August 1, 1985. I’ll never forget the first time I set foot in New Orleans. I was just shy of eight years old, and we were moving from Western New York. An adventure! It hit me as soon as we walked off the plane and onto the jet bridge.
The humidity, that is. I never experienced anything like it. The whoosh of heat and stickiness. Little did I know then this was just the beginning of what would lead to a lifelong love of the city.
Full disclosure that as a child, we didn’t live in the city proper. We lived in Luling … in St. Charles Parish, officially on the Westbank. Daddy worked in petrochemicals, and that was closer to the plant. But we still had plenty of opportunities to learn what made this part of the country so dang special. We knew all our neighbors. People genuinely want to hear what’s going on in your life. The food, of course. And the celebrations! Parades, parties, and any opportunity to celebrate, we do. We only lived here for 2 years then, but a lasting impression was made.
I dreamed of coming back as an adult. As a journalism major in college, I hoped for an internship at the Times-Picayune (which is now the Advocate T-P or the T-P Advocate … I’ve heard and seen both in the first month of the merged paper). I dreamed of living in the French Quarter, breakfasts of beignets and café au lait, and exploring the city. It didn’t come to pass, but I visited when I could … weekend trips when living in Lake Charles, a fundraising conference a few years into my career, travel to watch University of Houston take on Tulane in football … and every time I left, I left a piece of myself behind.
I had the fortune starting in 2016 to experience Mardi Gras in the city. With a friend riding in the Krewe of Endymion, I secured tickets to their Extravaganza Ball. Little did I know that first trip back would lead me on the path to becoming a New Orleanian and to some of my closest “framily” here.
In my 2 years and counting as a resident, I’ve experienced the joys, tribulations, and wackiness that makes our city a wonderful culture. I’ve learned and am learning a lot, and the most important thing I learned is we are a community of helpers. We help neighbors. We help friends. We help visitors. Pay it forward isn’t a trend here, it’s a way of life.
And that’s what First Years in NOLA is all about. It’s a way to help transplants navigate this city. It’s a way for us to share what’s worked and what hasn’t. And it’s a way to learn the traditions so we can carry them forward. I will share knowledge from my experiences, those of other transplants, and from natives (both those who left and returned, or who have never moved away).
And I want to hear from you … are you contemplating a move here? Are you a transplant with stories to share? A native with advice to help us newbies look less ridiculous (unless that is the intent of the day … looking at you, parade season!)? I look forward to the conversation … because we all know New Orleanians can and will talk to anyone about anything!