With less than 48 hours from deciding to visit to arrival in New Orleans, it may be quite obvious to many that little pre-planning went into this excursion. Furiously tapping away on my computer, I booked rooms and made plans for my chance to visit the internationally recognized destination of New Orleans.
Turns out it wasn’t quite all the “big easy” weekend I had planned. Don’t get me wrong, I had a great time. How could I not – it was New Orleans after all. Millions flock there every year to experience the Mardi Gras life and NOLA delivers. To better set the stage for this New Orleans comedy of errors, let me back up a moment. I decided, only days before St Patrick’s Day and right in the heart of the North American phenomenon that is spring break, that I had to get myself down there and no other destination would do. I booked my (surprisingly cheap) flight and created my New Orleans Bucket List. I had wanted to experience this place for myself for years and with a sudden opening in my schedule, I wasn’t about to let the opportunity pass!
Finding a hotel right before St Patrick’s Day, in the midst of spring break, proved to be a challenge, but I managed to do it. I had visions of staying in a lovely French Quarter style Inn or B&B – but who was I kidding – 48 hours was not enough time to find something like that even remotely in my price range. They had all been scooped up by the sensible people who had made their plans and booked ahead! I found and booked a perfectly good hotel walking distance from all the action for 2 nights (did I mention I was in town for 4???).
My flight down was uneventful. I got to the airport, caught a shuttle to my hotel and hit the streets, camera in hand, ready to explore. It was hotter than I expected but with so many cheesy tourist shops to choose from, a cute dress was procured and problem solved. I did the all the classic touristy things – swamp tours, beignets at Cafe du Monde, a city tour (did it by bicycle with French Quarter Bike Tours and loved it) and walked down Bourbon Street with the traditional Hurricane cocktail. I listened to jazz and watched street performers all over town – nothing like sitting in a cafe, devouring a plate of amazing southern flavours (gumbo, craw fish, giant muffulettas…) while musicians provide you with amazing jazz, reminding you of how wonderful it is to be on holiday in New Orleans. You sit there wondering how any of the locals ever go back to work in the afternoon! Being St Patrick’s weekend, I naturally caught a parade in the French Quarter and revelled with locals and tourists alike. So, you ask, where does this comedy of errors begin?
This is where it starts to unravel!
I had been told that I absolutely had to go out to the Metairie Road parade. The floats, I was told, were like Mardi Gras and it was much bigger than what was going on in the heart of the tourist district. With fantastic photo ops dancing in my head, I was determined to get there! My readers would love the photos as much as I would love taking them! I asked not 1 but 3 taxi drivers to take me out to the parade route. The first 2 flat out refused. Not to be deterred, I kept in search of my taxi prince – the one that would take me to the Metairie Road parade. Perhaps the refusal of the first 2 taxis should have been the indicator. I was starting to realize that I may have been misinformed!
Dropped off by my not so happy taxi prince #3, armed with camera and enthusiasm, I head down the parade route in search of the perfect vantage point for photos. People thought I worked for the papers and were constantly stopping me to have their pictures taken. I soon started to realize that yes, this was in fact going to be quite a spectacular parade, however it looked like it was really geared to the locals. People had dragged their bbqs and picnic tables to the street – it was a St Patrick’s Day street party that had taken over many streets and everyone was out. Coolers and crawfish were everywhere! The atmosphere was beyond festive and the sense of community was stronger than anything I had ever experienced before. I felt like a fish out of water. I am sure I wasn’t the only tourist amongst the locals, but my exuberance was dwindling in the Louisiana heat.
Stepping back once again – having not been at my organizational best, I was unable to rent a car downtown which meant that I had to get one from the airport. First, I had to get back downtown to pick up my bags before picking up the car and heading to Nottoway Plantation for the night. Getting the car was an extra step for sure, but simple enough, or so I thought! This may have been my down fall!
Back to the parade. The natives (ie: me) were getting restless waiting for the parade to come. Word on the street was that is was quite customary for them to be at least an hour or two late! I waited and waited, starting to worry that my fight to find a taxi to get me here was for naught. I was running out of time to get to the airport for my car and still had a little over an hour to drive out to the the plantations. This was an experience I didn’t want to miss. As the thought that the trip to the parade was going to be for nothing began to take hold, it dawned on me…this is a residential area. Where the heck am I going to find a taxi to take me back??? Mind racing, body melting in the heat, I felt like I was going to unravel! I let irrationality take hold. I needed to get a grip – it’s not like I was in the middle of nowhere – just lost in suburbia!
