toastido and I left Nashville, in his little red bitch of a car, at around 6 AM on Friday morning. I had worked the night before and I was bushed. I don't recall all of the trip because I drifted in and out of sleep the entire way. Birmingham, Huntsville and a few other places jumped out at me, a few pit stops for gas along the way... it's all a hazy blur in my adled memory. I've slept since then. I know we were making damn good time. toastido likes to drive with his window cracked a bit, letting the cold air envigorate him. I'm from California (originally, not recently... I haven't lived in Cali since I was 7 years old)- Cali's lasting legacy on me is that cold weather hurts in ways I cannot endure. If it gets below sixty degrees my toes turn blue. I spent most of the trip down to New Orleans tucked away under my trench coat and not caring if a Mack truck ran us off the road or not as long as it was a warm truck.

We arrived in New Orleans in one piece by 2 PM Friday. toastido was getting navigational directions from his cell phone, which led us astray at odd angles. We learned quickly that to drive in New Orleans is to invite death. Inside of 20 minutes we managed to avoid 3 auto accidents. Our first impression of N.O.'s road and ways system was less than favorable. I think the words "New Orleans" "drivers" "shot" "roads" "should be turned into a parking lot" and "Oh, shit!" were screamed a few times- by me. If I didn't actually say them, I was definitely thinking them... and I was just the passenger.

We finally found our way to aphexious and BAR's charming loft apartment (hardwood floors, one-bedroom, cable modem, love seat- that about covers it). I've known both of them for a good while now and I have to say that they've done well for themselves, considering their circumstances. I'm right proud of all they've accomplished in such a short period of time- both independently and together, as a couple. I consider them to be damn fine friends and couldn't think of better hosts.

I wondered how the logistics of me sleeping with them would work out.

It seemed that toastido and I were the first to arrive. BAR greeted us, aphexious was still at work. Details get sketchy here, but I believe that m_turner was next, then c-dawg and finally Indra363. The rest were due to arrive later. m_turner, Indra363 and myself elected to take a stroll down St. Charles Street in search of consumables. Little did I know at the time, but this was to be the beginning of my misery in New Orleans: I ate cheese fries and paid dearly for it for 2 days straight.

Damn my stomach. I wish I had a new one. Can you order replacement organs through the mail? I ain't got much money, but my current stomach has got to go. It's on its last legs (mine).

Gastritis is an ugly, ugly thing for a person to endure. It's especially unpleasant when the patient is far away from home and is already stressed out.

We made a trip over to Templeton's place and met a few of the other noders (the cast was still pretty small at that point). Templeton's new digs are fab-u. From what I've seen of New Orleans, her place is better than decent. Very new and very clean (I suspected that by the time everyone went home, the place wouldn't look so new and clean anymore, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that it held up under the strain- as did Templeton). Upon meeting Templeton I got the impression that she is 1) highly intelligent; 2) easily stressed; 3) very compassionate; 4) nervous as a housecat about large gatherings of people; 5) alone in ways that she doesn't or won't articulate and doesn't like it one bit. I never told her, but I feel a sort of kinship with her. I wish I'd had more of an opportunity to get to know her better and develop a friendship. She is a kick-ass denmother and the man she's with is lucky as hell to have her on his arm. I hope all goes well for them.

I won't go into many more details as I am extremely tired (just got back from work) and I need my rest, but here are some things of note:

Sleeping with aphexious and BAR, who extended the wonderous gift of trust to allow me into their bed. I pray that I honored that trust suitably. I minded my manners and got out of that bed when I felt it appropriate to do so. It was all very innocent.

Bourbon Street is chaos incarnate. I'm not a party-type person by nature, preferring to stay home or be in relatively stable environments. Bourbon Street was totally outside of my routine. It was fun and interesting to step out of my normal world and into a world of the unexpected. I never expected to actually hear the words "Show us yer tits!" outside of a strip club, but on Bourbon Street it's almost as common a greeting as hello and a handshake.

Bayou Bagelry: This place is about the best bagel shop I've ever been to. I went there every morning while everyone else was still sound asleep. I'm not much of a morning person because my schedule rarely permits it, but this was a nice change of pace for me. It was my personal quiet time to think about... well, everything. I enjoyed passing the dog that always barks at everyone else but was somehow aware of my ruined stomach and kind enough to silently watch me as I passed by each morning- to and from.

Voodoo Music Festival: I had to bow out on this early because the bass speakers in every corner of the park area were playing hell with my stomach. I was so unhappy that I missed Better Than Ezra, Bush and Tool that, had my stomach been fine and had I needed to leave for a different reason, I would have likely been sick to my stomach over missing them. I hope the other noders present at that event had a blast. It looked like it would have been more that just "fun."

The Tree of Life: There's this huge monstrosity of a tree in New Orleans called the Tree of Life. When I say "huge" I don't mean it to be taken lightly. I wonder if the tree itself is actually older than the city it resides in. If ever there was a climbing tree, this is it- and then some. I saw this wonderful testament to Nature's bounty with Jurph, toastido, Jason and discofever. Pictures were taken, branches were climbed and mother nature was appreciated. No one apparently knew why it was called "The Tree of Life", but upon reflection I think that the answer is self-evident. That tree is life. Gnarled, knotted, aged, old, thick, mossy, tough, massive and powerful, the Tree of Life is like a 3D/4D picture of life itself. It is experience in a hard world made beautiful. And I'm a guy- I don't say such things needlessly.

