April 2nd, 2010
|05:07 am - New Orleans travelogue: a fait accompli, months overdue.|
I am shocked...shocked! that lishd hasn't threatened the continued good health of my spleen. It's been several posts since my last touch of travelogue.
So, as it turns out, 5 am in the South looks a lot like 5 am from the areas I'm from. As time went on, the road slowly got more and more traffic. Some of my favorite sights on the way:
I was nowhere near Flagstaff, Arizona, but when this sign came up, I would not forget Winona
Banks, I'm sure, fight for his business
This one's for all you Browncoats! Sing it with me! "The hero of Canton, the man they call Jayne!" When I went by this one, I laughed and stopped to top off my gas tank so I'd have a souvenir receipt. I remembered a conversation with an ex-housemate about Joss Whedon. When he was coming up with the ideas for Firefly, he was reading a book about the American Civil War which was from the Confederacy's perspective. This book is also where the character of Jubal Early got his name. I couldn't remember the book's name, but I kept being reminded of that book on this trip.
Sadly, there were no Mudders and there wasn't a mud statue of Jayne.
When I hit Jackson, I decided that breakfast time was nigh. I had set a rule for myself on this trip -- I could go anywhere I couldn't go back home. I'd seen about a billion Waffle Houses and decided that this would be my chance to try out this particular chain. It turned out to be an experience.
Having grown up in a family that went out to eat a lot, I'd been accustomed to sitting at tables and being waited on. Increasingly through this trip, I found myself getting accustomed to sitting at counters and bars.
I sat next to a guy who I would have guessed was a handyman. He mentioned as I grabbed the menu from in front of him that there was a good cook on today.
The waitress came over and asked me what I wanted. I asked for a waffle and a coke -- plain and simple. She asked if I wanted anything else as though she thought it was too little for someone to break fast on, so I asked how big the waffles were. She said it was plenty for one person, so I said "I imagine that'll be sufficient then" and gave her a smile.
Turned out the waitress was the cook. I suspected at that point that the guy I sat next to was a relation or friend of hers.
A bit later, a fellow came in and ordered something to go. While that was going on, the waitress started asking me a few questions. She thought I knew the guy I sat next to or that she knew me somehow. I told her that not only had I never met her, I'd never been in a Waffle House before, nor had I been in this part of the country before. She asked where I was from and I mentioned the San Francisco Bay Area. Suddenly, the guy next to me perked up: he grew up in Sacramento.
I can't say I know how much of a difference the cook makes, but I was pretty happy with that breakfast. Back in the car and on my way. But not before I drove by the state capitol. You simply couldn't miss it from where I was.
Back on I-55 and voila!
I-55 runs down this narrow spit between Lake Maurepas and Lake Pontchartrain and it was, by far, the most memorable bit of my Southern journey.
Knowing what I know now, I wish I'd done this bit in reverse. I-55 going North is a bit higher up than the Southbound portion, so you have a better view of those two magnificent bodies of water. Right around this time, it started pouring rain.
I really should have checked the weather forecast. I wasn't in California anymore.
At length, I reached the first of my destinations -- the Greenwood and Metairie cemetaries. I would learn later that people in New Orleans knew how to live, but I learned now that they knew how to die.
By far, the most elaborate of the crypts
My family spent a lot of time in cemetaries when I was younger. We took a trip to Wyoming -- where my dad's side of the family comes from. One of the interesting bits was that with a little knowledge of local history, stories of some of the families would really come to life. You could see families that died from smallpox and you could tell who was hit first and who cared for who.
The family crypts were no exception. The only person I know of who lived in New Orleans -- or Louisiana, for that matter -- was a writer. It's hard for me to imagine living in New Orleans and not being a writer. So many stories wanting for just a little bit of research.
At length, I got a move on. I'd resolved to drive by the Superdome and some of the areas of New Orleans that had been hit hard. The Superdome was in fine shape. What grabbed me though was the architecture:
By far, the best of my pictures.
I set out for the Lower Ninth Ward. One of the poorer areas and one of the hardest hit.
One interesting point: The rain in Louisiana comes hard and fast. That last picture was taken about 10 minutes after the one before it.
I very quickly ran into streets that were flooded. Since I didn't know the streets, nor how deep they were supposed to be, I abandoned that idea and went back to the St. Louis Cemetaries. I figured I'd wait out the rain and then take a look before finding a hotel room and a place to eat, so when I got there, I picked up the phone and called a few people. Lightning struck nearby. The rain eventually stopped.
So, off the phone, around the corner, and into the cemetary.
I got no more than three steps in when the rain started again. Instantly lightning struck with thunder right on its heels. I took quick note of my surroundings, figured I was right up on the list for tallest things in the area, and hightailed it back to the car.
By the time I got back, my pants were soaked through. I decided I'd have enough for right then.
Finding a hotel wasn't that interesting, but the view was awesome:
Then began my wandering of the French Quarter. I figured there would be something around there which would promise "authentic" New Orleans cuisine -- I sure as hell wasn't going to eat at McDonalds!
They're very good with street names around the quarter.
If you wander too far away from there, you're treated with sights like this:
I happened by a hat shop which sadly was closed. I looked online later and from the fact that I've forgotten the name, I can be pretty sure that it was much less impressive than I thought it might be at that point.
I ended up on Bourbon street and was enraged by this:
Why did that enrage me!?! Because there's no way a plane from Baltimore could touch down on Bourbon street!
At length, I eventually wandered into an oyster bar. I've never had oysters in my life, so I thought how bad could it possibly be? I ordered a few and the guy asked if I'd ever had raw oysters before. I said I hadn't, so he shucked one and handed it to me to try with a few suggestions on how to eat them. The suggestion I took to was eating it with a cracker and horseradish. Horseradish normally takes off my ears with the spice, but it actually made the oysters better by taking a bit of the edge off.
He mentioned that oysters were usually a hit & miss thing with people. You either love them or hate them. About 20 minutes later, a gal sat next to me and he asked if she liked oysters. She sharply replied "I can't abide them."
Eight oysters, a few beers, a frozen bourbon milk punch (itself quite a treat), a pearl, and I was a happy testing4l.
We struck up a good conversation and so I'm honoring Mike by putting up his picture here.
I drank a bit more that night -- a truly lethal hand grenade. While I was there I struck up an argument with some Red Sox fans. After around 20 minutes of somewhat good natured shouting and yelling, they accused me of being a Yankee fan. I said I wasn't anything of the sort, so they asked what team I was a fan of. I wish I'd photographed their faces when I said I didn't give a damn about baseball.
I wasn't up for much after that and there wasn't much going on, so I went in for an early night. I had a couple things I wanted to see the next day and I planned to drive back up to Oxford so I could catch Dees' radio show, Thacker Mountain.
EDIT: Typos! Wheee!!
To be honest, it wasn't bad. I saw perhaps two or three houses that were simply piles of rubble.
I suspect the city was in more or less the same condition it was prior to Katrina. Poor as dirt, but with a great deal of history around it.
It's very much worth going to.