Better With M Dinner

Last Thursday,NS and I attended the ‘M&Ms Better With M Dinner’ at the Foundry (thank you Charlotte).   It was a star-studded event which celebrated the launch of their brand new marketing campaign ‘Better With M.’  Proceeds from the event went to New Orleans Habitat for Humanity.

No marketing campaign was needed to get me through the door, they had me at M&Ms.

I love me some M&Ms!

The three-course, chocolate infused dinner was created by New Orleans own Chef John Besh and for the entertainment…Vanessa Williams!

What a treat!

The event was spectacular!

As soon as you entered, there was a beautiful table set with gift bags of m&ms with your name on it. On the other side of the tag was the name of a street in New Orleans.  NS and I were on Frenchman St.  Later on, we learned that, the street was actually the table where we would be seated.

Nude posing M&Ms...too funny.
Nude posing M&Ms…too funny.

Cocktails were flowing in typical NOLA fashion (food and drinks everywhere) and the Grammy-award winning Rebirth Brass Band kept everyone grooving.  I usually take pics of the food but those hors d’oeuvres didn’t stand a chance.

NS was in heaven as they were serving Glenfiddich 21-year-old Scotch. I even imbibed a cocktail or two.

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Rebirth Brass Band
Rebirth Brass Band

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I didn’t get the chance to take pics of too many celebrities. I did catch Neil Patrick Harris walking in though,

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and I met Chef John Besh  as he was walking around the room, talking to everyone. He is such a sweet man!

I eye-spyed Chef Arron Sanchez (my husband in my next life) walking around and well, there was no way I was letting that moment of opportunity get away.

Chef John Besh,NS and Chef Aaron Sanchez
Chef John Besh,NS and Chef Aaron Sanchez

After cocktails, we were all ushered into the dining area.

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our table
our table

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1st course.
1st course.
2nd course

2nd course

Unfortunately, I have no pic of the desert, but it was delicious!  As soon as the wait staff began to bring out the deserts, Vanessa Williams hit the stage.

She looks incredible and her voice is flawless!

That woman can SANG!

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photo credit m&ms
photo credit m&ms

Her daughter Jillian was also there as one of the background singers.  I was floored by Vanessa’s performance. I always knew she had a beautiful voice, but I had no idea that she would put on such a great show.

For her last act, she changed her outfit and then sang her hit ‘Work To Do.’

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She put a spin on it and did a Salsa that would put these young’uns to shame!

Way to go Vanessa! If you ever hit the road, count me there!

The city is really being hammered with festivities. We began with a week-end of parades, followed by the Super Bowl and now we’re back to parading with the Krewe of Druids and the Mystic Krewe of Nyx kicking it off Wednesday night.

I wouldn’t change it for anything.

The good times are rolling in full force,

and everything  has been much better

with M.

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Super Bowl sleight-of-hand: Jackson Square remains open, Louis Armstrong Park is closed

NOPD Supt. Serpas, Mayor Landrieu, Councilmember Palmer, and other city officials at Armstrong Park’s re-opening on 11/18/11.

While City Hall has lived up to its word that Jackson Square would (technically) remain open to the public throughout the Super Bowl media activity, that policy does not apply equally to Louis Armstrong Park.

The NFL Honors ceremony, a two-hour prime time awards special event, will be held at the Mahalia Jackson Theatre on the evening prior to Super Bowl XLVII (Saturday, 2/2/13). And although the city’s official press release indicated that Armstrong Park would not be closed to the public in preparation for this event until Wednesday, 1/30/13, the park has, in fact, been locked up tight since Monday, 1/28/13.

Locked gates have been keeping the pubic out since Monday, 1/28/13.

Isn’t it particularly unfortunate that the one place designated by our city to recognize its jazz heritage isn’t available to the public — visitors and locals alike — at this time when our city is celebrating its moment in the media’s spotlight?

A tented red carpet now stretches from the St. Ann Street arched main entrance to the park all the way to the Mahalia Jackson Theatre; its construction reportedly started on Thursday, 1/24/13.

Here’s the thing: New Orleanians lived around 61 filming projects last year (without issue or incident). The current media activity in Jackson Square has been equally undisturbed… and yet, Louis Armstrong Park is closed.

So why is the park closed for a full week’s time for a one-night event?

20130130_093451Initially I’d thought that it’s because the city didn’t want to maintain security/a police presence, but now I suspect that there’s an even simpler explanation: because there’s nothing for the visitors to buy there, it’s been sold out for a private event, denying the public reasonable access without a second thought.

In discussing this casually online, one friend suggested that possibly it was a measure to steer our city’s visitors to destinations more directly aligned with the Clean Zone’s objectives and boundaries; he added that the enhanced police presence in the Clean Zone would also reinforce this theory.

Another friend replied, “[It’s] more like without a first thought — not a second one. It seems right now that we (the folks) are all in the back row for the big show.”

One can only wonder how much the city is being paid for this week of exclusive use and hope that those funds will eventually serve the public-at-large in a meaningful way.

