How To Not Be Broke

I’m a normal-ass person.

Well, scratch that, I’m relatively badass. But normal in what I consider the financial sense. Even though apparently over half of America lives paycheck-to-paycheck and has a credit score around 600 or lower. So statistically, I guess I’m above-average financially.

I might act urban-bougie now, probably because despite not having much, I learned frugal quality and value EARLY. If you’ve read other blog posts of mine, you’ll know I didn’t grow up with money. I wasn’t poor by any standard, but I was for sure lower-class, statistically. And what saved me from growing up on welfare in the projects was my mom’s inherent hustle-nature. Seriously; she has shamelessly haggled with small children selling hand-made crafts in Hawaii for her souvenirs on vacation. But through a life of fake addresses for better educational options, well-intentioned church connections for better living conditions, and finely-honed discount instincts for better clothing and sustenance choices, I was able to at least go to the best schools in the districts, look presentable through thrift-store clothing, and eat good off sale-priced foods and discounted goods sold from dented cans and imperfect crushed boxes (that little warehouse in Queens was like a wonderland growing up). I knew not to ask for much unless it was my birthday, Christmas, or back-to-school time (RIP to the OG WholeSale Liquidators in SoHo).

It took until I was 13-years-old when my mom was finally able to secure a co-op and we didn’t have to move around anymore; I now had my own bedroom and an address I didn’t have to lie about so my mom could utilize my student-issued bus passes and Metrocards to save money on transportation costs. Stability was nice. We were finally on the come-up.

I settled into that comfort all the way up until college, where it really hit home what adulting would entail.

I was broke.

Broke broke. While my mom was working her ass off to make sure she could put me through state-college, I was left to figure out how to survive off everything else. I couldn’t ask her for “spending money” since she was already helping me pay to go. I tried work-study jobs for meager earnings but those earnings went to necessities, like securing used textbooks off Half.com. I couldn’t even contribute $5 for Dominos $5/$5/$5 deal when my friends ordered pizza. I couldn’t afford Chinese food. I didn’t go off-campus with them to party and dine at Applebees or bar-hop. The dining hall options were gourmet and abundant to me. Sale racks at no-name mall stores were my best friend when I had a bit of cash to myself.

When I graduated, with about $13,000 in student loan debt (and I am supremely grateful for my mom’s help and that I chose to go to an economical SUNY at the time, otherwise, it would have been much higher), I left home directly after college and moved to Boston.

Right around the start of the recession. :/

Now I was broke without the lifeline of living at home, AND learning that since the job market SUCKED, all those promises of how easy it’d be to make it with a college degree held little weight. I tried holding down multiple jobs for awhile, but I was overworked, underpaid, and depressed (Urban Outfitters made me vow to never work retail again, and you know it’s bad when the actual customers tell you they feel sorry for you). I couldn’t even afford internet. I got two library card memberships, one for the Boston Public Library system, and one for the local town of Everett where I lived. This granted me 2 free hours of Internet a day between the two, which I used to furiously apply to as many jobs as I could to improve my living situation. I couldn’t afford to partake in any common leisure activities like movies, events, restaurants. And when my ex-husband-then-boyfriend-at-the-time couldn’t seem to keep a steady workflow of hours to pull us out of this situation either, I finally grew TIRED of being broke.

That was my catalyst.

I was tired of my family coming to visit me and not being able to do much with them because I had no money. Tired of fearing when my student loan deferral period would end and I’d have an additional bill on my hands. Tired of living a life that essentially seemed like a prison, needing to be frugal 100% of the time, with nothing to show for it. There’s no freedom in being broke. I had done it for too long, and I was sick of it.

After 2 years in Boston, I moved back to NYC where I immediately got a job on Wall Street; the best paying job I’d ever had at the time. But that was not the “cure,” simply choosing to move where the money was and make more of it. Ask all those broke lottery-winners and once-famous rappers who file for bankruptcy. I needed a plan and habits to retain the now more-money I’d be making. I needed to NOT spend more just because I had more. And luckily, my thrifty upbringing had already trained me for this.

