The Great American Road Trip: Part 4

In the spirit of Mardi Gras and Fat Tuesday this week, we proceed on the Great American Road Trip from sweet, flashing Nashville, to the entirely magical NOLA.

New Orleans, L.A.

My first trip to New Orleans, Louisiana, had me head-spun, swamp-enamored, voodoo-entranced and quite possibly considering ending the cross-country road trip early and setting up shop. It was in all senses delightfully overwhelming and magical. A melting pot concoction of culture seeps from the city’s every crack, crevice and corner, and my anthropology loving mind was absorbing it all like a sponge.

New Orleans, a province of colonial Spain sandwiched between two periods of French rule, retains traces of around-the-world today as it exists as part of the U.S. under the 1803 Louisiana purchase. Toss in an incredible amount of African influence and the ever-entrancing voodoo religion, a touch of spicy cuisine and blaring brass bands, and the high-energy, semi-addictive personality types (like my own?) who have come to get a taste of this culture-soup and gotten their feet happily planted in the Louisiana swamp. Now, paint everything with the brightest, most vibrantly cheerful and charming colors and year-round Christmas lights and celebration beads: NOLA.

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Some of the beautiful colors of the Big Easy.
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Valence Cemetery. Much of NOLA is below sea level, so the graveyards are above ground!

 

Our killer weekend in the Big Easy began with nothing other than piles of crawfish at the local NOLA brewery, beautiful art at the NOMA, and even better live music: an intimate show of Arkansas blues-duo Handmade Moments, at the Apple Barrel, a cozy venue that plays live music every night of the week.

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Crawfish at the NOLA Brewery!

City tip: The Apple Barrel bar is located in Marigny, a history-rich, authentic NOLA neighborhood. Live like a local and delve into the area’s delicious food and great music, or, start your night here and make your way down to the French Quarter, where the craziness is only a stroll’s away.

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The madness of Bourbon Street in the French Quarter.

The city embraces an open container law, so our walk to the French Quarter and Bourbon Street was extra warm and enjoyable. Like in Nashville, live music typical of the city sounded from every bar. Some of our quieter moments that night were stumbling upon an open-air artist’s market on Decatur Street and Galerie Rue Royale, a sweet and small art gallery that was bustling even at 9 p.m. on a Friday night.

City tip: The French Market District teems with trinkets, treasures, traditions and tasty treats and makes for a great daytime activity. Don’t forget to get a beignet from Cafe Du Monde: the cafe is famous for the city’s traditional treat of a square of fried dough topped with confectionary sugar. Check out the nearby Mississippi River to imagine the historical trading, importing and exporting that took place in this port city in years prior.

After a night on Bourbon Street, our Saturday in the Big Easy called for a relaxing morning of yoga and wandering through Audubon Park. The low-key day prepped us for dinner at the famous Parkway Bakery and Tavern for what USA Today named “The Best Po’ Boy In Louisiana” in 2016. The Obama’s even made a trip there!

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The best shrimp po’ boy in all of Louisiana at Parkway Bakery and Tavern!

 

 

City tip: Po’ boys originated in New Orleans as free, hearty sandwiches for union workers on strike. It comes from the term, ‘poor boy’, a name that gives insight to the work ethic and conditions of NOLA natives in the 1920s and 30s. Order it dressed– topped with lettuce, tomato, pickles and mayonnaise– to sound like a local!

 

We topped off the best shrimp po’ boy in the state with the best spontaneous performance of NOLA live music one can hope to find: the epic, up-and-coming Tank and the Bangas. An eclectic combination of jazz, soul, funk, folk and extremely high energy, this band is a name to remember. Check their upcoming tour dates to see if this band is performing during your Big Easy visit- you won’t want to miss it.

City tip: Get a better taste of the magic encompassing you in the Big Easy: check out the Historic Voodoo Museum near the French Quarter and gain a deeper understanding of the mysterious religion. The museum is a small, dimly-lit hallway that connects three rooms full of voodoo history, talismans and shrines. The voodoo religion has its roots in Africa and arrived to the U.S. during the time of slavery in the 1800s: a cloud of racism combined with the religion’s lack of scripture and inaccurate Hollywood portrayal all contributes to its mystery and conceptions of evil. In truth, it is benign and empowering like any religion.

