Surfing into New Orleans

I’m sure that some folks are getting tired of reading about the trip we took to New Orleans. My apologies, but it is a city that resonates very deeply with so many; myself and Amy included. I remember watching on TV as the Saints took the home field for the very first time after Katrina, tears were streaming down my cheeks as I watched the local people cheering and screaming for their team. I’ve always hated the Dallas Cowboys, mostly based on their ridiculous and obnoxious self-proclaimed “America’s Team” status. But I think that post-Katrina, the Saints really have become America’s team. Former losers, determined to take their bruised, but still standing tall city to new heights. If any part of the American Dream still exists, that would exemplify it as well as anything I can think of. Not to mention, as a Lions’ fan Lord knows I need someone to root for.

Over the years I have read countless books, listened to songs, seen many movies and TV shows, and heard stories about this dark jewel of a city, but had never been there. As a young man, I wanted to experience Mardi Gras, but never made it. Now that I have visited, I plan to do so many more times, and wish I had made the trip sooner.

I also have another connection to New Orleans that I can’t fully explain, and will probably never even fully understand myself. While I probably can’t truly express the feelings it evokes for me, I can tell the story.

Before I went to work for my current employer, I managed the programming department for a company that liked to celebrate that they were a family company. Every year they would rent some beach houses down in Galveston for all of their employees and their families. Employees attended two seminars or team-building exercises per day, but it was mainly about having fun, and lots of it.

The last year I worked for them, and consequently the last trip down their with the company, we had planned to surf and swim, but the waves were just not cooperating. We played football, and the kids and younger guys skim-boarded. We all had a great time.

On the morning of the final day, I awoke to a great roaring sound. I got out of bed, went out onto the porch, and to my amazement saw that the calm blue/green water of the past two days was now huge, churning waves. Even more amazing was that two of my (much) younger co-workers were racing down the beach toward the waves with surfboards under their arms. My first thought was, “Those dumbasses are going to get killed!” That thought was instantly replaced with, “Hey! Wait for me!”

I changed into swim trunks as fast as I could, grinning like an idiot and nodding as Amy listed all of the quite rational reasons why I should not get in the water, and then dashed out the door, down the stairs, and across the sand. The power of the water was terrifying and exhilarating in equal measure and  as I charged into the water the adrenaline flowed just as powerfully through me. We surfed and swam and played in those waves all morning until even the youngest and strongest of us were exhausted. Looking back, I cannot think of any day that I had any more fun than I had out there in that violent surf.

That day was Sunday August 28th, 2005 and that surf was being caused by a Cat 5 bitch named Katrina as she bore down on the coast of Louisiana. The hurricane missed New Orleans, but the rains, winds and surge overwhelmed the city’s levees anyway. While I was, quite literally, having the time of my life I was oblivious to the fact that my country was about to enter a very sad, ugly, and shameful period.

We drove home elated, still unaware of what was unfolding in another area of the Gulf Coast. Of course, as soon as we got home and turned on the TV we got to watch everything unfold on the screen just like everyone else. When it was all said and done the official death toll stood at 1,836 with 705 missing.

Like I said earlier, I can’t say how I feel about any of that. Even if I could get a handle on all of the mixed emotions, I doubt that I possess the facility to accurately describe them. One thing I can say with certainty is that I made a huge mistake by not visiting New Orleans sooner. I avoided it because I was afraid it would be nothing but a shadow of its storied past. I only have my imaginings to compare to, but what I saw leads me to believe that could not be possible.

New Orleans would seem to me to be a state of mind as much as it is a physical place. The people there have it. They also have an incredible openness, love, joy and a genuine sense of hospitality that I have never encountered anywhere else. On top of all of that is a world class food and wine culture that can rival any place on earth. All of it has to be seen to be believed.

So, if you are tired of reading about New Orleans, take heart as there are only a few more posts to come. But I hope that this one goes a little way towards explaining why this topic is so near and dear to our hearts. I’m sure that the nice folks at Harrah’s New Orleans and the New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau had no idea when they invited us that they would get so much mileage out of bringing us there. Truth be told, while we would not have been there if not for them, we are writing this series for so many reasons, foremost among them is that we both fell head over heels in love with New Orleans.

That being the case, I urge everyone to get there as soon as possible. Go fall in love too. Tell them Joe and Amy sent you. They know us there…or maybe it just felt that way.

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