Despite my sudden jump in salary, I made the very conscious and difficult decision to NOT be dazzled by the more-money and continue living exactly how I’d already been living, with the goal of eliminating all of my student loan debt, because I’d finally reached the point where I could no longer defer them. Even though I was sick of it, I had already been doing it for so long; I could wait another 6 months to a year and stay uncomfortable for a greater end goal to benefit my life. At least now I was consciously choosing to live broke for a real purpose, with better days on the far horizon if I could remain disciplined enough. So all that additional salary went to hacking away at my student loan debt in chunks, to pave the way to my financial freedom.

My second priority after eliminating my debt was building a cushion in my bank account and a savings account on the side, so that I’d no longer have to live paycheck to paycheck, and no emergency expense would rattle me. Fun fact: If you’re not budgeting for emergency situations, you’re doing it wrong. It takes a lot of unexpected circumstances to realize, they will always happen. I used to budget $200 a month for random shit. Someone’s going to come into town. Your friend is going to invite you to some spontaneous thing. You’ll discover an unadvertised pop-up event only active for one weekend, or you’ll suddenly discover that thing you’ve been keeping your eye on for awhile is now having a whopper sale and you need to buy it like now.

There will always be an unexpected circumstance that costs money. Plan for it.

Since I had reached the core of my “I’m sick of being broke”-ness, I was committed to achieving this goal as SOON as possible, so even though I was technically no longer broke, I still lived like I was, until I had eliminated my debt and amassed enough of a financial cushion to finally be able to breathe easy.

Even now, I still choose to be economical. Just because you have money, does not mean you have to spend it. Most folks are bad at simply holding onto the money that they already have. If you’re shit with less money, you’re still gonna be shit with greater gobs of money. And yes, we can cry foul at the government and capitalism and unfair labor practices, but at the end of the day we’re still broke and we still need tactics to get around a system that exists and ain’t really going nowhere.

Learn to chase value.

I know everybody’s momma (Black ones anyway) said a variation of the phrase “There’s food at home. You got [eating out] money?” I never thought that phrase would make so much sense now.

Cooking is one of the biggest things that got me through broke times. Maybe I couldn’t get a pizza or splurge on Applebees, but I could at least make sure I ate good. I do not cook for presentation, nor to impress anyone or post my culinary masterpieces on a Facebook food group or Instagram (unless I did a damn good job). Some of those internet recipes got too many damn ingredients and I leave out 1/4-1/3 of the shit and make modified versions, just because I don’t want to spend money on the extra herbs and spices and juices that will go bad in a week cause I didn’t have anything else to use them on. I mostly cook for UTILITY. Because I need to eat. Does it take work? Sure does. Is it economical as hell? YES AF. So I put in the work to do it. My boyfriend ordered ONE gourmet pizza one night a couple of months ago, and the shit came out to $40 with taxes and delivery fees and such (Delivery fees have SKYROCKETED since Covid). For ONE PIE. I strongly urged him to reconsider. But he really wanted to try this pizza. Shit was smaller than the average large pie when it arrived. Now, was it delicious and hearty? Yeah. But 2 weeks prior, I’d gotten a pie from Papa John’s WITH cheesy bread and honey chipotle chicken tenders on the side for $30. Value.

Leftovers. Leftovers. Leftovers. If I have leftovers at home, 95% I am eating at home. And in the unlikely 5% of the time that I eat out with leftovers at home, I’m coming back to the leftovers somehow the next day. I will eat the same leftovers for 4 days straight, and if I get bored, cook something more so that I can rotate between the new thing and old leftovers until ALL THE THINGS ARE GONE. I do not like to waste food. Food gone bad is money in the trash. Likewise, if I buy a 16 oz soda, you will find my container at various levels of completion throughout the day, possibly even several days. Ask my cousins. Or my boyfriend who witnesses me place opened cans of Mountain Dew back in the fridge regularly, or drink leftover cups of juice still out from the day before. I don’t like to waste drink either.

I ate grits, eggs, and a banana for breakfast every day for a whole week straight last month. A grain, a protein, a fruit. Nothing fancy. Takes about 10 minutes total to prepare from start to finish. An autopilot breakfast that’s wholesome. $2.50 for a dozen eggs at the supermarket. About the same for a 5-pack of bananas from Whole Foods. $2.99 for a container of grits that’ll last you quite some time. $10 got me a week and beyond’s worth of breakfast. You cannot knock the value.

