There are some cities where you can escape New Year’s Eve, if that’s your desire. Which is usually my desire.
But New Orleans is not one of them. The Big Easy is a New Year’s Eve kind of town. If you didn’t know it earlier, you knew it at midnight.
Our room at the Marriott Convention Center looks out on the Mississippi River, though most of the water is blocked by the massive convention center itself. At midnight, we started hearing the small explosions and looked out the window to see fireworks going up all over the Mississippi banks. It was pretty cool. And long-lasting. Fireworks went on until almost 1 a.m.
Of course, we long knew it was New Year’s Eve. The hotel lobby told you, as much as anything. Our hotel is filled with high school bands who will play at the Sugar Bowl. I guess a bunch of the musicians are 16 and 17, but they seemed about 14. Around 7 p.m., we went downstairs, and they were everywhere. Hundreds of them, all dressed up like they were going to a ball. Many of them with masquerade masks.
Nobody asked me, but seems like a recipe for disaster. A bunch of 15-year-olds out in New Orleans on New Year’s Eve, with not nearly enough chaperones to look after everyone. I guess everything went fine — I’ve heard no reports — but what a potential nightmare.
The good news: I guess their curfew was 11 p.m., because that’s about when we walked back into the hotel, and there were again hundreds of teenagers, trying to get on the elevators. We just walked upstairs to the second floor, pushed the down button and caught an empty elevator on its way back down. So outside of enduring a ride up to the 10th floor with frequent stops and hearing a thousand “I love yous” and a bunch of squealing, we made it fine.
We stayed away from Bourbon Street, naturally, but photographer Sarah Phipps and videographer Damon Fontenot ventured over and gave us an early-evening report. Jam packed. A wedding party marching down the street. Various OU and Alabama players out and about.
Our plan was much better. Johnny Damon (Fontenot) had video work to edit and wasn’t able to make dinner until late. So we hatched a great plan. We wanted to go back to Mulate’s, the great Cajun place down the street. The place that had a two-hour wait on Saturday but we got into Sunday. So I went by around 7 p.m. to put our name in, and lo and behold, there was no wait. So we left with the confidence that we could get back in later.
And we walked back over to the Courtyard, a block away, where we spent the first four nights of the trip. Sarah was staying there, so we still had a link to the place. Remember us watching NFL’s Red Zone on Sunday using the Courtyard lobby’s Dish Network? Well, that same television had NBATV, which meant the Thunder-Portland game was on. So we went over and watched virtually the entire game, until the Thunder blew it at the end, and then walked over and met Johnny Damon at Mulate’s. Actually also had dinner with three television guys — Steve McGehee of OKC channel 9, Andrew Carter of Fox 23-Tulsa and Cayden McFarland of Tulsa’s KJRH-channel 2. And Mulate’s was great again.
Earlier in the day, we ate lunch at the Ernst Cafe, which opened in 1902 and sits right across the street from Manning’s, a sports bar owned by New Orleans icon Archie Manning. The Ernst Cafe was solid — I had a shrimp po-boy — and neat. Sort of a shotgun neighborhood bar. Looks out onto a pedestrian mall that seems to be a popular destination even for locals.
Other than that, the day was all work, including a trip back to the Saints headquarters to interview some Sooners. Uneventful trip.
I know, not an exciting New Year’s Eve. Bunch of work, bunch of football, watching some NBA, eating. Hanging out with the Dish. But that’s close to a perfect day for me. As long as I could avoid the New Orleans merriment, it was mission accomplished.