New Orleans: 2012

August 20, 2012

“Remove all metal items.  Empty your pockets.”

As I patted my pockets, I felt the comfortable bulge of my flip wallet, but in a moment of sheer panic I realized that my other pocket was empty.  That was because there wasn’t a cell phone in it.  That was because my cell phone was in the middle console in Ross’s car.

This was either very fortuitous because I was attending a bachelor party or a cataclysmal event that could tear the very fabric of reality to shreds because the bachelor party was in New Orleans.  I was nervous about the prospect of going off the grid in a city of questionable moral standing like Nawlins, but with most of my friends averaging the size of an NFL linebacker, I felt fairly certain that if I purchased a child leash and attached myself to one of them, I would make it home safely at the end of the trip.

Baby Leash

It’s for my own good.

Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport is about half an hour from downtown New Orleans, and the drive made the surrounding areas seem like the suburbs of every other major US city I’ve visited; worn-down neighborhoods, strip malls, billboards advertising DUI attorneys.  As we approached the city however, things changed, and in a drastic way I’d never seen before.  Most cities have something unique that welcomes travelers coming into town; some feature that is unique and showcases the city.  Pittsburgh has an amazing skyline.  Cleveland has a Great Lake.  Hollywood has a mountain with its name on it.  As we bore down on New Orleans, what stood out to me was that on either side of I-10 on the ride into town, you saw cemeteries.  They stood out because they were full of mausoleums.

Just like the drinks, dying isn’t cheap in the Big Easy.  But I suppose that’s part of the cost of living in a city below sea level.

Above ground cemetery new orleans

Welcome to New Orleans: Enjoy our lovely skyline and bone-chilling above ground resting places!

We arrived at the Westin downtown unscathed, sans a hefty Taxi cab bill.  After checking in and finding my room on the 24th floor, I set my bag down and, like the tourist I am, desperately wanted to see my view for the next few days.  Having never been to New Orleans, I had no idea where we were staying in relation to anything in town.  I pulled back my blinds and was greeted with a panoramic view that was magnificent.

Mississippi River Westin Hotel Downtown New Orleans

Photograph courtesy of Super Dave’s Photography, 2012.

Now that I knew I was only a few hundred yards from the Mississippi, I was comforted knowing if I got lost, I could just float down-river back to my hotel.

Traveling with a bunch of big guys who hadn’t eaten all day, everyone wanted to seek out some food.  Like a pack of wild hyenas, we were on the hunt.  Now, let me preface things with this: once we left the safety of the hotel and the touristy things in the immediate vicinity and ventured out into real New Orleans, everything looked like a dive.  I’m from the rust belt, so this concept isn’t lost on me.  Some of the best wings in the United States are in places that have ‘tetanus shot’ listed as an appetizer.  But when you’re in a big city like New Orleans with block after block of dives, it’s hard to discern between the bars and restaurants that are dives because it’s trendy and the dinginess is now a part of the culture of that specific place, and the ones that are dives because they indulge the seedier patrons of town.

Fortunately for us, our friend/tour guide survived his undergrad at Tulane, so we immediately went to the first of many palate-pleasing meals at a place called Mother’s.  [Insert mom joke here]  When I walked in, I knew exactly what I wanted: jambalaya.  Not my traditional sodium-packed box of Zataran’s from a Wal-Mart shelf.  I wanted authentic, New Orleans jambalaya.  That’s exactly what I got, and let me tell you, it was worth every penny and painstakingly long bowel movement thereafter.  I can’t tell you what places in New Orleans do to their food to make it taste more delicious, but there is definitely something about it that separates it from food I’ve eaten elsewhere.  Every meal was either delicious in a unique way (jambalaya, gumbo, po boys) or flat out better than food I’ve had elsewhere (the burger at Port of Call is the best burger I’ve had to date). In fact, after all the meals I had in New Orleans (we ate out for all of them, obviously), there was only one that left me underwhelmed, which was breakfast at The Camellia Grill.

Delicious Restaurants in New Orleans

“The food alone is worth the trip!”

Day two was highlighted by my favorite part of the trip, a New Orleans Zephyrs baseball game in our own box suite.  The Zephyrs are the Tripe-A affiliate of the Florida Marlins, and I actually had a chance to watch former Erie Seawolf Jacob Turner pitch, as the Detroit Tigers shipped him to Miami in a deadline deal this season.  The bachelor and one of our good friends who came were both exceptional baseball players growing up, and both of them played at the University of North Carolina, so I always enjoy getting to sit down and talk about the game with them.

