As I have mentioned before, I live in New Orleans, Louisiana – a city teeming with visitors, tourists, scouts, and guests of all kind. It’s a fascinating social phenomenon watching the city’s population swell and subside like shifting tides. The numbers of people increase on the onset of each week’s end, then explode for the ever-so frequent festivals, concerts and celebrations. Then just as quickly they dwindle back down to the locals and frequent visitors that regularly occupy the streets, alleys, parks and shops. Living in a town like this can transform any resident into a nearly perpetual host. When I moved to Austin, all of my Louisiana friends wanted to visit, but now that I’m here the frequency of phone calls, e-mails and other requests for lodging have multiplied three fold.
It goes without saying, then, that I have played host to several types of guests in a myriad of circumstances. Some have asked to stay with me because they miss me and want to see the city. Others have planned a weekend around a festival and just needed a couch. Some have come for business with no arrangements whatsoever and only stayed with me after I offered. Among these types some have been more considerate than others, and this most recent Mardi Gras my impromptu guests were probably the least considerate I’ve had so far. Being involved in the awkward way they fumbled through their adventure to New Orleans was like watching a Galapagos tortoise trying to mount a female. In fast-forward. On Shrooms.
Though they tried in earnest to be polite, courteous and even adventurous, they simply didn’t get it. I don’t know how else to put it. They just didn’t get it. That’s not to say that they only missed out on the entire New Orleans experience (which they did) but the experience of travel as a whole. To travel is to let go and to learn. Going to new places means seeing new people, clothing, food, paradigms, customs and ways of thinking and can be a profound learning experience be it pleasurable or painful. When traveling, leave the life you know in the place you know. Leave “You” at home.
The girls who came to stay with me did pretty much the exact opposite of everything I just described. It was more of a learning experience for me on what rules to lay down and what I will and will not put up with from visitors. I heard they needed a place to stay for Mardi Gras, so I offered my place to be nice. It was partly my fault. I assumed they had the slightest idea of what they wanted to do or any kind of plan to speak of. I was wrong. Did I mention that Galapagos tortoise was also blindfolded? I now offer you their example. The Tourists’ Guide To How Not To Travel.
How Not To Dress
Mardi Gras is a time of excess, silliness and lunacy. The people of New Orleans really do look for any excuse to dress up, but consider your theme, your host and, if anything, the weather. Don’t dress like a total slut when NO ONE ELSE is doing so. You’re painting a bull’s eye on yourself to some kind of predator be they sexual or just judgmental. I understand that girls like to feel sexy on occasion. We all know Halloween can be re-dubbed “Excuse Night,” but be aware of your surroundings. The girls went out for a night on the town in some of the most revealing clothing I’ve ever seen (without the internet) on a pretty damn cold night, all by themselves, in the middle of the debaucherous douchefest that is Mardi Gras. They then complained about all the creepy stares and cat calls they’d received.
And I don’t mean a skimpy, backless dress or a low-cut shirt. I mean total porn. Playboy bunnies wear this stuff. You really want to plunge in to crowds of drunken men wearing that? Be my guest. Actually no. Don’t be my guests. You’re not welcome here any more. The straw that broke the camel’s back in the clothing department came after their second day here. More out of pure curiosity than dissatisfaction, I had to inquire as to how they went through a roll and a half of toilet paper in one day. One of them, a very attractive, twenty-four-year-old young woman, a legal adult gave me a very matter-of-fact reply: “Well, I had to stuff my bra.” It was at that point I knew that these girls were beyond my help, and I might want to consider alternatives.
How Not To Go Out
Nothing in New Orleans starts on time, but once something does start it does have, ya know, some duration. Don’t take so long to get ready that you miss the actual event(s). My friend and I went to the Endymion parade and told the tourist girls that if they wanted to see a parade and “do the Mardi Gras thing” this would be a good chance to do it. They knew it started around 8:00pm but they must not have wanted to go as badly as they claimed. At about 8:15 my phone rang and the conversation went something like this:
THEM: “Hey, what are you up to?”
ME: “What? I’m at the parade with Bayley. It’s probably starting soon.”
THEM: “Oh, cool, we’re almost done getting ready where should we go?”
ME: “You’re what? It’s a good two-mile walk to get here but if you leave right now you can probably catch maybe the second half of it.”
THEM: “Ok great!”
You can guess where this is going. I now know her enthusiasm was fueld by ignorance, like a dog at the vet who doesn’t know all the treats that come before the neutering are just a dirty lie.
They called me again at about 11:00pm to tell me that they were ready! Somehow it took three hours to put on clothing and walk through the threshold of a door. I asked Bayley if it ever took her that long to get ready and she looked at me like I was an idiot. And an asshole. So a guy, I suppose. Understand, though, these were the type of girls who, when asking if someone is ready they say, “redz?” When they asked what else they could do since they’d missed the one thing they were getting ready to go and not miss, I told them about a local strip on which they could check out some bars and music. Don’t ignore everything your host tells you, either.
THEM: “So where should we go?”
ME: “Go check out Frenchman. There’s lots of cool bars and venues.”
THEM: “So where should we go?”
ME: “… to Frenchman.”
THEM: “But where?”
ME: “Anywhere on that street! Get creative!”
THEM: “…How do we get there?”
How Not to Navigate
I’ve mentioned in another entry how surprised I am that there are people who can’t survive without other people preparing their food. Another adult ineptitude that boggles my mind endlessly is how some people are utterly incapable of navigating. I understand some people aren’t great with directions, or may be turned around easily, but I’ve met too many people who cannot recognize North-ish. Ask yourself some simple questions like, “What time of day is it?” and “Where is the sun in the fucking sky?” and you’ll be off to a good start. But as these girls taught me among their many lessons (they were so giving with their knowledge) this is sometimes just too much to ask. Granted, I live in a city with a pretzel of a road map, old, nasty roads, confusing local directions and seemingly no city planning whatsoever. I sometimes think they modeled the city’s layout after a Jackson Pollock painting.
