Thrifting: My Summer Guilty Pleasure

Last week was the 20 year anniversary of my current employment. Twenty years in one place – as Prince would say “that’s a mighty long time, but I’m here to tell ya, there’s something else…” Yeah. In this case, the something else is all this freakin’ annual leave I’m accumulating. I know what a bougie problem that is but at a certain point it gets ridiculous when you are accruing more than you can take off. But that’s a whole other rant. I say this to tell you what my summer plan had been, as my summer winds down. I’ve been taking Fridays off (because most of the offices here close early and no one will miss me) and going thrifting because I’ve found my ultimate fun thrifting place. It’s called Second Editions and it’s a Goodwill discount store. Warning: this kind of shopping is not for the faint of heart!

I tend to take my used goods to other, smaller thrift stores in the area because Goodwill, in general, gets more donations than they know what to do with. But one awesome result of all that is the SE locations or as I like to call it, the “by the pound store”. Here, you get a lot of items that didn’t get purchased at the typical GW locations, and I think some of the items are also donations that came directly to that drop off location (because some things I find I can’t believe didn’t sell before). Clothing, shoes, purses, toys, and fabric accessories are all $1.39 a pound. All other items are 50% of the sticker price. The store I visit in Charlotte is located at their Goodwill Opportunity Campus, so there are other things going on and the parking lot is always full. There are a cafe and a boutique as well but what I’m there for are the crazy deals and weird culture of shopping in the “by the pound” area. It’s kind of ruined regular thrifting for me.

20180622_114903

Here’s what you should know about this type of store:

  • First of all, if the thought of secondhand goods creeps you out, do not go thrifting. It’s not like going antiquing.
  • This is never a quick trip. Plan to spend at least an hour – I usually spend about 3 and then I’m driven away by fatigue and hunger.
  • Clothing makes up the bulk of the big room, and it’s all on rows of long, skinny, 8-ft tables that are wheeled in and out of the back rooms periodically with fresh stuff to dig through. And I do mean dig. There is no method to that madness.
  • Instead of a shopping cart, you grab a blue container on wheels with a large number on the side. Pick a number that means something to you because they all get mixed up in there. Many people will place a blanket or large shirt across the top to not only identify it easier but so that people can’t look at what they’ve got.
  • Many people wear gloves. Sometimes I remember and sometimes I don’t. And sometimes I grab something that is wet or sticky and curse my lack of gloves. That doesn’t happen often, but you know, sometimes donations come in and they have been in a leaky garage or things should have been washed but weren’t…
  • The place is always busy when I’ve been there and people usually play nice, but sometimes people get heated when new things come out. Or if someone starts to sort through someone else’s bin. I admit to getting a little sharp with a girl who started pawing through mine like I wasn’t standing right there.
  • When new tables or a bin full of shoes come out, people start to line up at the area but the employees won’t let you take anything until they have put everything in their place and stepped away. Especially for shoes, we all get a speech about not running, shoving, or grabbing more than 2 pairs of shoes at a time. Then they step away and it’s like Black Friday at Wal-Mart. I don’t bother with fresh stuff until the craziness dies down, with the exception of the table with scarves and little purses. I can’t tell you how many little Coach wallets or card holders I’ve grabbed. And at $1.39 a pound, my obsession with silk scarves has really exploded.
  • Like any Goodwill, if a big item has a big paper tag on it, rip off the bottom and keep it with you so no one else can purchase it.
  • Pay attention if employees start calling out container numbers. If no one claims containers that seem to be abandoned, they’ll empty it and put the container back out in the lobby.
  • 20180623_10210120180622_124202
  • Tiny bladder? Don’t worry – they have nice bathrooms in the lobby (Charlotte location).
  • When you check out, put the items on the counter that are not sold by weight (books, electronics, things with a price tag basically). All the stuff sold by weight will go on the right, on a scale that looks like where you place your luggage at the airport.
  • If it’s weird (and not really heavy) buy it! You might regret not buying that weird Bob Mackie silk jacket or the opossum fur vest.
  • I usually spend under $20 and come home with all sorts of awesome stuff. But I also am pretty good at telling if something will fit. There are no dressing rooms. Bring a tape measure, know your size in certain brands like Old Navy and Ann Taylor, measure your waist and chest before you leave home or whatever trick you have. When in doubt, get it. It won’t be a costly mistake if you’re wrong and you might have a friend who fits what you don’t.
  • If you have allergies, take a non-drowsy allergy pill before going. Sounds weird but today it seemed like EVERYTHING I was interested in was covered in dog or cat hair. Ugh.
  • There is a mix of people there. Some have big families that they are shopping for. Some are trying to find things to resell for a profit. Some are treasure hunters. If you have kids with you, it will be tempting to let them run around and yell (which there is a lot of) but that is definitely not cool with the employees.
  • If you are local and coming from south of the city, the easiest way I’ve found to get there is to take the airport exit on I-77 (exit 6b). On Billy Graham Parkway, pass the exit to go to the airport and at the next intersection (with a Bojangles on the left), take a left and immediate right, then an immediate left into the parking lot. Voila!
Advertisements
Posted in Fashion, Life, Reviews | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Havana, Cuba for 28 Hours

