipping through the alleys after dark. (Sometimes I do actually skip. Tourists tip better when their guide skips. Perhaps because they think I need the money to afford my antipsychotics.) She nodded, reluctantly, and I realized how much I've changed since moving to New Orleans. From a terrified whitebread kid who couldn't sleep because of all the sirens to someone who tends to be quite comfortable navigating New Orleans after dark, and who has learned how to gauge what actually constitutes a dangerous area or situation as opposed to what is simply a gentrified or popular part of one old-ass bayou town. 

After I left Finnegan's, I spent a few minutes chatting with the other tour guides before work started in earnest. It was a slow night, so not many people got tours, and I offered another guide a ride home, since he doesn't have a car. He replied, "Oh, I'm good, thanks, though, babe. "

I then wished a happy Thanksgiving to some of the others before heading back to my car, almost all of whom shot back some variation of, "Hey, thanks, baby, you, too!" 

And I realized as I walked home that the lexicon of New Orleans didn't freak me out anymore. For the first six months I lived here, I felt verbally molested every time someone called me "baby," because in Colorado, that is something people do not do. It's weird and creepy and you should call people "sir" or "ma'am" or "hey, you," or something like that, but not "baby." Not unless you're dating them. "Hon" was acceptable only from plump, middle-aged diner waitresses.  But never, "babe." It felt demeaning and they didn't make water hot enough to wash off the ew. 

So when I would go to work and the school cop would greet me in the morning with a loud, "Hey, baby!" I would cringe inside and try to stop my skin from crawling, because weird. But in New Orleans, that's just the way it is. "Babe," "baby," and "beb," are all accepted terms of address for women my age, to be used by perfect strangers, for any reason. That's par for the course in NOLA, and it only took me about 15 months to get used to. I've even caught myself using it on occasion. 

But I guess that means I qualify as local now. 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Welcome to the jungle.

When I was little, I had three VHS tapes of National Geographic specials for kids. They each focused on a different region of the world, ecosystem documentaries narrated by a little animated Earth, googley eyes in the Arctic Circle and arms stationed somewhere in the Mediterranean and the far East, respectively. I can't remember for sure what the third video was about – the desert maybe, or the Savannah – but I know for certain that the first two were about the oceans and the Amazon rainforest. 

I must have watched these videos at least three times a week. Between them and my copy of The Last Unicorn, they comprised most of the cinematic entertainment of my childhood. The ocean one has permanently damaged my sense of adventure: knowing what horrible slimy spiky toxic things live in the reefs has forever disenchanted me with the supposed magic of the ocean. There have been times in my life when I have been handed the opportunity to go snorkeling or diving in a reef and I had PTSD-like flashbacks of that Nat Geo video and my whole brain just goes NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE and I recoil onto the deck of the boat in terror conniptions. 

But it's the Amazon video I remember best. In the first moment that I saw that video, I sat huddled in horror, staring at the TV, resolving to never ever go into a rainforest of any kind. 

The little animated Earth prattled on excitedly about things like leaf-cutter ants and how all the plants fight each other for a little patch of sun in order to survive. It's like a botanical version of The Hunger Games, except in slow motion and all the characters photosynthesize instead of angstily starve. 

Having grown up in the midwest, agressive plant life was never something I encountered, which made the video all the more horrifying. We had things like pine trees and aspens and the occasional wild raspberry bush, which, while equipped with thorns, was not precisely the Terminator of the plant world. 

Then I moved to New Orleans, and everything I knew about our leafy friends was turned on its head. 

This week, I've been putting up Halloween decorations. I have this faux bloody cloth thing that I staple up around the edges of my house, right under the hip-high eaves, so it looks like my house is bleeding or something, because only at Halloween is it acceptable to transform your home into the set of a horror movie. In order to staple up my bloody decor, I needed to remove some of the vines that crawl up the side of my house. 

Now, I used to really like vines. When I was first looking for a place to live here in the Big Easy, I thought, "Oh, how neat would it be if I got to live in one of those old antebellum manor homes with ivy growing up the walls? It looks so classy and historical."

