Louisiana: January, 2019

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011119 The Plan; The Trip; The Arrival

Here it is, two solid weeks in my favourite place in America, New Orleans!  This is a trip that m’lady and I booked long before, and one I’d been getting more and more excited for by the hour.

Ironically, the entire purpose of the trip fell away months before.  During our prolonged engagement m’lady and I hummed and hawed about where and when to get married until finally our love for New Orleans and our desire to share this love with our family and friends made the decision for us.  And so it was that we scoured my mom’s timeshare options until we discover two consecutive weeks at a place in the Business District called the Plaza Suite Hotel and Resort.  We coupled that with a pair of Air Miles flights and just like that we had a pretty inexpensive trip booked.

And then it occurred to us that New Orleans was across the border.

Of course we knew that, but it suddenly hit us that the vast majority of our guests (not to mention the two of us) would be travelling from Canada, and with a finicky line to cross there was every reason to believe that any one of us could be turned away at the last moment.  And though there would be no reason for this to happen – indeed it probably wouldn’t happen – one thing for sure is that m’lady and I would be worried that it might happen every day of every month leading up to the wedding.

So we decided not to get married in New Orleans.  Sorry, everyone.

The upside was that our two weeks were already irrevocably booked and now it was all for fun, not pesky wedding planning.  So I started scouring the concert listings, we started making dinner reservations at some of our favourite restaurants, we booked a rental car for an away-trip in the middle of our stay, and as an added bonus we scored a pair of tickets to the NFL Divisional Playoff game between the New Orleans Saints and the Philadelphia Eagles.

So like I say, I was getting pretty excited.

When the sun rose on this morning I had already been up for an hour or more (due to my utterly unnecessary early-rising habit of the last few years).  After my morning workout I hopped on the internet and discovered two things: 1) our neighbour Will randomly sent me a message offering to give us a ride to the airport, and 2) the canal was just reopening for skating.  

Taken together, these two points led me to a third discovery: that the current weather outside was cold and clear.  Sunny and -26C, with a windchill that brought things down to -32C.  I grabbed my skates and ran out the door.

Heading north against the wind was cold, sure, but by the time I got to the end of the canal I had warmed up considerably.  And when I turned around I gasped.  Was I seeing things?  Before me seemed to be a column of rainbow that has a sun poking out of it.  I skated and stared.  I saw a man skate to a bench and sit down and asked him if he saw what I was seeing.  “Wow,” he said.  “You’re right!”

As I continued on my way I rounded a corner and realized that I hadn’t been looking at the sun at all, but a rainbow reflecting the sun, and there was another rainbow on the other side as well!  I was amazed, and I stared and stared as I skated along.  Turns out the phenomenon is called a sun dog, something I had hitherto not heard of before.  In my distraction one of my skates slid into a crack and down I went.  Nice and gentle.

Anyway, I made it home safe, sound, and sweaty, jumped in the shower, called Will and asked him to delay our pickup as our flight was late, and off to the airport we went.  The jump to Toronto was quick and easy, the border crossing was also easy and surprisingly fast given an American government shutdown, and after a quick jaunt through duty-free that resulted in a pair of bottles of Jack Daniels we were ready to board.

Our flight to NOLA was late as well, but the pilot made up the time.  I plugged into Crazy Rich Asians (meh), a couple of episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm, and just like that we had landed.  In no time we taxied to the gate, disembarked and were on our way outside to find the E2 bus into the city.  And whattya know, there it was waiting for us.  So for a mere $2 each we made it all the way down to Tulane and Layola.  

Throughout the bus ride I counted five people getting on the bus wearing toques.  I was surprised, given it was a balmy, humid 15C outside (that’s about 60F for the vast minority of you out there that haven’t hooked onto the metric system yet).

The bus dropped us downtown but it was still pretty far to our hotel; I saw a cab and flagged it.  It was rush hour so the car ended up just stopping dead in thick traffic.  M’lady and I loaded our bags into the trunk and hopped into the gridlocked cab while horns honked all around us.

Our cabbie was weird, and talkative.  (I suppose if she wasn’t talkative she wouldn’t have been noticeably weird.)  She said she was from Mini-Canada.  “Where?” I asked.  

“Minneapolis,” she exclaimed, “You know, Minnecanada!”

“Oh.”

“You guys only have two boats and one truck up there, right?” she asked.  Turns out she was commenting on our military and was goading us on how Canada relied on American protection.  I was prompted to mention the War of 1812, something she had never heard of.  She had no idea that the first time the US declared war on anyone it was Canada, that the Americans lost that war, and that Canada had burned down the White House.  I urged her to google it after work.

She was an artist who used mascara on paper as her medium.  She sketched between fares and tried to sell her work during them.  And her work was…um…way, way ahead of her time.  I thanked her for showing them to me then deflected by mentioning how cold it was in Ottawa.

“You should get one of those electronic scarves,” she said, launching into an odd diatribe about all the “electronic” clothing options designed to keep people warm.  She was weird, but I liked her.

Our cab ride was a shocking $15 (with tip) for what was less than a mile.

My first impression of the Plaza Suite Hotel was not great.  Walking through the door we found ourselves in a large warehouse-looking space.  The checkin counter looked like we were in a cheap motel in an industrial park somewhere in New Jersey.  The guy checked us in fast, listing off rules and payment requirements with the speedy efficiency of someone who says the same thing day after day and isn’t looking for responses.  Our room was just steps from the entrance and had no windows anywhere.  Other than that the room was pretty good though; old exposed brick walls, full kitchen, separate bedroom with a kingsize four-poster…not too bad.  

(And frankly, if I hadn’t already stayed in at least four different timeshares in the city I wouldn’t be so critical but those four were all pretty great, and while the Plaza Suite isn’t so bad it is far and away the least of the places I’ve stayed at in the city.)

We poured ourselves a couple of welcome drinks and cheersed our arrival.  I hadn’t eaten since breakfast so m’lady scoured the internet for restaurants and we ended up at the bar next door to the hotel.  Our waitress (Lisa) was over-the-top friendly and talkative – just like our cabbie except not weird – and I was quickly reminded why I love NOLA so much.  The people are so darn honest and friendly.  I wanted everything on the menu, but narrowed it down for our server.

“Between the gumbo, the red beans and rice, the Cuban sandwich, and the burger,” I asked, “which would fill me up the most?”  She suggested the burger.  M’lady ordered the red beans and rice.

And while the burger was fine (actually, it was quite good), after having a bite of m’lady’s meal I instantly regretted my decision.  “That’s the last burger i’m going to have here*,” I insisted, much to m’lady’s surprise.  “They make burgers everywhere,” I continued, “when I’m in Louisiana I should be ordering Louisiana food.”

The food was good, the beers were tasty, and $42 later we were out of there.  We hopped up to Canal Street to buy a bottle of water ($4) and a two-liter bottle of Coke ($6 – why, oh why do they have to have an American spelling of a measurement that they only use for one thing: large bottles of soda?  Couldn’t they just call it a half-gallon?) and back to the room went we, where a little internetting and television surfing made my eyelids heavy enough to conk out before 11pm.

*Except when I visit any of the three burger-specialty places in the city that I pulled from an internet list of the best burgers in America.

011219 Cruising the French Quarter

I woke up at 5:30am local time.  I knew I would (I always wake up at 6:30am, and with the time difference…) but I was hoping I wouldn’t.  I managed to lay there trying to fall asleep for an hour before getting up and hitting the atrium for coffee and the special Saturday danish breakfast.  

It was underwhelming to say the least.  Just a pair of top-squeezing coffee canisters with powdered cream and packs of sugar on the side along with two trays of danishes and muffins wrapped in cellophane.  The Quarter House had Saturday brunch as well, but it was a brunch and they even hired an extremely affable host to entertain and introduce guests to one another.  Totally top-notch.  This place, not so much.

Curiously, the atrium itself was set up to be as unsocial as possible, as most of the guest rooms in the hotel open up right into the atrium.  So when I sat to sip my coffee I was just feet from a dozen rooms full of sleeping guests.  Someone else (wearing a t-shirt that read “I thought getting old would take longer”) came and poured themselves a coffee and didn’t even look at me.  Hrmph.  I took coffees and pastries back to the room.

M’lady got up and we made plans for the day, which consisted pretty much of getting some groceries and perusing the town for any whiff of pre-NFL excitement.  Tomorrow was going to be a big day for the city and I’m sure the town was excited.  We walked to the nearby-ish Grouse market and dropped $118* on food (and beer, and a very cute New Orleans Saints hat for m’lady) and somehow managed to lug it all back to the room, where we enjoyed a nice home-made lunch.  The groceries would definitely save us some serious money.  

We both wanted a beer but heck, it was still only 11am.  

Around 12:30 I decided to have a shower.  Looking at the time and considering my geographical location I opted to bring a beer into the shower with me.  And thus it had begun.  With nothing else on tap we decided what the heck let’s hit the French Quarter.  We each grabbed a drink or two for the stroll and out we went.  

Our hotel was just outside of the Quarter; about two easy blocks past the casino and we were there.  The air, the aroma, the drinks, the crowds, the music…I instantly remembered why I love New Orleans.  We started with a window-shopping cruise along Royal Street, loaded as it is with art galleries and antique shops.  

We got as far as Royal remained interesting and turned back up Bourbon Street.  Along the way we detoured to the Preservation Hall where we perused the merch while we waited out a rainstorm.  During a brief reprieve we ducked across the street to a bar and waited out the re-surging cloudburst over yummy local IPA’s.   Eventually we got out and about again and continued along Bourbon, which actually had a full block being dug up for repaving.  We stopped into the Hard Rock Cafe so I could buy a t-shirt for my new-ish friend Karl, who collects HRC shirts and showed me a great time on my recent trip to Belgium and with that chore out of the way we went back to our hotel and turned on the Chiefs/Colts game as a preparation for the next day’s football game.

Eventually we got hungry and shunning our full cupboards we went around the corner to a place called Mulate, which claims to be the ‘original’ Cajun restaurant.  Original or not, the place was big and busy.  We were seated right next to the stage and the band started playing by the time I was about halfway through my red beans & rice with sausage, which while excellent, was no better than the bite I had at Ernst’s the night before, which had the double-advantage of being right next to our hotel and notably less expensive.

That said, the pricier menu helps pay for the band and the band was really good, so I was happy to be where I was.  It was a four-piece – drums, bass, fiddle/vocals, and accordion – and man, were they laid back.  So laid back that they would casually talk to each other for a good three-to-five minutes between each and every song.  What they discussed was beyond me (and just outside of my range of hearing) but it sure wasn’t what song they would play next, that much was clear.

And when they played it was four guys waiting for the bus.  I mean, there was not a smidgen of putting anything into their music, aside from the nimble fingers.  Don’t get me wrong, they were great – all of them – and I’ve found this (non)attitude absolutely prevalent in the Cajun scene (or at least in the New Orleans Cajun scene).  