My first glass of wine. I've never had wine before because I simply don't drink alcohol. toastido bought some nice stuff (I guess) for aphexious, BAR and Templeton as a thank-you gift before we left. Just before leaving aphexious and BAR's place, we all four (sans Templeton) sat down to sample this wine. It was bitter and dry and wet and sweet and somewhat intoxicating. We drank it out of styrofoam cups and didn't give a damn. Hugs were given and received. Smiles were had all around. It was a good way to say goodbye to good friends. It was a singular experience, but not the start of a trend. I probably won't drink liquor again, but this time it was more than just the exception to the rule. It was practically necessary. I mean, c'mon. New Orleans, friends and wine... they're like a part of the whole package!

Indra363 is a good person to just sit and chat with (so is everyone who made it, for that matter). She, in particular, is exceptionally good at thoughtful silence, which is something I admire and respect in today's youth. I'm only 28, half way past my own youth, but seeing someone in their late teens thinking about something before actually saying it and even showing vast amounts of intelligence, wit and consideration is always impressive. Smart girl and a half.
I have just been informed that Indra363 is actually in her early 20's. Mea cupla. Even so, that does not diminish her sense of maturity one tiny bit.

Indra363, toastido, aphexious and Li_Kao: Guess what?(read the above paragraph carefully). >=D

The 735 Club: Two forms of culture shock were had for me in this place. First, I had my ass grabbed three times by any three out of some 1,000 shirtless, muscled, sweaty gay men- despite the fact that I was wearing a trench coat, cargo pants, sweater and looked patently straight. I've been hit on by men before, but ass-grabbing was something of a shock and not at all appreciated. My heart goes out to women who get their asses grabbed on any kind of frequent basis. Yuck. Firemen and police were called on the scene when someone was felled by some bad drugs (apparently). toastido and I watched the emergency services at work from the outside of the club because we realized that we were way out of our element inside the place. I also went to my first Rocky Horror Picture Show performance here (some thirty minutes after the ass-grabbing incident). I liked the show (especially the girl who played the role of "Magenta"- I know what I want for Christmas now! Her, wrapped in red and green Saran Wrap!), but I probably will never go to another one. It was fun, but it's just not my thing. BAR definitely has his hands full with that place. aphexious did the interior design and she did a kick-ass job. Hats off to her!

The Behind the 8-Ball Club: toastido, discofever and I played pool here for three hours and enjoyed ourselves immensely (I know I had fun, but then again, I won most of the games. >=D ). toastido and I brought our own pool cues from Nashville with us. I already know toastido's playing ability and he's no slouch at billiards, but discofever is a surprisingly good opponent! If you get the chance to play against him sometime, I wholeheartedly recommend that you give him plenty of bank shots- he has a hard time with those.

New Orleans, the city: Bring cash. Credit cards and check cards are accepted in most places, but cash is the preferred method of payment there. I'm not kidding, folks. Without cash in New Orleans, you're screwed. The ATM's slap you with processing fees ranging from $2.50 to $10.00! If your bank doesn't have a branch there, bring cash ahead of time (but don't keep it all on you when you go out- I watched three pickpockets at work while walking down Bourbon Street). The roads, as chaotic as they are, are all level. No hills or valleys to be found in this town. A person could walk all the way across it without really breaking a sweat, it's so flat. The concrete, however, is all built on top of swamp land, so its got pot holes from hell and cracks all over the place. That old myth about "step on a crack and break your mamma's back" thing should be forgotten about when walking in this town. If it were true, millions upon millions of mothers would be in traction for life. It is impossible to not step on a crack in New Orleans. The way they set the roads up is maddening. One-way streets all over the place and maps are totally useless. Driving in New Orleans is daredevil work. I suggest mass transit or taxis or even walking before I would suggest driving on your own... unless I have a particular dislike for you, in which case I would hand you the keys to your car with my blessing.

bozon is the most unassuming person I have met in years. She is quiet and thoughtful and I could see the gears in her head spinning a mile away. She didn't seem all that talkative to me, but she has the look of wisdom and experience. Maternal is definitely a quality I would attribute to her. However brief my time was in her presence, I felt totally comfortable around her. I had always nursed this mental image of E2 gods being impossibly young, overbearing, reactionary and imperical... bozon shattered that for me in about 6 minutes and I thank her for it.

All of the New Orleans noders were fantastic hosts. I thank them from the bottom of my heart for a wonderful time and their gracious patience. They were attentive, resourceful, considerate, kind, generous, friendly and fun to hang out with. They're small in number, but good things come in small packages- so let it be with the NOLA crowd.

As vacations go, I really can't complain about NOLA, stomach issues aside. I had a great time when I could and wouldn't think twice about going back for another visit if ever I can afford it again- I'd go in a heartbeat. Traveling with toastido was a real treat and I'm glad that he's my business partner, friend and fellow noder. I'm sure, as traveling companions go, he's the best friend to take a trip with.

Meeting the 30 some-odd fellow noders was indeed a joy. I haven't mentioned my encounters with all of them, but suffice it to say that it was a lot like being amongst family. Each person is different and unique, which made the entire gathering more than just a memorable experience. I will take it to my grave as a lifefime of experiences packed into five days. In truth, this was my first real noder gathering. It might be some time before I go to another one, but NOLA will definitely hold me over for quite a while to come!

Thanks for a great time, folks! Life truly is richer with good friends to share it with you!