I got my wish. There are lines of ivy growing up the front and side of my house, but I don't think they're as cool anymore. I yanked on some of the vines beside my door so I could staple my decorations to the siding, and as about two feet of ivy pulled free, so did about two feet of siding. Now, this vine wasn't large. It was maybe a quarter inch in diameter, so it had absolutely no right to cling so hard to my house that it's removal also removed pieces of my house

Terrified that the plants might pierce the walls of my bedroom and strangle me in my sleep, I went on a botanical murder spree with my sheers, severing every length of vine from its root. I stopped only when I realized that my home is old enough that the tenacity of the vines might be literally all that's holding it up anymore. 

As evidence to this supposition, a couple weeks ago, while I was cleaning up a corner of the kitchen, I moved my cats' litter box to sweep behind it and found a vine growing out of my wall. 

Let me repeat that, because it bears repeating: I found a vine growing out of my wall. Because I often fail to think about things instead of just reacting to them, I immediately yanked on the vine. As it separated itself from the kitchen wall, it took significant portions of drywall with it. Now there is a long furrow of absent drywall across the side of the kitchen; I am loathe to think about whatever secret garden is flourishing behind my cabinets. 

If you've never lived in a house where you are constantly battling vines in order to ensure that you survive the night and don't have the lamest plant-related obituary in the paper, you probably think it's neat how vines send out feelers that just wildly spiral into space until they hit something they can grab onto. And it is neat, particularly in time-lapse video form. But let me show you what these feelers do after they've found something to latch onto: 

That is my kitchen window, several feet above where I extricated the drywall vine. That vine's feelers have latched onto the underside of my window, and are actively separating it from the panel below. What I'm getting at here is that these little, minute tendrils of plant are deceptively strong. Seeing as I can't actually reach this vine from the outside to viciously murder it, God knows how far it will force its way into my home before I wake up trapped in its hungry clutches, unable to move, waiting immobile as it crushes me and sucks all the nutrients it can from my Easy Mac-infused system. 

I am now in the midst of an ardent search for some sort of vine-killer. Maybe not a completely killing vine-killer, since it might be the primary load-bearing structure in my house at this point, but something to stunt its growth by incredible measures. Like the opposite of Miracle Gro. The equivalent of coffee and cigarettes in tweens, but for hauntingly aggressive plant life instead.  

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

So, I'm actually pretty awful at being an adult.

My first big-girl purchases when I moved into my apartment in New Orleans were a washer and dryer. I did this mainly because the laundromat up the street is one of the sketchiest places on the entire planet, with a tiny parking lot that somehow exists at an angle perpendicular to the rest of the earth and is therefore impossible to drive onto, and populated by people who may or may not actually live there, huddled amongst the dryers for warmth and subsisting entirely on lint sheets and fabric softener.

For the first few weeks after I moved here, while my mom was helping me settle in and in the incredible heat of July, my mom and I visited this laundromat in order to wash volumes of humidity-induced sweat from our clothes and sheets. After a few incidents of accidentally dropping a sock or a pillow case on the floor of the laundromat and realizing that it now needed to be immediately deposited back into the washer for bacterial delousing, I broke down and bought my own washer and dryer. 

New Orleans is famous for having limited closet space, and this tends to include the little alcoves where people usually put washers and dryers. There are no hook-ups for a washer inside my two-story apartment. Instead, the washer and dryer are housed securely on my breezeway. 

The concept of a breezeway is something with which I was entirely unfamiliar back when I lived in Colorado. No such things exist there. I knew what a balcony was, and I knew what a porch was, and I even knew what a lanai was, having experienced one at my grandmother's house in Florida. 

A breezeway is all and none of these things. It's a raised porch that's flush with the first floor (which is a good four feet from the ground to avoid flooding, because New Orleans), surrounded by a wooden half-wall, much like a balcony, and screened in with a sort of iron mesh from there to the roof, so that the air can move through, but the bugs and lizards can't. Mostly. It's not really part of the house, but it's got some outlets to plug things in, and the aforementioned washer hook-ups. This means that I sort of wash my clothes outside. And also that I have to contend with trying to keep the washer from rusting. But whatever. 