Also prevalent is the focus on the dancefloor, which at Mulate’s took up about a quarter of the floor space available in the vast restaurant.  For the first two or three songs the only people on the dancefloor were an elderly couple, and they sure knew what they were doing.  Promenading here and shuffling there, they encompassed the whole dancefloor with their choreographed moves and intertwining arms.  It was a joy to watch, even for a dance-hater like me.  

It’s common for the dancefloor to command more attention than the stage in New Orleans, and this dancefloor was no exception, as most eyes in the place ignored the band and instead stayed glued onto the pair of prancing octogenarians on the dancestage.  

Did I just say “dancestage”?  There I go coining terms again**.

Hmmm.  Maybe that’s why the standard musical stance ‘round these parts is so stoic and statuesque; so that the audience’s attention can be easily deflected to the dancestage.  Hmmm.

Anyway, we stayed for about five songs but eventually I tired of the five-minute between-song mucky-muck and we called for the cheque.  And even though we both drank water and shunned appetizers and dessert our bill still came to $50US with tip.  We’re gonna have to start taking advantage of that full kitchen back in our suite!

Speaking of “back in our suite”, that was where we spent the remainder of our young evening, trying to stay awake while the television broadcast more football.  The Rams won, but I wouldn’t find that out until the next morning.

*At the grocers a two-liter (ugh) bottle of Coke cost me $1.79, about 30% of what I paid the night before (again, ugh).

**I even once tried to term a coin.  When the Canadian Mint introduced the new two dollar coin back in 1996 I launched a one-man campaign to have the new coin called the “rupert”, for no reason at all.  I’m glad I was unsuccessful, because the term “toonie” is perfect (it’s even better than “twonie”).  I wish I had coined it.

011319 NFL Divisional Playoffs, The Saints vs The Eagles in the Superdome

I woke up at six-something and stayed in bed until seven.  I got up and googled the local grocers and was pleased to see they were open already.  I wanted to buy a New Orleans Saints shirt before the game and thought I could pick up some more beers too.  

Along the way I really started to appreciate being back in New Orleans.  I sure do love mornings and mornings in cities are often especially cool.  All the empty sidewalks, the unrevolving doors, the shops with “Closed” signs hanging in their windows; it all shows so much potential, and it’s exciting.

And so I virtually skipped along the sidewalks, wishing everyone I met (which wasn’t many) a hearty and happy “good morning” and gleefully plucking a shirt, a bag of coffee, another case of beer and some fillings for hotel-made omelettes into my cart.  $50 later I was back bouncing along the street, which was already starting to wake up with morning pigskin revellers.  

It was going to be a fun day!

After I made a pair of excellent omelettes I posited the following: “Hmm…I suppose a Jack & Coke can’t hurt, can it?”  I meant it as a rhetorical question.  M’lady didn’t take it as one.

“Well, it could hurt,” she stated, matter-of-factly.  ”It could set you on a path that leads to too many beers, some wooo! crazy shooters! and even more hooray! beers, and then you could be staggering and we won’t get in the game and you could fall down and break your something or other.

“And besides, it’s only 10am.” she concluded, somewhat triumphantly.

“No,” I said, checking my computer.  “It’s 11am…”

“Oh,” she replied, looking at her Fitbit.  “I guess the clock automatically updated…”

So, with a Jack Daniel’s in hand I hopped in the shower (totally trumping yesterday’s shower beer), put on my new Saints t-shirt, grabbed a sack of beers for the walk, and just like that we were out the door.

We aimed ourselves in the general direction of the Superdome and stopped into the first tailgate fiesta we found.  We stood around sipping on our beers while revellers revelled around us.  At one point a synchronized line dance started up and I had to pull m’lady out of the way as a group of eight or ten (mostly) women almost sashayed right over her.

We soon moved on to another lot party, and then a third, and while I was happy to duck out of the blistering wind under the cover of a ring of motor homes the parties didn’t seem very social.  We decided to move on to the official party in Champion’s Square where a full stage manned by New Orleans mainstay Big Sam’s Funky Nation and a string of overpriced food and drink kiosks awaited.  

But first we dashed into a coffeeshop just outside of the Superdome.  Inside I found two curious things that I don’t usually find in a coffeeshop: 1) a bar (m’lady bought herself a mimosa), and 2) a guard manning the barricaded-off bathrooms who meticulously checked coffee receipts before admitting anyone to the prized toilet area.

This exclusivity inspired me to use the bathroom twice, just because (my receipt said) I could.  

We lingered over coffee and mimosa while I warmed up a little and we left with plenty of time to check out the pre-festivities in Champion’s Square.  I couldn’t help but notice that everybody (and I do mean everybody) was decked out in team merchandise from head to toe.  I mean nobody wasn’t wearing their colours.  I got a lot of sideways looks from people that were unable to see through my sweater and onto the new New Orleans Saints tee I was wearing underneath, and it made me a bit uncomfortable.  As soon as we got inside the door of the venue I tied my sweater around my waist Pearl Jam-style and proudly thrust my logo-encrusted chest forward.  

(Though I instantly regretted going for the grey shirt.  Everyone [and again, I mean everyone] was wearing the team colours of black and gold.  Oops.)

Speaking of getting into the venue, we did so quickly, in two manners of speaking.  First, we decided not to linger outside very long, so we headed to the gate in short order, and when we did so we got in the door with an absolute minimum of lining up and/or waiting.  The staff was clearly doing a good job.  

Inside we checked out the main level for a spell before heading up up up the escalator to our seats in the 600’s (along the way m’lady found a real-life actual ticket stub on the floor.  She handed it to me under the threat that I had to remain nice to her if I wanted to keep it.  I will so I did).  When we found our seats we were both impressed with our selection; we had a nice overhead view of the turf right around the thirty yard line.  

The field below us was massive, and it was so well-lit it seemed to glow.  The arced dome roof overhead was even more massive, so much so that it’s suspension seemed truly unlikely.  Topping both end zones were a pair of identical big screens that each must have been 175 feet long, at least.  The screens told us we had an hour to kill before the game and the time went quickly.

Now here’s a coincidence:  For Christmas my mother had given m’lady a pair of funny gloves that had pom-poms on the tips of each finger.  She also gave a pair to my nephew’s wife.  When she had purchased the gloves in Maine for $5 a pair she hadn’t noticed that they were NFL merchandise, and whattya know, the pair that she gave to m’lady were official New Orleans Saints gear (the other pair were from the Seattle Seahawks).  M’lady loved the gloves and we were both expecting to see thousands of people wearing them.  

Not so.  

Not only was nobody else wearing anything like them, everyone that noticed the logo’d and pom-pom’d gloves made quite a big deal about them, taking pictures and asking where she had gotten them.  It was fun to walk behind her and see everyone point her out as she walked by.  I mean, those gloves were the hit of the pregame.  Mercifully, they also took a little bit of attention away from my logo-less sweater.

Back in the dome, we bought ourselves some lunch and a couple of beers and watched as half of the field was taken up by a hundred people carrying a pair of Saints banners while an aisle of fireworks was set up in preparation for the home team’s arrival on the field.  

When the Eagles came out there was a bit of booing, but I was quite unprepared for the astounding response that met the Saints as they ran out from their dugout.  With fireworks blazing the crowd went wild, screaming so loud I literally couldn’t hear my own voice.  Then suddenly, as if on some sort of unseen cue, the whole crowd screamed in perfect, holy unison:

“Who dat?!?  Who dat!?!  Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints!?!?!?!”

We’re talking loud here friends.  I simply had never heard anything like it.  It was amazing.

The national anthem was performed by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, which was pretty darn cool, accompanied as it was by the unfurling of an American flag that took up half of the playing field.  Then it was time for the coin toss.

Which we lost (of course I am now a Saints fan, so “they” have become “we”), which didn’t forebode well.  

The Eagles kicked it to us, and our first play was a pass that was intercepted.  A few plays later and the score was Eagles: 7, Saints: 0.  Then after several incomplete passes the home team kicked it, soon the Eagles got another touchdown and just like that the Philadelphia team was up fourteen points and the Saints were boasting a total yard gain of zero.

And still, the crowd got louder.  It was the loudest crowd I could think of, with the possible exception of when the Canadians won the gold medal in men’s hockey in Vancouver in overtime.  That was the only time I’ve heard anything close to what I heard constantly during this game in the Superdome.  It was truly astounding, and it really made the game.

Well, so did the game, which was fun and exciting.  

When the first quarter ended we had no idea that the Eagles were done scoring for the day, but it was clear that the Saints had yet to do anything.  By halftime the score was close: 14-10, following an excellent fake-punt/first down that in retrospect was the game changer.

I was kind of hoping for some semi-big stage act to play during the halftime show, like a mini-Superbowl sort of thing but I was wrong, and glad of it.  Instead, the break was filled by a huge marching band that commandeered the field in a choreographed musical dance that was impressive, engaging, and tirelessly entertaining.  I’m pretty sure it was my first live full-on marching band experience, and I totally get it now.  

I know it’s silly but I kept thinking how large a space the group must require to rehearse.  Then I would have to remind myself yet again that what they would need to rehearse was in fact a football field, and pretty much every college and high school in America would have one readily available.

Anyway, I loved it.

And then the rest of the game commenced and it was all fantastic, plus by then we had found a beer kiosk that sold IPA’s.  In the third quarter the Saints touched down to take the lead but late in the fourth the Eagles were set to ruin things as they surged towards the Saints’ goal line only six points behind.

And then we intercepted the ball.  To say that the crowd went bananas would be to forever overstate the value of even the greatest of fruits, which is to say that the crowd wailed like manic caged banshees.  It was thunderous.  A few plays later the Saints got a first down and I heard a man a hundred feet to my left scream, “We just won the game!”

And again with all the screaming!

Then the players did that kneel-down thing that footballers do when they want to win before a game is actually over, which soon brought all the players and coaches running onto the field to celebrate as the clock still ticked away.  

(I’ve always found that a weird, unfortunate part of football.  It’s gaming the game, like bidding $1 from contestants row in The Price Is Right.  Sure I’d do it, but I don’t like watching it.)  

My goodness, the whole experience was so, so outlandishly fun.  The streets after the game were just packed.  I’m sure Bourbon Street was a madhouse.  Well, it’s always a madhouse, but I’m sure it was madhouser.  Regardless, we opted to slowly bee-line it back to our abode where we enjoyed a drink or two before heading next door to Ernst’s (again) for dinner.  I loved my red beans & rice (when don’t I?) but I didn’t love our server, who didn’t bring our drinks until we were halfway done our meal and then poured my can of beer into a plastic cup and sent us on our way shortly after I swallowed my last morsel.  It made us miss Lisa.

Then it was just a stroll back next door to some nightcaps and a ridiculously early night.

Golly, what a great day we had, and what a great game.  M’lady’s gloves were “it”.

011419 A Hurricane of Hand Grenades

I woke up in the morning with a mission, the scope and difficulty of which I could not have fully known, lest I would not have taken up the challenge in the first place.

