My New Orleans, by Randle Roper
I’m a native New Orleanian. And I grew up a loser.
Now that may seem like a dramatic statement, but let me explain. Being born in southeast Louisiana comes with a few womb-earned realities:
- You’re going to eat things that live in the mud,
- You’re going to collect plastic beads in epic numbers, and
- You’re going to be a Saints fan from the moment you pop out
Depending on where you’re from, you might think all three of those things equate to being a loser, but it’s really #3 that cements the deal. To be a New Orleans Saints fan is almost unexplainable. Their ineptitude in the 70s and 80s was truly staggering with them getting ever so close to victory week in and week out, only to collapse in the final minutes of each game, walking off the field with their ho-hum heads held low in defeat. Sunday afternoons in front of the TV with my Dad is where I learned all of my favorite curse words (and those etymological arrows have served me well as a fiery adult). As a kid, however, I just thought losing was the norm. I didn’t know any other reality.
Then, in the late 80s and early 90s things started to change. The hapless Saints actually started winning. Not every week, but enough weeks that they eventually pulled together a winning season. The year was 1987 and the Saints had FINALLY made the NFL playoffs (21 seasons into their existence)! That shift from always-loser to unexpected-winner was seismic. And it occurred right about the same time I was coming to terms with my own sexuality. That’s right, I was a gay Saints fan. Their sudden success actually helped me come to terms with being different. With being gay. With no longer being a “loser,” something I had always mistakenly equated with being gay. My childhood was filled with question after question about my sexuality: Why couldn’t I be like everyone else? Why did I have to be different? It was the ultimate self-shaming, but it was the reality of the day.
At the height of the AIDS crisis, at a time when coming out wasn’t anywhere near as easy as it is today, I viewed being gay as a death sentence. Would I get bashed walking down the street? Would I contract HIV? Every sexual encounter was a bit like playing Russian roulette. Would this be the time it happened? The mental anguish I put myself through was crippling. But somehow, I found my light. As unlikely as it seemed to be, my transformation had been spurred by three consecutive winning seasons for the Saints – my sophomore, junior, and senior years of high school, the most formative years of my life.
Only those from New Orleans can truly understand the power of this metamorphosis. We lived in one of the most amazing cities on the planet – one with the best food, the friendliest people, and the most exciting street parties – yet we had been losers, all. Well no more. This was a personal rebirth in every conceivable way. I was now a winner. A gay winner. And a gay winner ready to take on the world!
Through chance, through happenstance, perhaps even through divine intervention (TBD), I’d shaken off my mid-to-late-80s fear of losing to start on the path that would take me to where I am today… a proud gay New Orleanian who loves to share the very best of his iconic winning city with fellow wanderlust travelers. And here are a few of my favorite things:
My Favorite French Quarter Restaurant: Café Amelie
When the weather is warm, there’s no better place to sit for a couple hours than under the twinkling lights in the courtyard at Café Amelie. Shrimp and grits are a favorite dish and Amelie’s Sazerac is characteristically New Orleans.
My Favorite French Quarter Food that Isn’t Creole (but really is, with an Italian twist): Irene’s
The atmosphere at Irene’s is cramped but lovely, with live jazz music echoing through the many small rooms in this delicious non-touristy gem. Menu highlights include the Soft-Shell Crab (when in season) and the Meuniere Amandine (fish topped with jumbo crab and toasted almonds).
My Favorite French Quarter Balcony: Café Lafitte In Exile
People watching is this bar’s forte and the chance of standing on the balcony of the oldest continuously operating gay bar in the United States (since 1933) is well worth a visit. Everyone ends up at Lafitte’s at some point over the course of the night. Relatively cheap drinks and their stellar balcony ensure that.
My Favorite French Quarter Sweet Treats: The Separator at Good Friends and Beignets at Café du Monde
The Separator is a thick yummy alcoholic shake that’s the perfect tonic after a few rounds too many. There’s something about its milkiness that just makes you feel better. Follow that up with some 3am beignets at Café du Monde and you’ll be all set!
My Favorite Mardi Gras Parades: Endymion and Bacchus
There are no better nights of Mardi Gras than the Saturday and Sunday before Fat Tuesday. Saturday night sees the Krewe of Endymion winding its way from uptown’s St. Charles Ave. to downtown’s Canal Street. The floats are mammoth, the throes are never-ending, and the revelry is as good as it gets. That is… until Sunday night when the Krewe of Bacchus takes to the streets and does it all bigger, better, and brighter along the same route.