Emboldened by my new purchases, I washed clothes like a boss. Everything I owned was clean, all the time. Paranoid about insect infestations, I was constantly scouring, bleaching, scrubbing and disinfecting things. My apartment freaking sparkled. Even my cats were lemony-fresh.

And then I got used to living alone. I realized that there was no one looking over my shoulder to make sure I washed my dishes after dinner, and that my mom wasn't going to remind me to wash my sheets every month or so. 

Things went rapidly downhill from there. Dishes began to pile up in the sink. Then the sink was full, and the counter became a wasteland of used plates and bowls. It got to the point where all my dishes would be dirty at the same time, and I would only clean as many as I needed to make new food, and then only half-assedly. My floors grew ruddy and sad-looking, and while I still swept up stray cat litter (mostly because it feels like walking on Legos when you're barefoot), and occasionally vacuumed the rugs or cleaned the toilet, a steady steam of dilapidation was creeping in around the edges of my home. 

Laundry was the most forsaken of all my chores. Because I've been effectively accumulating my wardrobe for something like the last ten years, ever since I began to obtain shirts that fit, if you get my drift, I have truly massive quantities of clothes. Because my closets are tiny (because New Orleans, again), my clothes are spread between three closets, a dresser, the drawers under my bed and another freestanding wardrobe in my office. I know that sounds like a lot, but I like to think that, for a twenty-something female, I have vaguely average amounts of clothes. And considering that most of those are the argyle sweatervests I wear to work and astonishingly nerdy T-shirts with references to Firefly and Doctor Who on them, I don't feel too bad about it. 

But as the months marched on, I wore more and more of these clothes without ever doing a single load of laundry. I think that once in a while, I would do a load of just underwear and bras, but for the most part, I just moved clothes from the closet to my body to the hamper, and then in an ever-expanding pile near the hamper, and then in scattered piles around the room, and then just covering the floor in general, and then in stacks on my bed and chairs. In the winter, that actually worked quite well, because instead of purchasing a second comforter to keep warm during the astonishingly cold New Orleans nights, I just curled into a ball beneath several layers of dirty clothes, like a bear in a nest of its own shed fur, comfortable in my complete laziness. 

In the spring, my mom came to visit. Appalled at the state of my house and person, she promptly shooed me off to work and proceeded to work her fingers to the bone scrubbing down the kitchen and tackling the massive backlog of laundry like a lone soldier going into battle against an orcish horde. 

During the course of her stay, she effectively helped me combat the bacheloritis that had overtaken my life, and for a time, I managed to keep a lid on things like laundry and preventing mold from forming on most of the eating surfaces in the kitchen. Most of the summer, in fact, minus that brief period of time wherein I purchased a PS2 and was lost to the world. 

But then fall rolled around, and with my reentry into the classroom and a new herd of incredibly germy children to teach, I got sick. I got really, really sick. I got so sick that I missed two days of school, and spent much of the weekend that followed in an awful, half-panicked/half-already-dead fever coma. (During said coma, I apparently sent a number of fever-texts to a friend of mine about pirate diseases, and how Rickets would be a wonderfully badass name for a cat. Said friend recently procured a kitten, and thanks to my brain stewing in its own 102-degree juices, there is now a kitty named Rickets in the world.) 

Anyway, during this span of time wherein all I could do was stumble hazily through my workday, go home, sleep and try not to die of fever, I fell behind on chores again. There are perhaps eight loads of laundry, a sink full of dishes, a rusty washer, a cat box loaded to the absolute gills with cat crap, and about a million square feet of floors to be scrubbed waiting for me at home. I think it gets to a point where the level of work to accomplish becomes so daunting that even beginning it seems like wasted effort. Thankfully, Mom's coming back to visit next month. 

I just need to wash enough underwear to make it till then.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

In which I am almost murdered to death by hipsters.

