Mar 5, 201012:00 AM
Joie d'Eve

Living, loving, laughing, and learning in the new New Orleans

Tourist Trap

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I didn’t travel all that extensively as a child. There was a trip to visit my grandfather in Milwaukee when I was 4, the only thing about which I now remember is that my step-grandmother made me a snack of canned pears decorated to look like mice. There were numerous trips to the house in North Carolina that my parents built in the late ‘70s and to various beaches along the Gulf Coast. There were day trips in Bay St. Louis, and once, when my mother realized I’d never been on a train, she bought us Amtrak tickets to Hattiesburg, Miss. None of these places were particular tourist hot spots, but it didn’t matter: I knew what tourists looked like by virtue of growing up here, and at an early age, I knew I was never going to be caught dead wearing a fanny pack and snapping pictures at a popular landmark.

When I went to Washington, D.C., on a class trip just after eighth grade, I learned I was not alone. The kids from New Orleans were crammed on a tour bus with kids from Omaha, Neb., and Boise, Idaho, and we all rolled our eyes as they took group shots in front of the Washington Monument and bought souvenir T-shirts. When they started excitedly pointing at things, we snatched at their shirttails and hissed, “Stop it! You look like tourists!”

Bewildered, they said, “But … we are.”

And of course, they were right. We were the ones who had begged our parents to pay for this trip so that we could look bored, the ones who wanted to see new things just to pretend like we’d seen them a thousand times before, the ones who denied ourselves the thrill of discovering something in lieu of acting like we’d always known about it.

You’d think I might have learned my lesson then, but I didn’t. I lived next door to St. Louis for a decade but have never been up in the Arch. I went to L.A. to act like I’d lived in L.A. my whole life. I went to Vegas to avoid going anywhere near the Strip. I went to Chicago to scoff at people who wanted to eat deep-dish pizza and go up in the Sears Tower. And then I went to New York City.

I was visiting my best friend for a couple of weeks, and I’d packed an enormous suitcase, yet when I stepped off the plane, I decided that taking a taxi would be “touristy” rather than “sensible” and “sane” and “what anyone who’s not a complete moron would do.”

And so I and my enormous suitcase took a bus and then the subway –– without a map because that would make me look like I didn’t know what I was doing –– to Midtown. Had I a map, I would’ve known about express trains. Instead, I ended up getting off and on the same train about six times, wondering why I kept missing my stop. I did eventually break down and ask someone for directions, but my arms hurt for two days from carrying that goddamn suitcase, and I certainly didn’t prove anything besides the fact that I’m frequently both stupid and stubborn.

My scorn for touristy activities didn’t stop me from having a good time in New York, but I still can’t say I’ve seen the Statue of Liberty, and I don’t have any snapshots of Times Square or Central Park to go along with all of the ones I don’t have from D.C.

Several years later, when my husband and I honeymooned in Mexico, I was at it again, lobbying to eschew the planned trips the resort had set up for us in favor of navigating the public transit system and having what I insisted would be “adventures.” Jamie calmly pointed out that I know maybe a dozen words of Spanish and have an appalling sense of direction, but I was still gung-ho –– until he played to my weaknesses for warmth and alcohol by suggesting that we drink piña coladas in the hot tub instead. And thank God, because I would probably still be wandering around in a sketchy part of Cancun saying “piso mojado” and “buenas noches” and “perro verde.”

I really don’t know if this –– oh, let’s call it a quirk of mine is a function of my personality or a direct result of growing up around annoying drunk tourists, but I don’t seem to be growing out of it.

I love to travel, but I have zero desire to go someplace just to go there. Disney World holds no appeal to me; neither does the Grand Canyon. I want to go to Seattle and San Francisco, but it’s to see my friends Bryan and Tommy, not to see the Space Needle and the Golden Gate Bridge.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m denying myself the fun of it all just because I’m obnoxiously self-conscious. I watch my father-in-law, Jim, who is one of my favorite people in the world mostly because he is so unapologetically himself, as he drinks Hurricanes in the French Quarter and mispronounces “grillades”  and “Tchoupitoulas” and takes a hundred pictures of Jackson Square and drive-through daiquiri stand signs. He looks like a tourist, yes, but he also looks like he’s having the time of his life. And then I imagine myself on the verge of tears, lugging a suitcase through a subway system I didn’t even begin to understand. Because he does it all with good humor, everyone is happy to help Jim get unlost or find a good meal or to take his picture on Bourbon Street. Because I won’t ask, I waste more than an hour going in circles underneath New York.

I don’t have any immediate travel plans, but I’m hopeful that I might finally be learning the lesson I flirted with learning when I was 13. I know I'm not ever going to be the type of person who gawks at the Hollywood sign or goes on a carriage ride in Central Park, but maybe, just maybe, I can set aside some of my disdain in favor of a little bit of wonder.

