Lessons Learned - Jazz Fest

To end my New Orleans experience, I’ve come up with a list of lessons learned at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. You can always go, and you should go, and experience it as we did, or you can learn from us. Here’s a list of things we wish we had. 

Jazz Fest Packing List:

  1. Party pole - If you’re from an area of the country were party poles are rare, you’ll quickly learn it’s a party must. It makes it easy to meet up with your new friends and it looks down right cool. 
  2. Wear your hair up - This may be gender specific but men can learn from this as well. It’s hot, and humid, and there’s a good amount of dust in the air. Dress appropriately. 
  3. Swimsuit - See above for logic. 
  4. Low chair - If you’re traveling across the country to enjoy the festival this may be more difficult but it’s easy to buy chairs in New Orleans and it’s nice to have a seat…all the cool kids are doing it. 
  5. Parasols - So this may be a little silly but that’s kinda what the festival is all about. It’s practical, helping to keep the sun at bay, plus, when else can you comfortably walk around with a parasol in hand?
  6. Matching outfits - This was something completely unexpected. People, lots of people, had taken the time to create Jazz Fest specific outfits. They are random, bizarre and awesome all at once. 
  7. Costumes - After a day or two in your matching outfits, you can change things up by joining the other half of festival-goers in costumers. From fairies, to flower girls to super heroes, there is no limit to what people will wear. It’s New Orleans; join the party.
  8. Spray fan water bottles - I became jealous of everyone that had one. I went out of my way to make friends with people willing to toss me a free spray or two. Bring one for yourself. Use it to make friends.
  9. Sleeveless shirts - We don’t want tan lines, do we?
  10. Tough blankets - If you don’t bring in chairs, you need a good blanket complete with tarp to keep the moisture out. This is critical. Don’t forget. 

I learned a lot more than these basic tips, like all about new kinds of music, how tough my friends are, and how to take my travel to a whole new level but you’ll have to go there yourself to see what other kinds of lessons New Orleans is holding for you. 

Want a Better Trip? Ask For It.

What would your ultimate travel story be? Being called up on stage at a show? Holding an alligator? Listening to your favorite band front row center? Dropping into a famous restaurant with no reservations? Having a celebrity serve you your meals? My trip to New Orleans taught me, all I have to do is ask. 

I’ve had a sneaking suspicion this was the case. Your odds of getting something increase dramatically if you ask for it but I had yet to do any scientific research or put my theory to any consistent practice to test the limits, until New Orleans.

There, I began by requesting simple things, which graduated to more outlandish things as each wish was granted. Finally, out of sheer silliness, I tossed out the request to “see a man in a banana hammock.” Less then 10 minutes later, I looked up and, literally, up a story, on a balcony stood a dancing man wearing nothing but a banana hammock tossing out beads to the crowds below him. 

Sure, my last request was a bad idea. The sight of that man will never truly leave my brain but it proved a point in dramatic fashion; all you have to do is ask. I have a suspicion that this life lesson can be extrapolated outside of New Orleans and travel in general but I know, for a fact, my trips will never be the same. I’m going to ask for everything. 

Epicenter of the Mosh Pit

There I was, standing fourth row center, waiting for Florance and the Machine to take stage at the New Orleanse Jazz and Heratiage Festival. My belly was full of New Orleans spicy food, my Oregon skin had been kissed by the afternoon sun and I was ready to become apart of the swaying sea of people around me. As the concert neared, people began to push closer and closer to the stage. I had planted my roots in the forth row and I wasn’t giving into the pressure of the crowed. Neither was my friend Felicia.

We were being attacked from all possible sides. First we were hit with a large group of 14 year old girls. They pushed their pre-pubesent bodies into the cracks between us and the third row. Their voices reached heights only girls of this age can as they squealed with anticipation. We focused our minds to ignore their sounds and held our post. Next came the giant. He pushed his way into the crowd in a rather calm way that said, “I’m huge and there is no way you are going to mess with me, so move outa the way.” He was right. No one did mess with him. Felicia and I were forced to give up half of our space and thus, had to stagger our bodies into our new cramped area, so as to see around our neighbor, who I nicknamed Andre the Giant.

We were all there, waiting for Florence and the Machine, becoming friends because that’s just what you do when you are skin to skin in a mass of strangers waiting for something. And while we were fighting for our space, we knew that you had to sacrifice comfort to have the view 4th row center has to offer.

