If you’ve ever visited New Orleans, you know that when you ask for recommendations of what to see and do, Cafe Du Monde is often at the top of the list. It’s a world famous coffee shop in the French Quarter, dating back to 1862, whose most popular menu items are coffee with chicory* and beignets (aka fried dough covered in powdered sugar). It’s open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, only closing on Christmas Day or for major hurricanes.
CJ and I waited until just before midnight on our last night in New Orleans to fulfill our beignet cravings. Up until that point, it hadn’t felt super urgent, which could be attributed to the long lines full of Mardi Gras goers (ugh tourists, amirite?!), the fact that we’d both eaten there before, or our waning desire to walk away with white, sticky powder covering the front of our clothes. But as per usual, on the last day in a place you feel an intense urge to check off of your list everything you’d previously labeled as a “maybe”.
We’d waited nearly two weeks to go to Cafe Du Monde and decided it would be nice to have a celebratory, goodbye beignet. We arrive and found a parking space right next to the restaurant (miraculous!). CJ is driving and motions for me to get out of the car, but I can’t move. I find myself a paralyzed passenger, unsure of what’s happening to my body. I start wondering if my legs are protesting from being forced to walk too much during Mardi Gras when, suddenly, it happens. I begin to cry. The tears fall fast and continue leaking profusely for several minutes, creating a really cute puffy-faced look. This goes on for a good little while.
If you really know me, you know that I cry a lot. I cry when things are sad, or beautiful, or complicated, or infuriating, and especially if they’re all of those emotions combined. Typically, I can laugh at myself pretty quickly and move on from the cry, but this time was not like that. I sat there and cried my little eyes out as CJ, knowingly, cradled my head and wiped away my tears.
“I’m just so sad,” I said to him emphatically.
“I know sweetie. I know. Me too,” he responded gently.
You see, New Orleans had been pure bliss. The weather was beautiful. Top-notch, live music bounced through the streets constantly. We were reconnected with friends we hadn’t seen in years. Our podcast interviews had been among our favorites so far. We got to experience Mardi Gras for the first time, with people we love. Our tastebuds were in heaven from the bounty of Creole deliciousness on which we’d engorged ourselves. And we were blown away by local visual artists like Brandan “BMike” Odums and musicians like Mia Borders.
It felt natural to be having a hard time with the idea of leaving behind such an amazing place, but this felt bigger than just that.
As everyone who has ever cried knows, when you’re already emotional and bawling your eyes out, that’s really the absolute best time to unleash even more emotion and tears.
Heart blown wide open and eyes already bloodshot, I realized that my sadness was wrapped up in leaving New Orleans for North Carolina. And so I cried some more.
Here’s where you get an update on our project: CJ and I have decided to press pause on the travel portion of our project. We’re back in North Carolina for a while to comb through the hours and hours of audio recordings we’ve collected, to process and write about our experiences, and to find a money tree before we finish out the western US portion of our trip.
It’s bittersweet to be home. On the one hand, being on the road can be really challenging, especially when it comes to managing work and relationship expectations and processing all the transition you’re experiencing. So in that sense, it’s nice to feel like you can breathe a little more deeply, in the way that can only happen when you’re at home. And it’s wonderful to reconnect with your community and eat pupusas from your favorite taco truck. On the other hand, though, traveling is so exciting! You get to see, do, and taste new things all the time, you’re meeting fascinating people, and each day is different than the one before. And in my case, traveling like this, listening to people’s stories, making art and learning how to make a podcast… all of these things are a dream come true. I feel like I’ve finally found my calling, which sounds SO CHEESY, I know. But once you find the work thing that challenges you and brings you joy and uses all your talents, you want to do only that all the time.
And that’s where I’m at. Which is complicated. And layered. And, in general, makes the idea of being back in North Carolina feel kinda painful. <insert heavy sigh here>
So we’re sitting outside of the beignet shop and I’m feeling really &$#%ing sad and I’m realizing that that sadness is wrapped up in my recent past and my not-so-distant future, and I feel stuck. What’s a girl to do? The only option, for me, is to focus on the present moment. So, I dry my eyes, blow my nose, open the car door, step out onto the curb and walk, arm-in-arm with CJ directly to the Cafe Du Monde line where I order three beignets and eat them slowly, appreciative of the brief distraction they’re offering my overactive mind.
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*Chicory, as it turns out, is the root of the endive plant (!!), which is a type of lettuce. Who knew?! It adds the slightest taste of chocolate to the dark roast coffee, and was historically a way to make up for the shortage in coffee. Chicory is roasted, ground, and added to coffee to give it more body and flavor. (http://www.cafedumonde.com/coffee)