Thursday, October 28: Leaving Chicago
I don’t like downtown Chicago - at least this part near the Union Station. Every cafe closes early, and the streets are full of business (also busyness). I can’t find the charm of Chicago’s neighborhoods that won me over - this feels like every other downtown. Worst of all, the magical winds of the past couple days now feel angry and cold. I’m annoyed as I finally head down to the tracks for my train to New Orleans.
As I board the sold out train, I take in the energy of my fellow passengers. Everyone is too high, and I am too low. People whoop with joy - I’ve always wished I was a whooper. I begin to feel intimidated by their freedom and excitement. I’ve felt this way before, when I’m overwhelmed by others’ glee that I can’t relate to. I toy with the idea of sleeping all the way to New Orleans.
Instead, I start watching Lawrence of Arabia. By intermission, this truly epic tale has infused me with the desire to cease my antisocial behavior. I head to the lounge car, meet interesting people, feel better about myself, and go to bed hours later happy.
Friday, October 29: In the South
I woke up groggy and perplexed to see southern India outside my window. It took me a moment to realize I was in Mississippi. Although air conditioned coolness flowed through the train, I could sense the damp hotness of the tropical wonderland outside and felt the familiar excitement of an impending arrival. A few hours later, I was in New Orleans.
My reservation at the hostel wasn’t to begin for a couple days. I would first stay with Jules - a woman whose side income comes from renting out a room in her home to travelers. She picked me up from the train station. As we drove along Canal Street through the Marigny, Jules talked about how she’d studied all over the world and now taught in New Orleans but always thinks about traveling - and how she’d finally found a job on a ship that would go everywhere and pay her three times what she made now. She talked about how upset it made her that people who visited New Orleans confused the city’s large black population with a large criminal population. Jules talked, and I listened; but my eyes were focused outside, where the buildings were new to me and every side street seemed to contain an adventure.
Jules lives in the Bywater district - a poorer area in New Orleans’s Ninth Ward. I read that the Bywater is a “bohemian neighborhood” where artists and musicians moved from the French Quarter after tourism drove up the cost of living there. After I settled in and cleaned up, Jules offered me her bike to get around New Orleans. I said thanks, but I felt like walking.
It was early evening as I walked through the Bywater, over the bridge and into the Marigny.
Crossing the bridge at sunset.
I walked around Frenchman Street for a little while. Music from the jazz clubs spilled onto the street, and my begging ears picked it up graciously. Later, I met up with Eric (a new friend from the wedding) and some of his local pals, and together we added our notes to the sounds of revelry pouring into the night.
Around five in the morning, we piled into a cab to go home. I crashed on Eric’s couch, which felt a thousand miles closer than my room at Jules’s place.