Passport

So this happened on my 45th birthday.

A cruise (Norwegian) took us to Havana for 28 whole hours.  Not much at all, but at least there was an overnight in Cuba instead of just a few hours of one afternoon.  There’s so much I didn’t see, haven’t figured out, and want to learn more about.  And that’s just in Havana – not the rest of the country.

P1050983.jpg

Because I walked everywhere I could (except a short bit on a group tour bus after our walking tour), I only saw Old Havana and a little farther into the Centro area of the city.  Next time I want to see things further; take a colectivo taxi to the Vedado area, see the university and the cemetery, take the ferry to Reina or Casablanca across the bay…so much more to see and do.  And I also need to learn some Spanish, because being able to say hello and thank you is NOT enough.  I mean, I knew this before the trip but I could only pack so many Duolingo lessons into my life (and now I know how to say “he eats apples” but that didn’t come in handy).  The successful conversations I had with Cubans were few and involved much miming, sadly. But I tried and I want to do better next time.

Havana Map

That’s a far as I got but it was fascinating!

This post is not a review of anything in particular or a place to air my opinions on politics and history (I have to educate myself much more – I don’t claim to understand all the sides of the Cuba Conundrum), but more of a list of things I learned/confirmed that I thought other first time travelers to Havana might find useful.  I DO think it is worth a trip to learn the culture and history and interact with the Cuban people, even with all the hoops U.S. citizens have to go through to be a legal visitor.  I won’t go into all that either, because I’m no authority – I just did what I was told was required of me.  You can also fly there from the U.S. but there are definitely benefits to cruising (although the drawback is a short time there).

  • The Money Situation:  Yes, you really can’t get Cuban currency anywhere ahead of time.  Yes, there really is a 10% penalty when you exchange U.S. Dollars.  Whether it makes financial sense to exchange U.S. dollars for Canadian or Euros before the trip really depends on how much you’ll get charged for that exchange and what the exchange rate currently is, as well as how much money we’re talking about.  For example, I exchanged 40 U.S. to 36 CUC (the currency visitors are supposed to use) in the cruise ship terminal after going through customs, knowing if I wanted more I could exchange more later.  Losing those couple of dollars in the exchange was way worth it compared to the hassle of changing money at my bank (which charged a $15 fee) for the amount of money I was using.  I did ask to exchange some CUC to CUP (the currency Cubas are supposed to use) but I was told I would have to go to an exchange elsewhere for that.  Didn’t say I couldn’t have it, but I couldn’t get it there. I didn’t really need it anyway, although prices were sometimes confusing to me if something didn’t specifically state CUC or CUP.  Plus, if I were given coins as change, I had no idea if they were CUC or CUP.  I tried to not be a dumb American, but sometimes I am.

