Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Year's Eve in New Orleans.

For better or for worse, my New Year’s Eves almost never go the way I expect. Honestly, I would probably be thrown if one DID someday go according to plan.

There was the New Year’s when James wanted his brother Jesse, our friend Nate, and me to come hear his band (Funky Gumbo – they’re a blog story all their own) play at the Glenwood Ballroom near Morris. James promised it would be fun, but when the three of us arrived, we found that we were the youngest people there by at least four decades. Since none of us were 21 at the time, we instead went to Perkins in Alexandria and made it back to Glenwood in time to ring in 2009.

The following year was the same setup – James was playing with Funky Gumbo, and Nate, Jesse, and I were on our own. That time, we skipped Funky Gumbo altogether and spent New Year’s Eve in Morris, hanging out at the Met and arguing over who had the broadest shoulders.

My favorite New Year’s Eve story comes from Sioux Falls. We were celebrating the end of 2011 – it was James, Jesse, Nate, and me, who somehow end up together on many New Year’s Eves. At the end of the night, we were unable to track down a taxi ride home, so we had to walk the three-plus miles home. In January. At 2am.

The New Year’s after that was much less exciting, as we didn’t end up walking anywhere at 2am. However, James did run a stop sign and get pulled over, and I did end up soaked in booze thanks to varying clumsy bar patrons, and James’s brother Jay was bitten by a drunk girl. Finally, we missed the clock striking twelve because James and Nate were stuck by a crowded bar trying to order us drinks and Jay, Jesse, and I were crammed against a wall, trying to secure a place for the five of us to stand. “Oh hey, it’s 12:02. Happy New Year!” So that was how we began 2013.

Last New Year’s Eve, however, was fantastic. It was nothing like all the other New Year’s, and I loved it. Why?

Because James and I got to ring in 2014 in New Orleans.

We got married in July 2013 and took a mini-honeymoon road trip to Winnipeg, which was totally awesome. We saved our real New Orleans honeymoon until the end of December – what a perfect time of year to escape Minnesota and go south. And how cool would it be to spend New Year’s in the French Quarter? TOTALLY COOL.

James and I are not the best planners, and it turned out that we were in New Orleans at the same time as the (something) Bowl. The streets were flooded with fans from Alabama and Oklahoma, and getting anywhere via streetcar took three times as long as we had expected. That meant we had to put a lot of careful thought into where we would go that day – we didn’t want to be caught in a streetcar when midnight hit.

We spent New Year’s Eve day running around like chickens with our heads cut off. James and I had so many places to see and so many things to eat, and we had goals for each day in New Orleans. New Year’s Eve was no different, except that we had to plan carefully to be back in the French Quarter well before midnight. We had heard rumor of midnight fireworks over the Mississippi, and there was no way we were missing that.

Our biggest decision for New Year’s Eve was one we made with much deliberation and care: where to eat dinner? We had to make sure it was accessible via street car, it wouldn’t have too much of a wait, and that we ate early enough to not worry about timing, but late enough so that we wouldn’t be starving come midnight. James and I dined at VooDoo BBQ on St Charles – far enough away from the French Quarter that we could get in with no problem, but close enough to the street car line that we only had a few blocks of walking to do.

And you know what? It worked perfectly. Our dinner was absolutely delicious (barbecue shrimp, be still my heart), and we even had time to stop at Copeland’s for bread pudding.

James and I hopped back on the streetcar and pointed ourselves back toward the French Quarter. We had been doing so well with our timing that we figured we had nothing to worry about. However, when it came time to switch street car lines from the St Charles Line to the Canal Street line, we hit a snag. The cars on the Canal Street line were stuffed to the gills with drunken college football revelers, with even more waiting on the street. The line stretched before us, and the clock was nearing 11 – too close for comfort.

Our feet ached from three days of non-stop walking, but James and I saw no other choice. If we wanted to get to the fireworks on the Mississippi, we were going to have to hoof it. We scrambled through the droves of football fans, snaking our way through the sea of red and white jerseys. We power-walked like our lives depended on it.

And then, there it was – Jackson Square. We had made it. SWEET, SWEET VICTORY! We weren’t going to miss the first moments of the New Year like we had in 2013. Jackson Square was packed, but we didn’t mind.

James and I had trucked over to Jackson Square so quickly that we had time to a.) get ourselves some Hurricanes at Paddy O’Brien’s, and b.) buy Mardi Gras masks at a gift shop. We put on our masks and huddled together by the river bank. We were filled with electric excitement: not only was 2013 – the most hectic/stressful/wonderful year ever – almost over, but we were going to spend the first moments of 2014 standing together in New Orleans: my favorite place earth.

And it was even better than I imagined it. Standing on the edge of the Mississippi River, wearing Mardi Gras masks, huddling against the drizzle, and surrounded by the happiest group of drunks I’d ever met, 2014 arrived.
There were indeed fireworks over the Mississippi River – but they were lit off a barge floating on the river. It was a truly spectacular sight – one of those blazing, beautiful sights that reminds you just why you’re so lucky to be alive.

James and I spent the early hours of 2014 in blissful wonder, roaming the streets and absorbing the New Orleans celebration. (Yes, we caught beads thrown from balconies. No, we didn't have to earn them.) Like most of my New Year’s Eves, this one also did not go according to plan: the plan being that we’d have a nice dinner somewhere and settle in nicely for an evening of fireworks. Instead, we ran around like chickens with our heads cut off, scarfing down shrimp and bread pudding and doing our best to beat the ticking New Year’s Eve clock. What was unplanned turned out to be so much better than what was planned, as is often the case.

While James and I aren’t lucky enough to be spending this New Year’s Eve in New Orleans, we are indeed lucky enough to NOT have to spend it with Funky Gumbo. There’s always a silver lining. So here’s to 2015 – may it be as full of surprises and delight as 2014!

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