Y’see, we had booked a car rental for the weekend to be picked up at 3pm on Friday the 18th, but I had discovered a Salvador Dali exhibit was showing just blocks from our destination and it would be ending that very day at 5pm.  The problem was, our destination was at least two hours away from the airport pickup spot.

So I wanted to switch my pending pickup and dropoff time to noon instead of 3pm.  I had tried to do so online but had discovered I would have to cancel and rebook, and the prices had gone up.  I figured once we arrived in New Orleans I could just call the rental agency and talk to a clerk at the desk.

Oh boy, was I wrong.  I won’t bore you with any more details, but I was on the phone for three hours.  When I was finally given the right number to call it was a quick and easy two minutes to find out that no, I can’t change the pickup time without incurring a $200+ charge (on a $85 three-day rental), so no, I couldn’t change it.

Ah well, I ain’t gonna let nobody steal my joy!  Mission aborted and morning wasted, m’lady and I headed out for some straight-up tourist time killing, which led us along the waterfront shops to the French Market.  There were a few cool shops where I wanted to buy everything and a million shops and stands where I wanted to buy nothing.  I ended up with nothing.

Meandering back through the French Quarter we stopped into our first hot sauce store of the trip.  I was several samples in when I spied my favourite hot sauce ever, a chocolate habanero variety.  And though I devoured the bottle I brought home with me last time like it was candy, somehow this time I lit into a super-strong nibble which left me staggering and tearing up.  Another customer looked at me and asked if I was all right.  I tried to say, “I’ll be okay,” but honest-to-gawd I couldn’t even speak.  I tried again and barely a rasp emitted from my mouth.  I simply could not make my vocal chords work.  I crossed the store to find m’lady and by the time I got there my voice started to return. 

Back on the streets we were bored and meandering.  We figured a coffee or a drink somewhere might be fun and soon found ourselves in front of Pat O’Brien’s.  One of NOLA’s most famous drinking holes, O’Brien’s started as a speakeasy and opened as a legit bar basically the same day that prohibition was repealed.  Marking that momentous day, the story goes that the proprietor approached all the bootleggers in town and bought up all of their now-legal rum for a pittance, and then he promptly invented The Hurricane in order to sell the now unwanted liquor for a premium.  

It worked, and until a decade or two ago drinking in the French Quarter invariably meant having a Hurricane or two.  Now that honour has been taken over by the Hand Grenade.

Anyways, I was surprised to hear that m’lady had never had a Hurricane before, and I had never been inside O’Brien’s before so in we went, where we grabbed a window seat and sucked down our oversweet booze-filled concoctions while watching some television or movie crew film an outside scene directly across the street.  (For some reason that little stretch of side street seems to always be used for filming something or other.)

We were both disappointed enough in our drinks that we figured we should get a Hand Grenade instead, though we did finish the Hurricanes so it was less of an “instead” and more of an “in addition to” sort of thing.  We found a Tropical Isle location, sat at the bar and ordered a couple (Tropical Isle copyrighted the Hand Grenade thirty-five years ago and are the only ones allowed to sell them, but luckily there are about a half-dozen TI locations along the surprisingly short Bourbon Street so the dangerously delicious and near-poisonous beverages are readily available).

The place was empty when we arrived so we chatted quite a bit with the friendly bartender.  People flowed in and out and with every ebb and flow it became more and more clear that the small bar mostly served as a takeout place.

At one point a guy came in with his lady and ordered themselves their first-ever hand grenades.  “No matter what, don’t drink two,” I warned, anti-prophetically.

“Oh, I’ll be having two then,” he answered, with a smiling snarkyness that gave me hope for the youth of today.

Of course I ignored my own advice, ordering myself a second Hand Grenade as we chatted and chatted.  As I sucked the end of that straw I ordered a third for m’lady and I to share along the walk home.  

Did I say “walk”?  I’m guessing it was more of a stagger.

The fact that we made Hamburger Helper for dinner when we got back to the suite is almost criminal, given the plethora of amazing food options all around us.

“Don’t worry, we’re saving a million dollars by not eating out,” m’lady said, like a genius.  “And we’ll probably just puke it up later anyway,” she added, (almost) like a prophet

And you know, she would have been 100% right had I made it to dinner.  But I didn’t.

I discovered whilst vomiting that our toilet flushed hot water, which, while very odd, was also very comforting in my particular circumstance.  (I verified this strange fact a few days later by pulling the lid off the back of the toilet and dipping my finger into the basin of flush-water-to-be.  The water was as hot as tap water can get.  Weird.  That said, the shower tap is backwards too, so that when you turn it it’s hot first, then gets cooler the more you turn it.  It seemed the whole room was watered backwards.  I wondered if the resort was aware of this.  If not, I was sure I could save them thousands of dollars…

Of course I wasn’t thinking any of this at the time.  Rather, I was squirming in my own discomfort until my lovely m’lady petted me until I fell asleep.  I soon realized that I had saddled her with an almost-cooked pan of Hamburger Helper so I did everything I could to drag my carcass out of bed and at least try to hang out with her.  Maybe the food would help…heck, it even had “Help” in it’s name.  I remember laying there and forcing myself out of the bed by thinking, “C’mon now, be a big man!” and when I actually managed to get up I honestly, seriously felt like a freakin’ hero.

“What are you doing?!?” m’lady yelped as I flopped down helpfully on the couch in a heap.  “I just got you to sleep!”

I was so pleased; the couch just wasn’t big enough to hold all of my illness.  Given how hard I had worked to get out of bed just a moment before it took surprisingly no effort at all to pull myself off of the couch to go back to bed, where I soon fell into a long, merciful sleep.  I had heroically thrown myself on a trio of live Hand Grenades and this was the karmic thanks I got.

It was about 7:30pm.  

111519 Magazine Street and Eating at Emeril’s

I woke up at 4:44am and laid there worrying that I might not be able to get back to sleep until I finally did, and I managed to stay down until almost seven o’clock in the morning.  Despite my elongated slumber I still woke up feeling like garbage so I got up, did my morning calisthenics as best I could and went for a long, purging walk.  I found my way to Lee Circle, where m’lady and I had stayed a couple of years before in a place called the Hotel Modern.  

We had been staying on the eighth floor which put us eye-to-eye with the oversized statue of General Lee that stood atop a tall white pillar in his namesake park across the street from the hotel.

Looking out of our window one day I remarked to m’lady how surprised I was that there could stand a statue honouring a Confederate general right smack-dab in the middle of New Orleans, and how insulting that statue must be to a lot of people that had to walk by it every day.  

And once again I was ahead of my time, if only a little.  About a week after we got home from that trip the city announced that they were going to take down several statues that were dedicated to Confederate leaders including the one at Lee Circle, and in the ensuing weeks many other cities started doing the same thing.

As I stood there on this morning I saw that the pillar was still there, looking stark and conspicuously empty with the statue removed.  I was surprised that they hadn’t replaced it with something else, or at least taken down the pillar.  Although maybe it’s better this way, I’m not sure.

As for the Hotel Modern, it seems to be…um…modernizing.  It was closed down, half boarded up, and undergoing major renovations.  I hadn’t liked it much anyway.

I continued wandering around until I found myself at Rouses Market where I picked up some more chips and a loaf of bread.  I got back at the room still feeling restless so I walked to the post office to mail a Hard Rock Cafe t-shirt to my Belgian friend.  

Walking up to the grand edifice I thought the same thing I always do when I walk up to an American post office: I thought, “Wow, America really does post offices right.”  They tend to be large and opulent – like old banks – and I like ‘em.  This one featured a number of tall, white pillars holding up a precision-square roof, with marble stairs leading up to a set of old revolving doors.

But boy, was I in for a shock when I revolved through those doors.  I found myself staring down a pair of burly, gun-toting security guards who ran me through what was basically the equivalent of airport security.  I emptied my pockets, walked through a metal detector and had my bag x-rayed under their watchful eyes before finally being permitted to gain admission to the post office.  And i was further surprised to find that the interior of the grand-looking edifice was actually quite small.  There was only one employee in there.  And she was surly.  Very safe, and very surly.

With no plans at all for the afternoon m’lady and decided to walk to Magazine Street where we meandered in and out of several stores, including an antique shop where m’lady picked up a couple of Pyrex bowls.  Once we started getting hungry we got out of the area – full as it is with cool and funky pubs and restaurants – because we had dinner reservations and we didn’t want to spoil our appetites.  We hopped the bus back to our hotel and twiddled our fingers until it was almost 7pm.  How I kept my hands out of the chips I’ll never know, but I sure am glad I did.

It’s funny that we pretty much had to walk by Emeril’s newest restaurant Meril to get to his Emeril’s Downtown location, but with the famed chef owning four restaurants in a city as relatively small as New Orleans I suppose that’s to be expected.  Regardless, Emeril’s Downtown was less than five minutes away from our hotel and when we arrived we were very excited.

We had been to another of Emeril’s locations once before and I remember the meal being quite fantastic.  M’lady had been to this very location with her mother and sister a couple of years ago and she had loved it, and by this time of day we were both starving.

The hostess who seated us was on her first day on the job, of that I’m quite sure.  She led us through the table area, weaving us through a sea of other guests before stopping to ask a waiter which table was which.  When she found our table she pulled out the wrong chairs for us, chairs that would have had us staring at the wall.  Another waiter jumped forward and seated us properly.

Then some guy came over and introduced himself, shaking m’lady’s hand and mine.  He also introduced our water-pourer and told us to expect our waiter soon.  We never saw this man again and to this day I have no idea who he was or what he was doing.  

Our waiter did come and he was weird.  He was an Asian guy with a thick southern accent and he mumbled through front teeth so bad they looked like they were about to fall out.  I mean, dude looked like he had been freshly punched in the mouth really, really hard just before coming to our table.  I mention the teeth only as a descriptor – I don’t mean to be mean – and I couldn’t have cared less about his dents.  Truthfully he was only weird because of how much of a struggle it was to understand everything and anything he said, and when we did we found he was generally asking us odd questions.

The restaurant was very close to the WWII Museum (which is abhorrent, and somehow the most popular attraction in NOLA).  The waiter asked if we had been, remarking on how the museum had actual “souvenirs” from the war.  Rather than tell him I thought the place was bloated with patriotism and steeped in murderous pride I instead explained that back in Ottawa we lived just a few miles from the Canadian War Museum, so…

He looked at me with true shock on his face.  “But, what would there be in a Canadian war museum?” he asked, completely dumbfounded.

I thought of 10,000 things to say, but kept it at this: “Well, Canada was fighting WWII two years before the Americans got involved.”

“Really?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I replied, “WWII started in 1939, not 1941.”  (When I toured Pearl Harbour the tour guides repeatedly mentioned that WWII had started in 1941.  I’m pretty sure that’s what most Americans believe.)

“It did?” he replied, truly amazed.  “I’ve got to look up my history.” 

Then I added one final tidbit:  “You know, the first time the United States ever declared war, it was against Canada.”

