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

What’s Remote Life Like?

When my company announced at a meeting in the beginning of the year that we’d be going fully remote, I didn’t initially celebrate like I’d stumbled upon a winning lottery ticket. Instead I assessed the situation. Cautiously.

You see, I loved our office. We didn’t have the stuffy, corporate cubicle, drag-yourself-into-work-moaning atmosphere. We had a giant, airy, sunlit floor in a Tribeca loft. There was a shiny piano, an enormous comfy couch that made any homeowner envious (most New Yorkers probably couldn’t even fit it into their apartment), and dogs. Office dogs.

20161220_113025

Dogs in the office.

Working from home meant breaking a routine I was accustomed to (and I hate change) and forsaking the social interaction you may not realize you get on a regular basis by leaving your house every day. It meant I wouldn’t be able to indulge in Tate’s cookies or my normal lunch options as often (I’m fairly certain “lunch options” is an urban thing; I don’t know what the rest of ya’ll do, brown bag?), or run that quick errand on the way home from work because you’re already outside. I would most likely shower less and become a recluse. Would I be able to successfully transition without becoming THIS?

i-work-from-home-i-star13-working-unwashed-well-past-noon-12451975

Fast-forward. I am adaptable ninja. It didn’t take long for me to grow comfortable with my new setup. My desk at home is just as messy as it always was at work. A collection of napkins and paper towels, whatever the snack of the day is, scattered old cookie crumbs because cookies tend to be a frequent snack of the day, a birth control pack, and a light-up rubber alligator are currently the staples.

My CEO Ubered my work Mac to my house so yay, my laptop is actually used as a secondary computer for travel. It’s worth mentioning that since we went remote, he now has no real home base. He gave up his Tribeca loft and now travels at random, handling company affairs from overseas or whichever AirBnB he’s staying at in random time zones across the country. Likewise, my boss took the remote opportunity to leave Brooklyn (WAH!) and call an RV home base with her husband and cat, traveling the country and chronicling her journeys on her blog at https://readysetrv.wordpress.com/.

I’m more of a toddler than my work peers when it comes to travel. I thought I hated it. Until I actually traveled; like, did it for REAL. “Travel” and “vacations” in my life growing up generally consisted of long, cramped car rides (HELLO motion sickness!) to family members’ houses where you’d cram in a bed with 3 other relatives or stake out a spot on a lumpy couch or a blanket on the floor. Vacation indulgences were few and far between, expenses tight, and a rare motel stay was a paradise to us. This mentality certainly carried over when I entered self-sustainable employment on my own and couldn’t fathom parting with an entire paycheck for a trip that you wouldn’t tangibly own and keep for the future.

20170624_125014But remote work gave me my first opportunity to leave the country this past June. Our tiny team of about 6 employees all headed to Antigua for a week to work from a breezy island villa where a chef prepared our meals daily and we chose a different beach to visit every day after work. And there were dogs. Island dogs that visited us every day.

I think once you start, and really experience it, then you see the magic. Then you start to feel it. Next month will be my 2nd time leaving the country, and the 5th trip I’m taking this year. The impact of the travel bug is quite exponential.

With a newfound respect for remote culture and it’s perks, I do want to debunk some of the wrong impressions I’ve come across in regards to “working from home.”

I hate when someone responds to my revelation, “Oh, I need to go find me a remote job.” As if you’d simply take any old job you hate just because you can do it from home (although I’m sure there are those who would). As someone who’s been through some hellish work situations, my priority in job hunting was an atmosphere I could vibe with and a job that could provide me adequate challenge. As someone who used to be a “Weekend-Watcher,” one who wasted the majority of their life away anxiously anticipating the 2 days of freedom at the end of the week, it’s amazingly refreshing to no longer be in that mindset. I liked my job BEFORE it went remote. I just happened to be lucky enough to be on the ship when it took that direction. My mom sometimes asks, “Is your company hiring?” As if I’d ever admit to her that it was, lol. But it’s like the industry doesn’t matter to her. The position doesn’t seem to matter to her either or fact that the current abundant benefits she already has would be cut. She’s simply dazzled by the remote aspect. But she can’t do my job.

Which brings me to a more enraging pet peeve; the impression that because I’m working from home, my job is suddenly “easy” or not as challenging than if I’d had to go into the office to do it. Which is bullshit. Software support is not an easy job. The fact that sometimes I can run out of the shower with 5 minutes left to moisturize down before clocking in so I have to sit down and begin the work day topless and if there’s some sort of spyware lurking through my Mac’s webcam then Lord knows they’ve gotten quite a show is irrelevant. It doesn’t make the angry customers calling to complain any less angry because I’m in my house. It doesn’t mean the computer-illiterate need less hand-holding because I didn’t take the A train to help them. And it doesn’t make a poor communicator’s unintelligible explanation of their problem more clear because I have my Hylian Shield slippers on. Remote life simply means “non-conventional office.”

20171116_171352
Yeah, they’re real.

It’s not WRONG to assume I could just have friends over and throw parties while I’m working, because I COULD, but I’d rather not. It takes a certain kind of discipline to work from home and not stay glued to Netflix because it’s right there or be distracted by your cat or the laundry or the latest viral videos circulating on Facebook. My job in particular requires a certain amount of engagement and focus that I know will suffer if my best friend is here chit-chatting away at me about a nonsense situation that only she and will find funny. I mean, if it’s really slow, fine. But my role can get busy and when it’s really busy, I need absolute focus to juggle multiple chats, check in on a glitch that needs to be fixed, and answer the email from the irate woman who THINKS she’s chatting but is only emailing so she’s pissed that our response is not immediate. Exercising that discipline is essential in making sure your productivity doesn’t suffer.

If you don’t have focus, you’re probably not cut out for remote life. But if you are, it’s a great feeling proving that you can be trusted to get shit done without the micro-management of an office. A reward for being dependable. No more bathroom lines. An extra hour of sleep. Easier to incorporate a gym session on my lunch break. Saving money on transportation expenses, and from what I’m seeing in Internet news, MTA’s delays are only growing worse anyway.

As the end of my first remote year draws to a close, I’ve come to thoroughly enjoy and appreciate the benefit. And I plan to toddle my way into remote maturity while the world slowly improves their maturity in remote beliefs.

There’s a book about this. It’s called Remote: Office Not Required. It was our homework before the transition. And it’s a pretty good read. 🙂

~Tael