Bless me readers for I have sinned: I didn’t mention that my Louisiana date also happened to be our homestay. See, a friend’s ex-boyfriend knew about my trip around the county and recommended his friend, Chris, as either a potential New Orleans date, potential NOLA couch to crash on, or hey – both!
The night before my date, Megs and I were definitely up talking to Chris, learning a little about his family, his job, and all sharing in our thoughts on the impending election (which would be taking place the next night). Really, we were basically on a zero-th date, exploring whether we wanted to go on a first date. I did actually tell him it would be okay to back out once he got to know me – which thankfully, he did not opt for. This whole situation was a bit wonky, though I can’t say I think other dating set-ups aren’t equally as wonktastic.
I’m going to go do some yoga to repent for my sins (golly, I hate yoga) and I’ll be back to write about the date…
Going out with Chris was oddly and wonderfully familiar. We’d gotten a chance to get to know one another for a few hours the night before in a casual hang-out session without cameras and with Megan, drinking wine and yammering on about this, that, and the other thing. As seriously every date since Oregon has been with virtual strangers, even a small sense of comfort and familiarity was relieving. I knew Chris wasn’t going to forget my name, be surprised by my vegetarianism, or need an explanation about why I was traveling the country in a whirling dervish of first dates. All facts that were covered already!
As a native New Oreleanser, literally born in the Lower Ninth and raised in St. Bernard,* Chris now is working for the city itself, trying to establish consistent street naming conventions (you’d be astounded at just how complex this task is. The history behind how each street all got multiple names or how some streets appear nameless is dense and interesting. Part of it has to do with records lost in Katrina, part of it simply how the city planners have worked for the past hundred and fifty years).** For our date, he’d planned a drink at a jazz club in a less-well-known part of town, dinner at a homey-styled establishment not frequented by tourists, and then a visit to an election watch party (which I didn’t even have to request).
One thing is quickly clear about native New Orleansers: they take their tradition seriously. So often during our evening out, Chris and I had an exchange akin to this:
Chris: “We do X on Mondays.”
Me: “Oh? Why is that?”
Chris: “It’s just what we’ve always done.”
And by that, he meant his family, for generations. And not just his family; everyone in New Orleans is doing this (whatever this is) at that time and place.
Another thing that is quickly clear about New Orleans: the after effects of Hurricane Katrina continue to reverberate through the city. They pulse with the ramifications of her pummeling. It’s impossible to look anywhere without a story from her. Maybe you already knew this, but I definitely did not. I guess I assumed all systems were go, that even if they weren’t completely rebuilt they were fully operational. Nope. Wrong.
The more Chris discussed first hand accounts of Katrina, and of the New Orleans experience at large, the more silly I felt being on a date. Why were we eating dinner and drinking beer when so much was needed to change for the sake of quality of life and the promised pursuit of happiness? How could this be America? I saw so little in common with places like Bozeman or Oshkosh or Charleston. Despite differences though, this indeed was America, and I was indeed on a date. A good date. And Chris, despite living in a different world than anything I had witnessed, still wanted to go out, have a good time, and exist in the datingverse. He did say finding an educated gal who wanted to stay in New Orleans was proving to be a challenge, and that as he spent a lot of his effort taking care of everyone else, he was looking for someone who would take care of him.
After election results were in and Chris showed off his dancing ability, he looked at me and said “I hate to say this, but I think I need to go home. Now.”
Wait, what? We were having a good time. We were dancing! Megs had a beer in her hand, which meant she was comfortable and happy to stay out a bit more. Through pursed lips, Chris alluded to not feeling well and suddenly, we were in a Groundhog’s Day scenario, my Georgia date flashing before my eyes. Back at the house, Chris tucked himself into bed and hazily said, “So this probably means we’re not making out tonight?” I shook my head and returned to the living room.
“Megan,” I said. “Do you think I’m making guys sick to their stomach?”
*Two wards, aka sections, of the great NOLA
** Here is a really basic overview of why some streets have different names