I’m pretty sure he thought I was lying.  “Yeah, in 1812,” I continued.  I’m sure he was wondering how there could then still be a Canada.  I wanted to tell him that the US had lost that war and that we Canadians had burned down their White House, but he already thought I was pulling his leg so I just asked him to bring me another beer.

Really, I suppose he was just trying to be personable – this is a tourist town after all – but we would have rather been left alone.  Same goes for the water-dude.  Every time I took even the merest sip there he was, topping up my glass.  I started to feel bad, like whetting my whistle was a make-work project for him.  I soon learned to leave my water glass alone.

Finally, we were seated in the very corner of the restaurant, right next to the server’s waylay station, so there was always a group of bored waiters and waitresses hanging over our table making small talk and scanning the crowd.  But on to the food:

The three different breads that came to our table were all delicious.  M’lady and I both ordered the chicken, which came with two differently prepared pieces: fried and truffled.  And man-o-man, was the skin on that fried chicken good!  I mean it was exceptional.  Every crispy nibble was a communion with the gods of cookery; the stuff could not go into my mouth without my eyes snapping shut in holy glory.  Dear lord, it was tasty (the truffled chicken was really good too).  On the side was mac and cheese, a dish I strangely have no time for, and haven’t since I hit my teen years.  But they were either doing something really right or really wrong with it because I found it quite delicious.  

I easily cleaned my plate, though it was difficult, as much food as we had been given.  When we walked out of there m’lady could barely move.  I had never seen her so full.  

Luckily it was less than two blocks back to our hotel, where we both laid down on the couch like walruses and waited patiently for digestion.  

011619 Crossing Names Off of the Restaurant List

In a belly-filled fit of glory I slept until almost 8am, a fairly dramatic sleep-in for me that felt great.  

I did my coffees and my internetting and enjoyed sitting around with m’lady until we decided to get a move-on.  We got out of the room shortly after 11am with nothing on the menu except to poke our heads into the nearby aquarium complex to take in an Imax movie on Antarctica.  Shortly after we paid the $7+ entrance we noticed that you get entrance to a free Imax movie of your choice with an aquarium pass purchase.  We considered doing that for next time until we saw the movie, which was pretty short (at forty-five minutes), and pretty lame besides.  

Missing our cat back home in Ottawa, we walked to a loom store on Royal Street that we had discovered on previous trips that has seven cats lounging amongst the rugs.  We both get our Chilly Willy-surrogate fix, and afterwards we sat down in the small courtyard of Cafe Beignet for a coffee and a treat, where we entertained ourselves by toying with yet another cat who was grazing for treats of his own.  Finally we strolled along sketchy Bourbon Street where an appropriately sketchy homeless guy escorted us to the Popeye’s on the corner of Canal Street, from which we bee-lined it back to our room.

A few days earlier I had made a list of places that we wanted to eat and we were happily crossing them off.  Oysters weren’t on the list but I added them just so we could cross them off and then we immediately headed out the door for oyster happy hour.

Oyster happy hours are a dime a dozen in New Orleans, though the happy hour oysters themselves are generally in the quarter-to-seventy-five cents range.  We sat down at a place along the pedestrian plaza just behind our hotel where m’lady ordered herself a dozen (at seventy-five cents each).  Only ten came on the large, iced tray but they were huge.  I had nothing but a beer.  Our waitress was on the grumpy side but the atmosphere was great, and when we pointed out the shellfish miscount she brought out three more oysters for m’lady.  Overall it was a pleasant way to while away a good chunk of the afternoon.

We were so close to our room we just went back to it and sat there letting our hunger grow back until suppertime.  I had scrawled “Mother’s” near the top of our foodie list and when the time finally came it was with great anticipation (for me, anyway) that we walked a short block to one of New Orlean’s most famous down-home restaurants, and one I’ve always enjoyed.

Mothers is set up like a lunch counter; one pulls their tray along metal runners in front of cases of food up to the cash.  The place is known for their baked ham and their daily specials and I took advantage of both by ordering a large bowl of pea soup.  It was good, but nothing to write home about (despite the fact that I’m doing exactly that right now).  So unimpressed was I that when we got back to our room after dinner (which is exactly and only what we did) I crossed Mother’s off of the list and mentally took it off of my mental list of must-do’s when I’m in the Big Easy.

Sorry Mother’s, you’re still pretty good and reasonably priced and of course I love your steadfast no-tipping rule, but you ain’t all that to make me come in every time no more.

011719 The Radiators, the Sculpture Garden, and the Best Burger in America?

One of my favourite free things to do in New Orleans is to visit the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden right beside the New Orleans Museum of Art.  A built-in bonus to this excursion is the inevitable trolley ride to the museum grounds in the first corner of City Park.

(I say “first corner” because City Park is massive…like, way bigger than Central Park in NYC.  Heck, it holds about a half-dozen full eighteen-hole golf courses and through all my romps through the park I’ve never even seen one.  It boasts the largest collection of mature live oak trees in the world, some over six hundred years old.  And the park itself is old too, having been a designated park since the mid-1800’s.)

Luckily m’lady had never been to the Sculpture Garden before – we tried to visit once together but it poured rain the moment we stepped off the streetcar so we waited for the next one and got on it – so making the trek at some point on this vacation was a no-brainer.

And in we went, slowly but steadily rounding the paths and taking in any number of fantastic and clever works of three-dimensional outdoor art.  Unfortunately a chunk of the park (including several sculptures) was cordoned off due to extensive construction which was being undertaken in order to expand the garden, but on the other hand this meant the next time I visit the collection it will be even bigger.

After an hour or so we saw what there was to see and ducked into NOMA for a few moments to use the restroom and peruse their giftshop.  It took forever to get a streetcar back to the Quarter but no matter, we had little on our plate for the rest of the day.

I was worried that we might start getting bored with NOLA, and here we’d only been in the city for half of our allotted time.  Best try some new things next week, thought I, maybe a walking tour or a ride in a hansom cab, or maybe we could rent bikes…we’d seen so much of the stuff we always see that we were starting to feel like we had seen it all to death.  That said we hadn’t yet made the trek to Frenchman Street or out to The Maple Leaf Bar…We love it here, that’s for sure, but…

One thing’s for sure: our bland, dank, windowless hotel room wasn’t helping much.  It’s no fun to sit in a room without windows – I don’t really know why, but I was quickly finding it to be true – and unlike other timeshares I had stayed at in the city our hotel had nothing in the way of any sort of social interaction whatsoever.  Noted: next time stay at the Quarter House, or maybe the Wyndham or the place down on Esplanade, but certainly not the Plaza Suites again.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that it was bad per se, but it sure wasn’t good.

When we got back to said sad suite m’lady laid down for rest so I decided the time was ripe for something I had been itching to do since we had arrived: I went to the casino.  I did pretty all right and had a fun time as well, winning $275 at blackjack and enjoying a couple of free IPA’s taboot.  Heck, I felt like I could have sat there forever and raked in millions, but there’s a good chance that I got out of there at just the right time.  

Plus I had a burger in my future.

Some months previous I happened upon some guy’s internet list of the best 100 burgers in America, and he had them all sectioned by state.  I jotted down the two spots he mentioned that were in New Orleans and after a little on-the-ground investigation I decided that The Company Burger was the way to go.  I can’t speak to the other burger he recommended ‘cuz I didn’t go there, but I can assure all readers that I don’t have any regrets whatsoever in my decision to patronize The Company Burger.  

They have two locations in the city and one was pretty close to our hotel; very near to what had become our local grocery store.  Their menu was brief, with just two burger choices: a single large patty or two smaller patties.  M’lady chose the former, I the latter.

Their burger was pretty straightforward, sporting just pickles, onions, and cheese, and I was very pleased to see that the seating area featured a self-serve mayonnaise station replete with jalapeños, ketchup, and about a half-dozen flavours of mayo.  Plus they serve a nice selection of good beer.

Despite this lack of grandiosity, somehow, some way The Company Burger was hands-down, drop-dead delicious.  “This has got to be the greatest burger in the south,” I muttered between sumptuous bites, but had I been brave enough I might have declared it one of the best no-nonsense cheeseburgers in all of America, perhaps even North America.  Goodness, it was a good burger.

(So good in fact that when we eventually got back to the hotel room I didn’t bother crossing The Company Burger off of our must-eat list because I felt like we had to eat there again.  In the end we didn’t, which is all the more reason to return to New Orleans.  And you know, in retrospect we are in no way getting bored with The Big Easy.  If anything we love it there so much that our comfort level with the city had lulled us into a calm state of laziness; we didn’t feel overly motivated to go out of our way to do things we have done – and enjoyed –  before.  Like for example the aforementioned Frenchman Street, or wandering through cemeteries.  We even passed on a show at the beautiful Saenger Theatre and, well, there is so much more to this great, great city that we didn’t do.  We still dream of renting a house for a solid month – or two – and bringing the cat down with us for a nice extended stay.  And it’s not rare for us to discuss (dream?) of buying a small house somewhere in Louisiana.  Bored with New Orleans?  Pffft.  Bored shmored.)

Once we finished our burgers and beers and sat sighing for the appropriate amount of time about how good they both were we stepped outside, walked two blocks to St. Charles Street and finished our walkaway beers just as the streetcar pulled up.  We rode it to Napoleon Avenue and walked the last kilometre to Tipitina’s, one of New Orleans’ most highly regarded venues.

We had been there once before – for the Drive By Truckers – but this time we were there to see a band of local heroes called The Radiators.  Neither m’lady nor I had ever heard a note of the band before; heck we had barely even heard of them, but my daily scouring of New Orleans entertainment sites leading up to this trip had revealed a surprising dearth of interesting concerts to attend, with pretty much the sole exception being this three-night run featuring The Radiators at Tipitina’s.

A little digging revealed that The Radiators had ceased playing together some time ago, save for this annual string of shows at Tip’s and their yearly showing at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, both of which apparently brings out fans in droves.  Curious concertgoers that we are, this info was enough for us to jump on tickets when they went on sale and we were lucky enough to snag the opportunity to shell out considerable dollars for a pair of tickets to the Thursday night show.

Like, almost a famous-band amount of dollars.

But like I say, we knew nothing about The Radiators or their music, so we were happily surprised when we lined up outside the bar to pick up our tickets and we found ourselves surrounded by tie-dies and Stealies.  I guess the reason we had even heard of The Radiators had to do with the fact that they pull in a jammy crowd.  Heck, they even called their sound “Fish Music”, though the band predates Phish, or at least Phish fame.

Tickets secured, in we went, taking a spot halfway back on the floor.  I struck up a few conversations and was surprised to discover that many people in the room had flown in for the show(s) from out of state.  The people I spoke with were equally surprised to discover that I was wholly unfamiliar with the band and that I had managed to score tickets at all.  

This all boded well.

The opening act was a solo guitar player of the highly-skilled variety named Phil DeGruy.  He used artificial harmonics and played behind the nut as often and naturally as most players strum a G chord.  He was a chord-melody guy, doing old tunes by bands like The Hollies and The Beatles.  Good player, great look; I hope I see him again sometime.

