Of all the cities on my itinerary for the 2014 running trip, I was most excited to visit New Orleans. One of America’s most unique cities, it is an experience like no other. I visited New Orleans for the first time a year after Hurricane Katrina. At the time, the city was still in shock. It was pretty amazing to see the city almost ten years later after its rebirth. If you’ve never been here, it is a must for your bucket list. Leading up to the trip, I was able to connect with Susanne who rents out her apartment on Airbnb. She was so gracious in hosting me, and her apartment is unbelivable. Directly in the French Quarter on Decatur, just a few blocks from Jackson Square, the apartment had it all. Besides the fun decor, I had a balcony to myself, a kitchen and laundry.
A look at the dining room/kitchen area. The balcony was just outside the window in the distance. A big thanks goes to Susanne and Earl who let me into the apartment. Great people!
After changing into my running clothes, I had a few minutes to walk around Jackson Square before meeting up with Vinny Varisco. The square and adjacent St. Louis Cathedral are breathtaking. Full of tourists and street acts, it’s the place to be.
Another look at St. Louis Cathedral.
At the square, I thanked my great friend and Fraternity brother Sparky Reardon. Sparky has been one of my greatest mentors since I met him way back in 2001. He just retired from his post as the Dean of Students at Ole Miss where he is an icon. I had the opportunity to walk around Oxford, MS last year with Sparky, and it was like walking with a celebrity. There are countless people who would tell you that Sparky has positively shaped their lives. Luckily, I’m one of those guys. Sparky now sits on Phi Delta Theta’s General Council, so I get to work alongside of him now.
Man, I tell you, the absolute best part of my running trips are the great people I meet. I had the great privilege to run New Orleans with Vinnie Varisco, a New Orleans native. I connected with Vinnie through Keri Doolittle who I know through the ALS cause. I initially reached out to Keri wondering if she knew anybody in New Orleans with an ALS tie. What I didn’t expect was that she would connect me with the brother-in-law of former New Orleans Saints’ player Steve Gleason. Many of you may know about Steve Gleason through his battle with ALS and Team Gleason. Steve has become one of the most recognizable individuals in the ALS world and has done amazing things to bring awareness to the disease. His punt block during the first game back in the Superdome following Katrina made him a local hero, and the NFL continues to work with Team Gleason to bring awareness. The connection to Vinnie made my visit extremely meaningful, and I couldn’t have run with a better guy. I learned that Vinnie is a fraternity man (DKE) from the University of Virginia.
You NFL fans may have seen this commercial while watching your favorite game.
Vinnie was kind enough to pass along a Team Gleason running shirt that I will be wearing today in Mobile. I’ll be wearing it with great pride.
Next to Jackson Square is Cafe Du Monde, an icon in New Orleans, known for their coffee and beignets. The place is always packed! Here, I thanked my sister from another mother Haley Abel. I grew up with Haley as her brother Travis is my best bud. Haley and her husband Taylor just welcomed their first child (Ellie) to the world a few weeks back. Tillie and I couldn’t be happier for them! Haley is a nurse in Iowa City.
We ventured over to Bourbon Street, New Orleans’ most famous street. Filled with bars, shops, tourists, and people of all kinds, Bourbon Street offers any kind of trouble you’re hoping to produce! While Bourbon Street may not be my cup of tea these days, it’s always an interesting street to stroll through. Here, I thanked Scott Mietchen, a great friend, mentor and Phi Delt. Scott is a Past President of Phi Delta Theta and is one of the most passionate fellas I know. Scott has done amazing things for the Fraternity and continues to leave his mark with his home chapter at the University of Utah. I still have a magnet at my workspace from Scott that reads “Do something everyday that scares you.” It’s a phrase that has pushed me to do many things that haven’t necessarily been comfortable at the time, but beneficial to my growth.
We then stopped by the Voodoo Spiritual Temple. We got a bit lost, and I’m still not 100% sure that this is actually it, but the architecture of the building was cool enough for a pic to thank my mother-in-law and her husband Rob. I’m extremely lucky to have married into one wonderful family. Rob and Julie are two of the most selfless people I know, and are great grandparents to Cal and Tess. Cal (and the dogs) LOVE the farm where they live, just outside of Winterset, Iowa. Their land is one of my favorite places, sitting up top of a hill looking over beautiful Madison county and just miles from the fabled covered bridges of Madison County. I’m lucky to have them in my life.
Nearby, I also took my picture to represent the French Quarter. The French Quarter is breathtaking and its architecture is one of a kind. Here, I thanked my chapter brother Drew Miller for his donation. If I remember right, Drew’s mom lives in New Orleans, hence his donations for my time in the city. Drew works at John Deere, and I run into him every few years. He’s a class act!
We ran through Downtown towards the Superdome. On the way, we came across a fun little park with a great statue. Vinnie mentioned that the unique building to in the back left of the statue remains empty after Katrina. Nonetheless, it’s one cool building! Here, I thank Brendan Cunningham, a fellow Phi Delt, former colleague and great friend. Brendan and I came on staff at Phi Delt at the same time, and he now lives in Beacon, New York. Based on his pictures, I need to visit! Brendan and his wife Steph are expecting their first child very soon!
