Friday, August 11, 2006

Wa-Who & Crim-Criminey

Rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated. Contrary to popular opinion, I have NOT given up the blog. I have heard all your bitching (see comments in the previous post. Trust me, I've been hearing ten times that from friends and family) and now I'm finally back. Pass the popcorn, Pa. It's time t'get sum REEDIN' dun!

Where have I been? Here and there. Been doing a lot of reading, and watching old episodes of Northern Exposure. I've been hanging out with friends quite a bit, and going on road trips to Middleton for batting cages and ice cream. There's been a little bit of work, and a little bit of vacation. Actually, there's been a good bit of vacation and it's that which is the subject of today's post.

My current job, IT guy at a school, is very cyclical in nature. When the students are there, it's busy. When they're not, it's not. That being the case, employees are "encouraged" to take their vacations during the non-busy times - and by "encouraged" I mean "forced." If one is foolhardy enough to submit a vacation request for, say, a week in late September, they will be met with a hearty guffaw and a "No chance. Try to find some new dates. Eh... what's that? A trip to Alaska? Ah... well, I hear it's just as nice in winter." And, so it was that I ended up having to take a bunch of scattered vacation days in July and August. Rather than take a full week off (which is almost impossible anyway - they get nervous if I have more than three days off in a row because I'm the only IT guy they have) I decided to give myself some long weekends, the most recent being this past one. And what does a bored 31 year old with ample vacation time in the beginning of August do? Why, what any reasonable vacationer would. He goes to New Orleans.

Huh? Yes. The Big Easy. NOLA. Cajun Country. Katrinaland. It was a simple decision, really. I just kind of said to myself, "Hmmm. I hate seafood. I don't drink or gamble. I don't tan - I burn, AND I think French or any derivative thereof (i.e. Creole) sounds like nails on a chalkboard. Perfect!" Oh, and the airfare was cheap. As you can see, I was a veritable fount of positive vibes. But, biting sarcasm aside, I was very pleasantly surprised. In light of recent natural disasters, I really didn't know what to expect when I got there. What I found was a city that, while struggling mightily to right itself, still maintained a very tangible sense of charm and dignity.

First things first. The city is still very much a dump, although that's really not all that surprising. All you have to do is take a look back at some of the Katrina aftermath photos to see that this was a hurricane that will take a VERY long time to recover from. Traffic lights are still not working in many areas. Many of the houses have sustained incredible damage, so much so that even driving through the wealthier areas of town makes you feel like you're in a poverty stricken ghetto. Every day seems like trash day with the amount of rubbish and debris piled up at curbside. The streets are littered with potholes (although it's still nowhere near as bad as Boston in winter.) Abandoned cars are a common sight on city streets. But, above all is the sheer number of people and businesses that have left and not come back. Having not been to New Orleans before Katrina, I can only imagine it as having been a fairly vibrant city, however that doesn't seem to be the case anymore. Many restaurants and businesses have simply closed their doors for good, deciding that four hurricanes in eight years is enough, thank you very much. They're tired of it, and many don't have the money to rebuild anyway, especially after Katrina. One thing I was also struck by was how quiet the city seemed, even in places like Bourbon Street in the French Quarter. There just didn't seem to be a whole lot of people around. Quite a shame, really, because even in it's reduced capacity and factoring in everything written above, New Orleans has a tremendous amount to offer.

The city boasts an excellent and underappreciated Audubon Society Zoo (with a fantastic reptile house.) Tourists and locals alike form long lines at Hansen's Sno-Bliz - a New Orleans institution that has been serving top notch sno-cones since the 1930's (I kid you not. There are sno-cones and then there are sno-cones. Hansen's makes the best. I had a shaved ice covered in syrup with an ice cream center. Yummy. You have to try it to appreciate it. Snoopy Sno-Cone Machine it ain't.) The people of New Orleans, in the limited contact I had with them, all seemed very polite, charming, and anxious to exuberantly remind visitors that their city still is, in fact, in existence and open for business (for the most part - open for business, I mean. Of course it's in existence. Otherwise, I'd have been screwed once I got off the plane.) And of course, there's still the French Quarter. Walking around it, I couldn't help but notice the old world charm that permeates throughout. Yeah, Bourbon Street still has it's fair share of tacky strip clubs and drunkards, but by and large, the rest of the French Quarter holds up really well. We went for a leisurely stroll through it, visited a few book and music shops, ate at a few restaurants, stopped at a Starbucks, and never did I get the feeling that it was an area that was in need/in the process of rebuilding. Jackson Square, the big cathedral (whose name I'm embarrassed to forget at the moment) Basin Street, etc, are all still there and all beautiful sights to behold. Tourism has been largely dead in the city these days, as evidenced by the New Orleans Ghost Tour we bought tickets for only to find that we were the only two people on it - however we were assured that people are slowly slowly slowly starting to trickle back and... wait... "we?" There was someone else involved in all this Big Easy debauchery?

