New Orleans, Louisiana
Day 8


No photoshop here, this is a double exposure that happened on accident. I always thought it caught the spirit of Mardi Gras. Copyright Michael Bencik 1994

One of the most magical cities in the states, if not the world. I wish I could say what makes it so unique, but I have no idea why it stands out above the rest. Could it be the creole, a French and Spanish mix, mixed with a lot of African and Haitian flair. This gumbo makes a vibrant culture that shines in its music, food, and architecture. Or perhaps the fact that they are living below sea level in a swamp, practically next to the sea that adds a level danger to it all. Or its criminal history, being a crazy pirate, smuggler, and slavery port, where anything went for 100s of years kept it wild. I don’t know, and I don’t care, I just love it here.

Copyright Michael Bencik 1994

Copyright Michael Bencik 1994

I have been New Orleans three times now, twice for Mardi Gras, and once around Christmas time. I drove over 20 hours from Columbus Ohio, slept in a car with four dudes in a parking garage, and partied non stop. I got like 4 hours sleep for the three days. It was totally worth it, so great in fact, that I drove from Philly the next year and did it again. Now that I am older and wiser, I would probably opt for a hotel. If you like to party, then this is the city for you.

The first Mardi Gras was on February 26, 1857. Not just at Mardi Gras, there is a festive vibe all year round. My friends Rob and Cathy go every year to the Jazz Fest, which they say is better than Mardi Gras. Then there is the food, which needless to say, it in a class of its own. The beignets that are made all night with powdered sugar are delightful. Spicy specialties like Gumbo, Jambalaya, and Cajun Crawfish. Architecture like the French Quarters’ ornate balconies to the Victorian Mansions of the Garden District. There is even a King and Queen New Orleans. There is something for everyone here.


The King and Queen of Mardi Gras Copyright Michael Bencik 1994


Actor John Goodman, tossing beads and hanging out. You never know who you will meet here. Copyright Michael Bencik 1994

The city makes you do things you never would have dreamed of doing. I was not even in the city for five minutes when an eighty-year-old woman standing on the balcony cajoled me to take my pants off and do a dance for a pair of glass beads. Cheap glass beads and it was damn cold out that night. The only warm clothes I brought was a Dinner Jacket, cause I thought we might be going to high end parties on a budget of 40 bucks a day. But really, back then, nothing stopped us. My buddy Alex danced with his pants down in a box for beads, while Wayne bunny hopped down a bar. Jazz walked down the street with the board game Twister, spinning the dial on Bourbon Street and playing with anyone who wanted to.

It was fun, goofy, and electric. My friends and I made a pact to never to buy our beads, we had to earn them. By time we left we could barely move our heads, we put Mr. T to shame. Sure, woman flash their stuff a lot, but they were not the only ones. There are other great ways to earn money out there too, for example body painting. Having a hundred thousand dollar degree from an art school automatically gets you $10 a face, $15 for boobs, and $25 for anywhere else. I did not get rich, but it did pay for plenty of beer. Sadly, not my loans though.

On Fat Tuesday, the police line their horses up on Bourbon Street, and start a slow march down chasing everyone out. There is nothing like looking at a wall of solid horse flesh with flaring nostrils to get your ass of the street. Just like that, the party is over, the streets are quiet, and the locals begin life normal life again.

It would be criminal for me not to mention the music here. Jazz was invented here, and to this day is the place to be. Jazz clubs are everywhere and amazing musicians work the streets. Even for a non-music aficionado like me I can’t help but be moved by it. Stepping in to a dark smoky club with an old man and his guitar on stage is wonderful down here, and you never know who might be up there.

On once can forget the horrible day when the Levies broke in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and 1, 464 people lost theirs lives. Through out the world people joined together in trying to help in various ways, from benefit concerts to actually going to New Orleans to rebuild. A friend of mine actually drove down to New Orleans to film a documentary, all paid by her and friends. The way people bonded together after the disaster was really inspiring. My friend Rob Staeger and I put together a comic that was part of an anthology from the Baton Rouge Cartoonist Society where all proceeds went to benefit the victims of the Hurricane Katrina.


Baton Rouge Cartoonist Society Katrina Benefit



Baton Rouge Cartoonist Society Katrina Benefit, Copyright Michael Bencik and Rob Staegar 2005

Below is a link to the documentary two of my friends put together for Katrina.
Stories from the Aftermath of a Hurricane

So if you have not been to New Orleans yet, I suggest getting yourself to the airport and have a great time. If Mardi Gras is your thing, you have 62 days from now to get there, its February 17 this year.


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