The Radiators ambled onto the stage to energetic applause, the elderly and grey musicians planting themselves on stage where they would hold court for the next two-plus hours.  And while the music was pretty good I found the songwriting lacking any serious appeal, but yeah, I can understand why these guys were a popular live band back in the day.  Though I’m sure most people make the trip more for the inevitable reunions than the band itself, which is understandable to me as I do that sort of thing all the time.

Anyway, I kept the bartenders busy and we stuck it out until the bitter end.  When the band was done so were we.  We finished our final drinks and shuffled back up to St. Charles Street and hopped on a late night streetcar back to our hotel ‘hood, another great New Orleans day in the books.

011819 The Road to Lafayette and the Glory of Durwood

I slept until 8:30 or so in the morning – which was quite merciful – but I still woke up feeling pretty hung over, though all things considered that was probably to be expected.  I kept my activity at a minimum, sticking with nothing but coffees and internet until we finally got moving around 11:45.  We had a plan to get to the airport car rental kiosk nice and early where I fully expected my in-person charm and persistence would succeed in securing an early pickup time where my calls to the rental agency had failed so miserably.  If successful, I was confident we would receive our car with plenty of time to get to the museum in Lafayette before it closed at 5pm, taking the temporary Salvador Dali exhibit I very much wanted to see with it.

We walked to the E2 airport bus stop, got to airport, and thus began my own, self-produced nightmare (to be fair I had a little help from the rental agency…I really couldn’t have created this nightmare without them).  Y’see, when I booked the car rental online months before I had used the credit card I happened to have in my pocket, too lazy was I to go up the stairs and retrieve my preferred card.  

And just a little investigation showed that my preferred card came with free rental insurance, whilst the lazy-bones in-pocket card I actually used for the booking didn’t.  No worries, I thought, I’ll just pay for the insurance.  Well, I stepped up to the rental desk and was told that three-day coverage for my $70 rental would cost almost $400US extra.  I was flabbergasted.  I was left reeling, and needed to verify the insurance options (or non-options, as the case was) on each of my credit cards, which sent me in a constant back-and-forth from the main airport terminal (which had wi-fi) and the terminal that held the car rental places (which didn’t).  Back and forth, back and forth, and all accompanied by and acute and mounting frustration.  

In the end I bailed on the original rental – causing me to forfeit two-thirds of my deposit – and rented a new vehicle at the competitor that next kiosk over, using my insurance-clad card this time.  In the end I paid about $160US for everything instead of the original $70, but in doing so I saved $450 on buying insurance.

Which worked out fine in the end, but unfortunately the fiasco ate up every moment of extra time we had bought by getting there early, so we didn’t get out of the airport parking lot until almost 3pm after all.  Though when we did get out of there it was in a pretty sweet Jeep SUV, and neither m’lady nor I let the whole fiasco affect our moods at all.  Instead, we hit the bayou-riddled highway in good spirits, aimed straight towards Lafayette.

And what do you know, we arrived with a solid half-hour left to see the museum collection, but the problem was we couldn’t find it.  I eventually discovered that we had twice turned the wrong way just before seeing the museum as we circled again and again trying to descipher what the lying and devious google directions were trying to reveal.  So even after all that we ended up missing the exhibit anyway.

No biggie, by this point in the day we had become accustomed to brushing off such frustrating inconveniences.  We instead hit a corner store for some water and Cokes and found our way straight to the Blue Moon Saloon, where I had booked us in for the next couple of nights.

I was overjoyed when I had discovered the Blue Moon Saloon (and Guesthouse) online and I was excited for our stay.  The Blue Moon is one of Lafayette’s main live music venues; basically they host bands on the partially enclosed back porch of an old house right downtown, and the house doubles as a small, homey hostel.  Plus, guests get free admission to the bar each night of their stay and a free drink ticket besides.  Let’s just say I was very, very primed for our stay.

We arrived to check in before the staff was actually on hand (turns out they go home at 11am and return to check people in around 5pm) but one of the guests noticed me pressing my face up against the window and let us in.  I found a guitar leaning next to the piano and took it out to the front porch, where m’lady and I sat noodling around while a couple of guys kept busy loading gear out of the bed of a pickup truck and into the back of the bar/house/hostel.

Pretty soon a fellah showed up and we got checked in to the Balcony Room, a good-sized room with a private bathroom sporting two standup showers and, surprise surprise, a balcony.  The wall behind the bed was completely covered in gig posters from the bar downstairs and I noticed that the evening’s headliner Scott H. Biram (from Texas) was featured in several of them, so he was obviously a regular that tours a lot, and that boded well.

We had a few drinks in the room and another on the balcony and scoured the internet for good places to eat within easy walking distance.  I wasn’t completely down with po’boy’s but m’lady was so we agreed on Pop’s Po’Boys for dinner.  We set out in easy search of it, passing by several nifty things along the way (statues, rock n’ bowls, a ’50’s style diner) that led us to believe that Lafayette was a nice little town.

(Err…city.  Though it only has about 120,000 people.  Still, wikipedia tells me it’s a city, and I defer.)

Along the way we noticed scooters everywhere.  Kids were riding scooters, every corner was littered with scooters; it looked like a rental situation, like they do with bicycles in urban centres.  Anyway, it was kind of odd.

Pop’s was kind of like an upscale takeout place with tables and chairs.  Just inside the door was a counter where you place your order, then you take a little flag to your table and wait as patiently as you can while the aroma of astoundingly delicious food bounces through the air.  I perused their board and instantly hit on the debris po’boy, but I was having trouble picking my side.  I really wanted the fried pickles, but then I was kind of in the mood for fries too, or maybe even the greens, which come smothered in bacon.  It all sounds good, right?  But there was something else on the menu I just had to try.

Blue cheese cole slaw.  Gosh, even just typing those words feels like I’ve changed the world.

Okay, blue cheese cole slaw might not make your body quiver, but if there’s one thing I like more than blue cheese…well, it’s peanut butter; I really really like peanut butter.  But I sure like cole slaw an awful lot too (though I didn’t discover that fact until I was well into my thirties.  Oh, to have back all the Club Sandwich-side cole slaws I gave away over the years…)

M’lady ordered the surf & turf po’boy (roast beef and oysters) and the forementioned collared greens with bacon, we each ordered a beer,  and we sipped happily as we waited for our meal.

And lord have mercy on my soul if I didn’t order the most perfectest meal possible.  The po’boy was jam-packed with debris (which is the gravified droppings from a roast of beef) and it was as astoundingly delicious as it was satisfyingly enormous, but the blue cheese cole slaw?  Oh man, I was in complete and utter bliss with every heavenly forkful.  In retrospect I simply cannot think the words “blue cheese cole slaw” without literally drooling.  My goodness, it was so, so so, so good.  I’m drooling right now…does anyone else hear a bell ringing?

M’lady enjoyed her po’boy as well, and while I was happy to enjoy a bite or two of her side of greens, those bites (however wonderful) just made me that much happier that I had ordered the blue cheese cole slaw.  Drool…

We made it back to our room and continued with duty-free Jack & Cokes by 7:30, happily and impatiently waiting for the opening band to start downstairs.  When they did finally start we knew it, as the kick drum and bass frequencies rumbled through the floor like the roar of a Harley Davidson.  

Down we went to find the bar pretty well packed with a lively line of fun-looking music fans ringing the empty dancefloor.  We sidled up to the bar for our free drink of the night (I went for a really tasty and strong local IPA which I stuck with for the evening, infused with the occasional mixed drink back upstairs in our room) and found a spot in front of the soundboard.  

It was a really interesting bar.  One could be easily fooled into thinking that the bar is not outside – covered and walled that it is – but it is indeed outdoors.  The raw wooden walls didn’t quite reach all the way up to the roof, which was less of an actual roof than it was a slanted and grooved piece of tin that thinly covered the house’s large backporch – which itself served as both stage and dancefloor.  And walking around the corner in either direction one quickly and inexplicably would find themselves unquestionably out of doors.  And given that one could reach the out of doors without actually going through an actual doorway proved that the “inside” of the bar was indeed and in fact “outside”.

But right now what’s important is what was going on inside, which in this case was an opening act called Durwood.  They were a four-piece, guitar/vox, bass, guitar, and drums, they were alt-country (I guess) and they were great.  Like, great.  Not only that, but from his very first warm-up note I knew (quite correctly, as the next hour would prove) that the guitar player was going to be drop-dead fantastic.  He was a country picker and he never ever ran out of ideas.  And the singer was great too, and he sang great original songs, and the drummer was super-solid, and the bass player was perfect.  I liked ‘em, yes I did.

And so did the crowd, all the hippies and scallywags (aka: my kind of people) around me were thoroughly engaged and then some.  After two or three songs a girl decided to break the invisible barrier around the dancefloor and started dancing with herself.  Soon a short, kinda dorky-looking guy standing in front of me ambled up next to her, shaking his hips a little.  He caught her eye and gave her a subtle, questioning shrug.  The girl casually nodded back and just like that they started doing a wonderful, fully choreographed dance that everyone ‘round these parts seems to know.  It was a fun shock to see the two of them effortlessly promenade in and around each other like they had been doing it for years, which I guess they had, just presumably not with each other.  It was awesome and just as much fun to watch as the band.

Who, by the way, persisted in being fantastic throughout their entire set.  By the time the singer gave his last mocking over-the-top “Thank-yew!” I was a fan, and I will continue to be one.  I sure hope I get to hear something of theirs again someday.

(I drunkenly spoke to the drummer after the show and discovered that he is one of Melin Seals’ drummers – Melvin uses four different drummers depending on what part of the country he is touring in – and he’s played on a few Grammy-winning albums, so yeah, super-solid.  He told me that it was he who had brought the guitar player to the band, whom he described as the hottest guitarist in the state, and I believe him.)

Eventually a bunch of other people hit the dancefloor and whattya know, that same original dancing girl asked m’lady to dance.  M’lady had to decline, yelling into the girls ear that she had no idea how to do the dance, and no, she wasn’t really interested in learning right now, thanks.

During the changeover between acts we happened upon the proprietor/manager/guy who had checked us in at his post – which was the gate in the front yard – where he sat charging the cover charge.  He was a nice, talkative guy, but we were most in awe of his cat Catorce, named thusly because the critter had been discovered on the 14th hole of a golf course.  The reason we were in awe of Catorce (aside from our overt interest in cats in general) was how he obediently and impossibly laid like a furry lump on top of the pizza box that the dude was using as a cash box.  So every time someone walked up and paid a cover he’d lift up the pizza box lid and deposit the money, and then fish out change.  All the while Catorce would be laying on the cardboard lid looking like a dead thing save for the fact that he would casually hold on to the side to keep from slipping off.

We saw it happen several times, and as owners/proprietors/managers of a genuine scaredy-cat back home, and one that would never stand for…er…sit for such jostling, well we were completely amazed every time a bill went into the box.

