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

P.S.A: Quit the Gimme, Gimme

Lying, spitting, and smoking make it to my Top 5 Pet Peeves list. There’s another that REALLY irks me, but I don’t hear too many others complaining about it.

Borrowing.

I got a lot of reasons to dislike this (and i’m fully aware I only listed 4 peeves). To the point where I’ve established a no-borrowing policy that I often re-iterate to those who ask me. Maybe you find this selfish. “But what’s wrong with helping others if you have it?”

I won’t say that I NEVER do it. I’ve grudgingly obliged at times when family members REALLY needed it. But I strongly believe against it and I don’t do it myself because I believe it’s a selfish thing to ask of somebody, ESPECIALLY since 99% of the time, they don’t REALLY need it.

Remember the current economic climate of our country, with the majority of us living paycheck-to-paycheck, and an overwhelming many collecting roommates and AirBnB-ing our extra spaces for additional income. A rich man likely won’t notice some missing funds; do they even online bank regularly? But if you ask the average American to borrow $100, it’s not exactly a small amount of money to temporarily part with. It’s exactly BECAUSE of our country’s economic climate that when emergency expenses pop up, we’re unprepared. Unexpected accidents, random government bills and unpredictable circumstances do arise, yes. And I get it; sometimes you just don’t have it and if your credit is also shot, you’re in a bad spot. Good financial responsibility dictates that one SHOULD have an emergency savings account for things like this, but understandably, it’s difficult to build one up. But I can count on one closed fist the amount of times people have asked to borrow money from me that were actual emergencies.

You’re going on a cruise and forgot to budget in your flight to the cruise so you can make it to your vacation? Not an emergency.

You want to visit some dude you’ve been seeing but don’t have enough money for the Metro North ride so you asking me? Not an emergency. (Why isn’t the guy paying for you??)

Your sister (who I never met) is asking to borrow money from YOU because she’s already borrowed too much from ya’lls parents and YOU don’t have it to lend her so you asking ME to lend to YOU to lend to HER? Helll nahhh, KEEP ME OUT THAT DAMN CIRCLE PLEASE.

When did we become so entitled to asking people to part with their hard-earned cash (and trust me, if you work in today’s world, it’s hard-earned) for our frivolities? And so selfish that we’re not even ashamed to do so?

Those who borrow like it’s nothing: How do you think the person who has the money you’re borrowing from, has it at all in the first place? Maybe they got this good ass job with an awesome salary so they have a cushy bank account. That could be it. But more than likely (since most of us DON’T have that), they’re practicing the good financial habits you’re not. They’ve put in the work to build up a savings account to have for emergencies. Their emergencies, not yours. They’ve cut back on the things you didn’t. They’ve stopped eating out as much or ordering take-out, made a conscious effort to buy less shoes and clothes, fancy lattes and liquor. They budgeted and went without some things they wanted to attain some non-paycheck-to-paycheck security for themselves.

THAT. SHIT. IS. NOT. EASY.

And this is why, when you come with your hand out after you bought all the shit we’ve restrained ourselves from buying, it’s a slap in the face. Because even though we know it’s easier to spend than save, we’ve done the hard part of sacrificing, not through magical superpowers but by exerting self-control, and you could damn well do the same too. But you choose not to because you’d rather have the things you want when you want them, without sacrifice.

Do you ever think that the person you’re borrowing $200 from now has $200 less to manage in their bank account even if they’re getting it back in a month or so? Probably not. But imagine someone came to you and borrowed $200. The fact that you have to borrow yourself, means you’d be in quite a jam and something essential probably ain’t getting paid that month. We all have the same bills. Rent, food, electricity, transportation. Some choose to have excess bills they can’t keep up with. Some WITHOUT these bills still find the need to borrow. The only person I’ve ever borrowed from really was my mom. And that was to help pay off my student loans. A decade ago.

I went through that struggling period that most of us do, where I was overworked on a $450/biweekly paycheck, making ends meet off a retail cashier’s paycheck. And not once did I ask to borrow some extra cash to “have a good time.” I saw coats I fell in love with that I couldn’t buy (damn you Hootenanny). Restaurants I couldn’t eat at. Events I could not go to. I sunk into a pit of depression, then worked my ASS off to crawl out it, because it was not someone else’s responsibility to make those things happen for me. And I didn’t WANT anyone to feel SORRY for me and give me a handout either.