DIRECTV’s digital age blimp returns to New Orleans’ skies for Super Bowl XLVII

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The crew and mechanics preparing for the morning’s flight.

When New Orleans hosted the 2012 Allstate BCS National Championship Game, the DIRECTV blimp sailed above our city for several days’ time, floating above the French Quarter, CBD, and Mercedes-Benz Superdome in a lazy circular orbit. Its digital display was visually engaging, mesmerizing and colorful, drawing eyes and attention easily.

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Aloft in the skies above the 2012 BCS Championship. (Photo by DIRECTV Blimp.)

I soon learned of the @dtvblimp Twitter account and was delighted by the photos tweeted by its crew, especially those that presented a view of the city not often witnessed by those of us who spend most of our time traveling our city’s streets and sidewalks. I followed the account and found myself looking forward to pictures posted in other cities from other events. Upon discovering that the blimp was again en route to New Orleans for Super Bowl XLVII, I requested the opportunity to interview the crew about the adventure of taking the blimp from city to city and to learn more about its operation.

Photo 2a

Approaching to board!

Launched in October 2007 at the Major League Baseball World Series in Boston, the blimp is operated by the Van Wagner Airship Group and contracted to DIRECTV as a client. It measures 178′ in length and its material components weigh 10,000 pounds.

The blimp itself is constructed of layers of high-density ripstop nylon enhanced with Teflon® and Kevlar® coatings, and is entirely flexible, without structural framework components. (Unlike the Hindenburg airship or zeppelins, there is no rigid or semi-rigid frame.) A helium-filled lighter-than-air craft, it is both powered and steerable (unlike a free-floating balloon). Its external components include twin propeller engines, rudders, cables, and the undercarriage gondola. Its fuel capacity is 220 gallons and and its burn rate averages 10 gallons of gasoline per hour of flight time.

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The DIRECTV blimp and its support vehicle entourage. (Photo by DIRECTV Blimp.)

The lightsign digital display measures 70′ by 30′, 35 panels wide and 15 panels deep, and weighs 900 pounds. Featuring 33,600 pixels and 235,200 LEDs, the lightsign can be viewed with clarity from the ground day or night. (Due to this additional weight on the blimp’s port side, the airship almost always lists slightly.)

The lightsign is what makes the DIRECTV blimp one-of-a-kind and what makes this airship the most popular blimp in the country. The panels are similar to those used for digital billboards and on the sides of buildings. However, unlike structural light displays, the blimp’s surface is flexible — much like skin. It is capable of displaying live video, concerts, and scoreboard statistics, but has also played a part in marriage proposals and birthday announcements.

Photo 3

The sparse instrument panel from the pilot’s perspective; I’m riding shotgun!

The DIRECTV lightship is usually featured at a minimum of two events each week and is constantly in motion; when traveling between the East and West coasts, it typically follows the Interstate 10 corridor. While it typically flies at an altitude of 1,500 feet, its maximum altitude is approximately 10,000 feet. Although the Van Wagner Airship Group is based in Orlando, FL, the blimp and its crew function as an entirely mobile unit — everything required for its operation and maintenance travels from one location to next for each flight event. As the blimp travels at a speed averaging 35 miles per hour, typically making 200-mile hops each day between destinations, the majority of its crew travel in trucks and trailers below.

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The ground crew’s pre-flight wrangling!

The full crew includes a chief pilot, a line pilot, a crew chief, an assistant crew chief, two mechanics, a lightsign operator, a camera operator, a clerk and 10 crew/ground support personnel. While the blimp was tethered to its mast, I noticed that its crew members were relaxed and personable; it was immediately clear that this team works well together. Many of the crew members describe themselves as gypsies and were genuinely enthusiastic about the perpetual travel. While the newest member of the team has been on board for one year’s time, some members of the Van Wagner Airship group have been with the company for 20 years.

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Adjusting the blimp’s positioning for take off…

The in-flight crew typically consists of one or two pilots (depending on the duration of flight time), and a camera operator and/or a lightsign programming operator (depending on the purpose of the flight). Seating is limited in the approximately 12′ x 5′ gondola; while there is some space for equipment as needed, it’s compact, utilitarian, and sparse by design.

The blimp remains grounded if there are poor weather conditions — stormy weather, electrical activity, or winds greater than 18 miles per hour. Due to its traveling speed limitations, high winds significantly limit its ability to travel.

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Confirmation that the DIRECTV blimp is now completely under the pilot’s control — lift off!

Unlike other forms of travel, a blimp isn’t simply flown — it is constantly wrangled, both by the ground crew and its pilot. Even when tethered to its mast, It’s almost never fully grounded and seems to be always slightly in motion. During flight, it seemed that Chief Pilot Jeff Capek was constantly moving, piloting the craft and adjusting its rudders in response to wind conditions. Unlike the rudders for other kinds of aircraft, manipulating the blimp’s rudders can require 50 pounds of force… imagine driving a car while being actively engaged in an active stair-stepper workout!

