Rain had greeted us upon our arrival in New Orleans but departed by early Sunday morning leaving us with a clear, but cold start to the day. We had hoped to get a bike ride in before I left for the Marriott at the French Quarter and the start of the conference, but instead opted to hang around camp a bit, then walk a few blocks over to the levee at the river.
While walking the levee we were passed by a small group of touring cyclists who stopped to ask us if the rest of the path was open. We weren’t sure (it turns out it wasn’t) and sent them on their way with all the misinformation we could provide.
Knowing it would be a long afternoon before I’d get to food at the opening event, we stopped at the Dot’s Diner near camp, one of a number of locations of this local chain.
It was a busy Sunday morning, full of folks out for a leisurely breakfast or stopping by after church. We snagged one of the last tables available and let the waitress know we’d need to leave in about 45 minutes and she accommodated our schedule nicely. Joanna ordered a cup of the Shrimp and Corn soup while I opted for a Philly Cheese Steak, a pretty good example of the genre with a generous amount of grilled sirloin, green peppers, onions, mushrooms & Swiss on a good French roll.
One of the delights of this part of the trip, starting in Baton Rouge, was the top-notch quality of the French bread. Not quite Parisian and yet, so good it was hard not to eat large quantities when it was presented. With two cups of coffee our tab was $16.03 including the tip. Joanna would return for dinner while I was at conference and reported that experience was as good as the first.
As I distance myself each day from the profession that I practiced for many years, attending the conference takes on a different perspective. No longer inclined nor required to attend any of the educational workshops held each day, I can seek out those activities that make it worth taking the time, effort, and expense to attend the conference. For me, this is connecting with former colleagues to catch up on their lives and in some small way still stay connected to the profession; enjoying local sights and food; and critically getting to spend quite a bit of time with Jim, my former boss.
Indeed, for the last couple of years rooming with Jim is like taking a multi-day road trip with a good friend. Extended periods of time together lead to long conversations on various subjects ranging from the personal to the professional. Given our busy lives at home its rare to get this kind of time together and so we use it to good advantage. Our first morning we walked a block into the quarter for breakfast at Mena’s Palace where I enjoyed a very good vegetable omelet; later that night we ventured out as folks do in New Orleans to walk up and down Bourbon Street, Hurricanes in hand.
Bourbon Street is a place in and of itself. Public consumption of alcohol is the norm with almost everyone you see holding a “to-go” cup, full of various beverages purchased at any one of the numerous outlets that line the street. Blaring music pours out of bars, panhandlers approach you from all angles and the pervasive odor of stale beer and vomit permeate your consciousness. It’s a great place to visit and one you are glad to leave once you step away from the madness.
On Tuesday a group of us convened at the end of the day at the House of Blues, a couple of blocks away from the hotel, to celebrate the impending installation of Scott, my replacement as the UNCC Student Union Executive Director, as the incoming ACUI President. Drinks and food were consumed as we congratulated and roasted Scott, all looking forward to the year to come and the good work he will accomplish.
From this point on, a smaller dedicated group would plumb the depths of depravity that only Bourbon Street can facilitate. Our first stop was Pat O’Brien’s, reported to have invented the Hurricane cocktail in the 1940s. We stayed for two or three drinks with opinions mixed about the quality of the signature drink, but now fortified we set out for greener pastures.
Our next stop would be the best of the night, the Tropical Isle Bar, known for two famous New Orleans drinks, the Hand Grenade and Shark Attack. We’d end up spending quite a bit of time here given the quality of the drinks and a great three-piece combo, the J.B. Elston Band. My take away from this stop was how good the band was, with J.B. playing guitar and singing they could have been playing anywhere and yet made a living playing at Tropical Isle each Tuesday night.
A little after midnight we wound our way, a bit unsteadily, back to the Marriott, Joanna opting to spend the night with me at the hotel instead of trying to get back to camp that late, an easy decision to make. We woke up the next morning pleasantly surprised at how good we felt overall, lucky to have escaped our late night escapades with nothing more than a bit of morning lethargy.
The last day of conference passed pleasantly, closing out with my participation in a late afternoon workshop with Jeremy and Dean from Appalachian State and Eastern Carolina, respectively, on the subject “Student Unions and Activities: A Serious Business”. Our focus was the tools one gains in an MBA program and how they apply to a successful career in the Student Union. Our audience seemed to enjoy the workshop; hard to say when it is in the next to last time slot of the conference.
I’d secured a banquet ticket for Joanna and an hour or so prior to its start, she, Jim, and I gathered in the room for one last round of gin and tonics, and then off for one final hotel meal, the closing program where we honor our highest award recipient (Butts-Whiting Award) and sit in thrall at the end of a long meal and longer conference listening to the speech of the incoming president, in this case our good friend and colleague Scott.
Given the exorbitant prices being charged at the cash bar for alcohol (we expect higher pricing but this was beyond the pale) Jim and I had invested in four bottles (two white, two red) of moderately priced wine to be shared amongst the two tables containing our group. They helped to make the speeches seem shorter, the conversation around the table brighter and complimented what turned out to be a pretty good hotel meal. Whether I’ll attend next year’s conference is a toss up at this point, but if this was my last one it was a good way to finish.
Dot’s Diner: http://www.dotsdiner.com/
Mena’s Palace: http://www.yelp.com/biz/menas-palace-new-orleans
Pat O’Brien’s: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pat_O%27Brien%27s_Bar
Tropical Isle: http://tropicalisle.com/
JB Elston Band: http://www.jaybelstonband.com/
Hand Grenade: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hand_Grenade_(cocktail)
Shark Attack: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OwE2XW2BZuQ