Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Me and New Orleans

This week, I’m heading to New Orleans to attend the annual convention for the National Association of Black Journalists. There’s a lot of folks who will be there that I’ve admired for years as well as fellow peers and colleagues that I have yet to meet. Is it intimidating? Honestly, yes and I wouldn’t have it any other way because it excites me. The same way going to the National Youth Leadership Conference and NCORE excited me in 2002 and 2005, respectively.

But this trip will be awesome for the simple fact that I’m in the city I’ve wanted to visit again for eight years. The Fatherland as I call it since my Dad called it home. It’s story time, kids, so pull up a chair and listen up.

2004, I spent Thanksgiving in Atlanta with my Dad’s brother and sister and on Black Friday, we flew to New Orleans for the Battle of the Bands at the Superdome. This was two years after “Drumline” so I was excited to see Grambling and Southern’s bands do their thing before the Bayou Classic. Nothing could’ve prepared me for what I saw.

There was a step show before the battle and I got to see everybody repping their colors go nuts. Alphas, Kappas, Deltas, AKA’s, Sigmas all lost their mind seeing the show and I was blown away. I hadn’t seen a step show up close so to see the precision, hear the noise and see the creativity is a sight to behold.

Then the bands battled. I vividly remember one of the bands doing Ray Charles “Night Time Is the Right Time” and they had a guy pretending to be Ray as well as a girl pretending to sing Margie Hendricks’ part. Can’t remember who won but it was truly a sight.

Oh yeah, they played “Nolia Clap” and “Go DJ” over and over on the loudspeakers. My first exposure to hearing how local songs moved a crowd besides in L.A. When we left, we just walked around and explored Downtown. Seeing all that energy that night struck me and I vowed to come back one day.

Not even 9 months later, we know what happened next. Hurricane Katrina came through and changed the city forever. Besides all the usual emotions most faced, I wondered what my Dad would’ve thought. His city under water and family affected. We did our part but I wonder what he would’ve said about it.

That struck me again as I wrote a Father’s Day tribute to him in 2008. But even then, my love for New Orleans was still distant. A ghost of curiosity.

My real love for NOLA was sparked later when I started feeling like I wasn’t finding the same sense of community that I had in San Diego for college. I came home eager to discover Los Angeles more and appreciate my city. By 2009, I was getting dissatisfied because 1) I didn’t have too many folks to explore it with, 2) I felt like I couldn’t find a local vibe on the radio, the TV or the news, which was growing more national in focus.

That’s a full story for another day but I started re-evaluating the cities I had visited. New York seemed like it had community from folks walking around or sharing space on the subway. My sister would tell me about her life in Washington D.C. and Atlanta and it felt like there was more local culture there.

What was it about L.A. that I was lacking? And why couldn’t I find it more often? (Here’s a big hint – L.A.’s dependency on cars compared to other cities with public transportation and L.A. being incredibly spread out. Again, that deserves it’s own blog post which I’ve dreamed about for 3 years)

I just wanted to find things that were unique to L.A. that appealed to me. The beaches, the bar life, the night life, something that bonded all Angelenos besides sports. It didn’t help when I joined Twitter and I followed folks from Texas who had a sense of community in Houston and Dallas that I was wishing for. That’s when I wanted to travel more and just experience the culture of either cities to see if I wasn’t just lacking this in L.A.

Finally in 2010, I started watching “Treme” on HBO. David Simon’s slice of New Orleans post-Katrina instantly struck a nerve with me. The music touched my soul. The streets called my name. The food reminded me of Dad cooking gumbo in the kitchen. The slang started coming out of my mouth. The culture just attracted me.

I felt like that was it! That was exactly what I wanted in L.A. A sense of community and something local that everyone could identify with. I started dancing to the theme song when it came on and I felt like you smell the Bayou through the TV.  I renamed my blog in 2011 strictly as a nod to NOLA and the gumbo I loved in my younger days.

More than that, I got reminded of how much I love New Orleans in 2004 and my thoughts about Dad. I thought about how much it was and I needed to go back somehow to connect with not just him, but a community that seemed welcoming and intriguing. For that one hour every Sunday, I connected with the cast and a city that seemed like it had it’s own style without a care.

I didn’t just want to party there for Mardi Gras. I wanted to spend some time among the locals. I wanted to just feel something there and for the last two years, “Treme” sparked a desire to feel it there.

That’s why I jumped at the chance to go to NABJ besides the obvious job/networking opportunities in my field. That's still the main priority as I mingle with professionals and folks that you probably know well but I’m going to make sure I experience a taste of the city before I come home.

I know some folks might not understand but I’ll make it simple. A combination of growing closer to my Dad’s spirit + a 2004 visit that impacted me + Treme’s almost perfect reflection of New Orleans culture + a growing desire to find a community of common desires.

So am I going there for business first, pleasure second? Yes. Will I brave a red-eye flight to make it back in time for my best friend’s wedding? Yes, while trying not to worry about sleep either. And will I enjoy every second of it? You bet. So fire up the horns, start making the roux and get ready for a three-day trip of fun. 

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