One of the few benefits of a long-distance relationship like Erin and I have is that we both come with different sets of experiences, traditions, and even holidays, so we often have different things we can introduce one another to. If not for Erin, I may never have eaten a Primanti Brothers sandwich. In return, I give her Mardi Gras.
Living so close to New Orleans, I grew up with Mardi Gras. I reached the point where I was sick and tired of it. It’s actually been several years since I went to a parade, and many more years since I went to one on Fat Tuesday itself. But Erin, the love of my life, had never been to a Mardi Gras parade at all. So last week, when I had a week off of school, Erin came down and we gave her the full Mardi Gras experience.
Her experience started a little rough, as the airline again lost her luggage on her journey into Louisiana. (The same thing happened last year when she visited for my friend Jason’s wedding. Airlines hate us.) So the next day, the Sunday before Mardi Gras, she had only the clothes on her back, her Steelers hoodie, and the T-shirt in the bag Delta apparently gives to people who get screwed over this way. But we weren’t going to let this stop her from enjoying her first Mardi Gras. People who aren’t from New Orleans have a lot of misconceptions about the holiday. It’s not all drunken people flashing for beads. Really, that mostly happens on Bourbon Street, and they’ve really cracked down on it. I wanted to show her the small-town parade, the major parade, and the classic parade — at least for my family.
On the Sunday before Mardi Gras, we were invited by my sister-in-law’s parents to join them at their house. Kayla’s father rides in the Krewe of Terreanians Parade on this Sunday, and the parade route is just a short distance from their house, so my brother fired up the barbecue and we all had a really nice day before the parade even started.
We got a little sunburned, but otherwise had a great day. After the parade we went back to Kayla’s folks’ house for a little more food, before Erin and I joined Chip and Kayla, Heather and will, and Kayla’s cousin Erin to go bowling. I haven’t bowled in years, but I’m proud to say that my game has not suffered one iota. I’m still as terrible as I used to be. I may as well tell you — because if I don’t, she’ll just post it in the comments to this blog– that Erin beat me in both games. I was distracted in the second game, though, when one of my students showed up. Amazingly, I have never before seen anyone bowl and send a text message at the same time. Fortunately, he did even worse than I did.
On Monday night, we again joined Chip and Kayla (Heather and Will were supposed to come, but they got sick), and my friend Mike, and we all took Erin down to the Krewe of Orpheus parade in New Orleans. There are three “Superkrewes” at Mardi Gras time, three that are known for presenting a more dazzling, spectacular show than any other. I haven’t been to a Superkrewe since I was in high school, and I’ve never been to Orpheus before. It was a lot of fun. The floats really were spectacular, the chicken-on-a-stick I got from a sidewalk cart was even more spectacular, and we all had fun.
On Tuesday — Fat Tuesday — we got up early. this is not something Erin is typically in favor of, but it’s a necessity. When I was a kid, we always went to the Krewe of Argus parade in Metairie. I stopped going several years ago because it’s hot, it’s crowded, it’s noisy, and I’m not a fan of any of those things. I am a fan of Erin, though, and I’m not exaggerating when I say I had the most fun I’ve ever had on Mardi Gras with her. My father and his friend Gill went out early and got a spot on Veteran’s Boulevard, the busiest street in town, which was already swarming with people by the time the rest of us got there at seven. Erin and I went out with my mother, Gill’s wife Donna, Heather and Will, and Will’s brother David, then were joined by my Uncle Kent and his daughter Amanda. We left home shortly after seven a.m., and the parade didn’t roll until 10, so we had some time. Several of us took a walk down Vet’s to Severin Avenue, location of my closed-for-the-day home-away-from-home, BSIComics. (The next day, while driving, we checked the distance and realized we walked almost exactly a mile there and a mile back.) After visiting with some friends of Heather and Will’s, we walked back, stopping on the way so Erin could have her first official New Orleans Original Daiquiri.
The Argus parade is typically much more laid-back and family-friendly than the festivities in New Orleans proper, and it was a lot of fun. After Argus, we watched over 150 truck floats roll by and, laden with trinkets and beads and — in my dad’s case — Moon Pies, we trekked back home for a barbecue and a nap, in that order.
I’ve only showed off a few of the literally hundreds of pictures Erin and I took at the three parades. You can see a lot more at my Mardi Gras 2009 Flickr Album.
