I am picked up by a black man with long dreadlocks, wearing a canary yellow shirt, driving a maroon SUV. He’s my former admissions recruiter from the Honors College I attended as an undergrad. We subsequently became dear friends. He is now a real estate agent loving/living in NOLA and has been trying to get me to move here for the past 4 years.
The last time I was here was in November of 2006, for the V-Day conference at Tulane University. There I had met Eve Ensler, writer of the Vagina Monologues and an awe-inspiring activist, and other kindred souls. Compelled by the city’s recovery, its inherent beauty, its mixed culture, I began to wonder about the possibilities of living here one day.
We head immediately to the French Quarter because I’m only here overnight. Tomorrow the train for Los Angeles departs at noon. We try Napoleon House, but it was closed. We walk the quarter, and serendipitously, I run into friend from undergrad who is a tour guide. She joins us for dinner at Market Cafe.
“How do you know each other?” asks my friend, the tour guide.
“She’s my wife, but she left me. This is our daughter.” He pulls out a picture, and we continue the joke for a while. I order a shrimp po’ boy since there are no oysters available due to the BP oil spill. Afterwards, we all share a decadent and enormous slice of bread pudding.
The tour guide asks the real estate agent about a haunted mansion near Lincoln. It was Nicholas Cage’s mansion, but he is now selling it. We hear about its history: the wife of a doctor experimented on 30 slaves there.
The tour guide continues to talk excitedly about New Orleans. I learn that the slave trade here was different from the rest of the U.S. The French commission laws were more lenient, allowing slaves to marry freemen. Children could not be sold if one parent is free. If two slaves had children, the family must be sold together. Slaves were allowed to sell crafts on Sundays. There was Conga town, which was named for the percussive music that was played. There was system of plaçage, which I had read about while reading the works of Alice Dunbar-Nelson. It was Irishmen and freemen who built the canals, which guaranteed malaria. Slaves were too valuable.
As per tradition, we continue with the night. We head uptown in the Garden District to a pub called Bulldog. There we meet up with friends of the real estate agent, Filipina sisters, and enjoy the 75-degree night next to a fountain made with beer tap handles.
A guy named Wayne buys the tour guide and I drinks. We feel sorry for him because his daughter did not show up. There’s not many places where parents party with their kids.
As we were leaving around 4am, we stumble into a pizza place.
“What can we get for $1?” I ask the Iraqi server who had been trying to flirt with me. We each receive a slice of pizza. The night ends perfectly.