Anyway, back up to the room we went for another free drink from our duty-free bottles, and back down to the bar went we with said drinks in hand.  We weren’t nearly as impressed with one-man-band Scott H. Biram, but he was good enough to keep us down there for another one or two of their really strong beers after we finished our plastic BYOB cocktails, and by the time we went upstairs for good it was getting pretty drunky down there.

And happy; drunky and happy.  What a fun bar, that Blue Moon Saloon.  I highly recommend it.

011919 Breaux Bridge, Baby and More Tunes at the Blue Moon Saloon

We both woke up in the middle of the night to a thunderous crack of lightning.  “Wow, that was really close,” m’lady said, taking the words right out of my sleepy mouth.  It poured rain really, really hard for the next long time.  No wonder there’s so much swamp around here, the rain comes down too furiously to soak up.  

The storm eventually abated and I fell back into a solid slumber, finally waking up around 10:30 or so feeling significantly better than I should have been feeling.  M’lady and I made coffee downstairs in the common kitchen and started the day off slowly.  When we headed out it was by car, stopping first at a local market which was small and not very exciting (we each bought a cookie), then on to Breaux Bridge, a small community about ten miles away from Lafayette.  

As soon as we arrived we drove across the namesake bridge and pulled over onto the side of Main Street.  We had lunch straightaway at a fancy-ish place called Sydnie Mae’s,  I was hankering my new standard but decided to mix things up a little, ordering white beans and rice instead of my standard red, with a side of zydeco beans.  M’lady went all out and ordered shrimp and grits, also with zydeco beans.  My meal was really good, and the zydeco beans were delicious.  M’lady on the other hand was over the moon, insisting that this was her favourite meal of the trip so far.  I got to admit, her pile of food looked quitesplendid. 

Up next was what seemed like the only way of passing time in Breaux Bridge: antique shops.  We cruised through a few of them for the next three hours or so.  I was overjoyed to discover a cabinet full of Edison cylinders selling for $5 each.  I’ve long been fascinated by Edison cylinders, especially the fact that they weren’t reproducible, meaning every cylinder in the world was actually in the room with the musicians when they were recorded, and as a result each cylinder is somewhat unique.  I’ve never owned one before, but now I own two.  M’lady found herself some more Pyrex bowls, which on the whole were more expensive in Breaux Bridge than the place we visited on Magazine Street in New Orleans, though we initially thought that place had been quite pricey.

Back out on Main Street the temperature was dropping steadily (somehow when we left our room we had decided not to wear jackets or sweaters).  The needle was heading towards an overnight low of just one degree, but even at 6C it felt blustering; I just could not warm up.

You heard it here first: It’s not the cold, it’s the humidity.

Regardless, it was much too cold for our sleeveless selves so we got back in the Jeep and booked it back to Blue Moon Saloon where we whiled away the afternoon cozily ensconsed in our room.

Once again there was live music scheduled downstairs, and I believe it was a fundraiser.  There sure were a lot of bands on the bill – four or five I think – and they were slated to start early.

We could hear the first band just fine from our room upstairs.  Maybe a little too fine.  The band sounded okay but boy, the singer needed a bit of work.  They sounded like Soundgarden with a bit of a Pearl Jam vocal thing going on – dude’s voice was strong and had an excellent timbre, but he was seriously lacking in training and experience – a few lessons and he might just be amazing.  

By this point I was getting hungry and bored enough to hanker an excursion but I was amazed to learn that m’lady was still full from our lunch seven hours before.  And so we waited and stalled until finally she was able to muster up a bit of food interest.  For my part, I spent the time humming and hawing about where to go.  I wanted so, so much to go back to Pop’s Po’boys and order the exact same thing as the night before.  It was just so, so good that it felt criminal not having it again – especially the blue cheese cole slaw.

(I very, very quickly developed a Pavlovian response where all I have to do is think the phrase “blue cheese cole slaw” and I start salivating like a dog ringing a bell.)

But (I feared) what if we go somewhere else and it turns out that it was even better than Pop’s?

Nah, couldn’t happen.  I looked at their menu online one more time and almost drowned in my own saliva.  We went straight there.

And I did order the same thing: a full-sized debris po’boy with the blue cheese cole slaw (drool…) and an additional order of deep fried pickles.  M’lady got a small shrimp po’boy.  And it was all fantastic, though everything came in noticeably smaller portions than the previous night.  Could it be because I hadn’t left a tip?  Hmmm.  Anyway, I knew I wouldn’t be able to eat my whole meal and I was right.  I took half my po’boy back to the Blue Moon with me though m’lady did manage to finish her half-sizer.

When we got back to the room it was band change-over time again; obviously we had missed at least one of the groups.  After the next band started we sauntered downstairs to check them out (and to cash in our daily free drink tickets).  I figured the cold weather would diminish the crowd somewhat – it is essentially an outdoor venue after all – but I was saddened and surprised to see literally just two people in the bar when we got down there, with three more crowded under a heat-tree in the back.  The band was playing with the appropriate vim and vigour of being outside in the cold with basically no audience but they were pretty good, alternating between a Black Sabbath sort of sound and a Rush-like proginess.  The drummer was actually quite impressive.

We spent setbreak warming up in our room and were lured back down for the last band, a three-piece called The Good Samaritans.  And you know, it turned out that they were pretty great Samaritans.  The drummer was super-tight and having lots of fun, the bass player was solid on his five-string and they both delivered strong backup vocals, but the frontman was something else.  He was a fine guitar player with a mile of energy, and he had an elastic voice that could stretch high and pure or get down and gritty at the drop of a hat.  This was just their third gig (I believe), having gotten together only two months before and playing their first show just two weeks earlier.

In addition to several good originals they delivered a bunch of cool covers, with clever versions of Everybody Wants To Rule The World and Midnight Rider, a couple of Elton John numbers, an impromptu Sweet Emotion that was played by request and via the seat of their pants and came off shockingly good, before finally closing out their set with a killer Purple Rain.  I knew they had to have some Prince in their arsenal; the singer just had that high falsetto thing down so perfectly.  

By this time the crowd had swelled to about seven of us.

And then it was one final trip upstairs where we pulled the covers up tightly around us and fell asleep around midnight.

012019 The Dubious Victory of the McIlhenny Family and the Fraudulent Defeat of the Saints; Tabasco Tour on Avery Island

Well, this was a day I had been looking forward to!

I got up and went down to the common room for a few cups of coffee while m’lady kept sleeping.  Gosh, I don’t know why I have to wake up so darn early lately but I do.  At least I get a good start to the days.  Fortunately I’ve always had a love of mornings, going back to my days delivering 180 copies of the Globe & Mail newspaper six days a week before 7am.

When it was time to go I packed the car while m’lady went across the street to a bakery.  She came back with a box rife with donuts and pastries that kept us happy until lunchtime.  This after I had already made breakfast of the remaining half of my leftover poboy.

It was a pretty quick drive to Avery Island, maybe forty minutes or so, except that we got held up by a train that was held up itself and not moving a bit, stopped dead along the tracks and blocking the only way in or out of where we were heading.  Most of the waiting cars bailed but we held fast.  Aftermaybe a half-hour the train was moved and we continued on our way.

Our target was the world famous Tabasco factory, a family-run globally-recognized institution that dated back a century and-a-half and like I say, I was excited.

We opted for both the Tabasco tour and the Jungle gardens drive, which took place on a different chunk of the “island”, which isn’t really an island at all, though it is completely encircled by water in the form of a wide river.  And get this: the whole of Avery Island is actually a massive salt deposit that bubbled up from below the Earth’s crust and is estimated to be the size of Mount Everest.

And this is where the McIlhenny family has been growing, mashing, aging, salting and vinegaring their special strain of peppers since day one.  Why they don’t call it Salt & Pepper Island is beyond me.

The tour was self-guided and was quite interesting.  It started with the history of the McIlhenny family and their sauce, and (oddly, it seemed to me) included a bit of info on Maunsel White, another Louisiana resident who had been making his own Tabasco Sauce (though he spelled it “tobasco”) a full fifteen years before Edmund McIlhenny claimed to have invented the stuff.  Wikipedia pretty much concludes that the recipe for the now-famous condiment was stolen from Mr. White, which is probably why Edmund’s children heard so many different versions of how their dad had come up with his concoction and how he had named it; each story was just that: a story.

(Curiously, McIlhenny originally wanted to name his sauce “Petite Anse” after his family homestead but his father-in-law [I believe it was] was against the idea.)

After a room full of historical panels and artifacts we moved on to a small sample greenhouse that held a few pepper plants and then past a tiny mock-up of a barrel room (white oak barrels, doncha know), which was pretty lame until we noticed that next door to the display was an actual warehouse chock full of barrels.  So vast and endless were the rows of stacks of barrels that it was reminiscent of the final scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark.  

Next up was the mix and mash room, with endless chrome vats of squished and aged peppers stretching before us behind a wide pane of glass.  Walking into the building the aroma was unmistakeable, but in case you needed an extra whiff there was a button that when pressed would give you a blast of extra-aromatic air from the other side of the glass.  It took until now for me to notice that it being a Sunday there were no workers on site.  

This was extra disappointing when we moved on to the vast bottling area, with row after row of metal tracks creating a labyrinth of pathways for hundreds of thousands of little bottles to be filled, capped, and labelled.  And all the tracks laid dormant, the intricate machinery mute and motionless and not a single bottle in sight.  Rats!

The rest of the tour was a bit lamer, with a room showing the history of salt-based Avery Island and a walk-through diorama of the salt mines that lay beneath us.  The last room on the tour had examples of Tabasco products from around the world (the stuff is available in 180 countries, which is almost all of them, except Zimbabwe, Syria, North Korea, and a small handful of others).

Okay, I guess the last room on the tour is actually the gift shop, and to be honest we spent as much time in there as the rest of the tour combined.  It turns out they regularly make seven different flavours: regular and jalapeño, which can be purchased at any store (in the world), plus East Asian sweet, habanero, garlic, chipotle, and Buffalo wing style.  They occasionally make special batches too, so we tried family style (super hot), scorpion sauce (super-duper hot), and raspberry chipotle.  Oh, and there is Sriracha, and we tried jalapeño ice cream and jalapeño soda, and spicy olives and okra and all kinds of stuff.  The gift shop was truly awesome, and we spent close to $100 in there.  The lady at the check out even threw in a free jar of pickled okra.

Our gift shop purchases, not including t-shirts.

We finally, somehow dragged ourselves out of the Tabasco gift shop and started on the second leg of our two-part Avery Island experience, the Jungle Drive.

Basically, the Jungle Drive is a self-driving cruise through the grounds of an old southern gentleman-millionaire’s estate where he kept his aviary, where he built a huge boathouse specifically so his boat-travelling buddy could visit, and where he put his 12th century buddha statue, an old gift from a pair of pals from New York.  It was okay, and we saw a couple of trees laden with perched vultures which was pretty cool, but I certainly could have done without the Jungle Drive (which cost extra).

