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Doors that Open for You

I’m not really a sports guy.

If someone is watching sports on TV, I’ll likely go in the other room and read. If I’m invited to watch a game live, I’ll usually pass, opting to do just about anything else instead. And yet, just a few days ago, I gladly walked a handful of blocks from the Hotel Modern here in New Orleans to the local NBA stadium, eagerly anticipating the game and pre-game festivities.

Granted, the walk was led by a bull-like, dancing man dressed in bright red regalia like a some kind of sassy Native American shaman, and the pre-game festivities involved a talk by, and Q&A with, the president of the New Orleans Hornets. We were also served many drinks and countless foodstuffs.

It was a good sell. Although I was tired beyond belief, I still had a good time, and that speaks volumes about how the event was presented and delivered.

A handful of months ago, I was contacted by a representative from a group called NOLA Bound, and was asked if I would be interested in putting my name in the running to be brought to New Orleans for four days, all expenses paid, so I could check out the town, meet local tastemakers and influencers, and see how the city’s been developing in the wake of Katrina and everything that has happened since.

I didn’t think much of it until I received an email a few months later, informing me that I had been chosen: where should they send the plane tickets? At that point I had already planned the outlines of the US road trip I’m currently on, so I set New Orleans as my halfway point, thinking that it would be a nice break if nothing else. A free bed and some free food in the land of excess. A nice way to rest after bussing around half the US.

I was wrong on one count. I didn’t get much rest.

Thankfully, the tradeoff was worth it. Twenty-six influential folk from various industries (medical, sustainability, digital media, artistic endeavors) and I were treated to more food than we could eat, more hands than we could shake (all attached to amazing people), and more activities than we could possibly undertake. I tried to catch shut-eye, and still I ended up with a great deal of sleep debt piled up next to the business cards and swag I accumulated during the multi-day event.

We had our own tent (and food and drinks) at a music festival. We had box seats at the Hornets game. We ate at some fabulous restaurants and hobnobbed with the owners. We attended a gala at the home of a jazz legend, and another at a movie studio. We were given passes to entrepreneurial events and access to some of the biggest names in business and tech in the area.

We were also given free reign to ask whatever we liked, and were tasked with figuring out what New Orleans has to offer people like us. There was a charming honesty about the whole situation: the people showing us around knew they were in an echo chamber, and although they felt things were improving, they wanted feedback on what they could be doing better, and how they could frame their city’s story so that creative, intelligent folk from around the world would want to settle there.

I, for one, feel that the area has quite a bit to offer. Rent is cheap and hopes are high. It’s not flashy and the entrepreneurial scene is definitely not as big as it is in, say, Silicon Valley or NYC, but it’s got a certain charm. It’s kind of like seeing a town full of bootstrappers after hanging out with only VC-chasers for years and years.

Traveling the world, I’m fortunate to meet welcoming people everywhere I go, but that’s partially because I’m loud about my arrival, and my network is expansive enough that I can generally get in touch with someone right off the bat. This makes meeting people easier, and a friend of a friend is a friend. But this is trickier if you don’t already have contacts available.

Part of what fascinates me about New Orleans is that the people who live here seem to be that way to everyone. Whether on a tour or walking around solo, even through ‘bad’ parts of town, I had trouble finding anyone who didn’t say ‘Hey!’ or tell me that I should definitely go to some upcoming parade. It’s a variation of the ‘Southern Hospitality’ concept, but distinctive from it in that rather than being blindly welcoming, it’s more like the people are trying you on for size, wanting to see if you’re a good fit to be their next neighbor.

In this way, New Orleans is the perfect midpoint for this road trip, as we’ve met amazing people all along the way, and explored a lot of fantastic cities, all of which had something great to offer. New Orleans is no different, except that in looking around you can’t help but feel the same way. You’re trying it on for size, seeing if you’re the right type of personality to live in such a place. If you have the balls and personality to bootstrap your whole lifestyle.

I’m hoping my path crosses with New Orleans again in the near-future. I’m not ready to settle down anywhere, but it would be fun to have a small house somewhere so that when I want to take a break I can hide away and sleep (and not on a bus). Someplace I could rent out when I’m not there, maybe, or just loan out to friends who are passing through. Maybe it could double as an office and I could hire a few people to work on various projects and situate them there, as they do have favorable tax laws…

You see what happens? The combination of at-home-vibes, cheap real estate, and a political system doing all it can to get doers to the area is magnetic.

I don’t know that I would ever have seen this side of New Orleans if I hadn’t been invited to participate in the NOLA Bound program, and if I hadn’t been introduced around to people who already live and work in the area. It’s not that you can’t find that same information yourself, it’s just that you have no reason to guess it’s there.

The doors were opened for me, though, and because I was invited in and shown around, now I see the city in an entirely different way. I can’t help but wonder if the same method would work for other cities, other countries, or even other people?

Open your doors, invite people in, and see what kind of response you get. Invite people to watch the game as you play it, and even non-fans will take the opportunity to see how you play.

Update: February 16, 2017

This was such a wonderful experience, though I regret that I was so exhausted almost the entire time I was there. I enjoyed what I participated in, but I missed out on probably 50% of what happened, because I was so zonked from my roadtrip. Something I haven’t allowed myself to acknowledge until recently is that frantic jumping around from place to place absolutely accrues a sleep and energy debt that impacts one’s experience of wherever one lands. It’s survivable, but not ideal, in most cases.