I don’t know how they managed it, but somehow Drunk, Drunker and Drunkest squeezed their way between us and the 14 year-olds. There was zero space for them and yet somehow they were there, drinking cheap pink wine out of little bottles and using us and our neighbors as support for their drunk bodies. I turned to look at Felicia and give her those eyes that read “can you believe them” but she was assessing the situation with dagger eyes, watching these three amigos, not missing a thing. Suddenly, the drunkest of the trio began to absentmindedly pour her wine out into our bag of possessions. In a Darwinian kind of mindless reaction, I pushed her hand forward forcing the bright pink liquid she was dumping out to fall on the ground and not on our bag. She interpreted my physical contact as the cause of the world’s problems stating, “I was fine until that bitch pushed me.” 

This is when I met a side of Felicia I had never seen before. 

Little Ms. Drunkest was slurringly telling her friends how I had caused her to spill all her wine when Felicia, in a calm yet stern voice, began to demand an apology. There was no way Felicia was going to let this girl think for a minute that this was anyone’s fault but her own. She explained the actual sequence of events and demanded that Ms. Drunkest apologize for ruining several of our possessions. While this rather lengthy conversation took place, I stood back in utter admiration of my friend. This exchange could have easily become a typical drunk girl fight with both women appearing to be crazed to the crowd around us. Felicia was able to accomplish several things simultaneously.

  1. She got this drunk girl stunned into almost silence. She was left with the ability to hardly whisper to her friends how repulsive she thought we were. 
  2. She got her point  across in the heat of the moment with calmness that said, “I might be the smallest woman here and I might look sweet but if you mess with me, I WILL TAKE YOU DOWN.” 
  3. She got the crowd on her side. Before she spoke, the people around us had no idea what had happened. There were no witnesses. But once Felicia finish talking everyone, and I do mean everyone, was convinced that we were innocent and Ms. Drunkest needed to leave. 

Little Ms. Drunkest stood her ground as best she could for some time. Felicia had taken away her ability to have any kind of witty response but she was determined to stand her ground in a kind of silent protest to us. As time passed her nerve began to recover and her murmurs of indignation grew louder and louder. I was watching Felicia observe this latest development and I could see her mind set on a threshold she would not let Ms. Drunkest pass. Sure enough, Little Mrs. Drunkest crossed the line and at that exact moment Felicia, in the same calm bad-ass way, told her she needed to go. With one sentence repeated a handful of times so as to penetrate that drunk skull, Ms. Drunkest was made to realize she was no longer welcome in this area by anyone. With that same sentence, Felicia won over Ms. Drunkest’s friends. They began to apologize with their eyes to all of us. They grabbed their friend, told her they had to go and disappeared into the crowd of people, never to be seen again. 

And so, life was perfect again. Florence and the Machine took stage and we were lost in the music, screaming with the crowd, singing along to the songs and watching Florence frolic on stage like a fairy. Andre the Giant grabbed a girl and lifted her onto his shoulders, the 14 year-olds screamed even louder and we found ourselves dancing like mad women. And then, Florence commanded a mosh pit. Our fourth-row-center-stage spot became the epicenter of crazed jumping. Moments of danger flashed in my mind until I looked over at Felicia and realized nothing bad can happen when I have a bad-ass like Felicia with me. So I let go, allowing the mosh pit to dictate my movements and had the time of my life! 

It’s All About the People - Jazz Fest Part 1

I’ve been struggling to write this post on the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. I’ve come to realize that it’s such a unique experience, it’s hard to create an adequate representation of the festival. Sure, it’s a music festival but it’s more than that. When several genres of music all connected by the thread of this magical city, New Orleans, get together something worth visiting arises.

My flights there were full of people migrating from all over the world, headed for their annual music retreat. People were excited to talk to strangers, share their tips, and reminisce on past festivals. When was the last time you were on a flight and everyone wanted to talk to each other? 

Going to the festival is about more than just listening to good music and swaying to the beat. There’s New Orleans food that is a step above normal festival food. There is a collection of bands that is so diverse and so the same, that it only makes sense to find them together in New Orleans.

And then there are the people. The festival is a group of people you will not find elsewhere. This place changes people, like a 1960s psychedelic, minus the long term effects, hallucinations and free love. The crowds are massive, truly massive, all vying for front row spots and yet there is a kind of southern charm/comradery that takes over everyone. You dance with strangers, share food with strangers, hold seats for strangers, share secret entrances with strangers. You become a member of one big team, Team Jazz Fest, with the common goal of having the best time you can.*

It’s just one of those places, one of those things, you have to experience. I’m glad I did. 