Awhile back I discovered that the Duane Reade chain in NYC carries 6-pack paper towels and 12-pack toilet paper for $5 each. Five…dollars…each. And not some cheap $1 store brand or like Angel Soft masquerading itself to be better than it is. It’s SCOTT. The nearest Duane Reade is 1 block and 2 avenues down from my apartment. My nearest grocery store is around the corner. If you’re wondering whether I make the longer trek each month for the better price, I hope the answer is crystal clear. I could pay $6 for 4 rolls at my local grocer, or I could get some damn exercise. Bruh, last time I went there they had BOGO if you had the store card (which I sure as hell do). I paid $7.50 for 24 rolls of toilet paper. This shit might last me half a year.

Value.

A couple of months ago, I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. My friend cautioned me not to buy tickets online in advance, because then you couldn’t use your New Yorker discount. Cool. We got there and realized the line to buy tickets using our discount was practically as long as the line to get into the museum. Took at least another 25 minutes. So pretty much almost an hour in total wait to get into the museum on cheap tickets. But that wait meant I got to “donate” $10 for my ticket instead of the full price of $25. And my friend admitted, she simply donated $1. I wish we’d been in line together, because seeing her do it would have rubbed some thrifty courage on me to halve my donation further.

I’m not a “shopper” and it’s not something I do in my spare time for fun either. I only buy new clothes or footwear if I need a replacement, a specific item for a purpose, or if the targeted ads on my social media and website browsing show me a sparkling rare item that aligns with my soul (those algorithms have gotten REALLY good). Because of this, I rarely make impulsive purchases. If I’m going to buy something, I make sure I really want the thing. I’ve never been someone who will just go “Oh, I’ll just return it if it doesn’t look good.” It is not always economical to repackage an item, ship it back, and wait for a refund with shipping costs possibly deducted. Because of this, I rarely return anything and can’t remember the last time I’ve regretted making a purchase. Additionally, commit to always at least looking for a way to NOT pay full-price, whether it’s shopping at TJ Maxx/Marshalls, waiting for emails advertising 50% off the site, or doing a quick Retailmenot.com search for coupon codes. The Sale section of anywhere is your friend; I can’t believe I ever thought SALE was a dirty word. I legit used to cringe and check if anyone was watching when my mom would go straight for it.

I pay $20/month for a Blink membership; one of the cheapest gym memberships you can get in the city (it even lets you bring a guest!). Blink, because the bottom of the barrel gym is Planet Fitness and I at least have standards. I get my free weights and machines in a safe and clean environment and I craft my own workout regimen, without having to pay extra for plush towels to wipe the sweat off my face, Kiehl’s lotion in the bathrooms, or fancy classes.

There’s a lot of freedom in living below your means. I decline purchases that I feel aren’t worth it with ease. Self-restraint comes easily to me, with an ironclad will against monetary peer pressure. One day I looked up and was no longer waiting for my next paycheck. “Oh, we got paid today?” became a regular reaction for me. I barely glance at grocery receipts because I have my practices on autopilot to keep my spending in moderation. I splurge on cool shit I could only dream of as a child, like freaking Zelda backpacks, Mickey Mouse sweaters, and all those cool immersive art exhibits without checking if I can afford it (I can, because I made it so). Or real vacations, random excursions, experiences that are only around for a limited time. Buying popcorn and snacks at the movie theater is non-negotiable to me (buying snacks pretty much anywhere has become my bougie non-negotiable), to the point where I don’t even sneak the 16oz bottles of soda into the theaters anymore. I BUY MOVIE THEATER SODA NOW. Sometimes I add NACHOS and Buncha Crunch too, when I’m feeling particularly baller.

I’ve taken trips back to Boston just to enjoy all the shit I couldn’t when I lived there, and eat at all the places I could only wistfully gaze at back then. I reached my goal of being able to live on my own in Manhattan, contributing to retirement accounts, with an online savings account I never touch, and a Robinhood account I opened a year ago to play around with, though I’ve lost $900 in the stock market (thanks a lot, WallStreetBets).

