I recall my school – the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill – winning the men’s national basketball championship in 1982 in the Superdome. I happened to be in New York City that evening, with a group of four Tar Heel fans who’d followed that magical season, sitting in the same chairs, wearing the same outfits and drinking tons of Miller Lite.
Carolina returned in 1993 to the Superdome where it beat Michigan, and by then, I was living in Cary and had not an alcoholic beverage since June of 1991.
Fast forward to October 2011. A writer’s workshop in New Orleans provided enough cover for Ruth (my wife) and I to head west from N.C. Our two-segment flight stopped in Orlando to unload a throng of Disney worshipers and disciples, some them of barely three feet tall with Mickey Mouse luggage and T-shirts, chattering, giggling, perhaps wondering if what they imagined would be real.
I sat at the back of the plane and shared their sense of anticipation. But my thoughts were aimed at a city that I knew first from a Johnny Horton song,
In 1814 we took a little trip
Along with Colonel Jackson down the mighty Mississip.
We took a little bacon and we took a little beans
And we caught the bloody British in the town of New Orleans.
When we decided to visit Louisiana, I ventured onto Amazon and purchased an armload of books about New Orleans that focused on history, voodoo, food, and music. I learned a little bit about the Mississippi River, Creole vs. Cajun, and Marie Laveau. I wanted to see the bayous and meet some “characters,” and eat my weight in gumbo.
After we picked up the Avis rental at the Louis Armstrong airport, where there is free wifi, we drove east on 1-10 to the Poydras Street exit at the Superdome. Took a left on Camp and a right on Canal. And there we were at our downtown hotel – Marriott. Luckily the gentleman at the hotel desk was able to put us in the river tower on the 39th floor where we had a view of the Mississippi as it wrapped itself around the front edge of downtown. It was a stunning view that included the bridges to Algiers, Harrah’s, the western tip of Decatur Street, and lots and lots of river.
That evening, we trudged east on Decatur Street. Okay. Ruth, who is a hiker with rubber knees and shopper’s purpose, marched, while I sputtered along reminiscent of a sketchy coffee pot getting the job done but taking its time. It was hot in New Orleans on a Thursday late afternoon. We passed the House of Blues and a variety of shops with Cajun music, t-shirts, and questionable dreams. Up ahead, we saw the Café Du Monde for the first time on the opposite side of the street, where the green and white canopy and outdoor chairs faced the artists and buskers that enhance Jackson Square.
Two street magicians slowed us down, but my urge to find Coop’s Place overruled sleight of hand antics and staged deceit with matches and playing cards – gumbo was calling. Finally, just across Decatur from the New Orleans version of Margaritaville, we spotted the doors to our first taste of paradise.
As touted and promised, Coop’s was one of those tiny spaces crammed with flavor and character, a mixture of green tourists and tanned locals listening to excellent music while waiting for an early dinner. We ordered the Coop’s Sampler, which included gumbo, shrimp creole, a piece of Cajun fried chicken, red beans & rice, and rabbit/chicken jambalaya.
I will love New Orleans forever.