    Our guide mentioned that really, some people would be willing to take foreign currency but that was not our experience.  Especially my dad, who had brought Canadian dollars with him and didn’t have time to exchange before our tour.  I actually swapped a $5 for 5CUC with a woman because she said she had no way to exchange it. At least, that’s what our poor mimed/Spanglish conversation made it out to be.  She pointed to her uniform saying “when they see this, no.” So I don’t know if Cubans are not allowed to have American currency or if it’s just not worth all the penalties to exchange.

    P1050872.jpg

    CUC has monuments, while CUP has heroes/leaders.

  • The Bathroom Situation:  If you’re THAT kind of person, this is not going to make you happy.  You know what I mean – the ones who cringe at the thought of using a port-o-potty and would never squat in the woods.  The bathrooms are as clean as they can be and usually have running water in the toilet but not necessarily the sink.  Bring hand sanitizer.  Bring toilet paper or Kleenex and you will NOT put it in the toilet but in the trash can.  I know that freaks people out but don’t clog up Cuba’s plumbing, they have enough problems. Bring peso coins because I didn’t see one bathroom during this trip that didn’t have a little old lady manning the door and they deserve your pesos.  One bathroom I used, the lady had to go in after every person and stick her hand in the tank to lift up the flapper to make it flush.  Every. Time.  I saw a guy offer a pen instead of a peso and I was like, really dude? I handed her a pack of tampons for the guy because I heard they were hard (or impossible) to come by.  Not useful for her but maybe a family member or to sell. She and her friend looked confused and another round of What Are We Saying ensued as she mimed placing one under her arm and I pointed out the correct area and we all laughed.  I left a box in every bathroom I visited. I’m the Tampon Queen of Havana now I think. Often, the ladies have a small portion of toilet paper to give out so you may get lucky if you forget the Kleenex.   I also don’t think I saw one toilet with a toilet seat so practice your hover technique.  If you go shopping in the market a few blocks from the cruise ship terminal, those are the best I saw and even had small bars of soap next to the sink.  But always remember to bring the pesos, please.
  • Check Out the Grafitti: There is some amazing street art out there. This is relatively new to have graffiti touching on social issues and for the most part, it is being tolerated by authorities.  Google “Cuban graffiti” for very interesting articles on some artists and their work. Street art is one of the things I’m always taking pictures of when I travel and Havana has some of the best.
P1050920.jpg

Like that show “Life After People”…but with people. These buildings were really something in their day.

  • Water: Don’t do it. This was the biggest topic of conflicting information I read about before the trip.  So we asked our guide if the water was safe to drink. NO, he said, not until you boil it and add a little chlorine bleach.  Especially in the summer. Buy a bottled/canned drink; don’t ruin your trip with giardia or some other beastie.
P1050849.jpg

Nope, just not that brave on this trip.

  • Politics: I said I wouldn’t talk about politics, but I guess I meant I wouldn’t give you my opinion on political issues. Cuba got a new president last Thursday!  He wasn’t elected by the people exactly – the people get to vote in provincial elections.  The new president was not a surprise; they’ve known this was happening for some time.  Two different people, I asked about how they felt getting a new president.  Both grimaced and said things would be no different.  I found out Cubans dislike Trump and overall love Obama, except for his ending of the “wet foot dry foot” policy.  In my self-centered American mind, I didn’t even realize that was the name of the policy that allowed Cubans resident status if they made it to American soil, and that it had ended.  One of the many reasons I want to learn more about Cuba and the history it has, with and without the United States.
P1050955.jpg

Gotta have at least one classic car photo, right? Here’s the reality of cool old classic cars (and I know all about that).

  • Safety:  I thought I was done 2 bullet points ago but I keep thinking of things to add.  I was reading an update on a new favorite blog, Here is Havana and it touched on a misconception we have about violence.  Americans are getting extremely used to random acts of violence and I think that does not help how we see the rest of the world.  I would never tell you not to be wary wherever you travel and to use common sense, but gun violence?  Not in Havana.  Crimes of opportunity like getting a pocket picked? Sure.  But some civilian asshole walking into a school or store and gunning down people? Nope.
Posted in holidays, Life, Travel | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

In Spite of Fear

I wrote someone a letter this morning and told them to be brave, but know that it is also okay to be afraid.  Later I  had several people ask me what I’m doing for spring break. I told them I was going to drive, somewhat randomly, around the southeast and see what there is to see.  They each eyed me with a mixture of suspicion and envy and told me to be safe.  No one told me to be brave but what they don’t know is I’m scared as hell.