After watching a baseball game as a king with eight other friends, I’ll never be able to watch one at a stadium the same ever again, sitting with all those simple yokels.  We had all the hot dogs, burgers, chili and chips our little hearts could desire, an air conditioned box (a wonderful commodity in New Orleans), and fantastic outside seating along the third baseline.

Bachelor Party Welcome New Orleans Zephyrs

Photograph courtesy of Super Dave’s Photography, 2012.

That night we went out to Bourbon Street.  I had been preparing myself mentally to bear witness to anything for the previous few weeks.  Babies double fisting mixed drinks, homeless people eating their own feces, dogs birthing cats.  I was ready for whatever weirdness New Orleans’s degenerates and their decadence could throw at me.  We stopped in a place called Tropical Isle and my buddy told me there was a drink there that I had to try.  It was called a hand grenade and it was a staple of the Big Easy.  I asked why it was called a hand grenade.  He smiled, and returned with this:

Hand Grenade

People in New Orleans are very good at naming things.

While I feel the food in New Orleans is priced reasonably (i.e. you will pay $9 for a bowl of jambalaya or a sandwich, but you leave the meal satisfied), the drinks are probably under-priced.  One or two adult beverages in New Orleans goes a long way.

So as we’re talking of the day’s shenanigans, our friend left to go to the bathroom.  When he returned, he had a panicked look on his face.  I asked him if he was okay.  He said no.  He said he couldn’t believe what he saw in the bathroom and that I should go check it out.  Understanding that someone who has seen something  that frightened him in a bathroom in New Orleans may have seen a wide range of weird or awful things, I was concerned.  But curious.  Eventually my curiosity outweighed my fear of the unknown and off I went.

I hesitantly walked through the bar, turned the corner down the hallway, and began my approach to the men’s room.  I took a deep breath at the door, bracing myself for what I was sure would burn the corneas right out of my eyes, reached for the door, and paused to make sure that I really wanted to see what was on the other side.

In that moment of hesitation, the door opened.  What stood on the other side closely resembled this:

New Orleans Devil

“Gaaaaaaaaaa!”

My heart skipped a beat and there was a moment as I stood at the bathroom door staring at the devil, him staring at me, where I thought to myself, “I hope I’m not dead on the floor in front of a bathroom in New Orleans and that’s why the devil is here greeting me.”  Yes, the gateway to the 9th Circle of Hell, I discovered, was in a bar in New Orleans.  The devil could see the panic in my eyes as I stood there slack-jawed at the men’s room, and with a cunning grin, he walked down the hallway and out the door.

At this point I was too panicked to actually use the bathroom, so after checking my pulse, I walked back with that same dumbfounded look my friend had.  He started laughing and asked, “Was he in there?”

“The guy in the red suit with horns?” I said.  “He was on his way out on my way in.”

The food and drinks of New Orleans were fantastic.  The city is steeped in a rich history that provides plenty of opportunities for things to do during the day, and obviously Bourbon Street offers a wide variety of activities at night.

And while this trip overall was one of the more enjoyable and entertaining trips I have ever experienced, my favorite part was getting to see all my friends together.  As we get married, get promotions, and start families as we approach and pass the thirty year marks of our lives, we have fewer and fewer opportunities to get together like this anymore.  I’ve learned to appreciate the time that I have with my friends, because I know it’s a nonrenewable resource and I want to make sure that I don’t take it for granted.

New Orleans was a fun city.  But it was only fun because of the people I went with.  I know that when I see them in a few weeks or months or years, I have one more memory to share, and some great friends to share it with.


Things will be better when you’re gone.

September 14, 2011

First, I’d like to thank my friend for allowing me to post this on his blog since it doesn’t necessarily relate to the overall theme of my personal blog.

These thoughts have been brewing for a while now.  I’ve shared my dark philosophy with my close friends but never quite as out loud or publicly as this platform will offer.  It’s pretty depressing, but I feel that the truth behind the message might change the way that people think about certain issues that aren’t yet socially acceptable for whatever reason.

Tonight I read a post in a Facebook group about a high school student that was expressing how disappointed he was with a conversation that his parents had with one another.  His parents’ conversation was about another set of parents that were extremely upset that their child announced that he was a homosexual and how they would be devastated if their one child did the same.  It inspired me to open my laptop and type this post.

