Where Cool Moms Take Their Teens on Spring Break
Debbie Graf’s love affair with New Orleans all started with a hippie-drummer boyfriend. His band had a piano on wheels that they would roll onto Royal Street and fill the humid southern air with ragtime melodies. As passersby tossed loose change and dollar bills into open guitar cases, Debbie felt completely alive.
“That was my first introduction to New Orleans, and I fell in love with it,” says Debbie with a hearty laugh. “Now, it might be my retirement plan!”
These days, Debbie’s performances primarily happen in the classroom, where she incorporates guitar and song into her third-grade curriculum. Debbie, a public school teacher of 29 years, fantasizes about moving to The Big Easy after retirement and subsidizing her recently controversial teaching pension with busking money. As a brand new teacher 28 years ago, Debbie packed up her guitar and drove her beat-up car, covered in Grateful Dead stickers, to New Orleans for her first spring break as a new teacher. She spent the week earning extra cash performing on the street in high-tops and tie-dyed shirts. For her most recent spring break Debbie returned to her favorite city, this time with her 18-year-old daughter in tow.“I’ve taken my kids to the beach, and it is so relaxing to read your book in the sand, but New Orleans brings you alive. If I’m someplace else, I just don’t have as much fun.”
Debbie has taken her teenagers to New Orleans several times and recommends doing so. “You know, they’re going to see all that goes on there eventually. It’s better that I’m there with them so we can talk about it,” Debbie says. But this past spring break it was just a girls’ trip. The two both enjoy music and culture, art, and a great party. Debbie says that taking her daughter didn’t dampen the festive mood of the city. Only one time did they argue and, for the most part, her daughter was allowed into most venues. She recommends going to see most of the bands during weeknights, as bars are more likely to allow in underage guests. There didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason as to which bar would card and which bar would not, even if they served food, so being flexible was the key.
But the street music is available to everyone all the time — and it is still Debbie’s highlight when visiting this rich city. This year, she sang a duet of Blueberry Hill with a street musician. “Most people request buskers to play a song, I request to sing along. I think he was surprised that I could harmonize!” Debbie always carries a fanny pack filled with cash in multiple denominations. Ones are great for quick tips, fives for performances where you stay a while, 10s for CD purchases (Debbie’s go-to souvenir), and 20s for art pieces from Jackson Square.
The mother-daughter duo also partook in the amazing array of cuisine New Orleans has to offer: beignets, pastries, BBQ, Cajun, French, and Creole. They rented bikes for a day and toured all the neighborhoods from Treme to the Bywater. They shopped in The Marigny, rode the St. Charles Streetcar, and toured the Degas and Dr. Bob’s art museums.
And on the drive home, with the windows down and the music from their trip blaring from the car’s CD player, the mother and daughter drove back from spring break feeling completely alive.
Where to Stay
- Maison Dupuy located on Toulouse and Rampart: This was Debbie’s second time staying there. It is within walking distance of all the action and has a lovely pool and courtyard, which Debbie recommends for travel with teens. The respite and ability to cool down with a swim have saved several trips to New Orleans.
What to Pack
- Comfortable and stylish shoes. New Orleans is completely walkable, but the streets are dirty and hot. Debbie brought a stylish pair of nude Steve Madden slip-on sneakers that could be worn with shorts or a dress.
- A fanny pack filled with cash. The pack is better than a purse because you want to have your hands free to pick up art, eat/drink, and dance.
- A book about the city. This year Debbie read French Quarter Short Stories on her trip, and each story inspired a new adventure for the day. She found Croissant D’Or Patisserie after reading about it that morning and was able to make connections from history throughout her day.
Debbie’s suggestions for The Big Easy
- Rent bikes. “The freedom on a bike is priceless. It’s easy to pull over if you see something interesting; when you’re in a car you miss so much.
- Rent Segway scooters. On a prior trip with Debbie’s son, the whole crew became grouchy in the foreboding heat, but a Segway tour fixed everyone’s mood. “We felt like stars with a parade and laughed the whole day about it.”
- Dr. Bob’s Museum of Art
- The Garden District. Debbie took a three-hour, guided walking tour. “Our tour guide was like an encyclopedia. I learned about the neighborhood’s Irish history. They have huge St. Patrick’s Day parades where they throw potatoes at people. That will be my next visit!”
- St. Charles Streetcar. Debbie’s tour guide recommended riding on this free public transport as a way to hear all the local dialects of the region.
- Act like a local. That means you laugh and dance and don’t go to Bourbon Street.
- Don’t go to Bourbon Street with kids. “There were these terrible dog acts that made me want to rush over and snatch the dogs and rescue them. It was very sad.”
- Tour the cemeteries.
- Do research by reading novels or watching shows set in the city. Debbie loved Treme as a way to deepen her knowledge about the culture.
- Make reservations. Many of the big-named restaurants were reservation only.
- Cafe Amelie for dinner.
- Cafe Du Monde for beignets.
- Jackson Square to buy art, and buy art and CDs as souvenirs as a way to support local artists. “If we want it to still be there, we have to support it.”
- Napoleon House restaurant. “It was like stepping back into a sepia photograph except you could write on the walls.”
- For barbecue. The Joint in Bywater (Debbie says it was the best barbecue she’s ever had.)