Let’s not act not like we all don’t want to go on that vacation. Or get those shoes we really like. Or go out and be a baller one night on the town. We all deserve it. But we shouldn’t be asking people to fund that shit for us as a loan.

I had an ex who asked to borrow money from me for everything: weed, liquor, cat food, groceries, a new $200 watch to look good on vacation, dinners out, a cabin rental for HIS friends to hang out, a new video game that he couldn’t wait until the end of the month to get. I even funded multiple trips for us where I picked up the tab on everything up front (Universal, Otakon, Boston) simply because he didn’t have it. He never did. God forbid if I hadn’t been on top of my money and an emergency had happened (and there were a few) we would have been up shit’s creek without a financial paddle, screwed on rent, screwed on trips, screwed on life. I had to budget for “twos” at all times, as if I was the sole provider of the household and not dating another adult with a higher salary than me. That kind a silent pressure builds up like you don’t even realize the more you get taken advantage of this way.

Now I may feel strongly about this, but I’m not a tyrant. There are innocent reasons to borrow. Maybe you’re out with a friend and they find this *Insert Rare Quest Item* they’ve been after for awhile now and don’t have the money for it on them but goddammit IT’S ON SALE NOW. Perhaps you’re a parent and you find the season’s sold-out “Tickle-Me-Elmo” that will make your kid’s Christmas day in an out-of-the-way store and you can pay your cousin back on the next paycheck if they spot you for it now (that is love). Maybe there’s a trip/event/experience coming up that someone would LOVE, but they didn’t budget for because they didn’t realize it was happening and you want them to join in on the fun too. Maybe your cousin is just having a rough time with life and you just wanna spot them for the night and help them feel better.

But if you’re someone who makes a HABIT of borrowing from others on a consistent basis, you need to re-evaluate your situation because you’re living above your means and counting on others to help support your lifestyle. It means you need to look back and see what you bought the past month that you really didn’t need (and trust me, you WILL find things you did NOT need). And if you’re not willing to do that, and would rather burden someone else with helping you out because it’s the easier route, you are lazy and selfish and unwilling to sacrifice as an adult should.

It annoyed me to no end that my ex would order clothes, indulge in all the world’s vices, insist on ordering lobster dinners and $80 meals on Seamless, then ask me to fill in the salary gaps until he could make it to the next check (why the fuck wouldn’t you budget properly??). Now it’s never my business what others do with their own money (so long as you’re not coming for handouts after you recklessly spent your shit on something stupid). As long as you can handle your business, go crazy; spend all your extra cash on Amiibos, sunglasses, Groupon experiences, premium Patreon packages, whatever. But don’t count on someone else to help you make it through life because of it.

I like where I am in life right now. I work for an awesome remote company. I’m lucky enough to be able to afford my own apartment in NYC without roommates (oh thank God). I’m trying and maybe failing to build up a Roth IRA for the future, a savings account for unexpected expenses, and a checking account cushion so that I don’t need to count the days till my next paycheck. I avoid fancy restaurants, try to cook at home as much as possible to save money, and leftovers are my life. I don’t buy expensive handbags or shoes, and shop at places mostly when the 50% off sales are going on, unless it’s Marshalls, TJ Maxx, or Forever 21 (and I still go for the clearance sections there). I know when to NOT buy that $3 hot dog or soft drink off the cart vendors or at the gourmet deli because the cart or bodega two avenues down got it for $1-$2 less (Don’t buy sodas from 7-11 in New York, guys, it ain’t worth it!!).

I’m not jet-setting around the world (unless my job is sending me), but I try to plan a vacation on my own maybe once a year. And hell, that only started a year ago. And I’m not hitting the bars or clubs every Friday at the end of the week racking up $100 bar tabs. I’m frugal with my spending so that when I see something I REALLY want or something I would LOVE (or when the stupid medical bills come in from that thing you didn’t really need to go in for), the money is there for me. Not the person who wants to borrow it from me. I attained a level of independence for myself so I could remain self-sufficient and rely on no one; not so I could play the Monopoly banker making sure there’s enough for everyone else’s luxuries.

I never expect a standard from anybody that I don’t live up to myself. I live below my means so I don’t owe anybody shit.

Pun intended.

Remember that old line adults always told you growing up? “You can’t always have everything you want.”

We grew into adults and became borrowers and forgot.

~Tael