I spent last week eating beignets and gumbo, perusing voodoo shops and wandering through the cemeteries of New Orleans. I even got a chance to improve my goal of visiting all 50 states, getting Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi outta the way.
I was visiting my dear friend Nicole and we spent most of our time cooking and relaxing in her beautiful backyard. Oh, bless the heat and humidity. How I’ve missed it. As one New Orleanian said about Santa Cruz, “I don’t know how you tolerate that perfect weather all the time.”
Nicole and I have been friends since 2007 when we met working for a newspaper. We’ve both moved on to bigger and better things since then, but she is one reason I’m not at all upset I worked for that company.
If it weren’t for Nicole, I don’t know when I would’ve crossed these states off my list, and I wouldn’t have learned (and relearned) a few things on this trip.
1. Stop with the preconceived notions already. I had this impression that the South was just a bunch of people hating on those damn Yankees, that no one cared about being active and everyone had a gun rack on their truck.
This, of course, is a bit of an exaggeration, but I realized when I got to Louisiana that I did have a lot of stereotypes playing in my head and they didn’t serve me. Would I have even thought to jog around the New Orleans Museum of Art? Would I have had a full-on conversation with a family about crawfish and good restaurants in the grocery store?
Nope. But thankfully I was with one of the coolest cats around, Nicole, and her mind is wide open. She reminded me why we spent so much time together when we both lived in Minneapolis. When I’m with her, I have some of the best adventures.
2. People who don’t have much are generally more kind. It’s been awhile since I’ve been to a poor part of the world. I lived in (iron ore) mining country, but nothing prepared me for the poverty I saw when I went to Honduras. Many parts of New Orleans are poor. Hell, even the rich parts of town aren’t in that great of shape.
But everyone, and I mean everyone was so genuinely friendly to me. Why? Because they actually talked to me. I was totally disarmed by this at first. I’m so used to this brisk conversation I usually have in passing. Surface conversation.
Everyone I talked to in the South wanted to chat, get to know my story and tell me theirs. The folks at the grocery store made sure I got some crawfish before they took the last because they knew I’d never had it. The cashier at another store told me all about her daughter who played the violin. She’s in sixth grade. Her son is a bit younger.
Now of course I’m not trying to get a preconceived notion in my head (totally negating my first point) but I will say that when I was in Honduras this same thing struck me. How could folks that had dirt floors get to know me better than my neighbor with 1500 square feet? It makes me want to be more grateful and more kind.
3. Not drinking in New Orleans is hard. Not smoking is harder. I’ve started my training program for the spring, which means no more alcohol. When I set up my trip, this wasn’t on my radar, but about a month before I signed up for several races this summer and sobriety became the order of the day. And for the most part, that wasn’t too tough.
We still walked down Bourbon Street. We still went to Paps on Monday night for mmmmazing red beans and rice. I even had an N/A beer made by Guiness to wash down my duck gumbo. And I enjoyed it all.
But dear god I wanted a cigarette. It didn’t help that Nicole and her roomies smoke. But honestly, who doesn’t? Driving around, it seemed like everyone had their windows open to ash their cigarette. I came home from the bars with nicotine-stained skin. And for whatever reason, I wanted it.
I knew better, really. If I lit up one time, I would fall back into the trap of being a smoker. And I spent too damn long being a non-smoker for that to happen.
Plus I’d head back to Caliornia and be a social pariah. For those of you trying to quit in Louisiana, I salute you.
The addiction I thought I’d kicked years ago reared its ugly head on this trip, which surprised me although now I know it shouldn’t. (See Point 1.) And although I didn’t get out to the music clubs like I wanted to, it wasn’t because I wasn’t drinking.
4. Let go of should. New Orleans stays up past my bedtime. Every show I wanted to see didn’t even start until 11 pm or midnight. Ummm…did I mention I like to be cozied up with a book by 10? I know, I know, it’s my vacation!
Exactly. It’s my vacation. And I didn’t want to spend it forcing myself to stay up late to see music just because I thought I should. Just because in my mind I saw myself going to those shows doesn’t mean it’s going to be a reality when I like to get up and sip coffee and eat pastries at 6:30 a.m. Or drive to Pensacola at 7 a.m.
5. Alternate universes exist everywhere. Whenever I go on a trip I set an intention. What do I want to get out of this trip?
When I touched down in NOLA, I wanted to get my child’s sense of magic back. Sure, I’ve performed a few rituals and worshiped under the full moon, but something about California has made my magic more sterile, less animal.
When I was younger I was more wild, brazen and probably a bit reckless with my magic. Being more responsible has been good; I’ve definitely reaped the benefits. But being in the land of voodoo queens made me very excited. I wanted to see with new eyes.
Everywhere I looked I saw what I would’ve done if I was drinking and I started to see this as an alternate universe. I definitely would’ve smoked, heading back to an old universe I’d left behind, I thought, for good. I didn’t get a child’s sense of magic. I got perspective.
Every choice we make propels us further into the universe we’re in or throws us into an alternate one. If you choose the same things over and over, you’ll probably just stick to one or two your whole life. But if you dare to examine your faults, take risks and choose differently, you’ll have so many lives by the time you make it to the end, you’ll be ready for a break.
This was the big one for me and I hope you’ll start looking at the world through Alternate Universe Eyes. Ask yourself, “What would happen if I left work early/brought my own lunch/took the bus/ate that banana I always let rot/(insert some other small change here)?” Close your eyes and imagine the new world you would create. Dream big.
Then decide, is that something you want for yourself? Maybe taking the bus will lead you to meet someone who works nearby your office and always works out during lunch. Do you need a workout buddy? Or bringing your own lunch saves you exactly what that plane ticket to Figi costs. Are you ready for a real vacation?
If so, do it. Do it now. Don’t wait until tomorrow. Do it now. Universes like it when you follow your intuition, your innate sense of urgency. Who knows? That plane ticket might not fall into your life if you wait until next week.
What alternate universes do you see for yourself? Are you in the same one or do you bounce between several?