That being said, buy a map. Some friends came to stay with me before who were beautifully low-maintenance. They mentioned looking for places of interest and before I could even open my mouth they explained that they had already looked up some places, decided where to go and found directions! They were adults with smart phones. Confoundedly enough, so were the girls who plagued me for a weekend, so you can understand how I wondered if anybody I knew owned a restaurant with a meat grinder who wouldn’t mind helping me make a couple twenty-somethings disappear when they asked me how to get to places they had already been twice in the same trip. On the same day. Without me.
How Not To Eat Out
Yes, I was saving this for last. New Orleans is a city known around the world for its food. When in New Orleans, do as the Sodomites do. Eat, drink, be merry and worry about where your clothes ran off to some other time. It’s a given that you should budget ten to fifteen pounds for a trip here. Every group of guests I’ve had has asked me, almost immediately, where to get some good Louisiana food. These girls coudln’t have engaged this part of the trip more terribly wrong. I would be happy to cater to someone with food allergies or religious restrictions. We could just as easily go enjoy some other part of the trip and not focus on food. I even had one vegan visitor tell me he had to try crawfish, and, in the spirit of travel he did! And he loved it. I said to leave all things “You” at home. Part of that is not bringing your unbearably specific preferences, restrictions and unreasonable demands with you. And if you do, don’t ask to have good food.
The tourists’ first mistake was looking for healthy food in Louisiana. They also wanted good fried chicken. I concluded quickly that they weren’t capable of listening to themselves. When they ordered their drinks as a “Coke, light ice” and a “water with lemon” I knew it was going to be an annoying evening. If not for me than for the server. They bombarded the poor girl with questions about whether the food was pan fried or deep fried, whether it was organic or not, whether it was fat-free or not, and so on and so forth shoot me in the face. Nothing about the decor of this deliciously greasey hole in the wall indicated it was the type of place to which you trekked to spare yourself a calorie. It was embarassing. I actually had to stop them and order for them just so we would, at some point, be served food before they closed. They went to a restaurant known for its fried chicken and orderd a crab cake and a salad. They sat mildly appeased as my other friends and I happily shoved our faces full of fried chicken, mashed potatoes and mac & cheese. They really didn’t, and could not be shown, what they were missing out on.
As it turned out, the girls had just finished a twelve-day cleanse and had not eaten a single bite of solid food before the trip. This became quite practically evident when my phone rang at 11:00pm to deliver a distress call when, after an amount of alcohol that can only be described as “amateur”, they decided they were too drunk to call a cab home, but somehow miraculously sober enough to call and ask me for a ride. I literally picked them up off of a bathroom floor in a bar-ya-don’t-go-to type of a place to drive them home, and plan the next day around washing my sheets.
Karma finally came to my rescue in the form of a merciless, irate, post-menopausal bartender. It was at a restaurant I’d been to several times and I knew this lady was not to be trifled with. She’s a total bitch is what I’m getting it. I don’t mind it so much because if she thinks you live here she just takes your order and dishes out a little small-talk. If she thinks you’re a tourist she’s a brick wall of years of unsettled emotional distress and tightly-leashed rage. Someone that age working at a small, constantly packed restaurant/bar serving chicken and oysters can only be described as a wretched ashtray of a human being. She was perfect to be my winged savior from two tourists who had worn me out with their incessant lack of listening or understanding. I felt like Michael Bluth.
I took half a glance at the menu and quickly, politely asked for a coke and some redbeans and rice. The behind-the-bar bohemoth beldam nodded and punched in my order. I was spared this time. When one of the girls asked what the bartender recommended she replied, “I recommend you order the thing on the menu that has the most stuff you like in it,” without blinking. I almost spat out my soda from laughing. I tried to be polite but I couldn’t help it. I was watching justice being served, and it tasted like soda going up my nose. After the girls had been given their food one of them couldn’t seem to tell the difference between each item. The barmonster reached over, gave her plate a stiff spin and pointed out both each food item and how silly the girl was being. “That’s your redbeans, that’s your etouffee, that’s your jambalaya and that’s a chicken leg. It’s just your lunch, honey. Eat it. It ain’t the end of the world.”
Sweet, sweet retribution. I soaked up her insults like Superman getting a tan. The sad thing is, like the entire vacation experience the scathing remarks just flew right over their heads. There was a certain capacity for understanding, a certain empathy that these girls just did not possess. They would go back to their starting point and tell people they had fun, that New Orleans was cool, they they saw a parade and caught some beads, but they wouldn’t really have stories of depth to tell. They couldn’t tell their friends the names of amazing people they met, or flavors of interesting new foods. They came to a new place and tried to “go out” like they would any night where they came from. They were too busy being wrapped up in this idea they had of what the trip should be to actually enjoy the trip, itself. Traveling to a new place with a solid image of what it should be is the best way to completely miss out on what it actually is. It is nothing more than projecting, which is insecurity at its worst.
Don’t travel like these two did. Don’t be a burden to your host. Don’t be a virus to your destination. If you ask what locals do, really listen when they tell you. If your host is gracious, repay the kindness with a meal, a chore, a gesture of some kind. Keep your karmic account balance in the positive by showing, and demonstrating, sincere interest and apprecation. Travel is a gift. Don’t waste it. Don’t overdo it. Don’t spoil it. And a last tip to The Tourists’ Guide To How Not To Travel: Ben Franklin once said both fish and visitors start to stink after three days. Happy Travels.