Why I Moved to New Orleans: Reinvent By Starting Over In a New City
At 60, we packed up our cozy New York home and split for the wilds of Louisiana
Part of my personal reinvention was starting over in a new city.
It was 2016 and I decided that living in the expensive suburbs of New York City was no longer a necessity. The NYC-based publishing business that I’d been a part of for 40 years was deflating faster than a tire running over a pack of nails. I had become an entrepreneur, running CoveyClub (a service that helps women discover what’s next for them at midlife) out of my home, so I no longer needed to commute. And my husband had long ago retired from Wall Street.
My kids had finally entered that see-you-only-on-big-holidays phase of adulthood, and all our familiar neighbors had begun exiting, only to be replaced by young families with kids. Who, like us 24 years earlier, were moving to the burbs for the promise of more space and great schools.
While I loved my safe, quiet little suburb where you can leave your doors unlocked and walk home from town at 2 AM, life there as a 50+ adult had become stifling.
The culture of the New York burbs is focused on one thing: kids. And I had moved to my town for that very reason. We took advantage of every offering — from outdoor family movie nights to T-ball and Little League and Halloween parades for tots.
Reinvent By Starting Over
But what happens when those kids grow up and leave the nest? In my town, there were virtually no activities for adults. Yes, I joined a book club and took a jewelry-making class at the high school at night. I’d even make the foray into New York City for great restaurants and entertainment. But getting in and out of New York takes an hour, and if you’re driving, there are the ridiculous $60 parking fees.
The fact is, once my children had moved on, I had become invisible. I truly believe that I could have walked down the street of my little town naked and screaming, and if I didn’t have a kid on my arm, no one would have said “Boo!”
I’d also read that if you didn’t move in your 50s or 60s before some life or health crisis befell you, you’d be stuck in place for the rest of eternity.
So my husband and I and two cats sold our home (in the worst market downturn!) and moved out of New York City to New Orleans.
We were looking for warm weather (I never want to see a snowflake again!), a university town (so we can take classes or teach), an international airport (so we can travel and our kids can find us), and a culture that is diverse economically and racially and interesting enough that our kids and their friends would be dying to visit.
Most of all, we wanted a place where we were not the youngest faces in the crowd (Florida, I’m looking at you!). It didn’t hurt that NOLA, which we’d visited as tourists off and on for 30 years, has amazing food, a crazy parade culture (there are 96 during Mardi Gras alone!), incredible architecture, fascinating living history, and (unnervingly) friendly people.
Yes, NOLA has its detractions: endemic political corruption, a terrible homeless problem, drug addicts shouting weird, scary things on the street, plus a devastating history of slavery, poverty, and crime. There are hurricanes that require evacuation. Oh, and the heat in August has been described as “The Front Porch of Hell.”
But the joy of taking in a Luna Fete laser light show or hitting a beignet festival or catching shoes thrown from the Krewe of Muses float during Mardi Gras makes me walk down the streets of this crazy, wacky city with a smile on my face each day.
Adjusting to Starting Over in a New City
I have new friends and old friends who have joined me here. I have friends of different backgrounds, races, and ages. I joined the board of the Hermann-Grima house, a historical architectural masterpiece that educates visitors about the truth of urban slavery. I even joined a marching group (The Amelia EarHawts) that drops me back to the joys of performing: at age 6, I was learning to twirl a baton and all I hoped for in life was to become a majorette!
Was it terrifying to start over in a new city with no family or work connections? You betcha. Especially when COVID-19 hit and my husband and I were locked down without connections to doctors or health care. But it has also been liberating. No one here knows me as just “JJ and Lake’s mom” or the former editor-in-chief of More or Marie Claire. Instead, I’m one more new kid on the block duking it out over who makes the best Po-Boy or King Cake (FYI it’s Domilise’s and Bywater Bakery), and trying to figure out what my costume will be for Mardi Gras. Every day I’m energized by discovering a new restaurant or noticing a new house on the block where I take my walks.
And as a constant reinventor, that suits me just fine.