I never borrow money from anyone because I feel like if I don’t have the money for something, I probably should not be buying it. Instead, I have credit cards to “borrow from myself” and I never let my credit card debt go higher than what I have in my checking account, meaning, I could pay it all off and wipe the slate clean if needed. And if I find the scales tipping and my spending so much that my credit card bill is growing at a faster rate that I can pay off (without dipping into any savings or losing my checking account cushion, then I start cutting back on my spending until I can “pay myself back” accordingly. Because finding the balance between living a satisfying life and retaining as much of my money as possible, to me, is worth the prevention methods of ever returning to those dark days. I’ve done too much work to go backwards. I had an ex who used to brag about how well he could survive off $40 until the next paycheck, after his expenses had ate up his entire check in a matter of days. I ain’t about that life.

Last week, I discovered an untransferred $75 sitting in my Venmo account that I forgot was in there.

That’s the life I’m ’bout.

So, how badly enough do you not want to be broke? Enough to REALLY suffer through it with a goal to overcome it? To sacrifice a lot of the things you enjoy for a lengthy period of time if it means financial freedom comes of it? To keep a little bit of your broke past with you by holding onto habits you used to roll your eyes at your mom for with your mission in mind? You’d be surprised at the things you become capable of when you’re really sick of something.

What’s your catalyst? Or what will it be?

~Tael

(Eyes on the prize)

I Deserve a Bed

I’ve mentioned before that I used to hate vacations.

There was no Disneyworld or cruise trips for me growing up. A “vacation” for my family generally meant squishing 5-6 peeps into one car for a journey that lasted anywhere from 3 to 12 hours, the destination being a family member’s house where you were either sleeping with your mom, piling into bed with 2-3 other cousins, or preparing a pallet on the floor. I can only recall one weekend beach trip that was considered luxurious, simply because it was the one time we actually got to stay in a hotel.

I have no regrets, nor resentment about this. But now, I have the independence and luxury of being able to pay for a flight (and sweet Jesus, I will pick that route of transportation over a road trip any day) and hotel accommodations for a leisurely excursion.

I come from a large family. The type where you will NEVER remember that random aunt you see once every 7 years, and you cannot keep track of who’s a first cousin, second cousin, or just a “cousin” that’s apparently related by blood somehow OR just grew up with all your other cousins so they’re kind of like a Ditto. And now many of THEM had their own kids so our family tree probably looks like a periodic table of chaos. Do you also come from a big family where you piled into bed with your cousins during family getaways, or shared a room with siblings growing up? And then you got a certain age and left all that behind right? Only in my family, they don’t leave it behind.

Last Labor Day weekend, me and my “immediate” fam took a little weekend trip. Five of us in one hotel room, all adults, aged 20, 32, 35, 55, and 56, respectively.

Two to each Queen bed, was the general agreed upon consensus, with my mom saying she’d bring along her air mattress. Not exactly ideal, but since it was only for 2 nights, I agreed. Until we arrived at the hotel and my mom revealed, OOPS, she forgot the air mattress, and the hotel could not provide us with an extra rollaway.

My mom volunteered to sleep on the tiny uncomfortable mini-couch against the wall like it was nothing. But in a low voice my cousin warned me, “You know she’s going to sneak into bed with you and your sister in the middle of the night, right?”

And he was right. That half-chaise lounger was not fit for sleeping and that’s why she’d offered so flippantly. She’d just wake up stiff and order me and my sister, half-asleep, to make room for her. The thought filled me with dread.

“Three can fit in a bed, just do head to toe. I don’t care,” my aunt said.

The thing is, I care. I care deeply. I don’t WANT to do head to toe.

Sleep is very high on my priority list. I still have an old-school pillowtop mattress, with an additional egg crate topper at home. I read reviews on the sheets I buy. I have a white noise machine for ambient sound. Blackout curtains in my room. I’m very good at getting my 8 hours every night. An unexpected three to a bed, head to toe, in a hotel room I contributed to paying for, is not on my agenda. Even in a hostel, you get your own bed.

“Would you feel comfortable sleeping with your cousin so that me and your mom and sister can all sleep in the other bed?”

While he’s 100% my closest cousin and like a brother to me to me, he is also well over 200 pounds and we’d surely end up touching. The last time we slept in a bed together, I was probably around 11-years-old. So I asserted myself honestly and said “No, I would not feel comfortable with that.”

They seemed surprised at this.

I calmly stated that we should find the nearest Target and simply purchase an air mattress. My mother seemed exasperated at this plan, and the fact that I would want to seek out a way to sleep more comfortably. In a snippy tone, she stated she didn’t want to pay $40 for an air mattress. But I insisted I would pay for it. We found one for $21, self inflatable and everything. And lo and behold, once we had it back at the hotel room, it was my mother who requested to sleep on it, leaving me to one of the beds with my sister.

