We had many choices of things to do for New Years Eve in New Orleans. What we eventually chose was easiest and required little effort on our part. All we had to do was show up and enjoy.
Instead of spending the evening cruising on the Mississippi on the Steamboat Natchez or dancing the night away in some bar – we chose to do the countdown in Jackson Square with Mayor Ray Nagin and the thousands of other people gathered there.
We had received numerous suggestions about New Orleans and New Year’s Eve and the one that we heard the most was DON’T spend it on Bourbon Street. We didn’t even question that one.
What stood out in my mind was the tragic account of Amy Silberman who was killed from a falling bullet on New Year’s Eve near the Jax Brewery on Decatur Street. We were warned time and again that revelers like to fire their guns into the air at midnight and of course what goes up must certainly come down – somewhere.
The Man and I talked about this and agreed that we would take our chances outdoors in Jackson Square with all the others. We’ve never had a problem anywhere we’ve been in our travels and we’ve inadvertently been to some places we shouldn’t have stepped foot.
So New Year’s Eve found us standing by this lamppost that I’ve posted a pic of many times.
We arrived around 10pm and the streets were almost empty except for the huge stage that stood in front of the square. A DJ was spinning up on the stage while men worked with microphones and cords and did the obligatory – test – test. Beside us a man and a woman fought over a bottle of something cheap while we leaned against the railing and watched both events.
The influx of people came like a wave. Suddenly the street was a mass of bodies and the DJ’s smile beamed out over the crowd like a benevolent father as it became supersized on the massive screens that faced us.
New Orleans had been inundated with Sugar Bowl fans and even our sleepy quiet RV Park was now a mass of mostly Alabama Crimson Tide fans with a few Utah Utes thrown in. This was a new thing for The Man and I. We are basketball fans and follow the New Orleans Hornets. College football is not something we’ve ever taken notice of until they swarmed the city of New Orleans.
With the Sugar Bowl still 2 days away, the fans were still doing that (mostly) good-natured jibe thing that they do. On New Year’s Eve we were all equal under the stars as we stood in Jackson Square and listened to the music as it battered us and we shouted in each other’s ears. Some people danced in the streets and nearly everyone had a drink in their hands as we waited for the huge Fleur de lis atop Jax Brewery to drop.
Eventually a local Jazz band came out and thrilled the crowd for one set before leaving the stage to the DJ once again. Beside us the man had disappeared in search of his own bottle of alcohol and the woman was now fighting with the crowd. Some screaming about who voted for whom was going on and we turned our shoulders to it and to the wind that had picked up off the Mississippi. The Man stood behind me with his huge arms around me and kept me warm and safe.
A man now took the place of the band and begged everyone Not To Kill – Not To Shoot Guns - Guns Kill. It was the first time I’ve ever heard something like this and it amazed me.
Just before midnight – Mayor Ray Nagin and his family and members of his team appeared on the stage – champagne flutes in their hands. He gave a little speech in which he remarked about New Orleans being the most resilient city in America and we cheered! Then – with the timing a little off – we began the countdown to a new year and watched as the Fleur de Lis lowered on top of the brewery. Once it was down the sound of fireworks filled the night air and we turned as one and watched them as they exploded over the Mississippi. It was quite the experience.
Too soon it was all over and we made our way back towards the parking garage. We marveled at the empty benches where normally you could find the homeless fighting over a certain spot on any given night except tonight. Tonight they had been moved off for the big event.
We had to fight our way across a mass of bodies when we reached Bourbon Street. I was extremely grateful to have my hand clasped tightly in The Man’s and to be following in his wake as he cleared a path for me across the sea of humanity. It was unbelievable and we burst out the other side with huge grins on our faces like two survivors in a flood – laughing and catching our breath.
We didn’t hear of anyone being killed that night which added to the magic of the evening. 2009 was now upon us.