20180305_090525.jpg

I’ve grown increasingly afraid over the years to go anywhere and do anything, weighing the possible awful things that could happen with the relative safety of just hanging out at home.  I had thought maybe it had (partly) to do with the decline of my vehicle and that the one bright side of getting a new one would be that wonderful feeling of freedom I used to have.  It’s still gone and I’m not sure why, but I keep pushing myself to do the things that I theoretically want to do, trying to ignore that feeling of Impending Doom.

Eventually, luck will run out AND I DON’T KNOW WHY THAT THOUGHT COMES SO EASILY.

I’ve always been a prepared (and maybe a bit paranoid) traveler but this is something completely different, this Impending Doom feeling even if I’m going out to run errands.  Like time is running through that Days of Our Lives hourglass.  Is this what happens in your 40’s or is the anxiety that I’ve been able to control on my own for years starting to crawl all over me in a way I don’t know how to manage?  I go on acting as if everything is fine and planning to do all I want to do but in the back of my mind I’m dreading every decision that I make because it could be The Wrong Decision that makes everything fall apart.

Wonderful?

I used to feel this way but now I’m not sure wonderful is not knowing for sure…

Just so you know, my Grand Southeastern Tour begins Monday morning.  Until then I’ll be wondering why the hell I think this is such a great idea when I seem to be dreading it so much.  I’m sure it will be fine and all this worry is for nothing.  Until the next time I want to leave the house.

Posted in Health, Life, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Epitaph: The Mighty Geo

The Mighty Geo

The Mighty Geo

(Disclaimer:  This is about my car.  If you aren’t into cars you may want to skip this post.  It’s also a work in progress.)

Dear TMG,

I knew it would be painful when the time came to let you go – partly because I figured we would go out together in a fiery crash as the wheels came off or catastrophic engine failure occurred on the highway.  You know we were headed in that direction. I was going to drive you until the end of time (mine or yours) and I tried, just as you did.  I think you tried harder, and you were a better car than I ever deserved.

You brought me from North to South, where mechanics would marvel at your road salt-corroded undercarriage.  There was that brief custody battle where I learned what “title holding state” meant, and experienced both the horror of vehicle property tax and joy of no state inspection.  The southern heat tried to break you but only succeeded in breaking a few door handles over time.  The important parts were indestructible.

Together for 21 years; that’s a long time for any relationship.  You were my most important possession. My safe place.  My escape route when I felt I needed one.  My freedom when I felt trapped.  I’m sorry we never made it across the country like I wanted to, but we saw oceans and highways and mountains and swamps and Mardi Gras and Disney World and Canada.  We were in a parade.  We were in a funeral procession.  I covered you with blooming Rustoleum vines and you managed to keep your dignity while making everyone smile who saw you. You have always been my joy.  You will be the car I drive in heaven.

Make no mistake – you have not been replaced.  Everyone knows you and will miss you.  People will see me get out of a nondescript black car now and ask where you are, and no matter when, it will still be too soon.

A water 2

 

Posted in Life, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

When Work is Not Your Passion: It’s Okay

I joked with a friend today ( The Amy Experience ) that I’d need to get irate about something soon because I’ve been so long without a blog post. And then it happened, simmering all evening and boiling over right in the middle of trying to get through a workout (sorry Shaun T.).

Passion. Work. It would be wonderful if those two things went together, but most of the time they really don’t. A lot of jobs are not meant to be your passion to begin with, so you don’t have any expectations to eat, sleep, and breathe them. For example, I loved my McDonald’s gig in high school, but nobody expects you to or cares if you do. My current field is not like that and maybe yours isn’t either. But guess what? It’s really okay if you aren’t in love with what you do for your paycheck, as long as you do it well. It’s okay and don’t let anybody tell you different.

