My 10th Mardi Gras trip began on Wednesday, just 3 days after I flew home from my 22nd trip to New Orleans while there for the Dad 2.0 Summit.  While staying for the days in between would have been fun, my law practice and my health demanded that I spend 2.5 days at home and in the office.  I landed in time to register for my trial lawyers’ conference and attend a happy hour plus dinner at Pigeon & Prince, which provided great food and great conversations with lawyers from Alabama who, like me, love the Tide and were at the national championship game a few weeks ago.  Afterward, I thought I was meeting up with some friends at Cat’s Meow, but instead I found that I was at Cat’s Meow with a bunch of strangers, so I was not enticed to sing karaoke on my first evening in New Orleans, and instead I decided to start walking back to the JW Marriott, but I saw a place I’d heard of called The Dungeon and went in there for long enough to figure out I didn’t necessarily wish to stay there, as my attire and sobriety did not fit in, so I headed back to the hotel, so that I could rise early and attend my conference, which was an odd thing to do in New Orleans, but I was glad I did on Thursday morning.

For lunch on Thursday, I went with my North Carolinian friend Sean (and a couple of his Tarheel friends) to Toups Meatery, which was meaty and awesome.  That afternoon, we went to the patio at Pat O’Brien’s, like we trial lawyers have done the previous 8 years I’ve attended this conference, and it was great to enjoy the nice weather, live brass band, and atmosphere once again (complete with fire fountain!).

That night, my friend from the Air Force, Lauren, got a bunch of us reservations at Emeril’s Delmonico for another excellent dinner on the parade route, so we got to experience the scenery, company, and the food while enjoying a piano player and lots of impromptu singalongs during dessert.  After dinner, we went to LOA for a couple hours, the Ritz club level lounge, Pat O’s again, and Cat’s Meow (where I sang my favorite Poison cover) before hitting the hay about 3:30am.

The next morning (Friday) after class, we had charbroiled oysters at Drago’s, which was so delicious I needed 2 dozen to myself.  Then I went by Jean Lafitte National Historic Park to get a cancellation for my national parks passport book, followed by Napoleon House (where it was imperative to have a Pimm’s Cup or 2), the Chart Room, Tropical Isle (so Sean could have his first hand grenade), and then our conference balcony party at Galatoire’s (followed by dinner at the restaurant below)–a great way to spend Friday night before Mardi Gras.

Later that evening, I went to the Gold Mine and Cat’s Meow with some new friends before turning in about 2am.

On Saturday, I decided I’d had all the trial classes I could stand and struck out by myself into the French Quarter, having lunch at Coop’s Place before watching the Iris and Tucks parades before riding to the airport for a 4pm flight home.  I did, of course, make time for meeting new friends on Bourbon Street and getting plenty of beads for the children to toss into our Mardi Gras tree before hitting the Delta Sky Club, however.

As so ended another trip to New Orleans, likely my last one for a while, as next year’s conference is going to be a week earlier than its usual weekend-before-Fat-Tuesday date, and I’ll be in San Antonio for the 2019 Dad 2.0, so I’m glad I went twice this year!  That said, I will certainly strive to find another occasion to revisit my favorite dining destination as soon as possible, whether that be at Mardi Gras or another weekend in ’19.

Next family trip – Maui !

My 7th Dad 2.0 Summit took just shy of an act of Congress to attend, as we had a mandatory drill weekend from Friday to Sunday, and I needed a 2-star general’s approval to miss it.  But I couldn’t miss my favorite conference in my favorite city (my 22nd trip!) with some of my favorite people, so I did a lot of pleading and praying, and on Thursday morning, I landed at 11:15am, just making the 11:45 show time for the Best Buy drone flying experience at the old abandoned Market Street Power Plant, which we toured after eating awesome local food truck grub that was spicy and creamy and now I really need to go for a run.

When not hanging from a large metal hook, I befriended a new Dad 2.0 attendee from Nashville named Aaron, whom I enjoyed talking to, and learning from, for a couple hours.