I ride my bike a lot in New Orleans. It’s often the most efficient way to get from place to place, as long as none of those places is the West Bank. Riding my bike, for me, is a leisurely activity here: In Colorado, bike riding involved pedaling laboriously up the sides of mountains and careening at break-neck speeds down inclines that may as well have been completely vertical. It induced in me a sort of incoherent, helpless terror.

Here, though, everything is flat. Everything is actually more flat than flat things are, seeing as most of New Orleans is below sea level. So cruising around on my adorable little city bike is not only easy, but very zen. I get to look around at all the iconic New Orleans architecture, culture and vegetation, all the while moving quickly enough to avoid becoming a target of random street crime, which, while unlikely, is something I am constantly paranoid about, in much the same way that I worry about whether or not I'm cleaning the cat box frequently enough, or what would happen if I ever ran into Brad Pitt in his office at the TFA building. 

I share the streets here with the drivers of New Orleans, all of whom are absolutely batshit insane, and also with other bikers, all of whom appear to be hipsters with death wishes.

First, the drivers. Because this is the South, people here tend to be pretty nice. You can chat on the street or in line at the store and come away thinking, “Aw, isn’t it neat how people of all types and walks of life can co-exist here and just be cool about it.” And that’s awesome. It’s one of the things I love about living here. But when those same nice people get behind the wheels of their cars, it’s like a switch is flipped in their brains, and all the crazy they’ve been repressing their whole lives is suddenly channeled into a wild melee of murderously aggressive road rage.

I used to be a polite little biker, obeying the rules of the road, pretending to be a nineteenth century English sailor as I signaled semaphore directions with my arms, riding along the shoulder, trying to stay out of the way.

I quickly realized, after coming within inches of being killed by an speeding Prius, that this was in fact the way to ride my bike around New Orleans if I wanted to completely fucking die. Since that is not my ultimate goal, I now wear the brightest colors I can and ride down the middle of a lane, taking up as much space as I possibly can, and slowing down when cars pull up behind me. In my brain, I narrate my interactions with drivers: Bitch, if you want to pass me, change lanes and pass me. Yeah, honk all you like. I’m not moving. You’re gonna have to suck it up, move four feet to your left and haul your shiny metal ass around me. And so forth.

But it works. I’m safer that way because it inconveniences the drivers around me, forcing them to alter their course and therefore giving me a precious buffer zone from their homicidal designs in which I can stay alive.

But other cyclists don’t always share my wanting-to-keep-breathing ambitions. Hipsters are a plague upon New Orleans in much the same way that cockroaches are, swarming to underground grunge bars and wandering, listless and mustachioed, through the Warehouse District, searching for PBR and scarves to wear when it’s 300 degrees outside. And it seems that all of these hipsters have bikes. Little narrow ones, with curved handles and removable seats that they carry around with them after they lock their bikes to benches and street signs.

Bike-riding hipsters weave back and forth among the cars of New Orleans, reveling (ironically, I’m sure) in the adrenaline of their constant near-death experience. In the Quarter a few weeks ago, I was riding behind this hipster girl whose bike did not have brakes. Like…they just weren’t there. In order to stop, she removed her right foot from the pedal and contorted herself so that the sole of her shoe was pressed against the top of her back tire, so that the friction slowed her down. I stared at her for the full ten minutes it took to get down to Jackson Square, watching her strange bike Pilates, and wondering how she managed to move like that in her overly starched skinny jeans.

Sometimes, the hipsters congregate. They come together in Biblical proportions, from every corner of the Bywater and also probably Treme, for special hipster events. Dirty Linen Night, for instance, was packed to the gills with hipsters. As I rode through the CBD, I was forced into a sea of hipsters wearing sullied white garments and horn-rimmed glasses, the smell of cheap wine and body odor in the air. I was drowning in hipsters. They were everywhere, and I knew in that moment that those were the last seconds of my life. I was going to die there on Julia Street, trampled by Converse and thrift store flats, as an uncaring, overly-jaded mob of young hipsters fulfilled their instinctual mandates to find other hipsters, mate, and make tiny ironic babies.