Fine. That’s fine. I slept with my sister for the two nights. Both her, and my cousin on the other side of the room, snore. Luckily I’d had the foresight to bring my white noise machine to help a little. And I was woken much earlier than I would have liked by their conversing the next day, because hey, one room. I wouldn’t call it “relaxing”.

Now, my mom has 7 siblings. And for them growing up, at least 3-4 girls shared a room, and a bed as well. They grew up with virtually no privacy and no boundaries. Then they got married and had kids pretty quickly…and they still don’t blink twice if 3 of the sisters have to climb into bed with each other, even at their age now.

But up until I was 15, I was an only child. And while we did move around a lot when I was a kid, for the time we were settled, I had my own room and all the luxuries of space of an only child. I was often called spoiled and selfish by my family because of it. While I loved my cousins dearly and cherished my time with them, I also loved my snacks dearly and felt it unfair to share the spoils I’d carefully obtained and allocated after they’d decimated their own with little self-control or discipline. It was like I’d already learned how to be resourceful and thrive in a capitalist environment, but my elders tried to spread the allocation to those who didn’t work for it.

As I grew into adulthood, I never lost the concept of valuing what I work for and what I’ve obtained. My own quiet space. My nighttime wind-down time. I don’t live with roommates for a reason. And when planning trips in advance, I’d like to know that wherever I’m going, I’m going to have some sort of safe space that I can retreat to. A “home base”. And that includes a bed. If I know in advance that I can’t have this, I would rather not go. Gone are the days where I’d clamor with my cousins to somebody’s house and make a blanket nest on the floor, or pass out on somebody’s couch in college. It was fun then, yes, but I’m a grown woman now who values her comfort.

I often witnessed my mom enthusiastically giving up her bedroom for visitors, and hell, even I gave my bed to my older cousins who came over. I thought it was my duty and I was happy to fulfill it. Generally the unspoken rules of sleeping hierarchy I saw; if it was a married couple, you gave up your bed. If it was an elder, you gave up your bed. If it was a man, you gave up your bed. Unless he was a broke man. Those slept on the couch. But men making more money than you, you definitely gave up your bed. Eventually air mattresses and pull-out couches were brought into the mix. But even now, when someone visits my mom’s apartment from out of town, it’s my 20-year-old sister who’s displaced from her room. The common law of order.

And that’s fine. I did my time. I did my duty. But now that I’m a fully contributing member of society, I’m allowed to choose. And I shouldn’t be accused of acting like the Queen of Sheba for having a reasonable expectation of my own bed to sleep in when I pay to visit somewhere rather than engage in my family’s boundary-less climate. I shouldn’t need to be a well-paid man to be seen as important enough to get the honor of my own space offered to me.

On our most recent weekend family trip last month, when my mom got into persuasion-mode to convince me to come, I expressly stated my biggest condition beforehand. That me and my lover would absolutely have a room with our own bed to sleep in for a trip that we were paying for. It was promised and delivered. A step of achievement towards basic rights assertion.

Ask and you may receive.

~Tael

A New Yorker in NOLA

“America only has 3 cities: New York, San Francisco and New Orleans. Everywhere else is Cleveland.” – Tennessee Williams

Our NOLA Art Tour guide enlightened me to the existence of this quote as I visually inhaled the vibrant murals on the streets of New Orleans. Of course, as a diehard New Yorker, I wholeheartedly embraced it, especially since I can’t remember when I’ve ever been so dazzled by a city that wasn’t my own.

Thanksgiving of 2021, I decided to do something completely different. Rather than celebrate the day with my fam or significant others’, engaging in turkey-eating while avoiding any sort of real contribution to the actual food preparation (Millennials, do ya’ll hear me?), I accepted a gracious offer from my Argentinian friend traveling in the states to meet up in New Orleans for a leg of her months-long trip.

Let me just say, I couldn’t have picked a better traveling companion. Both in our mid-thirties, we were not there to get Bourbon Street wasted or Mardi Gras hammered every night. We took the obligatory stroll down the strip the first night and found some poor soul’s corporate credit card on the ground outside, which I finally decided to just shred after we failed to hunt down a cop to turn it in to (surprising, I know, but we only encountered EMS). Better it was us pure souls with no nefarious intentions that found it than a shady drunkard.

