Occasionally something happens on an editorial trip that comes as a complete surprise — even to a seasoned traveler. Sometimes, it’s a pleasant discovery: an unexpectedly amazing meal, a wine aged under the sea. Sometimes, it’s a once-in-lifetime experience you never thought you’d undertake, like ziplining through the Andean rainforest. But every once in a while, something happens for which you are completely unprepared.
So it was on my recent trip to New Orleans, where I was staying at the Hotel Peter and Paul. I’d spent the day wandering around the French Quarter and had purchased a little notebook from Papier Plume on Royal Street. When I returned to the hotel for a free tour of the property, which is given five days a week, I thought, “I’ll use my lovely new journal to take a few notes.”
Our tour was led by the formidable Miss E., a former NOPD homicide detective, of all things, who now provides security for the hotel and gives tours of the property. Miss E. had rules. Don’t try to pronounce her name, she said, because she “wouldn’t want you to be on her bad side” by getting it wrong. She also didn’t want you to stand behind her: “It’s a cop thing,” she announced. As she explained the place’s history, we were kept in line, listening closely. Here was the former cafeteria, there was the place the nuns lived; here was furniture bought on a buying trip through Europe, there was the hand-painted armoire. As I quietly jotted notes amid a crowd of about 15, Miss E. suddenly turned and barked at me: “WHO ARE YOU?” With everyone staring, all I could muster was a pathetic “Who, me?” Miss E. was undeterred: “Yes, you! I see you taking notes over there, and if you write for a newspaper or magazine, I need to know NOW!” As I stared at her, I thought: “To whom do I owe the truth, this tour guide or our readers?” The answer was easy. I shyly muttered, “I’m just taking notes.”
She continued her spiel while I wondered, “How would this tour be different if she knew I was a writer?” As she ended her talk, I sidled next to her on the way out and tried a jovial approach: “I wouldn’t want to be with you in an interrogation room!” I told her. It wasn’t working. She responded curtly: “Well, that’s what I do.” Then she looked me up and down with the most damning side-eye I’ve ever seen and said: “But you’re just taking notes.”
I must commend Miss E. on her instincts as a detective, but not her approach to a guest of the hotel. Clearly, she had forgotten that she was no longer a police officer in pursuit of crime. In reality, she was a tour guide, and I was a writer. And despite being rather intimidated, I would continue to do what I do.