And then it was off to New Iberia for the big game!  Well, not the big game; that game was still one win away for either my newly-beloved New Orleans Saints or the dreaded LA Rams (boo!).  We didn’t really have any plans for the game but we were pretty sure we didn’t want to watch it by ourselves in our room at the highway-side Motel 6.  With a good half-hour or more at our disposal we did a couple of slow drives along the main drag of New Iberia, a strip that boasts more than it’s fair share of strikingly beautiful old southern mansions.  Gosh there were some nice places down there.

But what there wasn’t much of were bars to watch the game.  We cruised the short-but-sweet business end of the main drag and found but one lone drinking hole open and serving up the game.  We stepped in and were pleasantly surprised to order $1 Budweisers on tap, a price they were sticking with for the duration of the game.  The entire clientele numbered around fifteen or so and we were all seated around the bar, every one.  M’lady and I were both surprised to see everyone smoking, and I mean everyone was smoking.  It’s amazing how relatively quickly we in Canada became accustomed to our stringent nonsmoking laws and equally amazing just how strange it looks when we see people smoking where it feels like they shouldn’t be.

It’s not like it was a game-changer or anything, but we did decide to bail after the first half.  I sure would have been pleased to have sat there drinking dollar-beers with the sociable crowd all afternoon but our motel was a good ten miles away.  So we decided to find somewhere…anywhere within stumbling distance of our motel where we could watch the rest of the game with the freedom to engage in careless drinking.  

So we booted it out to the highway turnoff which was littered with cheap and midrange hotels and the restaurant/bar options that tend to grow up around them.  With little time to waste we pulled into a local-looking Mexican place.  M’lady ran in to scope out the scene while I sat in the car with the engine running.  “No good,” she told me, jumping back into the car.  “Other than staff I was the only person in there.

“And all they have is one small television in the corner,” she continued.  “They said they could turn on the game for me, but…Hey, let’s try that Chili’s over there.”

And we did; again I waited in the car while m’lady ran in.  Soon she poked her head out the door with her thumbs up.  Yep, they had the game on in there, and the bar was ringed with fans decked out in Saints gear.  I told m’lady to go back inside and grab us a pair of seats while I drove the car about three hundred yards to the Motel 6 we had pre-booked, parked outside leaving checkin for another time and ran through a Loews parking lot back to the Chili’s where I rejoined m’lady, who I found parked conveniently on a stool at the bar.

“The more the merrier,” said a guy in a Brees jersey, smiling at me as I walked through the door in my new Saints t-shirt.  

The game had just restarted for the second half.  We kicked off with a couple of beer specials and started picking away at the starter menu.  And thus the afternoon turned dark as we went from beers to margaritas, stuffed ourselves full of stuffed, deep-fried finger foods (including several free deep-fried pickles which the bartender shared with us), and watched in dismay as The Saints got robbed of sure victory in what will certainly go down as one of the worst non-calls in the history of the NFL.  I mean, the game would never, ever have gone to overtime if the most blatant, textbook example of pass-interference had simply been called for what it was, but I gotta say the friendly folks in the bar got over it pretty quickly.  It was mere minutes before everyone was shrugging and maybe-next-year-ing.

It didn’t take long for the bartender to get over it at all.  In a bet with the customer sitting next to us at the bar she had put her money on the Rams.  She was the only person in the place not cheering for The Saints (“I’m actually a Cowboys fan…” she told me after the guy had left.  “I couldn’t care less about the Rams, I just wanted to bet on the game and nobody here was going to bet against The Saints, so…”)

Soon after the game most of the people paid their tabs and left, but we had no better options facing us and we were deep enough into their drink menu already so we decided to stick around, despite the fact that the bar was freezing.

I can’t believe it took until now for me to mention how cold it was in that Chili’s.  I mean, everyone was wearing their jackets.  In a bar.  In Louisiana.  It was astounding.

Even more astounding: after the game the barkeep asked us if we wanted another round.  “We’d stay and drink all night if you could turn up the heat in here,” we told her.  “I can’t believe it, “ she replied.  “I keep turning up the thermostat back there and someone else just keeps on turning it down.”

What?!?!  

And seriously, that was the deal.  I suggested she announce in the kitchen that the heat had to stay on or they were going to lose most of their customers…well,I suggested something.  I forget exactly what I said, but whatever it was she managed to periodically warm the place up a little several times over the next couple of hours).

Regardless, we ended up running up a bill of about $100 (aka 100 Budweisers had we stayed at that bar downtown) and finally staggered back to the Motel 6 well before Chili’s closed up.  Heck, was it even 9pm?  I don’t recall.

What I do recall is an admirably large, embarrassingly barren Motel 6 that was cheap, brutalist, and utterly devoid of…anything.  The hallways were empty, there was no exercise room or even a rudimentary excuse of a breakfast.  There was hardly any furniture in the room, the wifi was hopelessly unstable (I know because I asked the lady at the front desk for some hope and she only offered me only lies).  I decided to save myself the trouble of even bothering to ask if there was an ice machine, so at least there was that.

Instead I turned on the television and tried to find some mind-numbing brain candy able of standing in for a drunken nightcap and could find nothing.  Though of course I left the tv on anyway.  Perhaps the only true victory of the evening?

012119 New Iberia and the Return to Old NOLA

Happy Martin Luther King Day.

We woke up fairly early in our very-nondescript Motel 6 room.  I went downstairs for a coffee where I asked the proprietor if the wifi was possibly going to be working that morning.  When she didn’t respond I noticed that she was dead asleep in her chair.  Or maybe dead; it was certainly that sort of a place.  At least there was coffee.  I filled a couple of styrofoam cups and retreated back to our room.

We didn’t linger – there was certainly no need to – and we got out the door and on our way shortly after 8am (I noticed with some relief the lady was awake and undead when we left; honest, officer…).  We headed in towards the small city centre and stopped at a McDonald’s parking lot along the way to exploit their internet for directions back to our New Orleans hotel and to the airport where we’d be returning the Jeep.  

We hit New Iberia’s beautiful Main Street and cruised it once before parking the car and walking the whole length of it twice.  The big, plantation-style houses that backed onto the bayou were awesome.  We crossed the small bridge that breached the dark brown river and followed a short walking path along the water that ended in a small sculpture park behind a very cool, modernized, tall-and-thin four-storey building that housed a very convincing architecture firm.

We continued along the business end of the main drag that was lined with either old, character-filled brick buildings or hip art-deco structures, like the grand old theatre (now a museum).  The thing was, half of the shops/stores/restaurants were shuttered and closed, and as we got back in our car and explored both sides of the bayou it was clear that New Iberia is a building-by-building dichotomy of the rich and the financially depressed.  Huge, beautiful houses are ringed by squat bungalows, many boarded up for good, and while the downtown area was mostly shuttered, it also boasted lots of visible city-improvements like fancy new city-branded bike racks, a couple of nice new downtown parks, a huge (and I mean huge – and obviously recent) kid’s playground structure, and almost every building sporting an expensive-looking commemorative plaque.

In short, it was a very nice town but who can afford it?

Once we had seen what we could see we hit the road, with the goal of getting to New Orleans with plenty of time to return the car by 2pm (okay, 2:08 to be exact.

We pulled off the highway at Morgan City for a homey southern lunch at a place called Rita Mae’s.  I had the red beans and rice with greens and a breaded pork chop (a Monday standard in Louisiana), m’lady had the fried catfish.  It was all pretty good too, though I was freezing during the whole meal, in spite of have a glowing space heater pointed straight at our table.

After lunch we did a quick cruise along the very short (and mostly closed for the holiday) waterfront and around the general area before making towards the highway.  Ironically I was feeling pretty good about not getting a scratch on the car (after the debacle of waiving the insurance when we rented) when I almost got us t-boned just before getting back on the road.  It would’ve been 100% my fault but I hit the brakes and saved us.  Whew.

The rest of the drive was uneventful and we were ahead of the clock enough for me to go out of our way and drop m’lady at the hotel, which saved us from carrying all of our stuff from the airport (including the big bag of goodies from the Tabasco gift shop) and saved m’lady from going to the airport at all.  I managed to drop off the car safe and sound and only nine forgivable minutes late.

Due to the holiday the bus was on its weekend schedule, which meant the E2 didn’t go all the way downtown and I would have to switch to the 39 at the Burger King.  No problem, I’ve done this a bunch of times. 

Not so for the very worried-looking guy from Mississippi I saw at the Burger King bus stop who had to get to his friend’s place in the French Quarter.  He was on his phone the whole time and clearly not an experienced solo traveller.  Anyway, good Samaritan that I am, I offered to help and got the guy close to his destination.  His friend on the phone told him to just wait at the nearest hotel and he’d come get him.  The guy asked me if I thought the Wyndham would let him wait in their lobby.  I replied that I thought it would be no problem but as I walked away I wondered if that wasn’t my white-privilege shining through.  Dude was in his mid-twenties or so, tall, black, and pretty flamboyantly gay.  I personally would never wonder if I could wait for a ride in a hotel lobby, but I was forced to wonder how many times this guy had gotten the bum’s rush over the course of his young life?

I walked back to the hotel and did a whole lot of sitting around.  M’lady put a frozen pizza in the oven and it was actually pretty good, especially with all the Tabasco olives she put on top.  

And there went the night.

012219 Bikes & Bites

After keeping close tabs on the very-bouncy local weather forecast we determined that with a temperature hovering around 20C or more and a very low chance of rain this would be the ideal day to rent bicycles.  The next day was looking to also be warm but hopelessly raining, and then temperatures were set to cool significantly once again.

Of course we weren’t in any rush so we sat around the room munching on grilled cheese sandwiches before finally setting out around noon.  We walked in to the closest bike shop and booked for a two-hour span ($18 each) with the understanding that if we could adjust our rental agreement if we happened to keep the bikes longer.  By the time the clerk talked our ear off we set out towards Audubon Park with a target of returning the bikes by 2:30pm.

We took it slow along Coliseum Street admiring the gorgeous houses and avoiding the bumps in the road.  We ventured up another street for a few blocks but determined that a rough road was a better option than one full of traffic, so we went back down to Coliseum, eventually veered further towards the river and continued along Annunciation Street, coming into the park right at the base of the Tree of Life, a big, knobby, oak tree that overlooks the giraffe enclosure at the Audubon Zoo. 

We didn’t climb the tree, but we did indeed see a pair of giraffes from the zoo peeking over the fence at us.

Backing up just a moment though, as we were riding towards the park a lady stopped her car next to us at a stop sign and rolled down her window.  

“Do y’all have any dogs?” she asked us.

“No,” m’lady replied, looking over at me questioningly.  I wasn’t sure I had heard her correctly, but I knew that I had no idea how to react.  “Why, did you find one?” m’lady responded.

“No, but I had a little shitzu,” she said, rather sadly.  “He died in November.  

“He looked just like that one!” she exclaimed, pointing kitty-corner across the street, where a man was playing with a couple of dogs in his front yard.