Secondline Arts & Antiques

Now, once you get that initial Bourbon Street walk out the way, you’ll wonder why all you ever hear about New Orleans is a party place to get sloshed because this place is chock FULL of culture! The Sydney and Walda Bestoff Sculpture Garden (right next to the New Orleans Museum of Art) is a MUST SEE, and it’s gorgeous, enchanting, and FREE. JAMNOLA is one of those super fun art experiences that is actually worth the price (though we did score Groupons, so BONUS). Honey Island Swamp Tours will pick you up FROM your hotel (for the smallest additional fee) and take you about an hour outside of the city to their swamp. While we didn’t get to see any gators (fun fact, if the weather gets too cool, they hibernate), we got one of those weird swamp rat sightings and local birds, including a bald eagle (!). Our guide was super knowledgeable and taught us a lot about crocs vs gators and the “camps”, those uninsured, low turnover abodes that line the swamp and look like “roughin it” shacks to an urbanite, but apparently have running water and electricity. We even hit up a local nerdy burlesque show, another first for me as I got the opportunity to throw singles at body-positive performance artists with tasseled nipple pasties. Oh, and a man in a banana hammock thong. The aquarium here is aight; the only attraction I found underwhelming and top-10-in-America list questionable.

When we weren’t hitting up one of the numerous non-drinking activities, we were hoofing it EVERYWHERE, my companion being from a big city as well, and New Orleans is incredibly walkable. A 20-30 minute walk to reach a destination for us is nothing. A light stroll. A chance to sightsee or stumble across a secret. Or just to feast our eyes on the splendor of the beautiful, artistic architecture there. Is urban exploration considered a hobby? Our hotel was in the Garden District, so our main stomping grounds for the week consisted of that area along with the French Quarter and the Bywater district. Walking the colorful quarter in the daytime, you’d find random bubble machines on the 2nd floor balconies, as if they simply wanted to add to a fun and festive atmosphere. And probably due to the climate, there’s greenery everywhere. Tree-lined streets with spanish moss, glorious parks, yards with gardens and fountains.

Now, FOOD. I am Black, with southern roots. And NOLA is known for their SEAFOOD. Maybe not the culinary wonderland for my vegetarian travelling companion (we had to check the menus in the windows each time beforehand to make sure she had options), but every place was fair game to me. And I am a PICKY eater with a non-spicy palate. I tried po’boys, gumbo shrimp, biscuits and gravy, catfish, and BEIGNETS, the pastry I never knew I needed in my life. Warm, fresh (ALWAYS fresh), fried squares of delicious dough with powdered sugar on top. Glorified funnel-cake minis, but so much more classier. If these are available in NYC, I am completely unaware. We sought out local spots only, avoiding chains like Starbucks, McDonalds (which I don’t eat anyway) and even Popeyes. Deciding where to eat next made me giddy; I wouldn’t label myself a foodie, but eating out and exploring new restaurants gives me joy.

Carousel Bar

On my last night there, we even got a chance to sit AT the famed Carousel Bar, which I thought would be horribly touristy and overrated, but I’m super happy we ended up taking the chance. Is it expensive af in a fancy hotel you’ll probably feel out of place walking into? YUP. Now walk in like you own the joint. We were hoping to just score seating at the little couple’s tables by the festively decorated windows, but after about 10 minutes of waiting seats opened up right at the rotating bar. Pretty sure my drink was about $15-17 (Pimm’s Cup), but it was DELICIOUS, this was a rare experience, and reminiscent of the NYC prices I don’t even pay for at home. Along with my drink I got mussels and truffle fries and a beignet order for dessert. ALL scrumptious. The bar seating slowly REVOLVES around the bar just like a carousel. Gimmicky, YES, but squeal-worthy and done right.

