When we got back home from New Orleans, we realized what was so different about our experience there. Are you ready for this? We didn’t feel like tourists. The people of New Orleans are so welcoming. People there are happy, and thinking about it now, we didn’t find anyone who gave us a bad attitude. They love their city, and they want to share it with the world.
When we got a taxi from the airport, we conveniently conversed with the cab driver, and he became our first unofficial tour guide. He pointed us to where the Voodoo Festival would be, where the Superdome is and its history, and the French Quarter. When he dropped us off at our hotel, he gave us his number in case we needed a ride, and if he was around, he would grab us. Granted this is probably a business strategy, it was customer service that I thought went above and beyond.
We met more and more people after this. We played catch-up with the hotel lobby girl and told her about our partying nights. We conversed with the hotel’s restaurant owner (who was conveniently around our age!), and he told us about his New York roots and about the difference between the people there and the people of New Orleans. Spoke with my friend Alex’s mama about the history of the artist of the blue dog, George Rodrigue, while eating at their restaurant. Got made fun of by a food vendor for my sudden love of the PoBoy sauce that I rejected earlier. Got cheered on by Voodoo Festival food vendors for pretending to lead the marching band at the event. Got serenaded by the drummer at Fritzel’s Jazz Club who called me Mary Jane. Ray got the, “You went all the way to New Orleans to order Guinness?” from the cute cocktail waitress who told him he looked like Hiro Nakamura. She got us a delicious cocktail with cranberry juice mixed in happy juice with the right amount of sweetness and alcoholic after taste that makes you drool for more. Even other tourists agree that this is the place to party with people! Some Canadians we shared a taxi with announced, “New Orleans. Better than Vegas.”
As we came out to the hotel lobby one afternoon donned in zombie make up, the facilities guy stopped abruptly and said, “Whoah, that’s scary! Where are you guys going?” with a smile on his face. And we got complimenting smiles everywhere for the rest of the day. That night, we walked around Bourbon Street and people were walking around singing and making faces at Ray’s camera. Taking a taxi out of Bourbon Street is a bit challenging due to the tourists littering the roads. How do cab drivers do this? We got into a cab, and as we were pulling up out of the street, a drunk tourist blocked us and started the obligatory drunk, “Woooooh!” while making faces and pointing at the cab driver. He continued to push on the hood, bouncing the car up and down. The cab driver laughed.
Our last day out of the city, we got the same cab driver we had the day before. A husband and wife who drove around, working together. They were a cute pair! They told us about different festivals that happen all year long at New Orleans (Oh, heaven!). They told us about what areas Hurricane Katrina affected. They told us about all the hurricanes that came afterwards. We learned soon from them, as well as from my friend Alex, that being stuck on the roof while everything is flooded isn’t so bad when all your neighbors do are drink and eat barbecue. Ray and I didn’t have a plan on where to go to eat our last meal in New Orleans, so we inquired and they pointed to Deanies, a favorite restaurant that serves a seafood platter. I’m still drooling over the soft-shell crab!
Now, I know why my friend Alex is the way he is. I met him while studying abroad in Barcelona. He made the best impressions of people, Johnny Cash, and I will never forget, “You sound like you’re from London!” from Forgetting Sarah Marshall. He is known to get drunk with us in Barcelona, leave the bars at the same time we do, and get home 5 hours after everyone else did. He is a man of stories. “Ya’ll should come and visit New Orleans for the Voodoo Festival,” he would say with sincerity. He is genuinely friendly just like everyone we met in New Orleans, and he has adventurous partying stories that fit a sitcom. He makes me believe that true stories are stranger than fiction.
From our experience at Burning Man, we are continuously confirming that the people of the city we visit are the best things about traveling. I have traveled to a lot of places, and New Orleans was the most welcoming, filled with outgoing and genuine people. When we come back, we can now call four people who will welcome us. This is the first time we’ve gotten phone numbers from strangers after being in the city for just a short weekend (aside from Burning Man). We made memories with the people there. We didn’t feel like tourists.
What city have you felt had the most welcoming people? Share your stories!