Photo 7

Ascending to cruising altitude…

Unlike traveling by car, boat, or helicopter, even for passengers the ride is a uniquely physical experience. The blimp’s taking off and ascent are very different; it feels more like being released than being launched, and the acceleration is much more subtle. One doesn’t really ride in a blimp — one rides on it, strapped by cables to a lumbering and sometimes restless craft that’s continuously responding to the wind’s changing currents.

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Glimpsing New Orleans on the horizon. Most aerial photos are shared by ground crew members; I shared this one while in-fight!

During take-off, the previously relaxed ground crew shifts gears dramatically, become active and wholly-focused, their actions appearing almost choreographed. Upon landing, the physical challenge of anchoring the blimp to its mast was also evident — the crew was literally pulling the blimp down, holding it in position — and their engagement was equally precise.

When the craft was aloft and cruising, I found that my body was actively compensating for the slight bobbling sensation resulting from the craft’s interaction with the surrounding atmosphere. Although I would guess that those who fly the blimp regularly become accustomed to these sensations, I enjoyed how it felt — it engaged my senses more fully and actively. I can’t imagine not considering each flight to be its own adventure.

Photo 9a

Steering the blimp lakeside in preparation for returning from flight.

I asked Chief Pilot Capek about any particularly adventurous flights and he chuckled, replying that the adventures usually happened while the crew was on the ground in the different cities they visit. He noted that flights are usually routine, and that he frequently listens to talk radio or sometimes music while flying, as many of us do while working at desks in offices.

The ground crew, preparing for the return landing wrangling and once again tethering the blimp to its mast.

As I remembered watching the blimp in flight last year, I’d jokingly asked if those aboard were ever tempted to stray from the route and go on a renegade joyride? One crew member replied that it’s always interesting to see the crowds of people attending an event, the stadiums filled to capacity, and the tailgating parties forming a living kaleidoscope below. In urban environments, with the ebb and flow of the city below and the changing sky, it’s never the same flight twice — even when the blimp is traveling in a repetitive route.

Unless the DIRECTV lightship is flying above an urban environment, Chief Pilot Capek noted that most of the terrain is typically fields or forests with few distinguishing features. He described his favorite time aloft as being when he’s on an “exposure flight” (brief flights with the lightsign display active) over the waters of South Florida’s coast, enjoying calm conditions; it was my impression that these excursions qualify as his personal version of a “joyride.”

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New Orleans glittering below the blimp during the 2012 BCS Championship. (Photo by DIRECTV Blimp.)

Returning to the city from the airport, I again watched as the blimp sailed above me on its return trip to the city to shoot scenic footage for various Super Bowl related broadcasts. Driving brought me back to ground immediately… I was more acutely aware of each stop sign and traffic light. And I smiled, amused that the blimp had arrived before me.

Watch for the scenic footage shot last Friday by the DIRECTV blimp on ESPN’s Dan Patrick show 8:00 AM to 11:00 AM. The blimp will also provide live coverage of the Dan Patrick show and the Artie Lang show on DIRECTV’s Audience network (Channel 239) throughout the week.

Everyone’s also invited to attend the 7th Annual DIRECTV Celebrity Beach Bowl at Mardi Gras World, 1380 Port of New Orleans Place on Saturday, February 2, 2013 beginning at 9:00 AM! This event is open to the public and it’s free! However, space is limited — so please arrive early to join the fun!

(My sincere thanks to Gus Fernandez, Chief Pilot Jeff Capek, and the exceptional crew of the DIRECTV blimp for their time and this amazing experience!)

Photo 12

Living the dream! (Photo by DIRECTV Blimp.)

Really?!

This is creating quite an outrage on local FaceBook pages, as well it should.

Was this really necessary?

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Photo by Bernie Murden

UPDATE: Check out Adrastos’ commentary on First Draft. He’s much more eloquent on the subject than I.

UPDATE: According to the Mayor on his G+ page, the sign has been removed. There seems to be some confusion as to whether this is permanent or just until show time tomorrow. Will keep y’all informed.

1/29/13 UPDATE: Visiting for Super Bowl 2013, ‘The Talk’ removes offending sign from Andrew Jackson statue  I notice while the official word from The Talk is that the sign was removed, there was no apparent recognition of the faux pas they committed. C’est la vie.

Black and Gold…and PINK in the Streets Sunday

It seems that I am the writer of fun these days, such a nice change…

The Camel Toe Lady Steppers and The Pussyfooter swill be hitting the streets in two separate second line-type of gigs Sunday, warming up for the Super Bowl. It looks like both troupes will be adding the Black and Gold to their costumes, of course.

The Camel Toe Lady Steppers will begin their gallivanting at Louisiana and Annunciation to will finish up at Washington and Camp, from 11am-noon.

The Pussyfooters will be lining up in front of the King Pin for noon and will be, as they are annually, a part of the Lyons Club march. The band and krewe will be marching along from the King Pin to Grits via Ms. Mae’s over on Napoleon, hitting a few joints along the way like the Milan Lounge.

Crash the parties!

Also look for the Pussyfooters in the SUPER BOWL PARADE!