Over the past few years, I have developed a firm stance on gay rights.  Not because I am gay myself, but because I am open-minded.  If that last statement was insulting to you then you should probably read on and probably be even more insulted.  I realize that people might not share the same views as me but they are still entitled to their own views and lifestyles.  That’s my definition of open-minded.  If you feel otherwise based on your religion, political affiliation, or because “that’s the way you were raised” then you aren’t open-minded.  You are basing how everyone else should live on the set of standards that you set for yourself.  Just stop and think about it for a second.  No really, stop right now before reading the next paragraph and just pause to think about the things that you believe and how they affect the happiness of others.  (Pause and count to 30)

I didn’t always feel as passionate as I do now about equality.  It was only a few years ago that the words “faggot” and “nigger” were part of my regular vocabulary.  It’s not something that I am proud of by any means.  Now, I actually am quite offended when I hear people use these words even in a playful sense.  It’s really not funny to me any more.  Who the hell am I (and you) to tell other people how to live their life if it’s not directly affecting the way I live mine?  I might not agree with it but I support that very right.

I thought about how things changed of the course of history and how embarrassing it is to think that the rights that some people have today were denied not long ago in our past.  From slavery to women’s right to vote, it’s embarrassing.  It’s embarrassing to think of how big of a deal it is that we now have a black president because we never thought in our recent past that we would ever see this as possible and acceptable.  It’s milestones like these that expose how narrow-minded we actually are as a society.

Over time, things get better but it’s never fast enough.  I credit the changes in socially acceptable issues to more open-mindedness from generation to generation.  Our ancestors socially accepted rights that denied others of those very same rights and we are still doing the same thing today with gay marriage.  It will again be embarrassing to look back 20 years from now when gay marriage is passed (hopefully much much sooner) and wonder why we waited so long to pass a law that allows people to be happy.  Gays aren’t looking for anything else but equality and we as a society are denying them of that.  That’s embarrassing.

As generations continue they become more accepting to the beliefs of others.  My generation is more accepting of homosexuality than my parents’ generation and definitely more accepting than their parents’ generation.  What is awesome about this trend is that my children will live in a world that is more accepting than the very one in which I live.  It’s very offensive and insulting to accept the concept that things will be better when you’re (I’m) gone and that’s a beautiful thing for our children, their children and so on.


Bill O’Reilly is an idiot.

October 15, 2010

Seriously.  A flaming idiot.

Around the 1:5o mark, Bill O’Reilly says on of the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.  While trying to explain why he feels the ‘Ground Zero Mosque’, as it’s now known, is inappropriate, O’Reilly and his mindless diarrhea of the mouth farted the following:

“Muslims killed us on 9/11!”

Holy shit.  That is one of the most bigoted, idiotic things I have ever heard someone utter, Fox News or otherwise.

Generalizing the terrorists behind the 9/11 attacks as Muslims would be like generalizing the Southern lynch mobs in the late 1800’s as Christians.  Were the crazy rednecks who hung black people from trees Christians?  Absolutely.  I don’t hear Bill O’Reilly preaching that Christians senselessly murdered thousands of black people.  Because the ignorant hillbillies who did things like that were ‘Christians’.

It doesn’t seem fair to pass judgment on a whole group of people when you’re part of that group, does it, O’Reilly?  You horse’s ass.

Bill O'Reilly is a horse's ass. Literally.

 

Then O’Reilly tries some more failed logic and a terrible PR drop as he continues to ramble on pointlessly: “…a lot of the 9/11 families, who I know, say, ‘Look, we don’t want that.'”

Jesus.  Do you mean like how when white, Southern Christians enslaved, raped, and murdered black people in the South for over a century and then fought in a war to prevent their slaves from freedom in the name of the Confederate flag? I bet the descendants of those slaves don’t want the rebel flag flying around capital cities.  Jackass.  And, in a sadly predictable twist, every radio station that Bill O’Reilly’s on promotes the right to wave that Confederate flag.

Columbia, South Carolina: A century and a half behind the North.

It will never cease to amaze me that people like O’Reilly still have viewers, even after they say terribly bigoted, uneducated things like that.


The Pope’s vendetta against people with mustaches. And atheists.

September 21, 2010

Joseph Ratzinger (AKA – The Pope) had this to say about Hitler and the Nazis on his first day in Edinburgh:

Even in our own lifetime, we can recall how Britain and her leaders stood against a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society and denied our common humanity to many, especially the Jews, who were thought unfit to live. I also recall the regime’s attitude to Christian pastors and religious who spoke the truth in love, opposed the Nazis and paid for that opposition with their lives. As we reflect on the sobering lessons of the atheist extremism of the twentieth century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society and thus to a ‘reductive vision of the person and his destiny.’

One does have to wonder if Ratzinger has ever opened a book on history.  One would think it may not be necessary, since he actually lived through it and witnessed the atrocities of the Nazi party as a compulsory member of the Hitler Youth during World War II.  However, historical inaccuracies aside, I have a major problem with Ratzinger’s statement.

