When Surrex goes Marching in

Trip Start Dec 03, 2008
Trip End Dec 07, 2008

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Flag of United States  , Louisiana
Monday, December 8, 2008

Alas! The "Surrex Sales Meeting" I had been hearing endlessly about, had arrived. Surrex is the current company I work for, where I am a recruiter who helps people (chiefly IT) find new opportunities that also meet the client's staffing needs. Every December, they treat the entire organization, regardless of earnings, to a 4-day getaway that involves absolute minimal business. This year's trip was New Orleans, Louisiana, and I was perfectly happy with that. New Orleans is a place I have always wanted to visit, dating back to my road tripping days in college. Although I believe I'm too old now for a hardcore Mardi Gras (25 years old), the city really does not give its tourists the option to not throw down with the best of them.

Boasting one of the best nightlifes I've seen since Las Vegas, New Orleans never shuts down. There were as many people on Bourbon Street at 4:30 a.m. on a Thursday morning as there were at 9:30 p.m. on a Friday evening. My coworkers, whom I had met previously on a vacation to California, were already blowing up my cell phone in attempts to hurry me out on the town. Within 10 minutes of arrival at the J.W. Marriott, I threw down my bags, grabbed a quick shower, and was walking down Bourbon Street for my first impression. The streets were crowded with an interesting blend of college vacationers, homeless folk, picture-happy tourists, and trash bags yet to be properly discarded. "Krystal Hamburgers? I haven't seen one of those in years!" shouted my all-too-excited coworker, who was a frequenter of this establishment while living in Georgia.

We barely made it two blocks before being guided into The Blue Bayou by a member of its wait staff. "Hey guys! In here, in here!" It became so predictable that everyone would repeatedly try to lure you into their place of business. Recalling my days in Cancun, it was comparable to the flea market hustlers grabbing at your arms and declaring how much better and affordable their products were than the neighboring competitors. Fortunately for us, this restaurant was the welcoming taste of Louisiana we were seeking. We quickly stuffed ourselves full of fried shrimp, hush puppies, and crab meat, and polished off each bite with a swig of the many liquors they had ready on tap. An hour and seven cocktails later, the welcoming taste of New Orleans felt more like a welcoming sledge hammer to the head. Later that night, our hotel bar was teeming with new faces of coworkers to whom I've only spoken and never seen. Putting these faces with names was mystifying, making identifying phone-only friends difficult as no one looked how I imagined. After the first night of everyone using liquid bonding mechanisms to ease the awkwardness, it was time to see how nice the bed was. I have to admit, it was pretty comfortable, but that was certainly offset by the earsplitting snoring of my company-selected roommate. Great guy, real personable. Unfortunately for me, he also excelled at sawing logs in his sleep.

On Friday, the company took us on a "scavenger hunt" throughout town. I was glad to get out, as we had been cooped up in the hotel for meetings and presentations all day Thursday. There were ten teams in the company, and our team was called "The Big Easy", quite an apt name when you take into account our bar-hopping shenanigans. Yes, it was relatively effortless gallivanting from bar to bar with the CEO of your company ordering Patron shots for everyone totaling more money than the sum of your bank account. Nevertheless, a scavenger hunt was a great excuse to admire the different architecture around the town. It's amazing to see the true uniqueness that New Orleans has to offer.

The buildings are exactly what make the city so special, I believe. We strolled all through the French Quarter and up to the Riverfront briefly, until we decided that we weren't going to win unless we went to the tourist office and got some clues to the other locations. Some interesting pictures later, it was time for another taste of Bourbon Street. It would take a few more paragraphs to list all the pit stops along the way, including a few places I'd rather not mention. The night finally landed us at the Famous Door Bar, where we played air guitar to the house band's music until about 4:30 a.m. when the place finally shut down.

The final day, Saturday, proved to be a lot more relaxing. Madeline (my Denver office teammate) and I were getting the "tired-of-your-coworker" version of cabin fever, and had decided to go to a local pastry shop for breakfast, followed by a walk around the Mississippi River and past Harrah's Casino. This 4-day trip had begun to feel like we had been there two weeks. I needed a taste of my normal routine, so I retired to the hotel room to watch some college football championship games, especially my team, the Virginia Tech Hokies. It had felt like a month since I got to watch my sports games. My mentality at that point was just to power through one more night that included a cocktail party and a secret surprise our boss had told us was in store. My father would always love to say, "the best surprise is no surprise", and after my childhood, I had adopted that philosophy. I no longer drink two nights in a row, let alone three. So the thought of a fourth consecutive night was about as appealing as getting into the bathtub with a toaster. "Don't leave yet," said my Director of Recruiting, "Mike's surprise has just arrived."

Our party crowd had packed its way around the doorway so all I could see was a nostalgic-looking band and an overweight tuba player. As soon as the music dropped and the marching into our hotel lobby had begun, I realized what was going on. Coincidentally, just the previous week, I had watched an old James Bond movie, "Live and Let Die."

The opening sequence depicts a similar funeral march set in 1970s New Orleans, where the pallbearers are carrying an empty casket throughout the city streets. I remember watching that thinking, "What the f*@$?", and here I am, one week later, with the exact same reaction. Oddities aside, I embraced the tradition, picked up a cocktail, and turned on the good times. Behind the band and pallbearers were two crying wives, and a town crier. The targeted theme was to "bury" all of the negativity the 2008 economy brought to us, and to give praise for all that lie ahead in 2009. The band's soulful music was resonating loudly throughout the hotel, which brought out numerous spectators, including members of the Atlanta Falcons NFL team who were staying at the same hotel and getting ready for their game against the Saints the next day. "Where's that fool, Matt Ryan?!" I kept hollering, in an attempt to agitate my Boston area coworkers (again, I represent Virginia Tech, who had just pummeled Boston College in the ACC title game)! Ah, the beauty of gloating. 

Marching outside, I could not believe it: there were police vehicles already out there blocking off the city streets to clear a path for our march. They closed off quite possibly the busiest street in New Orleans for us, and if that wasn't enough, the police motorcycles led our entire team all the way down Bourbon Street! I suddenly felt a fraction of what Kevin Garnett and the Boston Celtics must have felt earlier this year. Not because I had accomplished an athletic feat, but for the way the patrons of the street gathered around, waving handkerchiefs at us and tossing their beads in celebration. Hell, even the homeless guy took a break from his panhandling duties and joined our crowd for some dance moves. For that night, we had brought glory into the town, and I'd like to think we gave the onlookers something to write home about.

Arriving at Muriel's, I was thrust back in time to my memories of vacationing in France, and visiting the old burlesque houses. The Big Man (boss) had rented the entire upstairs, which included some very plush, deep red couches with more pillows for adornment than those on my grandmother's bed. Seriously? I'll never understand how you can convert a six-person sofa into a solo chair. A wonderful roast beef dinner with seafood and salad was served, and I chose to sit next to coworkers from St. Louis, a respectable office that I had not yet gotten to know. Looking back on the ceremonious night, it strikes me with motivation and happiness knowing that my company, at a time when I felt maybe I didn't deserve it, brought me to New Orleans anyway for a fantastic and memorable experience. Thanks!

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