The Texas skies expanded, wide and blue. The East Texas pines loomed, straight and tall. The Texas highways rolled out, smooth and empty. We had never been here before but we liked what we saw. My mom and I were on our way to New Orleans, a place that we had only heard about in tales and TV shows. We were excited, but it was a very long drive.
We eventually turned off the tree-lined highways and onto the massive, honking behemoth that is I-10. The asphalt groaned, the exhaust fumes shimmered, and the strip malls surrounded us: Welcome to the modern American interstate.
Louisiana greeted us with a bridge and traffic, shortly followed by refineries and swamps. Everything was accented with violent green vegetation. After hitting traffic in Baton Rouge and an accident in the New Orleans suburbs, we finally arrived, tired and hungry, in the Crescent City.
We pulled up to our Airbnb on Bernadotte Street in Mid-City ready to take it easy and prepare for sightseeing tomorrow. But parked in the driveway was a white pick-up truck. Two white-haired and tanned people in well-worn T-shirts came out and greeted us with warm smiles and happy hellos. They weren’t our hosts. Our host was up on the second floor porch, putting things away. Instead, this duo was his friend and his sister, Dawn. They were all headed to a free concert. True to traditional southern hospitality, they invited us along. Before I knew what was happening, my mom said yes and we were piling into the white pick-up, off to see The Wailers at the Bayou Boogaloo in City Park.
It was a short ride to the festival and then, once there, it was a straight shot to the beer tent where our other host was serving as a volunteer bartender. Dawn, already tipsy, led us by the hand through the crowds of casual locals, eccentric twenty-somethings, and passive dogs. After braving the crowds and lines, we got our beers just as a rain cloud passed overhead. Dawn and I waited for the rain to stop underneath the awning of the beer tent, watching the umbrellas bloom as other people got soaked.
Afterwards, Dawn explained to me how during Hurricane Katrina this whole place was underwater, except the sidewalk we were standing on. She went on to describe the nearby hospital patients being swept away on helicopters and the confusion during and after the evacuation. No one in her family knew she was alive until a week after the storm. Then, as one does when their well on their way to drunkenness, Dawn got distracted with friends and dogs and babies before finally moving my mom and I on to the food tents.
We lost her amongst the lines and confusion over cash, but we managed and eventually got food, settling in underneath picnic tent. The Wailers had already begun playing, and we listened and talked while we ate our food (ribs paired with crab and crawfish mac and cheese…and oh boy were they good). Once done, we moved closer to the stage and the crowd that had condensed around it. With the faint whiff of pot smoke in the air and a fair share of dogs and hula-hoops, Ziggy Marley led the crowd in sing-alongs of his father’s greatest hits, including “Three Little Birds” and “Redemption Song.” He knew how to work an audience and the audience, my mom and myself included, ate it up.
We eventually found Dawn again and caught a ride back to the house in the same white pick-up. On the way back, Dawn, now drunk, explained that she lived nearby. Apparently many others in the family did so as well. They jokingly called the street the “Bernadotte Village.” Then, once the short ride was over, she took it upon herself to show us around the house. She took particular pride in the backyard, which held their own “Superdome,” a large and elaborate viewing area for Saints games complete with bleachers and a projection screen. Everywhere we looked things were covered with off-the-wall folk art apparently gathered from places and friends over the decades. It was funky and cool and little too much to take in at the moment especially after the long hours gazing into the lazy, blue Texan skies.