The next stop was the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, one of the most impressive stadiums in the land. For those of you who have watched pieces about Hurricane Katrina, you’ll know that the Superdome was a focal point of the time and the recovery. People gathered in the dome to stay out of harm’s way. After being heavily damaged from the storm, it is now pristine. Just outside of the stadium is a statue of Steve Gleason blocking the punt that I mentioned before. It was neat to see this statue, and the Saints have embraced the Gleason family during their fight. To this day, I remember watching Steve block the punt and getting chills. It was a wonderful moment for the city of New Orleans. Vinnie also mentioned that block created the most spilled beer in the history of New Orleans. I questioned his statistical validity of the claim, but I believe him! I took the opportunity to thank Mike Scarlatelli once again.
At the Superdome, I also thanked Drew Miller once again. Such an impressive place.
Just down the road, we stopped at Lee Square for a picture. Here, I thanked Roger & Paula Griffith for their donation. Roger and Paula are my second parents and two of my favorite people. I spent countless hours at their house growing up, and they continue to be very supportive of me. They now have three granddaughters, and stay busy being grandma and grandpa. Roger is an avid biker, and I love hearing about his adventures. He’s been known to ride his bike from the Canadian border to the start of RAGBRAI, Iowa’s famous bike ride across the state, and then ride across Iowa. Some people call him crazy. I call him awesome! We always have a fun time swapping travel stories.
The next stop may have been the highlight of my trip. We ran to the WWII Museum, an impressive collection of buildings honoring those who were involved in the war. My grandfather, who was one of my best friends, trained dogs during the war. You now know where the dog obsession comes from in my family. During his time training dogs, he had many iconic photos taken of him in action. My mother has a collection of the photos and had sent them to the museum a few years back when the museum did an exhibit on dog trainers during the war. While the exhibit is not up today, my mother called ahead to the museum to see if they could pull the book that includes some of them. Katie Odell at the museum welcomed us and had the book with her. I can’t tell her how meaningful it was, and it provided for a great picture. Luckily the sweat running down my face hid the tears. I thanked my wonderful parents who have done so much for me my entire life. They live a mile from us which has been wonderful. They are amazing parents and grandparents, and I love them dearly.
We then ran to the Garden District of New Orleans. It’s an immaculate place in the city, and the homes are gorgeous. Along the way, I thanked the Etler family. Tillie and I are lucky to have April Etler watch our children. She is amazing, and I don’t know how she does it sometimes. The thing that impresses me most about April is that I have never seen her in a bad mood. You put me in a house with six kids for an hour, I’m probably going to be a bit moody. April takes it all in stride and is a wonderful daycare provider. It’s been great to get to know her husband David and kids Austin and Emma. Such a great family!
We ran a number of miles through the Garden District on St. Charles Avenue, which provided for a great running experience. We took advantage of the soft surface and dodged in and out of street cars a bit. We passed so many great places and even stopped for a beer along the way. When in Rome.
Here’s an example of the beautiful houses in the District. I took the opportunity to thank Tyler Cronk. I was supposed to thank Tyler eating a Po-Boy, but I didn’t have the opportunity. It probably wouldn’t have been a great idea during our 8.5 mile jaunt! A few houses down from this picture was the Manning household. You guys probably know them. It was neat to see how their house was right in the mix of things, and Vinnie assured that their privacy is respected by those visiting.
We also passed this fun house, filled with Halloween-inspired skeletons. Each skeleton had a puntastic name, which I appreciated. It was really fun to be in New Orleans around Halloween.
Tulane University was the end of the road where we met Vinnie’s family. Vinnie and his wife Julie have three kids: Charlie, Leah and Rosie. Charlie and Rosie were with Julie, and I thought it was only necessary to get them in the picture. How adorable are these kids?! I’ve traveled a lot with my job, and ever since I started with Phi Delt in 2004, I’ve been on a search to find a souvenir with my wife’s name on it (Tilaine). Because it’s such a unique name, my efforts have never been fruitful. Knowing that we were going to end at Tulane University, I figured that this is about the closest I would get! I also thought it was symbolic to have the kids in the picture as this is going to be us very soon with a six-year-old boy and a four-year-old daughter. What can I say about my wife? She is the best. I’m lucky to have a wife that is so willing to allow me to leave for a week to do these runs. She knows how important it is to me and never bats an eye when I come up with a crazy idea. Tillie is the love of my life and is an amazing mother. I’m sure many men can tell you that the secret to life is to marry an amazing woman, and I definitely lucked out in this category. She’s hardworking, loving, funny, crazy organized and just a wonderful person. Love you Tillie!
Following our run, Vinnie and the family took me to Cochan Butcher, an awesome Louisiana-themed sandwich shop. Wondeful food. When Vinnie ordered a couple Miller High Lifes to celebrate a great run, my respect level went to an even greater level! We even sampled bacon pralines. They are delightful as they sound. The Varisco family dropped me off at my place and we bid adieu. I had a wonderful time with them.
I finished some laundry that evening and called it an early evening. I was the old guy in the French Quarter. The next morning, I packed up, walked around and grabbed some beignets and coffee at Cafe Du Monde before walking to the Megabus stop. While I was supposed to thank Alex Stefanic drinking at hurricane at Pat O’Briens, my old age caught up to me the day before, so I had to settle with a breakfast-inspired thank you. Alex is a former colleague and a Phi Delt from Clemson. He is now in business school at the University of Maryland and is an adviser for the chapter there! Alex and I have had many great times both in Ohio and on the road.
Next stop Mobile, Alabama.