By throwing my weight into forward momentum and unabashedly crashing into a number of pedestrians, I managed to escape that fate, leaving a band of disgruntled unwashed hipsters in my wake. And as I pedaled away, I muttered with loathing, in the same way I would about a cockroach appearing suddenly in my room, “Fucking. Hipsters.”

Saturday, September 8, 2012

One of these things is not like the others.

I got about a mile into my bike ride to the Quarter today and realized that something about it was different from all the other rides I’ve taken in the last five months. Something about this ride was magnificent. I felt good. Really, really good. 

I took one arm (because who rides their bike with no handlebars? Screw you, Flobots, you dirty, dirty liars.) off the handle and pretended that half of my body was flying, because damn this ride was pleasant.

It took me another half mile or so to figure it out. It wasn’t the smell, because everything still smells like rotting timber and spoiled food in the wake of Hurricane Isaac. It wasn’t that I was suddenly in marvelous shape, rendering moot any exertion. 

Then it came to me, in a choral epiphany, straight from Heaven: Why am I not dripping with sweat right now?? Why is the back of my shirt still dry? Why is my makeup intact?
It was the temperature. A "cold" front moved through New Orleans last night, and I just hadn’t noticed it because I’d been cooped up in my office all day. But outside, just beyond my sphere of awareness, there was air that was twenty degrees cooler than the air was yesterday and also all of the last few months.

It was only, like, maybe 80 degrees out today, instead of 105. 

And it was more beautiful than riding a unicorn over a triple rainbow.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Regarding civil ordinances and also aliens.

Working in the French Quarter at night is a strange experience, as I’m sure the hundreds of people who do so can attest. Since I work as a tour guide for an agency which prides itself upon its numerous ghost, vampire and other-supernatural-beasties tours, I encounter not only the world’s weirdest tourists, but also the most bizarre co-workers and acquaintances New Orleans has to offer.

Don’t get me wrong, the other guides I work with are really quite nice people, and I know that if I ever got into a pinch while out and about ‘round Bourbon Street, any one of them would make sure I made it safely back to my car, but good Lord some of them are strange little men and women.

One of the older guides, whose family came to New Orleans as part of Iberville’s original settlement in 1692, is a wonderfully caring and pleasant grandfatherly type. He also carries a gigantic staff with a skull on the top of it, which he addresses as Yorek. Another guide grew up in India and wonderfully intelligent, having come to New Orleans to complete his dissertation. That was seven years ago, and I’m pretty sure that paper still isn’t finished. New Orleans does that to people. It sucks you in, and runs through your veins a little more every day. I think it’s funny that his accent, discernible but not thick in regular conversation, suddenly becomes overpowering when talking with tourists. 

Along with guides and tourists and pirates, the Quarter is full of street performers of every kind, musicians and artists and tarot card readers and actors and dancers and the occasional eight-foot-tall costumed neon demon/alien/thing. Actually, I only know one of those. His name is Joe, and he wanders the Quarter in his demon suit nightly, snapping pictures with tourists and I hope collecting enough tips to make it worth it. He’s a nice dude, and stops by to chat with guides while we wait to go out on tour. Tonight, he was talking about how absurd it is that the city is cracking down on an outdated ordinance which dictates that no street performers are allowed in the Quarter after 8 p.m., which resulted in him getting a ticket recently on his walk home in demon-garb.

I had a moment of surrealism on my bike ride home. I realized that I’d had an intelligent conversation tonight about evolving civil law and discourse with a spattering of the strangest people I’ve ever met (and also a man on stilts, dressed in a skin-tight alien costume), while tourists milled about the door of the Voodoo shop where we guides hang, and that this was my life now. It felt normal, and happy, and laced with that brilliant, viral New Orleans character, that luscious urban heartbeat that is part acid and part light, and I realized that however much I miss my Midwest mountains, New Orleans is my home now, too, and it’s never gonna let me go.