Over the weekend my husband and I went to a wedding in New Orleans. We were happy to go, and we had a great time, but it was rather expensive, and so on Sunday, instead of paying $36 for a cab to the airport, we tried to find a friend to drive us. After a couple of people said they couldn’t, Paul looked up the bus route.
“Let’s just take the bus,” he said. “It doesn’t seem too hard.”
I had never attempted to take the bus to the airport in New Orleans – a city not known for its public transportation – but we’d had good luck taking the bus to and from the French Quarter the day before, and the price was certainly right. Plus, we wouldn’t be inconveniencing anyone, and it would be a fun little adventure.
So, we packed our suitcases and walked up the potholed street towards St. Charles Avenue to catch the streetcar. The temperature had plummeted overnight, and a bone-chilling wind was blowing. We stood on the neutral ground shivering and were happy when a streetcar creaked to a stop in front of us.
We rode through Uptown and Riverbend to the end of the streetcar line. Here, we decided to warm up and relax at a coffee shop before catching the bus that would take us to the border of New Orleans and Jefferson Parrish, where we would then catch a different bus to the airport.
The cold wind carried the cinnamon scent of King Cake as we pulled our rolling suitcases along the puddled sidewalks. Our first attempt at finding a coffee shop was thwarted – Apple maps had led us astray. We walked another half mile to the Panola Street Café, only to find that it would be closing in three minutes.
I walked inside. “I know you guys are closing, but can I get a hot tea to go?” I asked.
An older man sitting at the bar nursing a mug of coffee noticed my luggage and asked me where I was going. He paid for my tea then joined me and Paul outside, where the sun had finally broken through the clouds and the wind was dying down. “How’re ya’ll getting to the airport?” he asked.
“We’re taking the bus,” I said. “We thought it’d be an adventure.”
He lit a cigarette. “Let me offer you another adventure.”
Paul and I laughed. It was pretty clear he was going to offer us a ride to the airport, or maybe suggest we just go back to his place and drink whiskey for a while.
“No, we’re good,” I insisted. “It’s turning out to be a nice day for walking.”
“You taking the Airline bus?” he asked. “How’re you getting there? You can’t walk there.”
“There’s another bus we can take,” Paul said, holding up his smart phone, our route still indicated on the map.
“All right, then.” The guy wished us luck as we headed down the street, our roller bags bouncing behind us.
We were in high spirits. We were walking through a part of East Carrollton I’d never explored before, full of eccentric houses, some already decorated in purple, green and gold for Mardi Gras. The sky was blue, and the day was getting warmer. We reached the stop twenty minutes before the bus was supposed to arrive. Paul consulted his phone. “It’s only a little over two miles to the bus stop that takes us to the airport. You want to just walk it?”
That would save us $2.50 in bus fare, and plus I’d always rather be walking than waiting. And we would be following the bus route, so if we got tired, we could always hop on the bus. We continued up the street.
But little did we know, we were walking towards Hollygrove, a Katrina-blighted neighborhood and not the safest area of town. We crossed Earhart Boulevard and started to see bombed-out houses with fading spray-painted X’s. Half the houses on the street were empty – windows boarded up, roofs caving in, front porches collapsing into the soggy earth.
“This is creepy,” Paul said.
“We’re getting to see a different side of New Orleans. It’s interesting.” I tried to stay positive as I yanked my suitcase over a pile of broken glass.
My legs were getting tired, and my shoulders were aching from the weight of my backpack. It was starting to seem unlikely that hopping on the bus was an option. We saw no sign of buses, and with the ghost-town feel of the place, it was unclear if any still ran in this neighborhood.
Finally, the street we were walking on dead-ended at the railroad tracks. We could see Airline Highway in the distance, across a small canal of dirty water. That was were we needed to go to catch the airport bus, but it was unclear how to get there. Finally, after several wrong attempts and me nearly tripping over an empty bottle of malt liquor, we discovered a set of stairs that led us over the water and down onto Airline Highway. But where was the bus stop?
“The map says it’s right here,” Paul insisted, but there was no sign of a bus stop anywhere. We trekked along the trash-strewn side of Airline Highway towards a gas station to ask for help.
The man behind the counter took one look at our luggage and bedraggled appearances and said, “airport bus stops in front of the motel down the way. But that bus is crazy. Who knows when it’ll come… But it will come.”
Paul and I were pleased. We’d made it to the bus stop, which turned out to be a sign-less pole in front of the seedy looking London Lodge. According to Paul’s smart phone, the bus would arrive in eight minutes, but if we had to wait a little longer, that was okay with us. The sun was shining, and we had a half a sandwich left over from lunch to eat while we waited.
Forty minutes later, the bus had not arrived. I wanted to keep waiting. “We came all this way,” I said. “It would be a shame to have to call a cab.”
But Paul was getting nervous about the time. We had a plane to catch, after all. So when a taxi pulled up at the gas station, Paul ran towards it and asked how much it would cost to take us to the airport.
Turns out, it would cost $36. The same price as if we had left from our airbnb in the heart of New Orleans.
In the cab, I tried not to feel defeated, but I was. We had tried so hard and come so far (over six miles), but in the end we’d lost the game of bussing it to the airport.
I guess this is what happens in life sometimes. It’s certainly happening right now with my creative endeavors. I feel like I’ve worked so hard and traveled so far, only to have the bus not show up at all. It’s hard not to feel defeated.
The ironic thing is, when we got to the airport, we found out that our flight had been delayed by two hours. We could have continued waiting at the bus stop. After all, the guy did say it would show up eventually.
Maybe I haven’t waited long enough for my creative bus to come along.
Maybe it’s really hard to know when you should keep waiting and when you should take a cab.
Maybe the important thing is to focus on the fun you had along the way. The man who bought you tea. The cute houses you saw. The way your sweet husband offered to carry your bag.
This is the point that I want to get to with my writing. That it’s not about the outcome. It’s not even about what route I take. It’s about enjoying the journey, no matter where I end up.
By the time we got to our gate to do some more waiting, I was exhausted, windblown, cold, and sunburned… and in need of more tea. I went to the coffee place and asked the girl behind the counter for a small hot tea. I knew I looked tired and sad, my hat slowing slipping off of my head.
But the girl looked me in the eye and said, “can I just say that you are so beautiful, and I like your style.”
“Thank you so much,” I said, utterly surprised and pleased. Sometimes that’s all it takes to make me smile: the kindness of a stranger.
“What are you so happy about?” Paul asked as I sat down next to him with my tea.
“I had a good day with you,” I said.
“I had a good day with you, too.”
We made it home just after midnight, and we were so happy to get into bed that we laughed until we cried.
That’s the thing: if there’s somewhere you want to be, chances are good that you’ll get there… eventually. And as far as my writing, well, that creative bus is crazy. Who knows when it’ll come, but it will come.