On the drive down to the Sugar Bowl, I checked my Worldometer App for the latest Covid stats.
Amazingly, on the one day we are headed down to a huge public party in the French Quarter, the Louisiana Covid stats rocket up to a new one-day all-time high. Isn’t that just like Covid? As they say in the vernacular, “this stuff is getting old.”
I know I am not the only person who is just shrugging off the latest wave and marching on. Two years is long enough.
Mississippians have been exposed to a heap of conspiracy theories lately, including a bunch about Covid. Most of us treat a theory for exactly what it is — a theory. Then we take our real-world observations to heart. We all have dozens of friends who have gotten the Omicron variant and seen the same answer again and again. “Really, about as bad as a cold.”
Which is not to say there won’t be some deaths. But after two years, Covid has now become just one more disease reminding us of our own mortality and dependency on God. It can get in line with heart disease, cancer, strokes, car accidents, ladder falls and the rest of the plagues.
So far, we are all back and healthy. Maybe I heard a few sniffles and coughs throughout the week, but then again, we were all packed into stadiums, sports bars and dance halls. The food, drink, music and revelry were, as always in Nawlins, just fantastic.
Personally, I feel my immune system is doing great, having just recovered from the worst illness I can recall in my life — a six-week bout of bronchitis, asthma, wheezing, coughing, etc. Never tested positive for Covid, but whatever I had wasn’t normal. I’m convinced it’s somehow related to the recent unpleasantness.
Our trip was with friends and family, which was really cool. It’s so amazing that my children are grown enough to vacation with Ginny and me and our friends as co-adults. We had a blast. All got along. The generation gaps seemed non-existent.
Through our children, we connected with an even wider group of friends and their parents. It was just a great cross-generational fun time.
Part of this trip was to celebrate the birthdays of my wife Ginny and dear friend Kemal Sanli, both of whom have Christmastime birthdays. They always get short shrifted as a result. This trip was to make amends, particularly since Ginny had a big birthday this year, her 39th.
We rented a three-bedroom condo in the Marigny area, adjacent and northeast of the French Quarter. It’s an up-and-coming, gentrifying area with a real bohemian, artistic feel. We loved it. It was like being in the Quarter but quieter and more mellow. Great restaurants and street cafes all around.
From Marigny, it can be a 20-minute hike into the Quarter, but this was made easy by the new Blue Bike stands throughout the area.
Unlike many cities such as Austin and Atlanta, New Orleans banned electric scooter rentals. I can understand why, given how much pedestrian traffic there is in the Quarter. People were being run down by novice scooter riders.
But Blue Bikes are “power assist” electric bikes that travel on the streets with the cars. Pedaling them is far easier than a traditional bike. Once you download the app and enter a credit card, you just aim your camera at the QR code mounted on the handlebars. The bike unlocks and off you go.
When you get to where you are going, you lock the bike up at a nearby Blue Bike station and off you go. It really made getting around the French Quarter much easier and faster.
Ginny and I also used our Blue Bikes to ride over the entire Marigny area. This would have been impossible on foot and it gave us a real insight into this up-and-coming part of New Orleans.
I was a bit surprised that nobody on Blue Bikes wore helmets, nor was this required. I wonder how long that will last. It’s just a matter of time before someone cracks their head.
The Blue Bike app was just one example of how smartphone technology made our trip a snap. We used apps to rent our condo, to check in, to find restaurants, to call Ubers, to ride bikes, to buy tickets, to track down friends, to navigate and a dozen more things. We talk a lot about the negatives of smartphones, but there are far more positives.
With daughter Ruth a freshman at Ole Miss, Ginny and I have gotten back into college football and made five trips to the Grove this year. So, going to the Sugar Bowl made sense.
I thought I bought eight good tickets. I mean, my credit card was debited, only to get an email two weeks later from the Ole Miss athletics department that because I didn’t donate enough, I could only get two much-worse tickets and they would refund my money. Man was I hot! This is a very bad practice.
As it turns out, there was an equal amount of enthusiasm for going to a cool sports bar in the Quarter and watching the game on TV. Now armed with a backup plan, we planned to watch the ticket prices drop and make a last-minute decision.
As it turned out, the prices did indeed drop and we could have bought all the tickets we wanted for $70 apiece. Albeit, it was in the nosebleed section, but the Superdome is so vertical, there is really not a bad seat in the house.
Try as I could, my crowd would not budge. They wanted to eat, drink and be merry at a cool sports bar. So after a cocktail party of about 20 people at our condo, our merry, multi-generational band marched down the lovely Marigny Street to the American Sports Saloon at Decator and Governor Nicholls Street one block from the river.
We were not disappointed. The pub food was delicious. The screens were big and numerous, including on the balcony where you could sit on a comfy sofa and watch the game with a great view of the French Quarter crowd and New Orleans skyline.
The disappointment soon came when Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral got hurt. What a team leader. What a hero. What a class act. No doubt this young man was the heart and soul of the team. When he fell, the team collapsed. Yet another chapter in the book of Ole Miss Tragedy Football.
After the game, we partook in the endless fountain of great music and crowd energy that makes New Orleans the third most popular tourist destination in the United States.
For Mississippians, New Orleans is like a second home, part of our lives. Although I live in Jackson, I have been to New Orleans so many times, it’s just part of who I am. As I thought back over countless memories and countless great times, I really felt a love for this Big Easy.
My favorite story of all was when I was in my early twenties. My girlfriend was working on the Mississippi Queen riverboat and living in a big rambling Garden District with a bunch of friends.
We started our Mardi Gras night early, tracking down the Wild Tchoupitoulas — a tradition of African Americans who dress up as Indians and go from honky tonk to honky tonk singing and chanting.
We followed the Wild Tchoupitoulas all night long and emerged with them from a honky tonk into the bright light of morning. The street was roped off and hundreds of tourists lined up behind the ropes to take photos of this unique American cultural phenomenon. And there we were. Right in the middle of it.
That’s just one memory. There are dozens.
On Sunday, we had a fantastic brunch with the whole crew at Paladar 511 in Marigny. It was fantastic. Then we headed to the Superdome to watch the Saints keep their playoff hopes alive. There were over 20 of us all sitting together hooting and hollering “who dat says dey gonna beat them Saints.”
Anyway, what a great weekend. It seemed to last forever. Friends, family, good times. Most importantly, Ginny said it was the best 39th birthday celebration she could have imagined, and I have 200 photos to prove it.
So, take that, Covid.