It’s 7am in the morning when I wake up in my hotel in New Orleans and flip on the TV. To my surprise, the programming for every channel has been interrupted to cover breaking news about a plane that has crashed into the one of the towers of New York City’s World Trade Center. As I sit on my bed, shocked and mesmerized by the news as it’s unfolding, I realize that this day is going to go very differently from how I had imagined it. You see, I’ve come to the French Quarter to lead a treasure hunt for a corporate client – on the morning of 9/11/2001. Immediately I call my client and ask,
“Do you see what’s going on in New York?”
She answers, “Of course. Our main office is in NYC.”
“So, do you still want to do this event?”
“Yes! The hunt will help take our mind off of what’s happening.”
And so begins one of the strangest days of my life. Needless to say, my hunt attendees are entirely distracted. Adding to that, as it’s 2001, not everyone has smart phones with non-stop access to news. Instead, people are relying on the good old-fashioned TV for updates of what’s happening up north. Meanwhile, half of the French Quarter is shut down, which means a number of my clue locations (like the one in the House of Blues) are out of commission. Somehow, in spite of everything, the event comes off successfully. As I wish my client good by and good luck, I turn my attention to my own dilemma: how am I going to get home to San Francisco? The planes are grounded of course; rental cars are all booked; trains, buses…forget it. I am stuck in New Orleans, far from friends and family – living out a very bizarre episode of the twilight zone.
In the end, I wind up staying in New Orleans for over a week until the planes are eventually cleared to fly again. During this time, I spend hour after hour exploring the French Quarter and, in spite of the craziest of circumstances, I’m reacquainted with why “the Big Easy” is such a Wow place. There really is no city like it in the entire world. Let’s start with the food: gumbo, jambalaya, etouffee, muffalettas, beignets! The jazz clubs. The cobblestone streets. The buskers and fortune tellers. Voodoo. The French Market. The architecture. And I’m not even talking about the world-famous Bourbon Street, a 24-hour party EVEN during 9/11!
In short, there are far worse places than New Orleans to be stranded during a national tragedy. Although certainly NOT in a party mood, I was glad to get to know this incredible neighborhood in this incredible city. One particular highlight: watching live cajun music on a Thursday night in a nearby bowling alley. Now that’s New Orleans.
(Plans fall through; that’s life. How you respond to rapid, unexpected, unwanted change, is the art of living. The trick is both to manage your disappointment and to figure out how to create a win – any kind of win. Manage that on a regular basis and your life will be a Big Easy.)