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“Hello?” I said blindly into the receiver. I was so flustered that I didn’t bother to look at caller ID.
“Pits, what’s up, kid?”
I immediately knew who it was. Nobody but Rocky calls me “Pits” anymore.
“Bro, I’ve got to call you back. Got a meltdown on this end right now,” I said over the background noise.
“Wow, sounds like a four-alarm fire down in Dallas,” he said.
“Yeah, Dallas is burning. Let me call you back when the kids are fed.”
“You got it. And happy birthday.”
“Happy birthday, Pits.”
“Jeez, I totally forgot. I mean, I remembered this morning, but I’d forgotten by lunch. Thanks, man. I’ll hit you up later tonight.”
After a while, the children were sufficiently fed and bathed and placated. The baby was sleeping soundly in her crib, and the three-year-old was engrossed in an episode of Max & Ruby. I grabbed a beer, went outside, and called Rocky back.
“Dude, this is the first birthday where I’m actually feeling older,” I said as soon as he picked up.
“You sound like you need a vacation,” he replied.
“Vacation? I don’t even have time to run to the corner and fill the car up.”
“I’ve got the cure for that. Pack an overnight bag. I’m flying in. Meet me at the airport, ’cause we’re flying out.”
I went back in the house and did just that. Kimberly gave me permission to leave for a night: Either she wanted to allow me a night with my best friend -- the best man at our wedding and the godfather of my children -- or maybe she just noticed more gray hair on this birthday. “Be careful,” was her imparting wisdom. And while most guys heading to New Orleans with other guys need to hear this sort of grounding instruction from their wives, I don’t. I’ve been vacationing in New Orleans for 15 years, but I haven’t done the Bourbon Street thing in 14.
The Crescent City is back, and in a serious way. Ironically, my birthday trip coincided with the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. That was the last time I’d been there, only not as a tourist. I was working the flood coverage for Time magazine, embedded with the Fourth Infantry Division of the Army. When I saw the widespread destruction, I didn’t think there’d be any reason to return. Thankfully, I’ve since learned firsthand that I was wrong, and our cover story on page 32 should clear up any rumors to the contrary that you’ve heard about the Big Easy.
I’ve gone to NOLA to party before, but not since college have I gone there just to party. These days, I go down there for food and music. When Rocky and I landed, we had two objectives: (1) Eat at the Acme Oyster House, and (2) See John Mooney live at Chickie Wah Wah. We knocked the first one out in our first 15 minutes. Acme is still the best in the world, bar none.
On the second one, though, we hit a snag. Mooney usually plays live at that cool Canal Street club every Sunday, but as fate would have it, he was not playing the one Sunday we were in town. Still, Chickie Wah Wah is such a great live-music venue that we stayed and listened to local bands until midnight. That’s when we headed out to Frenchman Street just steps away from the French Quarter and saw another New Orleans institution, Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes . They took the stage at midnight, and they played until the dawn’s early light. Best live show I’ve seen in NOLA in 15 years.
On the plane ride home, I was full and happy. “Rock,” I said as we flew over the Louisiana/ Texas state line, “that was just what I needed.”
“Hey, man,” he replied, “That’s the beauty of New Orleans. The older you get, it stays the same age.”