Last July, I took a girls’ trip to New Orleans to attend Essence Music Festival. The trip was months in the making. Well, years actually. I’d been wanting to attend Essence Music Festival for over ten years. Year after year and month after month as an Essence magazine subscriber I’d be taunted by multi-page ads about artist line up, vendors, and workshops. As a subscriber to the e-newsletter I received weekly, if not daily emails telling me to get my tickets to the three-day event held over the Fourth of July weekend.
After the festival was over, the publication ran articles and posted pictures of smiling groups of fashionable black women making lifelong memories. I could be one of those smiling black women, I thought to myself every year. Before much time lapsed, Essence already began to announce confirmed artists for the next festival just shy of a year away.
When my cousin in Los Angeles called to tell me that she and a friend with her friends were going to Essence Festival, I invited myself. I did it half-jokingly, to mask my sadness and hurt that she would be making the trip without me. Like me, she’d been wanting to go for years, but unlike me, at least I don’t think, she didn’t want to go as much as I did.
Making the trip was easily in the Top 10 of My Life To Do list. There were times when I talked about it non-stop and even attempted to make plans for a solo trip. Every year I flooded her inbox and texted her whenever I learned an artist we both loved would be performing. Prince! Beyoncé! Jill Scott! Mary J. Blige! Usher!
We talked about going together, but agreed that if one was able to make the trip without the other, be it with a group of friends or a significant other, then she would make the trip. Honestly, I thought it would’ve been me. I thought if she were to make a girls’ trip it would be to another destination.
She didn’t acknowledge my blatant plans to crash. The next day I received a text from an unknown number. In the mass text of at least ten people only my cousin’s number was identifiable. The sender introduced herself to us all as the organizer. She gave an estimated per person cost for an Air BnB and the date that to send her a check to secure a spot in the house.
The text gave me pause. One would think the decision would be a no brainer, but A) even though I’d never stayed at one, Air BnBs gave me the creeps and B) the thought of sharing a house with a bunch of strangers—women, no less—did not appeal to me.
But this was Essence Music Festival! A dream deferred for over ten years! It was on the bottom left corner of my vision board!
The vision board was working. I didn’t spell out how I wanted to get to Essence Festival. I simply put down that I wanted to go. The universe provided a way that I never would have imagined. I could not stare this gift horse in the mouth.
I muted the voices in my head that told me my credit card balances were too high and that this was one trip I could not afford to take. Also on deck were a Memorial Day trip to Vegas, my birthday trip to Philadelphia, a trip to Florida for my niece’s college graduation and a trip to Canada for my cousin’s first child’s baptism.
I’m the queen of making a dollar out of fifteen cents. Robbing Peter to pay Paul is a way of life for me. Shortly before the due date to send in our share for the house rental, I grabbed a blank peacock notecard from a box, wrote a thank you note to my cousin’s friend, inserted a check and mailed them to her in California. I used my good ol’ tax return to buy my roundtrip plane tickets and tickets to all three days of the festival.
I lied to myself saying I wouldn’t shop for the trip, but shop is what I did. I wanted to be one of those fashionable black women photographed for the magazine and site. Being deathly allergic to shellfish, I called my doctor for a new EpiPen prescription, and also bought a box of Benadryl. A few days before my flight, I got my locs retwisted at the hair salon and got a gel manicure at the nail salon. I packed snacks, tea, magazines and my journal.
The New Orleans heat slapped me in the face before I had a chance to completely walk through the airport doors. I definitely was not in
Kansas New York anymore. I could not believe I had made it to New Orleans aka Nawlins aka NOLA!
Memories of oppressive heat, tastiness of alligator sausage po boy, sweetness of Hurricane drink, fluffiness of beignets with powdered sugar from Café du Monde, rowdiness of the people on Bourbon Street, and being exhausted each night for three consecutive nights after singing and dancing to over six hours of live performances at the gigantic Mercedes-Benz Superdome still make me teary-eyed and giddy. To think they’d still be wishes if I hadn’t had the gall to invite myself on my cousin’s trip.