There comes a time during every trip that I surrender so completely to the place I'm visiting that I wonder if I ought to move there. Granted, alcohol is usually involved. Still, after a few beers at home, I don't feel like I want to move to where I live.
The way I look at it, if you haven't yearned to move to the place you are visiting, if you haven't romanticized it into unearthliness, if you haven't wondered if that may be the most beautiful sky you've ever seen, you haven't really been there. But if you do that, if you say to yourself, This [fill in the blank: city, countryside, shoreline, mountaintop, tavern] is so magnificent, we really ought to get at least a summer place here and believe for a moment that you mean it, then you have been transported.
Each place has its own special character that is capable of lifting you and taking you away. Maybe it is gorgeous scenery, maybe a certain pace of life. In New Orleans, where my wife and I are presently visiting, it is weirdness.
From the sweet, dark, lazy molasses way the word rolls off the local tongue - "N'awlins" - to the city's sad-eyed romantic architecture to the spicy Creole food, New Orleans seems less like a place than a dream. Right now Jessica and I hope nobody pinches us awake.
It is late and we are at a place aptly called the Mid City Lanes Rock 'N' Bowl. It is located up a flight of stairs, which is odd in itself. How many bowling alleys do you know that are on the second floor? But the truly weird part is that it isn't just a bowling alley. It is also a nightclub.
A live band performs on a large stage just feet away from the bowling lanes. On this particular night, a zydeco band is tearin' it up. A girl in a denim miniskirt who looks to be around eight years old shakes and shimmies as a member of the family-run band, which cranks out smokin' hot music so incessant and nonstop that the dance floor stays full. Occasionally a couple of sweating, exhausted dancers take a break and leave a space for a resuscitated couple to replace them.
A live band in a bowling alley? A little girl as a go-go dancer? In this shambling, exotic town, it all seems perfectly normal.
The young go-go dancer is, in this context, downright wholesome - family entertainment, Cajun-style: The family that zydecos together stays together. The turbocharged regional musical stew of R&B, rock-and-roll, and French Acadian, carried by electric guitar, bass, drums, accordion, and corrugated metal rub board worn as a vest, somehow seems like music you've heard all your life. The crawfish quesadillas and gumbo that the sweat-drenched dancers devour seem as familiar as Mom's Sunday dinner.
Of it all, the crowd, mirroring the melting-pot music, is perhaps the weirdest element of the night, given that its mishmash is nearly unrecognizable to those of us - which is to say, most of us - who rarely socialize with people who don't look like us in one way or another. This is a dance hall that looks like America, or some ideal of what we hope America looks like when it is perfected: all races (black, brown, white, red), all ages (from dynamic young to doddering old), all socio-economic classes (men with Marine haircuts and neatly pressed shirts two-step with their skirted gals alongside guys with tattoos boogieing with their pedal-pushing gals).
Taking it all in, that old traveler's feeling washes over me, the one I remember getting on a cold night under a starry sky in Florence as I licked a perfect gelato, the one that came over me in Barcelona while I sipped wine on the carnivalesque promenade called the Rambla, the one that swept me up while I swam in a creek in the cedar-speckled folds of the Texas Hill Country, the one … well, you get the idea, the one I get everywhere that makes me want to look at local housing prices.
Joining the fray in this smoky, beery, frenzied dance-hall-slash-bowling-alley, I take Jessica onto the dance floor. A few songs later, we take a break. I'm panting so hard, I fear I might have a heart attack before my order of the local brew, Abita Amber, arrives. When it comes, I take a sip, brush the sweat off my forehead with my shirt-sleeve, turn to Jessica, and say, “Wouldn’t you love to live here?”