Sunday, October 2, 2016

Travel Anxiety - New Orleans



I can't disguise my tourist appearance.
I'm covered in it, like a thick layer of "HEY I'M A TOURIST" tar. 

The huge camera. 
The constant checking of google maps. 
My facial expressions range from delighted (eyes wide, mouth open, the colourful houses, the neon signs, the band playing in the street) to falsely confident, truly concerned. By the people sizing me up on the street. Noticing me, noticing my huge camera, my small size, my distinct lack of companion.

People keep stopping me, asking me where I'm from, asking me for a dollar, asking me what I'm taking pictures for. One man says "you should get someone to take a photo of you taking a photo!" He tells me about how he saw me taking a photo, and it looked picturesque. One man says "do you want to take my picture?" And he poses. I tell him what I tell my autistic brother when I don't want to do something: 
"Maybe later".

One man says he'd "like to get to know me".
Further down the street another man asks "was that guy bothering you?"
I want to reply "you're all bothering me."
But what I said was: "no he's fine".

It's 30 degrees Celsius at 7pm.
I slept 4 hours last night. 
I have my period
(oh yes I know we're not supposed to talk about these things, pretend they're not really happening…)
But it's obvious my current state is affecting my ability to enjoy myself.

Whilst my stomach cramps have subsided from the 'close to tears on the subway' level yesterday in New York, they are still there, pestering me. I knew I would get my period on my travels and I'm actually kind of glad it didn't come when I would be at the hot air balloon festival.

Last night at the comedy cellar the host said "hot air ballooning is the whitest thing you can do". Then an African American uber driver named Wayne told me that his hobby is scuba diving. He booked a scuba diving trip to Seychelles, and the trip started with a hot air balloon ride over Kenya. He was excited to go, but then Hurricane Katrina happened.

He tells me that he just moved back to New Orleans from Virginia. He says he's just doing this (driving for uber) until he joins the police academy in 2 months. We chit chat about that for a bit. He's from an I.T and comms background. He tells me he's 45.

I ask what brought him back to New Orleans.
His mother was not doing so well. 
I immediately say "I'm sorry to hear that" and think about the phrase "sorry to hear that" like the subtext is "I wish I hadn't heard that, and now I feel sorry for myself, because I created this awkward situation I'm in" but I also think I said it kindly and casually, and I think of all the things to say, it's probably not that bad. It's better than "bummer". Which I'm pretty sure I've said in response to a serious situation… he seems cool about it. He tells me he got divorced in March. I say "it sounds like there have been a lot of big changes in your life his year!" He kindly laughs and agrees with me. I like him a lot. He helps me carry my bags to my hostel. I give him 5 stars.

I think my waiter asks
"You doing alright?"
and I say yes, but he actually said "Dyou wannanother?" so he takes my drink and refills it. 
I asked for lemon lime and bitters. 
He didn't know what that was, but he made it anyway. There's a lot of lime. I like that.

I'm not a confident care free person.
I hate myself for not being easy going.
It's so sexy, going with the flow.
You know what's not sexy? 
Wanting to stay indoors for at least 5 hours during the day.

I feel better after I've eaten. The restaurant was so cold and the balmy temperature feels good. I walk a little too close to nice looking groups of people on the street. I'm trying to look like I'm "with" them. Two women notice my close presence, they think they're blocking my path and politely move aside to let me pass. I confess I just didn't want to look like I was walking alone. 
The people here are so nice, I just can't handle the interactions sometimes. Also not EVERYone is nice….

Is it possible to be pleasant and stand offish at the same time?

I get back to the hostel. Some people invite me out to see a show. I decline.

The next day I force myself to go out. 
I allow myself an easy morning, then I book a swamp tour for the afternoon. 
It is touristy and delightful.

When I get back I tell myself I have to go and photograph Frenchman Street at Sunset. 
This takes courage and energy that I'm struggling to access.

But I go.
I walk out of the hostel and walk approximately 20 metres. 

I see people on the streets. 
Asking for a dollar. Looking at me. Noticing my camera. My size. Distinct lack of companion.

I go back to the hostel.

The young man behind the desk gives me an unimpressed look. I later learn that's just his face. 
He introduces himself to me and says I should go to jazz in the park. It's free, and he'll go with me,

I agree.

I tap in to a special reserve of false confidence that I keep for when I have to interact with people and I need them to like me (So I don't get murdered, or worse, have to sit in awkward silence) I think it works. I don't mention how scared and tired I feel all of the time, so that's a plus.

The singer in the jazz band has a beard that blows in the wind and it's his birthday. In the crowd a man has a hand puppet of a giraffe wearing a party hat on, The giraffe dances separately to the man.

After this we get dinner. 
I try an oyster for the first time. 
It just tastes like sauce and slime?
I don't gag, but I also don't see the appeal. 

We go back to the hostel and everyone is out on the deck. 
There are 2 people from Melbourne, one person who lived on the Sunshine Coast for a few years, and someone from Sydney. Straya.

I agree to vodka?

Later, after more vodka, rum, and something called 'fireball', one of the people I met the day earlier at the hostel tells me "I thought you were boring when I first met you, but you're alright" and I wanted to drop dead.

We go out. We see more jazz. We dance. There's an artist market. I find a bucket of chalk and start squiggling on the concrete. What I draw doesn't look very good but I'm having a nice time so I don't care. An absolutely gorgeous woman tells me she thinks I'm pretty, and I wasn't sure if she was serious. My brain went into instant overdrive - Is that just something drunk girls are supposed to say to each other? Is it a joke? What do I do? Run away? Laugh? I command myself to stop thinking about it immediately and say thank you.

At 4am we go back to the hostel.
The following day I find myself at the airport headed to Albuquerque to be surrounded by hot air balloons, I leave New Orleans with a peculiar sense of achievement.
Even though I'm struggling to keep my anxiety in check, with all the moving around and weird sleeping patterns, I'm getting around just fine. 
The after affects of alcohol always wreak havoc on my usually well maintained psyche, which is the reason I avoid it in the first place, but I know it will pass. 

2 comments:

  1. I enjoyed this thoroughly! Five stars, Bekky.
    Five stars for excellent writing and five stars for writing style. So, ten stars, maybe 15. This is Victoria today: wind, allergies and bulldogs everything.
    (Canadian Tara living in Straya).
    ps - I went to Fitzroy and found Mile End bagel shop and thought Bekky might like this/probably likes this. Are you all bagel-ed out?

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    1. That's the most stars I've ever gotten! Oh sneezy breezy afl-eezy Victoria. Classic.
      (Australian Bekky, currently in Albuquerque).

      p.s I WILL NEVER BE BAGELED OUT. NEVER.

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