My college friend Marina and I were chatting over dinner one night on her visit home from Portland, where she was living at the time. We discussed taking a trip to New Orleans since I hadn’t been since I was young and she had never been. But as most conversations happen, I quickly forgot. Flash forward to a few weeks later when she texts me: “I’m buying our bus tickets to New Orleans!”
We booked seats on the night bus on Megabus, which now runs services out of Atlanta. And true to the form of this trip, we hadn’t booked anywhere to stay until a few hours before our bus was set to depart. My dad had his concerned face on when he dropped me off at the Civic Center MARTA station at midnight on the eve of our trip. But the bus was clean and I slept a bit on the ride, waking just in time to see the sun rise over the bayou.
We ended up renting a room on AirBnB in the Faubourg Marigny neighborhood of New Orleans, a short walk from the French Quarter and Bourbon Street. Our host Madlyn, a bike taxi driver, welcomed us into her shotgun where we would be spending the next few days.
If you’ve never heard of a shotgun, it’s a style of housing unique to New Orleans. We had similar houses in Charleston, but we called them row houses. You must go through one room to get to the next, like layers of an onion. And typically, this means little privacy as the kitchen and bathroom were at the back of the house. But our host was gracious and everything turned out fine. The beauty of staying in someone’s apartment is that you end up in the neighborhoods were the “real” folks live, not just the shiny facade of the tourist districts.
We wandered nearby neighborhoods by day, namely the Bywater, ate in local cafes and read books in the park. I fell in love with Cake Cafe’s crab sandwich and the street art I found on nearly every street corner. More and more I saw myself living here. I decided against this plan a few months ago but found myself revisiting it.
By night, Frenchmen Street, Marigny’s main street, turns into a totally different universe. Only a few blocks from the debauchery of Bourbon Street, Frenchmen Street is where the younger, hipper locals go to get their jazz and party on.
As fog settles on the street, double decker bicycles ride past bluegrass bands from Brooklyn and fire breathers ingesting lamp oil. People stumble out of jazz clubs like the Spotted Cat with their one drink minimum in hand. But don’t worry, it’s legal.
We stumbled upon the Frenchmen Street Art Market, housed in an old McDonald’s drive thru parking lot. Artists sold photographs, paintings, jewelry, clothing and even a film about hopping trains and the nomadic lifestyle. After a few late nights of buying a $10 barbecue sandwich from a guy with a portable grill on the sidewalk (so worth it), Marigny started to feel like home.