Today was my last day in New Orleans and I am both happy to be heading back toward home, and sad to be leaving a city I consider a home away from home.
New Orleans and I have a mixed history. I came here the first time when I was 16. It was the first time I remember being treated like an adult. My sister was in a basketball tournament, so my parents were
busy chaperoning the team and I was left to my own devices during the day. I walked down Decatur Street by myself, and went to St. Louis Cathedral. I had never seen a Church so big.
I went to a restaurant not far from the French Market, and had an iced tea and peppered the waitress with all kinds of questions just to hear her talk. I may have fallen a bit in love. I paid for my tea and left
a tip that was about five times what the bill came to, all in change. And as I walked through the heat to our hotel, I feel in love with that old, dirty, exciting, wonderful city.
I was walking around last night, and in one of the tacky souvenir shops I found a shirt that I'd bought on my first trip to the Big Easy. It was a black shirt with white writing that said "Shuck Me, Suck Me, Eat Me Raw. New Orleans oyster." My 16 year old self was incredibly amused by this shirt, and I am happy to away my 40 year old self still gets a smile from it. Some things don't change.
I moved to New Orleans in 1997. I'd graduated from the UW-Madison with no idea what I was going to do. My contact with the UW expired, my girlfriend dumped me, and my roommates didn't want to get a new place. I was talking with my best friend in the world, Greg Kveberg, and he mentioned that I should join him in Champaign-Urbana. After he said that, I remembered my love for the City that Care Forgot, and I packed, sold, and gave away everything that wouldn't for in my truck. Then off I went. The story of that journey is for another time.
New Orleans gave me a lot. It exposed me to different cultures. It let me meet the wonderful woman I eventually married, and her family, and the prophet. My good friend Steve married my wife's cousin. It taught
me to think fast, roll with the punches, trust my gut. It taught me roots, and fear, helplessness, and anger. I eventually left it for other adventures, but still think of the city fondly.
However, this trip has really brought home to me that the life I lived as a New Orleanian was a lifetime ago. My life has an entirely different trajectory now, and I couldn't be happier. I still love New Orleans, but I will never be a resident again. Only a visitor.