After a happy hour sazerac at its namesake bar in The Roosevelt, I went with the City Dads group to Brennan’s for a delicious “second dinner” at 10pm to follow the also delicious offerings we had at the Dad 2.0 Welcome Party, because eating and drinking is what one does in New Orleans if one is to do New Orleans well at all.  Then our group met others from the conference at Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop before we walked to Dat Dog on Frenchmen Street where “third dinner” was had at 12:30am, and then it was live music at Spotted Cat and Apple Barrel until 2am or so, and then we walked back (just over a mile).

Somewhere in there, Jim and I got together so he could wear his new pants in public for the first time, and for a few seconds, as the camera phones flashed, all was certainly right with the world.

Friday morning began the programing, where we had NFL player keynote talks and then informative sessions on branding and monetizing and legal issues that can come up for bloggers, followed by roundtable workshops I liked on writing, photography, SEO, and even yoga.

Oh, and I flew the Millennium Falcon with Lego Star Wars characters.

That night, I had another Brennan family restaurant dinner; this time at Tableau. Hanes and its “Two B” PR firm were kind enough to invite a few of us to this event; both the food and the company were excellent. Later, several of us walked down Royal, stopped at Golden Lantern for a bit and then spent several hours at the Gold Mine Saloon we discovered last year at Mardi Gras, where a great time was had by all. Not content to go to bed when most everyone else did, Dave and I went back out (after walking to the hotel) until 4am.

On Saturday, I did not do a very good job of attending many of the sessions, but I did enjoy a test drive with Kevin and Lance in the new Kia Stinger, which was loads of fun despite the rain.  I had a more intimate dinner with Jessi, Amy, and her boyfriend Luke at Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse (because culinary triumvirates are cool!)  Then a whole bunch of us met up at the Sazerac Bar again (including the guys I never get to bring out during the conference, because they ensure it runs smoothly all weekend, but since now it was over, Doug and Whit were totally out with us!).  We revisited Lafitte’s and Apple Barrel and a few of us (okay, just Amy, Luke, and I) even had fried chicken at Willie’s Chicken Shack at 3am on Canal.

Getting packed and to the airport for my 10:30am flight was NOT my favorite part of the weekend, but I enjoyed time with Mitch and Mary (a fellow Act 3 Theater board member and PR extraordinaire) in the Sky Club before heading back to Atlanta, where I would spend the day with my children and then go to bed as soon as Justin Timberlake finished his halftime show at the Super Bowl, because maybe New Orleans never sleeps, but I occasionally must.

This morning, I was one of only 2 dads who volunteered to help chaperone a large group of 6th graders experiencing the Junior Achievement Chick-fil-A Foundation Discovery Center, where they learned about starting and running a business, managing finances, marketing, etc.  I needed 3 large cups of coffee before 8:30 (the children arrived at 10; adults had to assemble for training at 8), but seeing how happy it made my 11-year-old to run a miniature simulated Wal-Mart with her dad and 4 of her peers was wonderful, and her sincere gratitude expressed to me as I tucked her in tonight…well, it was perfect.  And I can’t help but think my regular attendance at the Dad 2.0 Summit and the friendships I’ve been able to maintain both online and in person as a result–with other men who genuinely care about fathering well and who make it a priority–have helped me to pivot in that healthy direction as well.

For over 30 years, I’ve wanted to ride in one of those “air boat” (or is it a “fan boat”?) things in shallow water, dodging alligators like a slalom skier with the wind blowing in my face. Last July, we drove from Atlanta to Florida Everglades National Park to do just that.