Sidebar: Travelling with another boss-ass urbanite woman who is financially secure and knows how to take care of herself is the move. Because splurging/deal-seeking is a tightrope we toe well. Walking everywhere, finding online deals through Groupon and Priceline, and scanning places that offer a similar activity for the best price is second-nature to us, but we know the inherent value of unique experiences and when it’s worth it. Our trip was a mix of whatever-priced YOLOs (dammit that stupid term has grown on me) and free/low cost experiences. We didn’t give a second thought about shelling out $30 each for a walking art tour, or back down from a restaurant we wanted to try because of price. Nor did we give a third thought to discounted activities, park explorations and general city-adventuring that cost nothing. We left the hotel around 10 or 11am each morning and didn’t return until nightfall. We even took turns paying the whole bill for whatever the activity was, and simply used the Splitwise app to keep track of who owed who in the end.

I completely stumbled upon the street art tour by accident. I hadn’t researched NOLA’s graffiti scene at all beforehand, so imagine my surprise when the tour I settled on mentioned it would end with an authentic BANKSY piece viewing (currently my favorite artist, and yes, I consider street artists, ARTISTS). I was unaware that there were even two authentic Banksy pieces in this city. “Girl With Umbrella,” is protected and maintained by the tour guides themselves (shout out to @nolaartwalk). Our guide also told us where to find the 2nd one in the city. “Looters” is housed in the lobby of the ritzy International House Hotel where they practically have a Banksy shrine room adjacent to it that you can just waltz right in to.

I found out lots of interesting tidbits from our various tour guides. Like New Yorkers, they’re not wild about tourists, but they know it’s necessary for business. Apparently the crime rate has been increasing so much that many locals are leaving the city because of it. One woman basically told us if you hear a ruckus, just duck and wait for gunshots. She was shocked that we’d been walking around at night exploring by ourselves, though we felt perfectly safe. She also told us that by living here, you accept the fact that you will probably end up restarting your life over twice, due to your home getting destroyed by a hurricane. While this is a crazy sobering thought, it’s also a testament to truly loving and choosing your city, something New Yorkers can relate to.

I noticed the homeless population is quite large here. As urbanites, this didn’t put us off or anything. The majority we encountered were quite pleasant and usually bid us a good night as we passed them, unlike the kind in NYC that you warily watch on the subway as they chant to themselves, hoping they don’t suddenly come at you with a knife. Another thing we noticed is that despite NOLA being extremely walkable, NO ONE ELSE WALKS HERE. Outside of the French Quarter and touristy/bar/entertainment sections, it was rare to encounter another pedestrian on the sidewalk. Probably because the sidewalks CAN get pretty janky here in a lot of neighborhoods. I’m talking, watch where you step because the concrete will slant at laughably exaggerated angles, or a slab will suddenly poke out as if it’s trying to grab your ankle and bring you down to kiss the cement. But in residential areas, there was barely any street traffic either. And even weirder, as we passed and admired all the lovely homes (seriously, we must have been drawn to all the nicer neighborhoods by luck because the houses were HUGE and spectacular; you could easily spend a day just sightseeing the homes), no one was really in them. And yes, we looked (don’t you?). We never observed families cooking dinner, watching TV, kids playing in the backyards or anything of the sort. It was often like walking through wealthy ghost towns.

I guess I’ll have to put San Francisco on my travel bucket list, just to see how it stacks up against New York and New Orleans. But NOLA delighted me and touched my soul. It’s a friendly city with character, beauty, and HELLA culture, and I recommend you go and explore all it has to offer outside of Bourbon Street. Walk the parks, eat ALL the things, ride a STREETCAR. Visit the Tree of Life at Adubon Park (and be sure to check out that amazing artsy pink/purple Barbie-dreamhouse-looking mansion with a pool and German Shephard guarding the yard) and then go to New York to SUNY Purchase and compare it to the awesome Elephant Tree behind the administration house. It’s a city I would love to return to in the future. And if a New Yorker can be impressed by it, then that’s saying something.

JAMNOLA

~Tael

The Cult of Yelp

A softer, less aggressive term swap could be “tribe.” The Tribe of Yelp. But I used to run with a pack of girls called the “Cult Busters” in high school, with our secret codes, nicknames, and stalker-journal activities. Trust me, we were absolutely harmless.

Yelp is an urban household verb now. To “Yelp” a place. We look it up on Yelp beforehand to see what’s up. We write our review afterwards to put folks on or warn them. Other review sites have gained some niche footholds too. Google Reviews. G2Crowd. Healthgrades. TripAdvisor. But Yelp’s the OG.