On Wednesday, we slept late, because you need to. It was the day after Mardi Gras, for Heaven’s sake. Then, we bounced off to the comic shop (it may have been the day after Mardi Gras, but it was still Wednesday), then did a little shopping. Erin’s favorite soap shop, Lush, had opened a small store inside the new Macy’s at Lakeside Mall, so I made sure to take her there. While there, she proved once again what an awesome girlfriend she is. Knowing that I wanted to watch LOST that night, Erin bought a bath bomb and offered to take her bath during the show. If I didn’t know already, this would be enough to convince me it was true love. Before that, though, we took in an afternoon screening of Coraline. We’ve both been hoping to see it, being fans of both author Neil Gaiman and director Henry Selick. I’m happy to say it more than lived up to our expectations — an excellent fantasy adventure with dazzling visuals and so much pure imagination it almost hurts.
Thursday was awesome. Some months ago, my Uncle Todd briefly appeared on the Food Network show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, a customer at the Rivershack Tavern. After Erin saw the episode, she wanted to go to the restaurant, so we sought it out for lunch. The tavern is one of those great old places with lots of crazy knick knacks and lots of different beer. Erin had a shrimp-and-oyster po-boy, and I had Rusty’s Chicken Ranch sandwich, which I described as being “What a Chicken Tendercrisp would taste like if the Burger King had a soul.” Seriously, next time you’re looking for a great place to eat in New Orleans and you don’t mind driving a little out of your way, this is the best meal you could ask for. We also caught Friday the 13th that night, and I wrote a quick review of it that night as we rested up and got ready for a big day on Friday.
Ever since Erin first visited me, we’ve been hoping to take a trip to the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas. We finally made it to the zoo last spring, but with one thing or another we never made it to the Aquarium until now. I haven’t been to the Aquarium in probably over 15 years, but I’ve got a real local’s pride in the Audubon Society and their parks and zoos. I firmly believe they’re the best at what they do, and I had a wonderful time with her, watching the fish and the sharks, the undersea creatures and the frogs. Erin got to pet a shark and a stingray, and she got to take pictures of real penguins. They weren’t exactly in a performing mood, but we had a wonderful time nonetheless.
Unlike the zoo, which is a day-long affair, we managed to go through the entire Aquarium in about two hours, which left us plenty of time to tour the streets of New Orleans. We wandered down to Bourbon Street, which had been scrubbed down for three days and still smelled like Mardi Gras. It’s not my favorite place to be, but Erin is my favorite person, so it was an easy decision to make. We stopped in at a nice little used bookstore, got several bags worth of deliciousness at Southern Candymakers, and Erin even finally got her genuine Pat O’Brien’s Hurricane!
On Friday, it was time for another tradition Erin has heard about but never got the chance to take part in. Every Friday in Lent, my cousins Carl and Tammy host a big seafood feast at their home — Crawfish boils, shrimp boils, pasta, and my personal favorite, the fish fry. For this first Friday in 2009, we had fried catfish, fried shrimp, and boiled crab. My mother and Carl taught Erin how to crack open her own crabs, and I think she enjoyed it — although given the choice, I suspect she’ll still take her crabs pre-dissected.
On Saturday, we met up with my friends Mike, Chase, and Kenny, and Erin got to partake in a true “Boys Day.” Comic book shops, bookstores, Best Buy, and two stops for food and libations, in which she again proved she can drink any of my friends under the table. The best part of the day was taking an inebriated Chase and Mike to a New Orleans Saints store, where Erin wanted to get t-shirts for herself and her mother. We finished up the night at the Fox and Hound (having determined there were no movies we all wanted to see), just drinking, eating, and talking. My friends love Erin — partially because she helps them pick on me, but mostly because she’s awesome.
Sunday sucked in more ways than one. After going to church, we joined my family for lunch at the Chinese buffet we go to so often that the waitress only needed to ask Erin what she wanted to drink. Since her flight didn’t leave until 6:30, we got to relax for much of the day. We packed, then watched TV, and took a picture of Erin’s favorite stuffed pal Mr. Pengy, along with the Mrs. Pengy she gave me at Christmas to keep me company when she’s not around. Shut up, it was the sweetest thing anyone has ever done for me.
Then it was off to the airport. Erin got on her plane and was on her way home… or so we thought. If you were watching the news last weekend, you may have heard about some weather problems in the northeast. Erin’s flight was due to land in Charlotte at about 8:30, but instead was diverted to Raleigh, where she sat on the runway for a while before being diverted BACK to Charlotte… only to find the airport shut down until 4 a.m. the next day. She waited around until then, and was placed on standby for a 9 a.m. flight, not making it home until nearly noon. Honestly, the summer Mike and I drove up to Pittsburgh proved we could have gotten her home by car in about the same amount of time.
It’s frustrating when things like this go wrong, but it’s still worth it. Because Erin is the love of my life. She’s my heart. She’s my everything.
I can’t wait for her to be here again.