A Road Trip Loses its Innocence in New Orleans

June 3-6th 2011

The view of New Orleans from the river.

“Even I still can’t believe some of things I’ve seen, even though I’ve seen them. I’ve seen a man chew glass into fine powder. I’ve been picked up by a little old woman. Apparently I’ve drunk a fifth of a gallon of rum spiced with twenty-one jalapeno peppers.” The middle aged former engineering major and eleven year voodoo veteran told my host and I. On my last day in New Orleans, Brie—my second wonderful Couchsurfing host of the weekend—and I wandered the French Quarter, in daylight, and found ourselves in a store devoted to voodoo.

New Orleans has a charm all to itself. The streets of the downtown French quarter are reminiscent of Old Havana in its heyday. Cozy cafes are complemented by carriages filled with tour guests. A series of tours offered at a standard $20 of New Orleans downtown streets, cemeteries, and cultures such as voodoo, are available and commonly enjoyed. Of course, if you don’t want to pay $20, you can always just ask. The owner of “Voodoo Authentica,” the voodoo practitioner who claims to have been “possessed” by a spirit, took almost an hour of his day to dispel for us myths of voodoo, discuss its history, and describe what happens when you become possessed.

Low buildings, flickering flame streetlights, and cobblestone roads place New Orleans in my imagination of the past.

Possessed voodoo practitioners are administered tests to see if they are lying or are truly possessed with one of voodoo’s many spirits. Depending on the spirit, a different test is administered. “The last thing you feel is your body fighting for control.” He tells us with graphic representation. Whether or not we were being taken for a ride or something truly unusual was taking place in the streets of New Orleans, I have yet to discover. Either way, it was a free and interesting experience I won’t soon forget.

After we walk a few feet away Brie, a few years wiser, starts to laugh at me. “What?” I protest. “I am still young and naive enough to be excited by the possibility of voodoo magic.” She laughs again. That moment of our twelve waking hours together would oddly define the rest of our conversations. Thanks to a six year age gap, Brie and I had a lot to talk about. I was immensely curious about how she felt about living life on her own, and she was entirely amused by my youthful excitement over everything from voodoo to expensive bronze statues.

Streetcars run folks in between downtown and uptown. I enjoyed them because for once somebody else was driving.

In discussing relationship psychology, career choices, the relevance of happiness, and the histories of ourselves and the city, I asked a burning question: “Is it lonely?”

I have been traveling around fifteen days now, and I left behind all the friends and family I care about a great deal. I am somewhat regretful that by leaving, I altered a situation I was enjoying and cost myself more than I had intended in lost time and a disappointed friend. So I had to ask: Is real life, outside of high school and college’s strange intense relationships, a series of comings and goings and somewhat superficial not staying-so-long’s?

Brie and I discussed it in the context of her experience and my own somewhat unusual history. Though no conclusion on such a question was reached, I was hoping for a resounding NO, which I did not get. So the reason I title this article “The Road Trip Loses It’s Innocence” is in part because I have to wonder if life as an adult is not all that different from a road trip—a series of brief meetings and leavings.

This is the levee. See that road? It is exactly where it should be. See those trees? They should not be submerged.

The trip to New Orleans, where I spent three nights, was also a testament to Couchsurfing. Of just a few requests, I received responses from three folks, only two of which I ended up having time to see, that made for two wonderful experiences. My first night I met Isabelle, a woman also slightly older than I whose friends Austin and Kevin took me to an impromptu dinner party. It was great practice for my goals, as I got on with a group of interesting and diverse people for around six hours of socializing.

That night, Isabelle, her friend Jessie, Austin and I went to a French quarter party, explored downtown New Orleans, and visited a burlesque show. Another good way to lose one’s innocence. I left feeling a bit unsure about the whole thing. The music was good in a strange way, but the women smiled constantly without seeming very happy. Perhaps it is a sign of aging to tell the difference between a real and fake smile? I ended the night exhausted and crashing on the couch of Kevin, who lived a few blocks away from Isabelle.

Bourbon Street, the major party street, on a Saturday night brings out strange characters

The next morning, Kevin and I got up early and went to Isabelle’s for breakfast. We sat out on the porch, deep in conversation until the day grew too hot. Very much enjoying the first deep conversation of what would end up a rather deep weekend, just my first night’s experience tells a great Couchsurfing story. Not only did I have an intelligent, interesting, lovely host, but I was introduced to a friend group and social scene within hours of arriving in the city. Of course, a couch is better than a stifling hot backseat, but I found that Couchsurfing is worth far more than just a couch.

My experience at Isabelle’s also exposed two secrets to on the road travel. One is obvious: don’t leave your lights on all night or your car battery will die and you’ll have to get a jump. The second is less obvious, but tastier: Combining free samples with free water and a loaf of bread at a Whole Foods store will give you the tastiest .99 cent lunch you’ll ever eat.

I was not even able to scrape the surface of all that New Orleans has to offer, and I hope the pictures can illustrate further quite what an interesting city it is. During my time there I was able to get along with many different people, and have many great conversations. I think I’ll be back someday not too far away.

Just thought this was kind of cool.

If you’ve found this blog from USA Today’s College Page, take a look at the introductory pieces to get an idea about this project, or the North Carolina and Atlanta pieces. These two have been the most popular thus far. If you like what you read, subscribe to get emails in your inbox when new posts are published (every 2-3 days this summer.)

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4 responses to “A Road Trip Loses its Innocence in New Orleans

  1. Sounds like you had a wOndeeful time, I’m so glad! Maybe we can visit there with Liam as the next sibling vacation 🙂

  2. It is amazing to me that New Orleans is still such an awesome city after so much that has happened to it recently. I havent been for years but what you describe makes me think its still the same!
    Nah, there is m uch more to adult life than a series of brief meetings and leavings. But we always alter situations by our actions. Actions have consequences. its why life is full of “what ifs.” But leaving is a very special thing. Much has been written about leaving. See Victor Turner, Rite de Passage. Leaving, journeying, changing, returning — these are all part of lifes’s Rites of Passage.

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