I must have had some stressed look on my face as one of the ladies next to me asked if I needed help. Giving me the number for a local cab company, I relaxed and waited for the infamous parade. Just as I was about to give up, the first of the floats arrived. The crowds went wild and every one surged forward. I knew that I couldn’t stay the duration, but was glad to have seen some of the show. If this is only a fraction of the fun of Mardi Gras, I will clearly have to come back! Time ticking away, I made to make my way back along the route. I found myself a landmark, sat down and called the taxi company telling them I was sitting on the steps of a big church (the name of the church eludes me, but dispatch knew exactly where I was). Not long after, a beat up old cab pulled up across the street, looked at me, then drove into the nursing home across the street. Figuring it had to be my cab, I stood up and waited on the street. Sure enough, after a few minutes, he turned back and picked me up.
It’s all downhill from here! (or should I say, it’s like a train wreck where you just can’t look away!)
I only wish I had taken some photos from this point forward as what happened next sounds too crazy to believe! The cab looked like parts of the door were held together with duct tape – it was a well definitely a well worn vehicle. My driver was a friendly guy – you know – the kind you could see playing a drunken Santa in a made for tv movie (the friendly, bumbling sort)! When I had called dispatch, I had requested a taxi to the airport, the plan being to drive myself back to town for my bags before heading to the plantations. With time running out, I asked my driver for a detour to the hotel, thinking I would save myself time. We agreed on a set price and I sat back and relaxed. It was all going to work out…..
We were at my hotel in no time, and he pulled the cab up to the front door where the pylons with no parking signs block the main entrance. No word of a lie – he scratched the entire right side of his cab against these signs as he squeezed the car in. I thought to myself as I sprinted into the hotel “This isn’t going to be good!”
Bags in tow, I jumped back into the cab and we head off to the airport. His dispatcher was looking for him as he should have returned to his area by now. (I would have thought he would have called this change in, but it’s his business, not mine.) Arriving at the airport, he drove right past the big parking garage area – you know the one, it is at most major airports! He said the rental cars were off to the left – they normally run a shuttle. Dubious, I had no choice but to believe him as he wasn’t slowing down any. We get out to the middle of nothing but space with a gate and a parking lot. A lone black man with tats and overalls came over. Turns out we are in the detail lot and could not exit without a manager to open the security gate. Great – now I was stuck. A manager was called and the situation explained. We were let out. Perfect…the airport is in sight and I could get on my way…
or so it seemed…..
We drove up the ramp and headed towards the rental cars. Once again, my driver didn’t follow the signs and made a left when the arrows clearly point straight ahead for rental cars. Can this get any crazier??? Word of advice – never think those words in your head because, yes, it can! Seriously, I should have taken pictures of this part because in a million years, I would never have expected what happened next!
So, my driver realizes his mistake and turns right between the rows of cars. Luckily (or unluckily), pedestrian crossings in New Orleans appear to be wider than those I am used to because, you guessed it, he drove right up the pedestrian walkway! How he fit that car in there and didn’t scratch all the parked cars, I will never know, be he managed. We got to the end and straight ahead of us was the airport.
…and the comedy continues
I have no choice but to draw you a diagram as I regret not taking a picture (I just couldn’t believe my eyes and really wanted to get out of there!!!) Still sitting in the back of the cab wondering what the heck this guy is going to do next, I said that I didn’t think he would fit. I am not sure if he took this as a challenge (a reasonable person would have gone to the rental desk and asked that the empty car sitting in the roadway be moved!!). My driver laughed and said no problem before trying to squeeze his beat up old cab into the space. Needless to say, try is the operative word here! He did fairly well manage to make that left hand turn by the way…..but drove straight into one of the rentals car parked in the parking spaces. At this point, I paid him our agreed upon price, grabbed my bags and got the hell out of dodge!
I swear this story to be true…you can’t make this stuff up!