by Guest Blogger Melanie V. Ramil (Sister of “Young Man”)
I had the great pleasure of joining my brother along his continental adventure in the great city of New Orleans. It was both an excuse to spend time with him and to explore a new city which I had yet to visit, and an opportunity for me (finally) to treat him to a vacation as his long overdue college graduation gift. To recount his New Orleans leg, he has bestowed upon me the honor of guest blogger of entry #19 to share our days there together. Enjoy!
August 11 – 14
New Orleans, LOUISIANA (aka, NOLA, Crescent City, The Big Easy)
Some things never change. My flight landed at MSY in New Orleans at 11pm, a surprising 30 minutes before our stated arrival time. I had confirmed with my brother days beforehand that he could pick me up from the airport, and I made sure to send him my flight information so he knew exactly what time I would be arriving and on which airline. Excited, I texted him, “Just landed! Got here early.”
His response? “I just paid cover at a bar and the band is still setting up. Can I stay for a few songs?”
Little brother strikes again. For any and all birth order theories claiming that responsibility and organization belong to the first born, and that the carefree and laid back among us are the last born, my brother and I are their poster children.
It was my first night in NOLA and I had not seen my Bubs for awhile, so Ate (Tagalog word for “older sister” and term of endearment, so I assume, my brother used for me) was going to be nice. I texted back and said he can listen to a few songs, but “please don’t leave me here all night.”
On his way to the airport, he gets lost following the wrong directions. Once my little brother actually follows the correct directions and makes it to the airport, its 1am and I had been waiting at the airport for nearly 2 hours.
After we valet park like pros at our hotel, I laughed aloud as soon as I saw my brother. He walked into our quasi-fancy hotel wearing a huge traveler backpack, lugging a ukulele in one hand a bag of dirty laundry in the other. I feel like I had picked a hobo off the street and offered him a warm place to sleep for the evening.
I love my little Bubs with all my heart, so I just had to laugh at all the scenarios that had played out during our first night together. They seemed all too familiar from our 24 years together as brother-sister – I was convinced that some things just never change.
The next day we set out to explore the city, primarily as gastro tourists. We started out with the muffuletta (a sandwich of salami, pepperoni, ham, provolone and a marinated olive salad) and then roamed the famed French Quarter and Bourbon Street. During this walk, I concluded that Bourbon Street is best experienced at nighttime. Large hurricane drinks from a sidewalk stand and girls in gold thongs may be part of the Bourbon Street allure, but only serve to bare their sadness during the day.
As we walked and ate Café du Monde beignets (of course), my brother shared with me his adventures over the last months – Kentuck Fried Chicken buffets, more-than-hospitable Couch Surfing hosts and the gems of cities small and large. I was excited to listen to it all and even more proud that my little brother – the once seemingly mute baby boy that clung to my mother during family gatherings – was independent, adventurous, spontaneous, and even an inspiration to some. Our little cousin Jordan shared with me that after college he wanted to travel like Anthony because “he was living life more than anyone he knew.” I beamed at that statement and shared his sentiments with my Bubs as soon as I could. I’m not sure I would have predicted someone saying that about my little Tony-Bones years ago…
Later that evening, we joined the masses and enjoyed fried alligator, crawfish po’boys and beer while taking in a pre-season Saints game. I figured that, if there was anything NOLA-ish to do at this moment in time, it was to surround ourselves with proud Saints fan donned in black and gold shouting, “Who dat! Who dat!”
As the hundreds of times before, we started debating something (topic irrelevant) and little brother got frustrated with me. All of a sudden, we reverted 20 years and I was Older Sister Bully who had just told him he was adopted and made him cry (shamefully, I admit to such an act). I felt bad of course, but also succumbed to the role I knew in this dance, the stubborn one who was always right, and frustrated once again by his sensitivity. I guess even our little sibling rivalry had remained, 24 years and going strong.
Like we do, we toned it down, brushed it off and enjoyed a fun evening out with his friends. We celebrated his old college friend’s roommate’s girlfriend’s little sister’s 21st birthday (which was very different than the 30th birthdays I’ve been celebrating of late) with the famous/infamous New Orleans’ hurricane. It is the equivalent of the “jungle juice” of my experiences, a sweet, juice-like drink that creeps up on you and which, I assume, causes many to do that of which “what happens in NOLA, stays in NOLA.”
The next day, we were overjoyed – we had found NOLA. We found the spirit and soul of the city, and finally felt the essence of the place and all it had to offer: its music, Creole-inspired culinary treats, heart, history, pain and pride. We started the day off with a walk to Treme and an awe-inspiring visit to the New Orleans African American Museum (did you know that Treme was the country’s first neighborhood of free people of color?!). Our time in Treme was marked by a side of my brother I had always known and admired: his all-encompassing and wildly enthusiastic desire to learn every single detail, fact and anecdote about something of which he is passionate/intrigued/interested. As he spouted details and dates of the historical markers we passed, most of which were learned from the HBO show “Treme” and then Wiki-researched later on, it reminded me of all the “loves” (obsessions?) of his life. The time he spent transcribing Will Smith’s songs and reading his biography, the money he has spent collecting Stars Wars figures and buying books that detailed the history beyond what most Star Wars fans know, and the energy he has put into learning every theory, thought and historical detail about Mars and our ability (as humans, not as “my and my brother’s”) to exist there.
Later, his excitement exploded as we stumbled upon (figuratively, as we were just sitting, listening to a jazz band and eating gumbo at the time) a second line, an impromptu brass band parade and tradition that seems to be the thing that at once captures everything New Orleans. He jumped into the parade, danced and earned his beads (no, he did not flash anyone). Of course, before this trip, he had researched the tradition, knew the lingo and shared the historical context; it was his one wish for this trip and it had come true – it was a good moment with my brother, the passionate and excited Bubs I’ve always known. We ended that wondrous day with a night on Bourbon Street, completely captivated, at times grossed out and overly-stimulated by everything going on around us. We were stoked to have found a lively bar with a jammin’ jazz group and danced the night away…that is, until Ate headed back, worn and beat, and little brother stayed out with his buddies until the wee morning hours.
On our last day together, despite an empty wallet and full stomach of everything fried and Creole, I was sad to see the end of this trip with my brother. As we enjoyed our last lunch together (jumbalaya and red beans and rice), we entered shaky territory as the sibling-rivalry debates heated up again. This upset me being our last day together and I started to tear up. I think this may have softened us up a bit because we started to share, for maybe the first time ever, those things we do to each other that just get under the other’s skin. It was the type of conversation I routinely force my boyfriend to do, those ones about “feelings” so we openly communicate, blah blah blah. Oddly enough, as I had thought in that embarrassing public display of emotion, I have never had this productive kind of dialogue with my brother. We shared with each other why we get hurt or frustrated in those instances and then, unlike every time before, we both listened. In rare fashion, instead of getting defensive, we strove to understand the other’s point of view and asked the other what we could do differently in the future. It was touching and refreshing and wonderful and new (and yes, emblematic of the Nickelodeon after-school specials we used to watch together). Maybe my brother and I were growing up, and maybe – some things do change.
We finally said goodbye – and after I slipped him some cash to help him make it to the end of his road trip (hey, baby steps people) – we parted ways. Older sister was heading back to work and younger brother was on his way to the next destination along his once-in-a-lifetime, life-changing, post-college tour and exploration of self (so I assume). I’ll never forget our trip together – not only our delicious and educational exploration of this beautiful and storied city, but of the time my brother and I grew up together in our own little rare and beautiful moment.