He singles out atheists as if all of them are hate mongering, murderous extremists.  Ratzinger whimsically profiles an entire demographic of our society with no basis whatsoever for doing so, which clearly demonstrates that he didn’t learn a valuable lesson about haphazardly profiling people during World War II.  The historically inaccurate statement that ‘Hitler and the Nazi party were all atheists’ simply isn’t true and is a crass, inflammatory statement intended to stir up fear and anger in people who are uneducated about the history of World War II and Hitler.  Sadly, people listen to that man as viable source of information.  But even more sadly, Ratzinger views himself as one.  And he clearly isn’t.

And even if Hitler hadn’t been a confirmed Catholic, (which he was) and hadn’t claimed that his attempted extermination of Jewish people was a war waged on behalf of God, (which he did) and was actually an atheist, blaming atheism for the atrocities that took place during the Holocaust would be no more logical than saying, “Hitler, Stalin, and Wario all have mustaches, therefore all people with mustaches are evil.”

Mustaches are not tools of hatred, oppression, and fear, as the Pope's logic would have you believe.

People are entitled to have faith in whatever they so choose.  But I just hope that when it comes to high ranking religious officials like the Pope, people exercise a little bit of judgment and critical thinking skills before they eat out of his hand.

And Joseph Ratzinger, of all people, should know better than attempting to stir up unfounded fears and unjust persecution towards specific members of our society.


On Gay Marriage

May 18, 2010

Laura Bush understands that gay people should have the same opportunity to be miserable as straight people.

I wish she wasn’t quite so conceding about understanding her husband’s viewpoint when his viewpoint is denying a lot of people an equal opportunity at happiness.  Baby-steps towards progress, I suppose.


Substance abuse

May 17, 2010

Anonymous athlete from the NFL wrote a nice letter to the New York Times that can be read here.  If any of this stuff actually checks out, the NFL doesn’t do as good of a job as it should monitoring its own athletes, that’s for sure.  Better get back to work trying to stop your drug addicted, sexual deviants, Roger.

While the NFL is chasing down those PED “cheaters,” the real losers only need to cut back on drug use for about two months, in May and June. We’re warned at the very first meeting of May minicamp/OTAs by the head athletic trainer: “Annuals are this week … If you don’t get tested this week, you will be tested in June.” That kind of behavior almost condones the use of street drugs!


On Accountability.

January 28, 2010

Keep in mind that this will be a very simple example of a very complex issue. Get your old Philosophy 101 text books out, college grads.

Imagine I’m about to take a mission trip to an impoverished area. My goal is to help the people of this area out with their day-to-day lives and I have a vast amount of money and resources at my disposal. Now, let’s assume that this area is in a desert and people have to survive under these circumstances. I’m going to take a lot of clean, bottled water. I’m going to take rainwater collecting basins to help them collect and store water. I’ll bring tools to help them establish effective irrigation ditches for their farming. I’m going to bring shelters that are conducive to the climate as well. There’ll be the best medical supplies that money can buy, and I’m even going to teach them how to read. That sounds fantastic, doesn’t it?

Now, let’s also imagine that, because of the extreme sun in this desert climate that people who live and work in this area suffer from extreme cases of melanoma (which causes approximately 75% of all skin cancer related deaths). As they grow old, the people of this land develop extremely painful moles that ulcerate and bleed. Eventually, the cancer spreads to the lymph nodes and other organs within the body before it very slowly and painfully kills its victims. Now, the worst part of this disease is that it’s also genetic. Every time the people in this village breed, they further embed the gene that makes their decedents more susceptible to developing this terrible disease.

Now, I know that one of the most effective ways to help prevent developing melanoma is to use sunscreen. Using a sunscreen over SPF 30 has shown that it can reduce cases of skin-related cancers. However, due to my personal beliefs and sensibilities (for whatever reasons), I refuse to offer sunscreen as a preventative measure to these people. Instead, I offer alternatives that may work (stay out of the sun between peak sun hours of 9AM to 3PM, wear long sleeved shirts and pants), but are much more unreasonable. I give them long sleeved shirts and UV blocking fabric for their huts. However, with temperatures consistently in the hundreds, wearing long sleeved clothing is out of the question and not working between peak sun hours is simply not an option.

So, as a result of my personal convictions, an opportunity to raise the quality of life and potentially save lives within this village is lost. Villagers have to continue to work out in the sun to live. Even with the attempt to wear long sleeved clothing, they still develop lesions on the exposed areas of their bodies and damn their future generation with the cancer susceptible gene.

My question that I’d like to pose to you is this: How accountable should I be held for having the knowledge and capability to stop a terrible disease from spreading, but, because of my personal beliefs, decide not to give these people the resources to help them improve the quality of their and their future children’s lives?

I don't believe in the use of sunscreen. For the intents and purposes of this post, at least.