According to my profile, I’ve been Yelping since January 2011. And I loved the site even before I was letting the world know my own viewpoints on the businesses I encounter. The concept of customers being able to leave authentic reviews of their experience, tips on best days to go, which waiters are awesome, tidbits only a genuine encounter would generate, a know-before-you-go insight, was highly appealing to a truth-seeker like me. But being able to leave my OWN legit mark? Praise for a spot that impressed the highly-difficult-to-impress being that I am, or VENGEANCE on an establishment that treated me hostilely? Mini-writing assessments of food, travel, and adventure?

Initiation called to me, easy.

I’m one of those writers without any professionally published works. The sort of identity that follows you from childhood, where you amassed a collection of journals, created so many stories in your head (some even made it to some form of paper), longing to be a famous author until you grew up and realized how commercialized the publishing world had become and what it actually took to make your dream pieces commodifiable.

I let the world know my thoughts through Xanga. Console RPGs were my favorite genre because of the storyboarding; they were really just lengthy, playable fantasies in immersive format – reading through the controller. I devoured books as much as I wanted to write them, overwhelmed because how in the world would I write the same 300-ish page novels I loved so much? (And it HAD to be that long to be good.)

I apparently also used to blurt out to my mom’s acquaintances that I was starving and there was no food at home when I was a child.

Pair a love of writing with compulsive truth-vomit and you’ve got the kind of person who needs to be on Yelp flexing her composition muscles with sass and sincerity.

Surprisingly, it took me all the way until 2021 to get Elite. And when they first reached out to me for consideration, my initial thought was “Please God, I hope I don’t have to start tailoring my reviews now to be more…professional.” I mean, in one of my most memorable reviews I mention that I should have fornicated in a real estate office that screwed me over, out of pettiness. Pun and disrespect intended. But I mean, it’s definitely well-earned. Not just that I really should have left my sex-stank all over Consarah’s workstation, but the Elite status for sure. An urban adventurer “writer’s” dream. Some might think, “But it’s JUST YELP.” But to loyal clan-members, it’s a guidebook to avoiding the bar where too many folks’ credit cards got compromised, or deciding if that $30 “immersive pop-up” is really worth the money, or finding the tricky entrance to the tattoo shop you’re looking for. It’s also a chance to share your unfiltered truth with the world and help someone’s decision with your inherent communicative language. You get to be heard.

It feels good. Writing out of enjoyment, and not to impress or repackage myself for others. No one edits my shit there. 🙂

~Tael

P.S. If you wanna read that review, go here, scroll down, click to page 16 and look for the “Rapid Realty” review. Man, I’m glad they’re no longer in business.

Summer Serenade

I’m accustomed to heat.

Summer is my favorite season, memories steeped

In Grandma’s house recollections or urban streets.

With my cousins on the floor laid out on a sheet while she watches her stories.

In the big metal fan’s path blowing out relief cause AC ain’t cheap.

Wafting chicken grease from the kitchen;

DANGER.

She’s cooking so it’s a good 10 degrees hotter in there; expect waterfalls of sweat streaks.

Peeling sticky thighs off leather seats as you awaken from your afternoon sleep.

Scratching mosquito bite blisters that oozed in the yard cause they found my blood a treat.

Feeling sand between my toes as I walk outside with bare feet with my country cousins.

Transport to city camp, trudging under the sun, rubber soles on concrete,

Heavy rays got us beat, but we find oases in cracked-open hydrants,

Indulge in cold water sweet.

Public pools, shower first, can’t swim, don’t go too deep.

Home alone, your mom’s at work, the days wide open on repeat.

Freedom.

Read, park, pool, play, eat.

Humid sunsets invoke nostalgia, skorts and jelly sandals, summer hair braided neat.

Library trips for Judy Blume, to get you through the week.

Punished for the whole summer because I wouldn’t speak,

Because I’d been a hungry child longing for skewered meat.

The sweat reminds me where I’ve come from, fond recollections seep

Throughout my subconscious, they overflow and peak.

The sun is my lover; I embrace and it greets me

With balmy Vitamin D buried down in my sheath.

I’ll take the bake of dog days, embrace the warm rays’ sweep.

And you’ll never catch me wishing for the days when there’d be sleet.

When I emerge outside, kiss my face when you meet me

And I won’t betray you to frost,

As long as you keep me.