Oh my God I’m a terrible person. Wait – no I’m not – I have a life outside of work that is important to me. I have people in my life who don’t understand or care what I do for a living and that’s just fine with me. I have a job with a high burn out rate AND I live where I work, so you’d think I MUST love this gig to be doing it so long.  Nope, I just seem to be good at it. Passion is not as important as competence. Passion also shouldn’t replace work-life balance.

Ask your supervisor which is more important: that you are good at what you do or that you love what you do. A good supervisor will say they want you to love what you do so that you are happy; an honest supervisor will say they need you to be good at what you do so that they are happy. A lot of your job is probably doing things that make your bosses’ jobs easier. So be good at it, but don’t let people make you feel like it has to be your entire life. You know why people like you to labor under the illusion that you must have a passion for what you do?  If you talk yourself into believing it, you’ll be more likely to work yourself to death doing it.  YES! you think – when those other shameful rats are going home on time to be with family or take care of personal business or exercising or pursuing their dream of becoming the next hot YouTube makeup vlogger or going on vacation – I WILL BE HERE!  SHOWING MY DEDICATION!  GIVING YOU EVERYTHING I HAVE! SACRIFICING FOR YOU BECAUSE I AM SO ESSENTIAL!

Not to break your heart, but you can be replaced at work without much trouble.  We all can.  Your family, your friends, the things that make you thrive?  That’s where your passion needs to be focused.

For a long time, I thought something must be wrong with me for not pursuing those next-step jobs or that higher degree or writing that article or becoming well known in my field. Guess what? I don’t care about that stuff. I DO care about having health insurance and a place to live – I’m pretty passionate about that.  But I like working behind the scenes to make people’s lives easier. I don’t need to be the best of the bunch at work but I do need to do the job to the best of my ability and I do.

Don’t suck at your job, but don’t forget about your life. Your life isn’t waiting around for you to finish running yourself ragged and it is impervious to disapproving looks.  If you happen to be in a career that you absolutely love, I am so happy for you!  Feel free to let me know if you find a job with solid pay, travel to fun places, and lots of chocolate.  I’ll be all over that.  Until then, I work for a paycheck, not passion.

Posted in Life | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Beyond the Packing List: Tolerance and Humor at Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras is not for the faint of heart.  It’s not a “vacation” in the sense that you will come home rested.  You’ll come home tired, maybe hung-over, hoarse, sore, possibly with a cold or upper respiratory infection (we like to call that the MG Crud) and with random bumps and bruises you either can’t or won’t explain.  That’s because you were having a hell of a lot of fun and forgot you were old/ill/serious/tired/a parent/a grandparent/a responsible member of society.  But Mardi Gras will also try your patience.

A friend pointed out two things that need to be brought with you that I did not think to write about in “The Packing List” but they are pretty freakin’ important:

Tolerance and a sense of humor.   (And a First Aid kit wouldn’t hurt either.)

Accidents happen.

When I say that Mardi Gras is Anything and Everything you’ve never even dreamed of I mean it.  It will push you out of your comfort zone, which for some is exhilarating and others is exhausting.  The city of New Orleans even during “normal” times is pretty weird in the most outstanding way, but Mardi Gras really cranks the weirdness up a notch or twelve.  If you are travelling with uptight people, you may want to conveniently lose them in a crowd your first day so you can enjoy the sights on your own.  When they find you several hours later and they are all huffy you can be like “What?  I didn’t hear the phone ringing!”

Beerkat the Meerkat NEVER answers his phone for needy travel companions.

