Very rarely are James and I in New Orleans for something other than vacation. Decadence (of course). Halloween. St. Paddy’s Day. New Year’s Eve. In 20+ years of making the journey down, only twice have we been there for anything else. Once when the AIA National conference was in NOLA, which included a fun night at Bourbon Pub playing “spot the architect” and a very hungover Larry at an 8 a.m. session trying to focus and rehydrate.

The second occasion occurred just this past week. Again, an architecture conference, except this time I was there as a speaker and not the one that was hungover. My friend/colleague/co-author/editor/partner-in-crime Sarah and I were part of a panel discussion at the American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS) Forum, their annual meeting that brings together students from across the country.

This was the first time attending the Forum for both of us. I was never a part of AIAS as a student, so I wasn’t sure what to expect or who to expect. I know when I was in school, I wouldn’t have met so many (or even any) queer architecture students. Our first day was spent at the expo promoting Out in Architecture and talking with the students who came by. Many of them joined us for the panel discussion on queer storytelling the following day and a French Quarter walking tour co-organized by Chris, another panelist and co-author, and his colleague Kaede. Knowing how many students went out the night before, we were impressed with the number that joined the tour.

However, just talking with queer architecture students about our experiences and answering their questions about what the future holds for them made the conference worth coming home from Key West and turning around to head to New Orleans. That the students we met were actively involved in AIAS and pursuing leadership positions was the icing on the cake. To say we were impressed would be an understatement.

But even better for me?

Sarah had never been to New Orleans, a fact that I had a hard time wrapping my head around. How could you not have wandered your way into the French Quarter at least once? I thought that was a rite of passage for anyone living in the South. Or maybe that was just for me. Suffice to say, she had a much different walking tour than the one on Saturday.

I was able to walk her down a relatively calm Bourbon Street on Thursday night and the not so calm version Saturday evening. Somehow New Orleans isn’t an experience without the crowds and overly loud music before you hit the holy line of demarcation that separates the straights from the gays. (St. Ann if you’re interested, and you’ll understand what I mean immediately.) I took her to a few of my favorite bars and tried not to look embarrassed when the bartenders knew me on sight. She also did quite a bit of walking around on her own and explored some places James and I have never been. 

But better than better?

We both experienced our first Mardi Gras parade Saturday night. Krewe of Joan of Arc is one of the walking parades kicking off the Mardi Gras season. However, the outfits and themes of each group were outstanding and explained the six angels with LED halos we saw in the hotel lobby earlier. For me, the large flying dragon being walked down Chartres was the most impressive.

Someone did chide me for having been there so many times and having never seen a Mardi Gras parade. But I’ve also never been to the AIAS Forum or toured a friend around my version of the French Quarter. Guess there’s always a first time for everything.