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Beautiful architecture in the French Quarter.

There is only one way to end your weekend and Sunday in NOLA. The final adventure capping off your Big easy experience is to witness and partake in a second line parade. Second line parades descend from the city-famous jazz funerals, and usually take place on Sunday afternoons with joyful dancing, brass bands and outrageous uniforms. Today, many organizations perform second line parades, and while for varying reasons and in varying neighborhoods, at any given event you can find locals and tourists alike spilling their open-container drinks, dancing and walking the route.

We danced and paraded with the second line members for miles until our feet ached, our stomaches growled and our cheeks had tightened from laughter. It was time to wrap up our New Orleans adventure and we had one last experience to cross off our city bucket list.

In the spirit of Mardi Gras, we bought a King Cake: traditionally a Christian honor to the three kings and now, a NOLA Mardi Gras favorite. The King Cake comes with a small plastic baby, in which you hide somewhere in the cake. The story goes that the person who receives the slice with the plastic piece in it must throw the next party. We enjoyed our King Cake with some wine and friends on the Mississippi River as the sun went down: our weekend in magical NOLA had us contently partied out.

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An incredibly decorated (and delicious) King Cake!
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Sunset on the Mississippi River.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beneath the captivating surface, locals helped me understand that NOLA was a city of extremes. For every vibrant house, there was a homeless person in the French Quarter asking for a sip of beer. For every victorious band, like Tank and the Bangas, there were the sounds of second line parades that once voiced their aching losses of loved ones. For every tourist that comes sweeping full force into the city to get a taste, there are natural disasters, like flooding and hurricanes, that the area is prone to enduring. For every person that gets sucked into the magic of the swamp, there are people who cannot get out and get un-stuck from the sinking land.

New Orleans was a bursting city, overflowing in every aspect. It wasn’t until our drive out of the swampland to our next destination of Austin, Texas, that I felt a moment of clarity about my heart-set move to San Diego. It was as if I regained consciousness after a trance that had claimed me finally broke– but for a colorful moment there, I had my feet and heart firmly planted in the swampland of NOLA, too.

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Colorful, bustling artwork by talented Deveney Williams Productions. More at deveneywilliams.com.

 

The Great American Road Trip: Part 3

From our nation’s capital, we headed south to Music City: the capital of songwriting and country music.

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A light-bulb sign in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Nashville

Hello, flashing lights, buy-one-get-two cowgirl boots, home of hot chicken and the Man in Black. Nashville, the first official stop as co-pilots on our cross-country adventure, was only slightly warmer in temperature than D.C., but lightyears warmer in southern hospitality. We saw sun here for the first time in weeks, and light shone on the incredibly kind friends who hosted and welcomed us with homemade beer and great taste in music, and the equally friendly strangers who shared locals-only city tips and histories.

City tip: Head to East Nashville for a more hip, locals scene. Visit Drifters and sit at the bar for some good stories and even better BBQ!

It was a taste of the south, a taste of aforementioned hot chicken, which is absolutely no joke and caused my road trip partner to shed (or sweat?) a single tear of fiery deliciousness, a taste of a Bushwacker, a very boozy adult milkshake originating from the Caribbean and milking its way up the U.S. east coast, and a taste of rich entertainment industry history.

Our daytime activities consisted of seeing the Johnny Cash Museum, visiting Acme Radio and hiking in Percy Warner Park, while our nightlife involved strolling down Broadway, with its Honky Tonk music pouring from every bar, a Country Burlesque show at Skull’s in funky Printer’s Alley, and karaoke and mechanical bull riding at Wild Beaver.

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Country performers flooded the bars up and down the famous Broadway strip, also known as Honky Tonk Highway.

City tip: Musician’s etiquette asks for a dollar in the performer’s jar upon entry to a bar. Consider it a thanks-for-getting-up-there-and-making-Honky-Tonk-for-us, and a great-job-tip because in Nashville, every performer is talented enough to win on The Voice (we met one who actually had).

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The meeting of back doors: the Ryman Auditorium and Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge.

City tip: In the 1960s, Nashville’s early years in becoming the booming country capital it is today, musicians would perform at the Ryman Auditorium and head over through the alley entrance of Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge for a night-cap. To this day, the bar brings in performers and tourists alike.