There will be crowds and noise and lines and traffic and your food will take a long time to get to you.  People will spill drinks on you.  You will spill drinks on yourself.  You’ll get squished cheek to cheek with people who look and act nothing like your quilting group in South Cakalaky.   You’ll be called Sugar, Baby, Darlin’ or Honey – and if you don’t like it that’s too bad.  The sooner you accept these facts the happier you will be.  It’s barely controlled chaos, and you aren’t the one controlling it so stop trying.  It’s nice to go with an idea of the things you might want to see or do, but don’t over schedule yourself.  Go back at a different time of year if you want to do things like cemetery and swamp tours.  Do the Mardi Gras stuff.  Everyone’s got their own ideas of what those things are but some that are usually at the top of people’s lists include watching a parade (it’s not like your hometown holiday parade), having beignets at Café du Monde (24/7 you have to grab a table when you see people getting ready to leave), walking down Bourbon Street (try daytime first), catching some beads (from a parade or a balcony) and general people watching.  There’s no better spot for people watching than this city and this time of year.  Okay maybe Fantasy Fest in Key West but this is slightly more affordable.

Even people who love crowds can get worn out.  Cherish quiet spots when you can find them; they are few and far between.  We’ve all got our secret places.   I discovered one year that Harrah’s casino is surprisingly calm when compared to the outside craziness. I’m not much of a gambler but plop me in front of the penny slots for an hour and it soothes the savage beast.  A good place to chill if you don’t have a close hotel room to take a break in.  If your nerves are shot, they won’t get better until you find some downtime.

Remember to eat!  You can’t live on just Hand Grenades – food is everywhere if you stop and look for it.  I know you’ve seen those Snickers commercials where people turn into bitchy divas when they get too hungry.  Don’t do that to your travel companions and don’t let them do it to you.  If you are afraid of local cuisine like gumbo and muffalettas there is always the fallback of McDonalds and Popeye’s on Canal.  Plus, many of the bars you are lurking in serve actual food.  The second floor of Johnny White’s on Bourbon gives you a great balcony view while you eat so you don’t feel like you are missing anything.  If for no other reason than it’s a New Orleans legend, get a Lucky Dog from one of the many carts milling around.

Eat when you can – you never know when you’ll remember again.

There is no costume too inappropriate for the French Quarter.  Don’t be offended by any of them – you are wasting your energy and 30 seconds later you’ll see one even more outrageous.  Instead, take lots of pictures because there’s no way any of your friends back home are going to believe your descriptions without them.  Don’t be afraid to wear a wig, silly hat, or something you would never wear at home.  Whatever it is, I promise you someone is 100x weirder and no one is laughing at you.  Well, maybe they are but I consider that a good thing.  No – a GREAT thing.  After all, you made someone laugh and I think that is a wonderful gift.  Costumes and masks are really for Fat Tuesday, but people dress up every day – especially the weekend leading up to Tuesday.  There are plenty of shops selling costume ridiculousness but I like shopping during Halloween sales and bringing stuff from home.  Super fun at airport security!  Some of the best costumes come out of the LGBTQ community.  I’m talking Oscar quality.  Embrace the awesomeness; a lot of time and money goes into many people’s costumes as they try to outdo each other (and outdo what they made for the year before).

Okay, not an elaborate costume, but we’re having fun anyway.

You’ll see every kind of person at Mardi Gras.  College kids, families, old people and young people, cops and con artists, gay and straight, couples, locals, tourists, sinners and those who want to save you.  That last group is one that I really see trying people’s patience and another example of taking a deep breath and appreciating the diversity coming together for the season.  You’ll see plenty of them – religious groups of some sort (I think they claim to be Christians but it’s sure not how I was raised) handing out pamphlets and throwing themselves in the thick of it all with bullhorns and giant signs.  You’ll be told you are going to hell and that God hates you.  If you read some of their signs, it’s clear they think God hates everybody including women and sports fans.  Wha???  Don’t fall for it.  They are trying to bait you into an argument that neither one of you will back down from.  It’s a waste of breath.  A better use of your time is taking a picture with them and their signage and moving on.  You do your thing and don’t bother letting them poison your trip.

As my experiences grow, I come up with other thoughts that may or not be helpful/entertaining to you – I suggest reading my Random Advice next if you have time to kill.

Happy to say I know the guy on the LEFT!

