The first question people usually ask me after we’ve been talking for a while is “where are you from?”
“I’m from LA,” I always say, though now that I’m in Louisiana I wonder if I should be abbreviating it as “L.A.” in my head.
Whether it’s my clothing, demeanor, accent, or the fact that I use “dude” more than the average person should, everyone always nods their head in immediate understanding when I declare I am from California.
In related news: I guess you can say I moved (?) to New Orleans.
It doesn’t feel like a move. I look around my apartment room and it’s too bare to be considered lived-in. There is a severe lack of cardboard boxes. I don’t have plates or shampoo, and nothing in the fridge is mine. The biggest thing I own is my tent.
You could say I didn’t come here to travel or to live. It’s some grey area in between that I was looking for…drifting? Wandering? I came here with plans to stay but not To Stay. My next destination was going to be New Mexico, where—if things in New Orleans didn’t work out—I’d enroll in a two-year program for Buddhist Chaplaincy. (That’s still on my to-do list, but I’m saving it for when I’m a bit older.)
New Orleans wasn’t even a certain destination for me. For the past few months, I’ve been considering a variety of places: the Philippines, Hawaii, Philadelphia, India. Walking around the country was also up for grabs.
I settled on buying a train ticket to New Orleans based on a vivid dream I had featuring myself at a train station holding my typewriter case. That next week, I said goodbye to my family and a few random friends before settling myself in an Amtrak seat for the next two days. What do you do on a train for two days? I spent my time falling into immediate conversation with a variety of strangers, all with unique stories outside my own experiences. There was also partying in the lounge car at night: liquor, dominoes, cards, loud group talk. I couldn’t get over my embarrassment of trying to freestyle—“but you’re a poet!” everyone kept saying, as though wordplay is all that’s needed to rap.
Upon arrival, I spent the night inside the NOLA train station. The next morning, I found my way to my CouchSurfing host’s apartment where I crashed for the next few days. During the day, I would wander around town usually by foot (though occasionally spending $3 on a day pass to adventure in far off places like Bywater). At night, I’d meet up with other travelers and we’d explore the city’s bars together. I’d come home in the morning reeking of smoke; I absolutely despise the fact that people are allowed to smoke in bars down here, though I’m not exactly anxious to admit that aloud.
This past weekend, I spent some time with my close friends in the small sleepy town of McComb, Mississippi. I’m amazed that when they say “hang out” they really mean doing nothing but hanging out. I’m so used to everyone needing to do something when we hang out: go to movies, bars, parties. I’ve always recommended hanging out in a parking lot, but to this day no one’s taken me up on it. Imagine my relief to discover what hanging out meant in Mississippi. Sitting back in a rocking chair under a blanket, listening to my friends spin long tales of the South, recalling memories featuring all their close friends. When the weather permits, hanging back on the front porch and politicking, philosophizing. Occasionally there is wine, beer, other liquor…but for the most part there’s coffee, tea, and a desire to connect through speculation and storytelling.
To put it a bit more in perspective, the main attraction in the town is a cemetery (quite hilariously known as “Hollywood Cemetery”).
Within seventy-two hours of arriving in New Orleans, I ended up with a job and a place to live. Both within the same day! There were no plans made, as I was coming from a place of curiosity rather than need, but I accepted both. My hope is that such a drastic series of decisions and new life changes will keep my wanderlust at bay for a long, long time (years, even). For now, I know I’m content with my decisions, and can’t wait to discover Louisiana and Mississippi on my own slow time—a time, I’ve realized, that may be “slow” in Los Angeles but is still too fast for the South.
I still proudly declare “I’m from L.A.” when people ask me where I live. But now, there’s an added breath as I tack on the acronym LGD, otherwise known as the Lower Garden District of New Orleans.