Reader Comments:
Mar 5, 2010 12:26 pm
 Posted by  gabby

I am a born and raised New Orleans girl from Mid-City, but one of the most enjoyable summers I had is when I rented an apartment in the Quarter and became a tourist in my own town- taking tours, breakfasts at Cafe du Monde, visiting all the museums, and yes, drinking Hurricanes on the "tourist" side of Pat O'Briens where I sang along with the piano players!

Mar 5, 2010 03:41 pm
 Posted by  chazzmor

I currently live in Hawaii, but usually get back to New Orleans every year. I have sons in Des Allemands, and Slidell. I do stay with them when I visit, but I always try to spend 3 or 4 days in a French Quarter hotel. We always go to Pat O'Briens, Cafe Du'Monde, Felix's or the Acme oyster bar, etc. No matter what city I visit, I'm a tourist. The local monuments, historic sites, local foods and other attractions are what makes one city different from others. Not to take advantage of this, is like refusing to take a medication which could help you, but won't because you want to be different. That's just dumb.

Mar 5, 2010 05:34 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

I am truly a tourist in my own hometown. I am an awestruck, starstruck person who believes in making my own fun. On my first trip to DC, I found myself walking around holding my shoes in my hands so that I could continue to explore monuments, museums, the zoo...you get it. I realized at that time that people come to New Orleans (my city) to do what I was now doing in DC, and that I had denied myself relative to knowing and seeing what was in New Orleans. I came home and discovered the wonderful architecture of our buildings, the charm of the neighborhoods, visited all of the museums, and, oh, my God! THE FRENCH QUARTER! I fell in love with it. Went down every weekend, went to all of the shows and most of the restaurants. Post Katrina, I am ready to start again.

When I went New York, I was told not to behave like a tourist. That's impossible when you see the skyscrapers (I thought we had some) that seem to come together above your head, and yellow cabs everywhere you look. My favorite sport became watching the real New Yorkers walk (really fast) and speed down the avenue on bikes ( I almost got hit).

Put simply, take photos, be in awe, and have a great time. I never saw the joy in traveling many miles to do nothing.

Mar 6, 2010 08:31 am
 Posted by  joandela

I was wondering what was the point of this
story. It could have been summed up in one
sentence, don't miss out on things in life
just because you want people to think you're
worldlly and know it all.
Take the local tours everywhere and pass your
tales of travel and adventure on to family
and friends.
We too do the 40 hour French Quarter tourist
bit every three months sleeping in different
hotels.

Mar 9, 2010 03:15 pm
 Posted by  4everluvla

My family is from southwestern Louisiana as well as New Orleans. I LOVE it down there. When I visit them, I'm a big tourist who's all over the place. When I arrive at MSY airport, I take the kids straight to the Tourist Info. booth to get beads and my tourist booklets. I even have a list of things to do while I'm there to make sure I don't forget anything. At first, my family thought I was nuts but now they understand and even appreciate what's around them (now they have their own To-Do List ready when I visit).

However, I do understand how they feel. I live in L.A. and found myself having the same feelings about where I live (not going to the touristy spots and trendy hangouts). It's not because I don't like these places, I just don't think about'em because I live here and see these places all the time.

So one day, I decided to make a L.A. To-Do List and include seeing the Hollywood sign, shop at The Grove, walk on Melrose, eat at the Ivy, drive down PCH past Malibu, etc. My hubby, my kids and I actually had a good time. However, I'm partial to Louisiana because that's where I'm from. I'll always be a big tourist when I visit because I love and miss it there. If you don't appreciate where you live, leave it and then come back. You'll then have a different perspective. You may become a tourist.

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Joie d'Eve

Living, loving, laughing, and learning in the new New Orleans

about

Eve is further proof, if any is needed, that New Orleans girls can never escape the city. After living here since the age of 3 and graduating from Ben Franklin High School, Eve moved to Columbia, Mo., where she received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Missouri School of Journalism and became truly, unhealthily obsessed with grammar.

She had originally intended to strike out to New York City and work in the cutthroat magazine industry there, but after Katrina, Eve felt a strong pull to return home, to her roots, her family, her waterlogged and struggling city – and a much more forgiving work atmosphere that would allow her to skip a routine of everyday makeup and size 0 designer label business suits and enjoy the occasional cocktail or three with an absurdly fattening lunch. She moved back home in January 2008 and lives in Mid-City with her two daughters, Ruby and Georgia; her stepson, Elliot; and her husband, Robert Peyton.

Eve blogs about the joys and struggles of living in post-Katrina New Orleans, the unique problems and delights of raising a child in such a diverse and challenging city – including her experiences with the public education system – and her always entertaining and extremely colorful family.

Eve has won numerous writing awards, including the Pirates Alley Faulkner Society Gold Medal, the Society of Professional Journalists Mark of Excellence award for column-writing and Press Club of New Orleans awards for her Editor’s Note in New Orleans Homes & Lifestyles and for this blog, most recently winning the award for "Best Feature Affiliated Blog."

She welcomes comments, advice, empty flattery, recipes, drink invitations and – most especially – grammatical or linguistic debates.

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