Our Jazz Fest line up included:

  1. Zac Brown Band
  2. Amos Lee
  3. George Porter, Jr. & Runnin’ Pardners
  4. Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphur
  5. Florance and the Machine
  6. Marcia Ball
  7. Grace Potter & the Nocturnals
  8. Keith Frank & the Soileau Zydeco Band
  9. Bonnie Raitt
  10. The Neville Brothers
  11. Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings

*If you don’t play by the unspoken Jazz Fest rules, you deal with Felicia, my travel partner. Stay tuned 

Speed Dating, Travel Edition

People, strangers specifically, are one of the top things that get me excited about traveling. I will meet them anywhere, for any reason. I love meeting fellow travelers, learning about what they have done, where they are going and what they have learned about an area. I love meeting locals, getting the insider information, learning about the culture and about what makes a place tick. 

On my recent trip to New Orleans for Jazz Fest my travel partner and I developed our love for meeting new people into something bigger… travel speed dating. Speed dating, the travel edition, is appropriate for all ages, signals or not, male or female and the best part, it’s free. 

Our specific version was developed on Bourbon Street, a unique place in the world and specifically designed to foster such a game. 

The Premise:

  1. Meet people along a predetermined route. 
  2. Have small interactions for no more than 10 minutes
  3. Quickly move onto the next 

We experienced a pizza date with some New Yorkers, a dance party with some strangers, an insightful conversation with a couple from Minnesota, a t-shirt art session with a Bostonian, and a mini walk inspired by the Greek myths (complete with fanning banana leaf). And, that was just one walk home. 

A vacation is over before you know it but your memories are those little travel nuggets that make a trip last forever. Travel speed dating hands you one big bag of those nuggets for free, in a blink of an eye. 

What unique thing have you done on a travel speed date?

One Alligator Wrestler at Your Service

Tours are, by rule, not something I want to participate in while traveling. My passion for travel lies just slightly left of matching t-shirt wearing, tour bus driving, chain restaurant eating trips. But that doesn’t mean all tourist things are bad. They did, after all, become popular for a reason. 

So, while in New Orleans, it was decided that an alligator/swamp tour was in order. Neither my travel partner, nor myself had experienced a swamp and we certainly had yet to wrangle an alligator. Considering that we were deep in the throws of Jazz Fest, we had little time to do much research for a more local, less tourist-trap version of the excursion. 

At 3:00pm a large bus pulled up to our hotel full of exactly the kind of people I stereotypically think of as going on these tours (One was actually wearing a fanny pack. Need I say more?). We sat down behind our fellow tourists and headed to the next stop.

Once we made the 30 minute trek out to swamp country, paid for our tickets, boarded the air boat and dawned our headsets, the excitement of seeing something so prehistoric as an alligator was getting the adrenaline pumping. 

We started off with a beautiful tour of the swamp lands, which alone was worth the trip but the real excitement came part way through the excursion when our driver began to toss marshmallows into the water, attracting 4 to 6 foot long alligators. The water beasts rushed our boat to collect their treats, snapping their huge jaws in the process. 

Then out of nowhere, our driver produced a baby alligator for us to hold. Now, I know holding this smaller alligator doesn’t officially make me an alligator wrestler but I guarantee I’m a lot closer to alligator wrestling then most of you. Frankly, there is just something thrilling about holding an animal that in almost every circumstance, humans actively try to avoid. 

You can count this major tourist activity as totally worthy. 

Thank You Richard Simmons - I Will Have a Diet Coke

Most of my travels are hands down, fantastic experiences but there are some trips that just start off on the right foot and continue to get better and better. 

I just got back from a trip to the New Orleans Jazz Festival. My expectations for this trip were set pretty high considering Jazz Fest was on my bucket list and yet I was feeling pretty sleepy as I sat at the airport waiting for my red eye flight, the first of three flights I needed to get to New Orleans by 9am the following day. This was not my finest moment in booking airline tickets. 

I sat at my gate reading a book, thinking about how I was going to stay awake for two full days when out of nowhere appeared, like a sparkling bright pink light, Richard Simmons. Suddenly I was in an impromptu Vegas show, with Richard as the star and my fellow passengers and myself as the supporting cast. Crowds formed around Richard as he preformed mini acts. Mr. Simmons quickly analyzed each of us in turn and picked out the individual positive quality he could joke about that we could all laugh at while still making that person feel special and good about themselves.

I’ve never paid much attention to Richard Simmons, nor would I have considered myself a fan up until that point but once on board the plane, Richard started passing out drinks, snacks and collecting trash. There is something quite remarkable about starting your trip with a celebrity doing the in-flight service. 