I’ll admit that towards the end of my trip every year I get pretty fatigued, both mentally and physically.  There’s a lot to take in, put up with and thoroughly enjoy.  If you grow to love New Orleans you also start to feel for the city and the way it gets treated during the carnival season.  You’ll be amazed at the patience of law enforcement and medical personnel.  But in your love you’ll become a supporter of a unique place with amazing people and history like nowhere else.  (After you recover you’ll start thinking about plans for next year…)  Laissez les Bon Temps Rouler!

Posted in Mardi Gras | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Random Mardi Gras Wisdom that Fits Nowhere Else

I think I’ve finished up whatever helpful information I have for Mardi Gras newbies; this is really more of a catch-all location for random tidbits that pop into my head as I am packing and planning for The Event.  Rather than figure out where to shove them into the older posts, I’ll just be sloppy and list them all here in no particular order.  Enjoy and laissez le bon temps rouler.

Parking:

Just thinking about Mardi Gras parking gives me chest pains.  Transportation is probably my biggest worry each year, whether I drive or fly in.  It doesn’t need to be, but I am a worrier so I can’t help it.  If you have a hotel that allows you to park without paying extra, you are golden.  Most will charge @$30 per day though so budget for that.  If you are driving in each day it’s possible to find free or cheap parking veeeery far away from the CBD and FQ if you roll in early enough in the morning.  Some people will actually park at the airport and take the airport shuttle if they are staying a few days.  The last two years I drove, I parked at Harrah’s casino.  This worked great for me but they may have changed their rules so CALL AHEAD and ask about their parking fees.  At the time, I got my parking ticket validated by signing up and getting a player’s card, and gambling for 30 minutes.  On anything.  I played penny slots for a half hour one year and it validated my parking for the entire trip.  $4 for the entire trip, holy shit.  Last I heard, you have to gamble 30 minutes a day for each day you are there.  That’s still an awesome deal, and you might even get a free drink out of it.  But I have NO IDEA if this is still the case, so do your homework.  I’m assuming you don’t have friends who live in the city and will let you park at their house.

004

Uh huh.  Free map to Heaven indeed.

Airport transportation:

These days people are using the almighty Uber or Lyft more often to get around but I’m old-school and don’t know about any of that (yet).  I think 2017 will be my first try, so here’s my thoughts on the usual MSY ground transportation.  I hate cabs.  HATE cabs.  I will avoid cabs at all cost because they are too expensive (@$36 one way per person to CBD) and usually smell like salami.  But, it is the easiest way to get from the airport to your destination (unless you are blessed with someone who will pick you up).  Find some folks at the ground transportation area and see if you can’t share a cab – most of you are going downtown or the French Quarter.  I’ve never taken the bus but I know such a thing exists to get downtown.  You can also rent a limo.  My transport of choice is normally the airport shuttle, although considering the things I hate about that, a cab might be the way to go for my sanity from now on.  The shuttle is $24 one way or $44 round-trip (as of Feb. 2017), and the frustrating part of the trip is actually waiting to go.  You’ll stand around for a long time and eventually you’ll be allowed on a shuttle…where you will sit for a long time, wondering what you are waiting for.  The shuttle will be full.  There will be other shuttles there for new folks.  You’re hot and impatient and everyone will be looking at each other and wondering what the hell is going on.  This process once added an extra two hours to my trip and I was ready to kill someone when I finally escaped.  I mean you’re going to New Orleans during Mardi Gras – you sprinted off the plane and jumped up and down with anticipation waiting for your luggage, and now to have to sit on a full, unmoving shuttle is TORTURE.  And no matter where you are staying, your hotel stop will be the last one.  You’ll crawl through the FQ in that van watching people outside having a great time and you’ll be about to explode.  Seriously, the cab is looking better all the time.  If you do a round-trip with the shuttle, make sure you are waiting for them EARLY and have a backup plan.  One year, they stopped at my Canal St. hotel either 30 minutes earlier than my pick-up time OR they didn’t come by at all (more likely) and I was almost screwed.  I had to run across Canal on Fat Tuesday during parades to the Marriott and catch a cab, hyperventilating and yelling into the phone at my husband over the sounds of truck horns and sirens “I CAN’T GET OUT!  I CAN’T LEAVE!”.  I was ultra-pissed and they gave me a refund at the airport for the return trip, but I was freaking out about almost missing my flight.  By the end of the trip every year, I am just worn to the ground and want nothing more than to be home in my own bed.  By that point I have no more patience for humans, sequins, feathers or beads.