Our trip started at Delray Beach, FL, where my mother-in-law had booked a large house for her 2 daughters and their children to spend a week; I joined via a one-way Delta flight on Thursday morning.  That afternoon, our three children and their two cousins were swimming and snorkeling in the Atlantic when some folks on the beach started screaming and pointing to the water where we were, saying there was a shark.  My son was near me–it was about shoulder deep to me and fairly murky, so I couldn’t see anything.  I told him to just be still (not knowing if you’re supposed to be still around a shark or not, but I’ve been told that’s what you should do if you come upon a venomous snake in the woods, so I figured we’d just go with it).  Also, I didn’t want my daughters or bride to get upset, and they were not as close to the area where the shark supposedly was as my boy and I were, so I didn’t think they were in imminent harm anyway.  I didn’t think there were a lot of sharks in this part of eastern Florida, so I was really, really hoping these fools on the beach were overreacting at the sight of a dolphin or other large aquatic but innocuous mammal close to my son and me.

It was not a dolphin or otherwise innocuous mammal.  But, it wasn’t a shark, either.  Instead, we were just a few feet from 2 enormous, majestic manta rays gliding through the water surrounding us.  We weren’t being subjected to a threat; we were getting a treat.  I motioned for the girls to come to where we were, and for the next 20 minutes or so, the manta rays swam just at or below the surface, slowly circling us so that we were able to see them as easily as we would at an aquarium behind glass, but these were free…they were just friendly (or curious)!

The next morning, we headed to Everglades National Park via the Shark Valley visitors center. After exploring the visitors center and getting the children’s junior ranger workbooks, we took a tram tour through the everglades, where the object seemed to be to spot as many alligators and shore birds as one can possibly see in an hour or two’s time frame.

This was an enjoyable experience, but then it started raining a bit, and we were glad the cars following the lead tram car had roofs on them, but then the rain got harder, and a few minutes after that, the rain became so torrential that I felt like Forrest Gump when he was walking through chest-high water in the rain in Vietnam, and every inch of our clothing and skin was drenched, and it was kinda miserable (if “miserable” can be qualified).  We sought refuge under a covered observation tower during the tour’s only stop, but the damage was done.

The tour ended, and we immediately went to the gift shop to hunt dry clothes. Then we drove just down the road a bit to Gator Park airboat tours, so I could finally realize my bucket list experience of slaloming with gators.

While we didn’t so much “slalom,” we did speed through the shallow water and tall grasses, the wind in our faces, with gators and other wildlife surrounding us.

We headed back up to Delray Beach for seafood at Atlantic Grille (where we could also charge up the car for the next day’s trek north).

On Saturday the 15th, we went up the coast to St. Augustine, stopping to explore Castillo de San Marcos National Monument and get additional national park system passport cancellations and junior ranger badges.  All 5 of us enjoyed climbing to the tops of its towers and crawling through the depths of its dungeons.  We had a delicious dinner at Aviles Restaurant (where we could also charge the car) before exploring the “old town” area, including a cigar shop where I picked up a skull-shaped meerschaum pipe and a magic shop where the children bought tricks they can use to astound their friends and family.

We pulled into our Fairfield Inn at Jacksonville Beach about 10:45pm.  The next morning was Sunday the 16th, and my daughter’s 11th birthday . We went to Fort Caroline National Memorial at Timucuan Preserve just after breakfast. The children earned additional junior ranger badges and passport cancellations, and we hiked the ruins while learning how Native Americans in the area lived.

We crossed into Georgia and stopped to charge at Kingsland, which was next door to an IHOP, where the birthday girl wanted to have lunch, and lo and behold, they’d decorated the place for her birthday !

Okay, maybe it was IHOP’s birthday, but hey, it made her feel good and made for not only a good meal (to her), but a good photo opp.

We pressed on toward home, arriving just north of Atlanta at 10pm.

Another great roadtrip was complete.  Florida in July is hot like I’ve not experienced this side of Qatar  in August, but as long as the air conditioning is working or the beach is near, it’s tolerable.  We want to go back and visit the national parks farther south, like Biscayne and Dry Tortugas, but that will have to be a future trip (likely by air via Miami and inclusive of some time in the Keys).  It was great to spend time with family and see a new national park, in addition to the national monuments+memorials from the NPS system on the way home, and for as long as we have the time and willingness from all participants, we’ll continue to get our national parks passport books as full of cancellations as we can possibly get them.