The picture was an afterthought but I realized I needed some proof. See my best Richard Simmons work below. 

Sometimes You Need a Big Drink

When I find myself between my travels,  I often daydream about this image right here. Nothing says vacation like a pineapple for a glass and multiple little umbrellas. Why don’t I make these at home? Once I’ve done a little daydreaming, I’m back to making travel plans. Next stop: Arizona. 

-Maui, Hawaii

I Love Giant Pizza Slices at 2:00am

Expectations are meant to be broken.

I use to feel like a visit to Washington DC was an obligatory patriotic duty among American travelers. It’s that destination full of 8th grade class trips and hours of programing for racy television shows on C-SPAN. Classic tourist attraction tend to detract rather than add to my travels and I was afraid DC would be nothing but and endless supply of plastic souvenirs and lines to hear people quote 3rd grade textbooks.

What I didn’t expect was Washington DC to become my favorite place to travel on a budget. With a little work ahead of time contacting my Representatives I was able to get tickets to the Senate, the National Archives and the White House and almost everything else worth seeing is open to the public and free. There have been so many Nicholas Cage movies made in these places that it’s easy to feel like you are living in a blockbuster thriller as you view documents, art, monuments and offices that you have spent your whole life learning about.

As always, it’s the little things that peak my interest. Some of my favorite DC moments are:

  • Actually being on “the list” to get inside the White House
  • Viewing a letter Fidel Castro wrote to the US President when he was a small child trying to convince the President to send Fidel a ten dollar bill because he had “never seen one before.”
  • Witnessing the Secret Service repeatedly tell my travel partner he could not answer her questions due to national security while all my questions were answered with a smile
  • Walking into my senator’s office like I am a DC big wig
  • Discovering an actual dead cockroach hidden within a modern art painting
  • Walking around Julia Child’s kitchen
  • Learning just how big a pizza slice can be, something that came late night after an infamous pants splitting (the details of this story will come out later).

Purgatory is Real

It turns out purgatory is a real place, at least in Colorado Springs, Colorado. 

Can You Tell What’s Wrong with This Picture?

- Oakley, Kansas

To see a disturbing photo from this local Kansas attraction, click here.  

Making Cows Jealous

As I get ready to leave for the American South, I think back to my last trip to Savannah. As a veggie eater, I struggled to find some good meat free salads until I came across the Green Truck Pub. I’m a sucker for great titles and great food! 

Out of Towners Not Welcomed

I had the sneaking suspicion I was being segregated from the locals once.

I was partway between Denver and Baltimore on a raodtrip with my sister, when we stopped for dinner someplace in Iowa. The town consisted of several boarded up establishments and one bustling restaurant. We parked in the large and full parking lot and watched several people enter the building before us. Once inside we found ourselves looking straight at a counter full of pies. It was quintessential midwestern life.

To the left of the pie station was an empty dining room. To the right was a large room full of diners eating, laughing and exchanging friendly conversation with their neighbors and friends at nearby tables. Our waitress to one quick look at us, grabbed some menus and lead us to the left. In a joking tone, I asked her if we smelled as an explanation for our segregation. With no hint of a smile, she explained that the other (highly populated) side of the restaurant had only dirty tables left. 

We sat down, ordered our food and watched several other people come into the restaurant only to be sat at the so called “dirty tables.” I tried to make a few more jokes with the staff, asking if they only let locals on the cool side of the restaurant but it turns out my west coast humor is not appreciated there. 

Best Dinner Ever

There are certain moments in life that you can easily label as “the best ever.” Most of the time, it’s hard to distinguish between one walk from another, one ice cream cone from another or one lazy day in the park from another BUT, when that one spectacular moment happens, you never forget it. From that moment on, it is labeled “the best ___ ever!”

I was in need of some sister time with the youngest member of my family so I flew out to Denver, picked up my sister Courtney and hit the road for Vail, Colorado. Through some amazing circumstances that have nothing to do with my economic status, we were allowed to stay at The Four Seasons in Vail. That level of luxury in combination with my sister is all anyone really needs. We, however, were about to take this trip up 20 levels. 

My sister’s best friend and her friend were in town that same weekend so we made reservations at Flame, the restaurant in the Four Seasons and that was the beginning of the perfect combination for the best dinner I will ever have. 

The restaurant was having a slow night as evidence by the fact that we were one of two tables. While none of us knew everyone in our party, we were all born with amazingly charming personalities and we were in the mood to show them off. We began the night laughing which attracted the attention of the slightly board wait staff. What began as a dinner with four people, some of which were strangers to each other, became a 9 course meal paired perfectly with a new wine for each course. The combination of the perfect company in the perfect moods, the best food I have ever eaten, the most delicious wine ever poured, the most charming wait staff and time with my sister lead to what will forever be known as my best dinner of my life. 