Ah yes... we get to the real reason for the trip. I admit, I'm somewhat weird and stupid, but did you really think I'd visit a hurricane ravaged city in the extreme southern U.S. in the middle of summer just because it seemed like a neat place to visit and stay cool? Please. Give me some credit. No, as interested as I was to see the city of New Orleans (or not), it was a woman who was the reason for the visit. Specifically, it was the "elusive Jesseanna" - whom I've linked to numerous times on this blog - that beckoned me down to the bayou, and because many of my family and friends know why I made the trip and won't stop pestering me for details, this seemed like a good time to fill them in.

Although I'd been reading her blog for some time (as should you - it's top notch, and I'm not just saying that because I have a vested interest in doing so), I'd only met Jesse for the first time this past June when she came up to Boston to visit a mutual friend of ours and visit her old college stomping grounds. In fact, it was said "mutual friend" who had not so subtly been trying to set us up for the past year - despite the fact that I was/am firmly ensconced in the barrios of Jamaica Plain, MA, and Jesse was seemingly living everywhere else but (Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Virginia (after Katrina), back to Louisiana again.) While I found the idea of a setup intriguing, I also thought it a little far-fetched given the distance between our homes. Still, when two people get along, they get along, and that much was clear when I met her. That visit, while short, led to numerous phone calls and emails exchanged and about a month ago, I decided to let my company force me to use some vacation time so I could hop on a plane and go see her in her fair city. For me, the trip served two purposes. 1) A much needed vacation and 2) A chance to further explore the relationship with this woman whom I'd been conversing with for so long and see if things were "fo' real."

"Well... were they?" you ask. Before I answer, understand the dilemma I'm in. If I get all sappy and write stuff like "I held her in my arms and we gazed into each others eyes, and right then, I knew...", then I might cause a few misty eyes, but every guy I know who reads this will say, "Uh... dude? What the hell just happened here? Are you, like, lost to us forever? Wuss." On the other hand, if I write something like, "Oh man. She looked SMOKIN' hot - plus, like, she's got a pretty killer personality, you know, and like... well, that has to count for something. I mean, I personally would give up my Red Sox tickets to see her", then all the guys would give me high fives and chest bumps but the women (including my sisters, and my cousin Brian... who's not a woman but... well, you know...) would be like, "Oh... mah... God. Jesse - he just totally compared you to a baseball game. What, does he think you're, like, Manny Ortiz, or something? What-EVER."

Well, in an attempt to find some middle ground, I'll say yes, that things were in fact "fo' real." Long story short, we had a fantastic time together on the streets of New Orleans. We bought windshield wiper fluid, and shopped for women's sunglasses. We ate jambalaya and crawfish etoufee (yes, I really enjoyed both despite my normal disgust for seafood.) We made Whole Foods a tourist destination, and bought organic ice cream at the zoo (we fed the ducks too - who were probably happy to see us leave. Come to think of it, so too were the Whole Foods employees.) We watched Trainspotting and When Harry Met Sally. We blared Christmas Carols from the car while speeding through the French Quarter in the middle of August. Did we 'gaze into each others eyes?' *blush* Yeah... a bit, I guess. And, we also laughed at each others ridiculously bad jokes while constantly saying, "My God... we're such dorks." Was it all worth Red Sox tickets? Absolutely. In fact, I kind of wish I was still there.

So yeah, things were for real. Obviously, the whole problem of distance is still there and although significant, it hasn't proved insurmountable. But, the relationship is still rather new and we both have busy lives in our areas of the country. For now we're content to take things slowly, continue to exchange emails and phone calls, and plan the next visit.

And for you, dear friend or family member or casual blog reader who has either been a) pestering me to post or b) asking me to tell you about my trip - well, here I've gone and killed two birds with one (very large) stone. Also, if you're looking for a nice place to go for your next vacation, might I suggest New Orleans? It's an up and coming city on the rebound, you know - full of history, tourist spots, nightlife, ghosts, and lots of other fun stuff. Oh, and then of course, there's the women...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wet towel house.

2:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

has your mom already chosen her wedding dress? and who is manny ortiz?

9:25 AM  

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