All in all, Nashville was pleasing to the senses: great music for the ears, delectable treats for the tastebuds, intriguing history and sight-seeing for the mind and the eyes, and twangy charm for the heart. It was a city recognizable to this day for its role in shaping the country music genre and proclaiming itself as a place of hopeful and determined musicians and songwriters with aspirations of making it big time.

When sitting at Drifters’ bar chatting with a local, I asked, “Are you a musician?”

I caught myself instantly rephrasing my question in response to his jaded chuckle- “Is everyone a musician here?”

“Throw a rock in the air.” He responded. “It’ll land on one.”

So long Nashville, the city of aspiring dreams, rockstar karaoke singers, Honky Tonk bars, Country Burlesque and flashy lights and cowgirl boots. Next up, the Big Easy.

Check out the adrenaline rush below that was post-mechanical-bull-ride: my karaoke version of ‘He Can Only Hold Her’ by Amy Winehouse at Wild Beaver in Nashville!

The Great American Road Trip: Part 2

The second stop in my cross-country move to San Diego.

Washington, D.C./ Arlington, V.A.

On January 19, 2017, my babe squad and I collected ourselves from our time in the Big Apple, drove disappointedly through Newark without finding any New Jersey bagels, gained another college best friend on our weekend mission and got settled into to our Arlington home with our incredible host for an empowering next couple of days.

Four of my closest girlfriends were joining me on the first stretch of my cross-country road trip to march on the Capitol for the Women’s March on Washington, the largest demonstration of human rights in history.

The night prior to the march, the babe squad broke out the glitter. And the cardboard, Sharpies and paints.

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@Goodgrateful: One side of the 5 double-sided signs we made for the Women’s March on Washington on January 21, 2017.

 

When Beyoncé’s “Formation” sounded our alarm the morning of January 21, we made ourselves sandwiches and put our game faces on to fight for what we want. Because we very damn well can do both.

My girlfriends and I marched our way into the Capitol and screamed, shouted, cried and danced our way among nearly 500,000 like-minded human rights activists. There was an overwhelming feeling of solidarity and togetherness in the capital of the United States that day.

 

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Four of the five members of the babe squad marching in front of the Washington Monument.

 

Amongst all of the recent fear and heartache infiltrating our media and minds, there was consoling joy in realizing we weren’t alone in being afraid and demanding change. There was a blissful freedom in being surrounded by kind, good-natured, loving individuals who were on our team. Our human, heart-pumping, blood-flowing team.

Marching alongside a record breaking amount of women, men and children gave a sense of hope, happiness and faith in the togetherness that the next four years will demand of us.

There was something magically empowering about utilizing our voices, bodies, passions and devotion to goodness with close, caring girlfriends and thousands of equally-minded strangers. It was a record-setting highly-emotional, highly-charged day in my life, the lives of my good friends and the lives of everyone who participated. We made history that Saturday, and my children and grandchildren will hear about it.

 

 

However, the work has just begun. Despite my cross-country adventures distracting me from the “real-world” and filling my active mind with awe-some people and places, this journey to nationwide goodness and equality will require persistence. Stay tuned into the national organization of Women’s March on Washington for their campaign, 10 Actions in 100 Days to continue our communal efforts for change.

Take 5 minutes out of your day to call your government with the organization, 5 Calls. Their platform is based on the effectiveness of calling our representatives to voice our demands. 5 Calls provides appropriate government phone numbers based on location and offers scripts for those unsure of exactly what to say. We’re already on our phones- let’s take one minute to dial instead of swipe right.

This great American journey has shone light on all of the wondrous people in this country that we’ve been lucky to share time with. From our incredible hosts and hostesses to the strangers that have given us their “locals-only” city tips, to complimentary treats and beverages, to souvenirs and keepsakes, we have been reminded that amongst all of the darknesses brooding, there is still goodness and light everywhere in this world. There is still goodness and light in this country, too. Let’s channel that in ourselves, and let’s bring that out in others we encounter.

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The whole team including blogging flight attendant, artist and photographer @alwaysinairplanemode, @es_jessa and @deveneywilliams, respectively.

 

Check out our talented photographer and videographer friend @DeveneyWilliams, and her capturing of our experience at the march: https://vimeo.com/202389845