EPISODE ONE: A ‘NO HOPE’
As 2012 dawned I was plugging steadily along in my safe and somnolent rut and routine. I had a good paying day job, spent my nights and weekends writing for a local magazine in hopes of finally launching my literary career, and was in a new relationship that had provided initial euphoria. As this Mayan-misappropriated cataclysm of a year got underway, however, I went through a mini-apocalypse of my own. My sudden romantic contentment morphed into a painful debacle that I fled with heart and ego battered. Further bruising my pride, my writing gig fizzled out that same week. Suddenly I found myself despondent with no buoy of hope bobbing on the horizon. Worsening matters, I was also facing financial reckoning. I had bought a condo in Jacksonville (one of the hardest hit cities) Florida (one of the hardest hit states) in 2007 (the absolute worst year to buy) and was realizing I had to eventually confront this financially severed artery. And just for lagniappe (‘something extra’ in Cajun-speak), this lack of life accomplishment was securely wrapped inside the knowledge that my last year of ‘thirties’ would dawn that September, thus facing midlife wondering when my life would begin.
Fortunately on the horizon for the first weekend of May was the one event that could possibly pull me out of my doldrums: Jazzfest in New Orleans.
PARADISE LOST & FOUND…& THEN FLOODED
The first time I visited New Orleans was in 1998 while living in Tallahassee after my girlfriend, sharing my love of music, suggested we attend something called ‘Jazzfest.’ I was immediately intrigued yet a little surprised when she related having friends who went every year. I was game to visit once, perhaps returning someday if duly impressed, but who would waste their time and money going to the same event in the same city every year?! The moment I entered the Crescent City, however, I ‘got it.’ A long courtship began between The Big Easy and me and I returned once, sometimes twice, every pre-Katrina year, braving my first Mardi Gras and finally experiencing French Quarter Fest a few months before Katrina nearly washed the city away.
In the years preceding 2005’s decimation, I became a devoted student of New Orleans. I drank up the music like a Bourbon Street daiquiri; sought out restaurants and clubs like religious pilgrimages; learned to cook like an exiled foodie; subscribed to New Orleans Magazine like a trendy local; and got downright annoying in my ability to wax poetic about a city where I’d spent so little actual time. Yet although my soul was converting to part Creole, I never dreamed of relocating. An ever-faithful disciple, I wouldn’t dare despoil my spiritual fountain of youth like some paradise annexing Conquistador. Plant a flag and a mystic escape suddenly becomes simply home with all the problems, demands and daily drudgery thereto attached.
By the time Katrina struck, my traveling companions and I were going through major life transitions. I was settling into the forty-hour routine of my new healthcare profession—Occupational Therapy—and had broken up with my Jazzfest girlfriend. The companions I had dragged along and infected with my enthusiasm, if to a lesser degree, all married. It was hard to keep the party going when all my rowdy friends had settled down; besides, I feared I may be rushing back to dance on the graves of the tragically departed despite pleas for tourists to return. While New Orleans left a lasting imprint on my life, my Creole soul gradually took a backseat to the ‘Salt Life’ of the north Florida beaches.
EPISODE (BACK) TWO: RETURN OF THE BEAD GUY
In 2011 a Jacksonville friend from Metairie (a N.O. suburb, newbie readers) invited me and some other friends to stay at his parents’ home for Mardi Gras. From the moment I smelled the thick delta air, my passion for all things New Orleans returned. My friends and I sipped Hurricane’s at Pat O’Briens and stumbled jubilantly down Bourbon Street; attended some of the biggest parades while buying cocktails at a fundraiser in a church basement and stowing our beer and munchies in a school cafeteria renting out space; caught 60 pounds of beads (yes, I weighed them on a bathroom scale!); attended a traditional crawfish boil; and rented tuxes/donned party dresses for the black-tie Orpheus Ball (rock on, Loverboy…the 80s will never die!) When the long weekend was up it still didn’t occur to me that I’d ever move, but my Creole soul was back in full bloom.
BILLY IDOL & BETTER THAN EZRA GET IT, WHY DON’T I GET IT?
Flash forward to May 2012 when I could barely muster enough heart to pack my suitcase and navigate the curve-less drudgery of I-10 West. The instant I settled into the blazing heat of the low-hanging Louisiana sky, life began to make sense again. My soul began to tingle back to life like a sleeping appendage as I swam in the sea of rich and diverse rhythms radiating from Jazzfest’s eleven stages. Artists ranging from international superstars to obscure local gems filled the air with every genre of music imaginable. While swaying to the swirling beats I feasted on rich, spicy cuisine and was baptized in the unparalleled spirit of celebration and hospitality only New Orleans can conjure.
It only took a few hours at the fairgrounds to take me from spiritually flat-lined to jumping and jivinglike a southern tent-revivalist. By the time I removed my t-shirt to wave as a second-line towel while jubilantly dancing to the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, my Metairie friend and his wife of Baton Rouge laughed and told me this was where I belonged. As the weekend wore on and they continued to bend my growingly-receptive ear, we arrived at the Gentilly Stage to watch one of my favorite bands from New Orleans or anywhere else: Better Than Ezra. As the band began to spin the whirling, hypnotic rhythm of “Absolutely Still,” lead singer Kevin Griffin interjected: “The answer to your question is: ‘Yes, quite easily.’ [pause] You’ve been thinking: ‘Man can I make it work? Could I move down to New Orleans? Could I make that shit happen?’ The answer is: ‘Yes, quite easily.’” Damn. Billy Idol gets it! Why don’t I get it? (That’s a Wedding Singer reference if you’re movie trivia-challenged!)
A BLOG IS BORN
As I drove back to Florida I realized this weekend hadn’t set my life back on track but rather had radically altered its course like the mighty Mississippi cutting a new path into its muddy banks. Gradually an idea coalesced. I did not want to merely drape my status quo in new scenery but fulfill my life’s greatest ambition and finally publish a book. (I’d say write, but that’s been done twice though I eventually tired of courting big publishers.) In this case it would be an adventure memoir like the stories I’d been writing for the magazine, but instead of chronicling a day or two I’d take a whole year. A story, though, needs a beginning and end—what better bookends than to return for Mardi Gras as a tourist, stay and experience the culture while trying to join Mardi Gras Krewes, then end my tale the following Mardi Gras riding in a parade as a newly minted local?! Along the way I would detail what it’s like to live in this unique city and help plan this unique celebration. I wanted to return next February and truly experience Mardi Gras and New Orleans. Not for a weekend. Not for a season. I wanted to witness the whole glorious production from planning to preparation to performance. I wanted the Full Monty. I wanted My Year of Mardi Gras!
So keep clicking to learn WHERE & WHEN I’m Going Off the Deep End!