I would like to stress that my description of this night is not an exaggeration. The chefs were experimenting with the menu and letting us try their creations. The food was made by expert chefs who played with our culinary senses. What they served us was pure art, both visually and tastefully. The wine sommelier had just come back from a wine collecting trip and was showing off his new procurements. The restaurant staff was beyond outstanding and we really were VERY funny! 

I have to believe, had there been other people at the restaurant that night, people would have been speculating on who we were. I’m positive that’s how wonderfully famous people spend their meals. 

Costa Rica - Part 2 

I awoke, my first morning in Costa Rica, to the sound of a large Mercedes Bus just feet from my window and my new mom knocking on my bedroom door like an alarm clock. From what I could gather, my instructions were to quickly dress and get on the bus, destination unknown due to translation issues.

Apparently, New Mom and New Dad had returned at some point in the wee hours of the morning without their broken car. This appeared to be no problem, as I found out 6 minutes after waking up, getting dressed and boarding the bus. The bus driver was Gustavo, a.k.a New Dad. Where this bus came from was unclear but I quickly learned New Mom was a school teacher by evidence of 14 elementary age children sitting in the seats around me. We all drove out to the country side singing songs and pointing at things on the side of the road, finally arriving at a dairy farm. The farm has been set in my memory as a bit of a confused blur. I remember watching cows with humps (something I didn’t know existed until that moment) peacefully munch on grasses and grains and then suddenly my young city dwelling mind was shocked into high alert as we were exposed to the process of artificial insemination. At 15, I was clinging onto the notion that certain areas of all bodies (human or animal) were no touch zones. Watching a grown man insert his arm shoulder deep into a living/awake cow was disturbing to my sheltered eyes. I was still recovering from my goat filled car ride the night before and the sight of that man inside that cow was pushing me closer to my edge. 

The trip to Costa Rica started on the wrong foot and it just never got a chance to recover. Circumstances where against Costa Rica, mainly that I was 15 and suffered from a strong affliction, commonly known as a twitty attitude. To my credit, things did keep going wrong.

I experienced what I thought was a flash flood. One second I’m walking in the street on a sunny day. The next moment it’s raining harder than I could have dreamed possible. Water quickly became thigh deep as I hurried to get our of the streets and into our home before being swept into the ocean along with massive amounts of trash that kept bumping into me. While the three foot high street curbs were a clue this excessive water outpouring was a normal occurrence, I was convinced international news agencies would be picking up the story, “American Teenager Swept Away in Costa Rican Flash Flood.” 

There was a miniature zoo in my home. Ants the size of dimes lived inside the refrigerator, their smaller cousins lived in an ant hill next to my bed. Translucent lizards lived on the ceiling above me and mice scampered about my room as if it was theirs. Their was a rooster next door that didn’t understand the rule set in all children’s books that roosters restrict their crowing to sunrise. I have never hated an animal since like I hated that rooster. He acted as the lone Costa Rican gang member that saw my existence as an invasion on his territory. He tortured me into leaving by crowing every 15 minutes all night long preventing anything close to life sustaining sleep.

I began to see my three month long trip to Costa Rica as a prison sentence which crept along at snails pace. I called home daily, begging to be let out of my Central American jail only to be told I was experiencing homesickness and that it would soon pass. It’s true, I was experiencing homesickness but what everyone underestimated was my commitment to leaving. Like a prisoner (or a brat) I went on a hunger strike. Days past with little more than a few grains of rice passing my lips. I was going to make people take my request for freedom in America seriously. 

After 17 long days, a phone bill that topped $1000, several conversations with school counselors, innumerable crying fits and a award winning commitment to a bad attitude, I was put on a plane back to the USA. 

It seems like a miracle that I learned to love traveling after that experience but once I got home, I started telling my friends about the trip and I realized I had a great life story. None of my friends had ever done anything like what I had just experienced. I learned that if I change my attitude, those experiences are amazing stories and not horrible experiences. 

I ended up being in that family car 4 times over 17 days. In total it broke down 3 of the 4 times. As I gathered my luggage and climbed into that car for the 4th and final time to head back to American, I was panicked it would break down again (like it had 100% of the times before). That car must have wanted me to leave just as badly as that rooster because it didn’t even give a hint of trouble as we briskly made our way back to the San Jose airport with plenty of time to spare.