“Got nothing against a big town/ Still hayseed enough to say/ Look who’s in the big town/ but my bed is in a small town/ Oh, that’s good enough for me…” –John Mellencamp, “Small Town”
I’m a homebody. I’m boring. I like routine and familiar. I like comfortable. I grew up in a small town and, while I have enjoyed some of the luxuries of the big city, I miss it. I don’t fly by the seat of my pants. I don’t do adventure. I don’t try new things and most of the time I regret it, and then do not try something new the next time I have the opportunity. I’m predictable and small. Sometimes, though, I dream about being big and having stories to tell. I think about what it would be like to be different, to be interesting, to be alive. So, when one of my closest friend, R, left for graduate school at Tulane and continually invited me to come visit her at Tulane, I planned a trip with every doubt and reservation in the world.
Nervous and unsure of what to really expect, I left home last Thursday and took flight to the Big Easy. I was off to see how R lives, so far from everything I know. Sitting on the plane, I worried about so much. Would it be too hot? Would it be filthy? Would I find new food that I liked? Would it be scary to walk around in such a violent place? Would I be boring and disappointing as a guest and friend? Would I overstay my welcome? What in the world would I find? Would it be a miserable weekend? I was calmer flying than I expected, but the nerves came as I stepped into the airport.
I am not an adventurer. I stepped into a new place, not sure of where to go. I felt embarrassed, lost among the people who knew these walkways. I made my way out the doors and found R waiting for me. I hopped in the car and drank in the dark sights along the highway on the way home. We wound through tight streets and sped through the gaps in the neutral ground, which I never got used to during my visit. The sun had set, but I could still make out the neighborhoods that we drove through. I fell immediately in love with the houses, the porches, the wrought iron railings, the old trees sweeping over head. I could not drink in enough of the streets.
Feeling a little less nervous, we climbed the stairs in her quaint, beautiful building and dropped my bags off. Lingering a little on the crystal door knob, I pulled the door closed and headed out for my first real steps into New Orleans. We crept down the street, past a pale cemetery bathed in moonlight, and turned down Magazine Street. I felt a funny recognition, the shops looking like our beach areas here. We passed bars and boutiques, yoga centers and apartments. We stopped for pizza–familiar and safe for my first venture into the unknown. We sat on the sidewalk and watched people walk, and stumble, by. We saw a couple of her friends from school and watched a man’s car get towed. We chatted and it really didn’t feel like I was anywhere but home.
After dinner, we went to a small bar, favored by locals, and had my first drink in the city. In a number of the bars we went to, mojitos were prominently advertised. It was strange to see something other than margaritas being pushed, and exciting. I had a blueberry mojito, boasted as the best in the city, and quickly decided that it would be my last. But I was brave and fought every instinct that pushed me toward the familiar. We sat on the patio, bathed in smoke (also VERY different from California) and talked about family and boys and work–the familiar in the new. After our drinks we went home to settle in and watch a movie. She had to work the next day and I was getting my sea-legs, easing into the big outside world.
That first night, I was comforted by how underwhelming some aspects of New Orleans are. I expected a sensory overload, people everywhere and no escape from the party. On the contrary, her neighborhood is quiet and calming. Life is simple and casual, slow and easy. I expected big city grandeur, the anxiety that comes with drowning in traffic, sky scrapers, people and rush. Instead I found a city that reminded so much of home, of life in a town too small for a Costco. The city is cozy, comfortable with its smallness. I admire that. I revel in it.
There is much more that I saw and loved about New Orleans. That first night, I was surprised to be drawn in and embraced by the city, not swallowed alive. As I leapt from my comfort zone and dove into travel, I found that I landed somewhere comforting and wonderful.
“Just listen to the music of the traffic in the city/ Linger on the sidewalk/ Where the neon lights are pretty/ How can you lose?/ The lights are much brighter there/ You can forget all your troubles/ Forget all your cares…” –Petula Clark, “Downtown”