Open Container:

My first Mardi Gras, I spent half the time asking my friend Susan if it was really legal for me to be drinking out in the open on the street like I was.  I spent the other half drinking.  I’m a Yankee – I’d never heard of a “go-cup”.  While it’s not cool to be drinking from glass on the street, an open plastic container with alcohol is no problem.  That may not be news to you but it blew my mind.

Jen models a “go-cup” but anything not glass will do.

Pictures:

I can’t say this enough:  Take lots of pictures.  Of you, of the people you are with, of the city, of the parades, of all the wonderful weirdness that is New Orleans and Mardi Gras.  I’m lucky to have a ton of great people around me that are taking and posting their pictures so if I miss something, chances are good I can get a pic anyway.  The moment is not lost.  But you probably don’t have that 100+ person support system, you have to rely on remembering to document everything.  Although I might break my own rule some years I say always take a cheap camera.  One that can take a beating.  Attach it to your belt or on a string of beads so you are less likely to put it down and forget it.  Many a camera has been lost, broken or stolen on this trip.  And yes, there is a large camera store on Canal if you find you need a new one.

Camera causalities happen to the best of us.

Crime:

Crime in New Orleans is really no different from crime in any other big city.  It happens.  Mostly to people who are not using common sense.  So use common sense like you would anywhere else and don’t let people who have never even been there make you think you are going to be unsafe.   BTW, there’s a police station on Royal Street and  they have a vending machine with all sorts of NOPD shirts and trinkets.  Go in and check it out – your support helps them which in turn helps all of us!

NOPD Royal Street vending machine – best deal in town for souvenirs!

Float Loading:

Find out where a parade starts and what time the riders start loading throws on to floats.  Grab a cab and go check it out.  It’s a great way to get a close up view of the floats.  Bacchus loads at the Convention Center Sunday afternoon and I often show up there to see the sights before its dark and crazy with people on the parade route.  I’m trying to catch throws at the parades so I don’t often notice how awesome the floats are.  This gives me the time to wander around and look at the artwork and take pictures.  It’s also way cool to see how the riders load up all their throws.  Remember that riders are not supposed to be throwing anything during this time, so don’t bother them for beads, just appreciate all the trouble they take to give us a great party every year.  If someone happens to give you something that’s a nice bonus.

Bacchus Baccha-Gator

Krewe Balls:

Have you been invited to a ball?  By all means go!  Balls are not for everyone, but I say try it at least once.  It’s a different way to see a parade.  Many balls are open to more than the krewe members.  For some, you need to know or locate a krewe member to purchase a ticket but I know for Orpheus you can purchase tickets online through their site.  Tickets generally run @$125-150 so it’s not the kind of thing most people do a lot, but it’s a special experience.  Pay attention to the dress code – they are serious about it.  Formal attire is required so bust out that old prom dress!  Okay, maybe not but you will probably need a floor length gown.  I have an orange glittery number that I have worn to Bacchus, Endymion and Orpheus.  I refuse to buy a new dress each time and no one knows or cares.  You can party for a few hours before the parade rolls in and then you get the craziness of the parade but indoors instead of out with the masses.  I actually prefer to be outside but others love the balls.  Make sure you bring a sweater though – inside doesn’t mean it will be warm, especially when the floats start rolling in.  You can purchase catered food for the event but are also able to bring your own – many people roll in with big coolers of food and booze.  Mixers are provided (soda, seltzer) but it’s BYOB.

It’s not a Purse Holder:

That’s a urinal in the Port-O-Potty.  You’re welcome.

Be ridiculous. You’ll have a much better time.

Posted in Mardi Gras, Travel | Tagged , , | Leave a comment