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New Orleans is a magical place

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By Carolyn Ten Broeck

The question was simple: how spontaneous are you? The answer was easy: very.
And with that brief interchange, I began yet another exciting adventure late last month.
My birthday falls near the end of January, and since I suffer from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), Tom usually whisks me away to a sunnier-than-Levy County locale so I can soak up the sun.
This year though he had another idea–a week before my birthday, we would check the airlines and whichever was the cheapest flight would be my birthday destination, whether it be Des Moines or Honolulu.
It was a gamble–a big one, but we decided that no matter where we went, we would find something new and exciting to do.
The cheapest flights leaving Tampa on the dates we wanted to travel were headed toward San Diego and New Orleans. With only four days set aside, we opted for Nawlins and we were off.
Right away we learned that NOLA is a magical place–$20 bills disappear as quickly as you pull them out of your pocket.
 While we anticipated spending money, we had no idea that everything cost–even to use the bathroom at McDonald’s.
Cheapskate that I am, (or is it frugal?) I plotted a course that would take us either by or to all the major tourist destinatons and it wouldn’t cost anything–we would walk.
Armed with a fistful of 20s, a GPS and our list, we set off for the French Quarter and Cafe Du Monde to indulge on beignets and cafe au lait.
From there we gasped at the decadence of Bourbon Street, marveled at the wonderful architecture and took in the sights of the French Market, the Lalaurie Mansion, the voodoo shops and St. Louis Cathedral.
We visited Pat O’Brien’s where hurricanes were plentiful, and along the way had sazerac and hand grenades, which, in combination are not only deadly, but add to the magical disappearing 20s.
By Saturday afternoon only two things remained on our list of must-dos–to hear the blues in a dark and dingy club and to visit St. Louis Cemetery, the final resting place of voodoo priestess Marie Laveau.
I typed the address into the GPS and we were off.
Except after half an  hour, we seemed to be heading nowhere fast.
That’s when Tom spied the street sign.
“We’re in Tremé,” he almost whispered.
I was perplexed. Tremé (Tra-may)? It meant nothing to me.
He picked up the pace and quickly explained that Tremé, one of the oldest parts of the city and once home to free “people of color” is now considered by some to be a not-so-nice neighborhood.
We walked quickly, silently pleading with the GPS to divert our route.
It did not.
Instead we met a fellow pedestrian who told us not to proceed–to get out of Tremé as quickly as we had entered. She told us to go two blocks, turn left and go down Claiborne–away from the neighborhood.
We did–but it didn’t. We were still smack-dab in the middle of the neighborhood and along the way saw drug transactions taking place in front yards, as well as other unsavory scenes.
I thought about calling a taxi but Tom was sure one would not come to our aid.
It was then I saw a woman exit a vehicle in front of a little dive. “I’ll ask her for directions,” I said.
I mustered my confidence and approached her, explaining that we were looking for the cemetery. She started to help, but her male companion cut her off, saying she was wrong. It was then he turned around and we saw that he was blind–eyes milky white from whatever had robbed him of his vision.
“Well, can you tell them?” The woman asked.
She then took his left arm, raised it and pointed it due north.
He thought but for a brief moment before telling me to go to the end of the block, turn left and I would run into the cemetery in just a few blocks.
We started walking–fast.
“Did you just take directions from a  blind man?” Tom asked.
Indeed, I had and in 10 minutes the City of the Dead, or cemetery as we call it, appeared across the street.
It was 2:50 p.m., the cemetery closed its gates at 3 and we had 10 minutes to find Marie Laveau, mark three Xs on her crypt, make a wish, take a picture and get out on the street.
We did it–all but the marking of the Xs and the wish. Success! And safe too.
At the hotel, we had a drink to calm our frayed nerves and headed back to Bourbon Street to hear the blues in a dark and dingy club.
Big Al Carson, 500 pounds of blues, sang Happy Birthday to me, ending an amazing, adventure-filled day. And the magic continued.
Sunday evening at the airport as we weaved through security we did a post-mortem of the last four-days and agreed that New Orleans is rebounding after Katrina, the birthday was The. Best. Ever. and we were happy we both are spontaneous.
Then I saw him.
Two rows over a small wisp of a man with silver hair and itty-bitty feet.
“It’s Chekhov,” I whispered to Tom.
He wasn’t so sure, but the reporter in me emerged and as we stood face to face in the line, I leaned over the rope and asked, “Are you Chekhov?”
He dipped his head and said in a stage whisper, “Yes, I played that role on Star Trek.”
Stunned, I finally found my voice to tell him I was a huge fan and that when I was a little girl, he was the one I had the crush on–not Capt. Kirk. He just smiled.
I glowed.
New Orleans. Magic. The Best Birthday. Ever.