“I just always ask people when I see them if they have dogs,” she said to us in explanation.  “You never know…”

What an odd interaction.  To think this lady just randomly asks everyone she meets (even when she is driving in her car) if they own a dog.  And why?  Because: You never know.

Anyway, we biked halfway around the park, stopping for a spell to sit on a bench at the huge and very birdy duck pond.  Soon enough m’lady tapped her watch and off we went, cruising up through the Tulane University campus until we finally turned back along Freret Street.  And whattya know, we got the bikes back (pretty much) right on time, which saved us a $7 overtime fee per bike.

We walked back to the room shunning a sandwich at Cochon and killed time until Happy Hour.

We had our hearts set on taking in Emeril’s $5 drinks, $5 small plates menu.  We had checked their offerings online and wanted to sit down and order everything (literally, as they only had five things on their Happy Hour menu: double-decker sliders, loaded fries, fried chicken, pork tostadas, and an ice cream sandwich).  Our hotel is just a five-minute walk away from the famed restaurant so we timed our arrival for 5pm on the dot and found ourselves the only souls in the place, along with a dozen waiters who were prepping for the evening.  

When we sat down we were disappointed to discover that the menu changes every week and they had yet to update their website; this week they were offering an Asian Happy Hour.  Ah well; I ordered the Asian chicken – which came in the form of three small, delicious kebabs – while m’lady got something called musugi, which was basically uncut sushi.  We both ordered their specialty cocktail of the week, a blend of whiskey, ginger beer, and basil, and enjoyed an amiable on-again-off-again chat with the friendly bartender, who was a hockey fan originally from Michigan.  

In between barbs about the Ottawa Senators m’lady and I decided to bounce.  We had been so interested to sit ourselves down in Emeril’s at precisely the time their Happy Hour began that we arrived before they opened and were forced to linger, which led us to roam the sidewalks where we read the menu’s at some of the countless nearby restaurants and noticed that almost every restaurant also had Happy Hour specials going on.  

So we went across the street to a place called Nosh where we were surprised to find the door locked up tight.  We checked the posted menu again and sure enough they were supposedly an hour and-a-half into their Happy Hour.  Looking through the windows we could see the place was staffed and there was indeed a couple sitting at a table sipping wine.  

We popped around the corner to a side door which was clearly marked, “Nosh Patrons please use Tchoupitoulas Street entrance,” which was exactly the door that was locked up tight.  We ignored the sign, went in the back door (that was off the lobby of a small office building atrium) and sat down at the empty bar (save that one couple at a table behind us).  

After we ordered I turned to the manager seated at the end of the bar and said, “I think I know how you could greatly increase your foot traffic tonight,” and told her that the front door was locked.  With raised eyebrows she walked over and found that I was right.  She unlocked the door and twenty minutes later the place was almost full.  I can’t believe she didn’t comp our bill (which contained an order of rather excellent pulled pork poutine with four oysters and a trio of shrimp egg rolls for m’lady, a couple of Dixie Voodoo dark lagers and m’lady’s American mule). 

Finally we bounced again, this time to Lucy’s for a pair of tacos and a margarita for m’lady and a couple of huge pulled pork sliders and a Holy Roller beer for me, closing out our Happy Hour Foodie Booze Crawl.

(Though we were both packed tight with food, I might have stayed at Lucy’s for another round of drinks if the place wasn’t so darn cold.  That made three cold restaurants in a row: Chili’s on Sunday night for the football game, Rita Mae’s for Monday’s lunch in Morgan City, and now Lucy’s.  What’s up with that?  Is it possible that they are so used to having the air-conditioning on that they just leave it turned on by habit?  Could it be that it’s so seldomly cold down there that people just put up with the chill knowing it will soon pass, unlike we Canadians who buckle down for five months of of bitter weather at the first whiffs of winter?

I don’t care what it is, I don’t like it.  I don’t want to wear my jacket when I eat dinner, though in this case I would have loved to, only I didn’t have it with me.  

Anyway, completely full and half drunk we went back to the room for a spell and decided to hit the French Quarter and maybe Frenchman Street to see what we could see.  We cruised a very-busy Bourbon Street and popped into one of the many bars that featured a live band.  I bought an airport-priced medium-sized plastic cup of PBR for $8.25 while m’lady pulled on the IPA she walked in with (straight from our hotel room refrigerator) and we settled in for about a dozen songs. 

They were an eight-piece group (two singers, guitar, bass, keys, trumpet, saxophone, and drums), every player was excellent, and they were totally together.  They played stuff by The Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, The Isley Brothers – you get the picture – and again, they were all individually fabulous.  The crowd would swell and sparse, swell and sparse on a moment’s notice, but it was always at least what would be considered a pretty good crowd for a Tuesday night anywhere else on the planet, that’s for sure.  

Regardless, we couldn’t bring ourselves to sit and order expensive drinks all night so we got out of there and did another trip up Bourbon Street and back down Royal Street, which itself gets downright sketchy when Bourbon is rockin’, so we ultimately turned up Chartres Street and went back to our hotel, lingering for just the slightest moment outside the casino.

Nah…maybe tomorrow.  Shunning the flashing lights and ringing bells we quickly found ourselves just a nightcap or two away from the end of another day in New Orleans.

012319 When it Rains it Pours; Casino, Coops, and Radio Zydeco

We woke up to a day of pouring rain (though with no windows in the room we only found out it was raining by checking our computers) and so we sat.  The forecast called for the rains to continue hard and heavy for a bulk of the day with a slight reprieve around noon.

And so to keep from being trapped we planned an excursion for our dry-time window: at twelve o’clock we would meander up and down Royal and Chartres Streets and pop into the hot sauce shops, with an extended plan of m’lady hitting the nearby outlet mall while I went back for another round at the casino.  

As we ventured forth we arced our heads towards the darkened heavens and realized that to cruise through the Quarter would be flirting with disaster, so we jumped straight to plan B.  M’lady wished me luck and headed off to the shops.  I walked into the casino and soon found a seat.

In no time at all I burned through $100.  I went to the ATM and withdrew $200 more and almost immediately tore through $50 of it, so I switched to a different Blackjack table to jar my luck.  Things improved a little but still my stack diminished until I had just $20 left out of the $300.  The table minimum was $15 so I laid down what was basically my last bet.  

And then, somehow, things turned around.  

Before too long I was even again, then up $100.  The tide started to turn back against me so I chipped out at a $40 profit.  I was about to stand up and leave when I thought, “Aw, what the heck – one more bet,” and put $15 down on the table.  Fifteen minutes later I chipped out again – this time for real – and got out of there for good, having won back my $300 plus another $150 profit.  So between my two sojourns into Harrah’s I was up a total of $425 and just like our two week Global Discovery resort stay was paid for and then some!  I made be sure not to go back to the casino, lest their odds catch back up with me.

The last time I came to town I went to the casino twice and ended up $200 in the black, so NOLA has been good to me.

When I walked out of the casino it was pouring rain, cats and dogs-style.  For a brief moment I considered turning on my heels and sitting down for more blackjack but figured I’d better not spoil my good fortune so I bolted through the rain, slowing to a walk under every balcony and awning (of which there were many).  Amazingly I remained relatively not-soaked when I got back to the room.  Still, once I got there I enjoyed a nice hot shower and got into some clean, dry clothes.

M’lady hadn’t returned yet, and she continued being not back for some time.  Out of boredom I considered another dash to the casino but decided to kill my time with a run to the grocery store instead.  The rain looked like it was letting up so off I went.  Got some water, chips, bread, and Coke and ran back through the decidedly not-letting-up rain.  This time when I got back to the room I was pretty soaked.  The quest put me down $8 but up a bag of groceries, not to mention the hundred’s of dollars that I probably didn’t lose by going back to the casino, so overall it was another big win.

It took even more time for m’lady to return, and when she did she arrived laden with shopping bags.  She had found a bunch of stuff for sale at 75% off and had spent about $120, so between us we were still up thirty bucks on the day.  And a bunch of cute clothes. 

After several hours of waiting out the continuing rain we finally set out for dinner, aimed at a place called Coops that somebody or other had recommended.  I glanced at their menu on an earlier walk-by and noticed several things I wanted to try so I was all in.  We stopped into a few hot sauce shops along the way before finally discovering that the one sauce we were looking for was actually branded and trademarked by one of the hot sauce shops, Pepper Palace, so price comparisons were moot.

At Coop’s m’lady ordered their sample tray which came with five Louisiana staples, while I ordered the zydeco beans in bacon sauce and a half-pound burger with blue cheese and grilled jalapeños.  Our beer was warm and our food was cold, but other than that it was okay-ish.  At least we know not to bother with Coop’s anymore.

Back at the hotel I came very close to calling it a night but m’lady’s fortitude got me up and out the door.  We took the St. Charles trolley to Oak Street (admiring the countless astounding multi-million dollar homes along the way) and walked to the Maple Leaf Bar, where a young rock/zydeco band from Lafayette called Radio Zydeco was just getting started.  They were quite great – though I wasn’t crazy about their songwriting – and they kept the party going nonstop for the next two and-a-half hours.  The drummer was superb, as was the bass player (who took a turn on vocals and guitar and was simply amazing at both).  I overheard that this was the bass player’s first show with the band, which was surprising.  I also heard that he had appeared on The Voice, which wasn’t.

We stayed until the last note, thanked the band and walked to the rails where the trolley pulled up just as we did.  We were the only passengers on the streetcar and it never picked up anyone else along the way, so we enjoyed a speedy, private chauffeured ride all the way back to our ‘hood.  

We got back to our room shortly after 1am, making this one of the latest nights we’ve had on this trip.  I’ve clearly become an embarrassment to my younger self.

012419 Bugs and Chops, Big Decisions at K-Paul’s

Somewhere during the previous day or two m’lady had noticed some red spots on her wrist, spots that looked suspiciously like bedbug bites.  Though I had none and hers weren’t itchy like they were supposed to be we decided to take whatever pre-emptive action we could, so we started our day doing all kinds of laundry.  We put everything in the wash aside from what we were wearing, then the maid came and we encouraged her to change all the bedding while we waited upstairs in the atrium (except she didn’t come so I had to go to the front desk and have her fetched), then we washed the clothes we had been wearing and blow-dried our suitcases to give any remaining critters a heat attack (if there were indeed any critters in the first place).

In the middle of all this it occurred to me that I had yet to make my standard pilgrimage to Congo Square so I set out in the late morning to do exactly that.  The temperature was chilly but a cloudless sky and a beaming sun made it feel much warmer than it was.  I made it to Congo Square in no time and sat on a bench for a few moments soaking in the history of the precise spot where all of western popular music was born.  

This was the only place in the United States where African slaves were allowed to regularly congregate, converse in their native languages, and play their traditional music.  The local musicians took notice and soon the three-chord white music morphed with the African pentatonic minor scale and jazz was born, blues was born, styles which went on to evolve into virtually every branch of popular music in the world, from rock to rap to country to reggae to everything in between.

By this time I realized I had happy feet so I just kept walking, which took me weaving through the lesser-known streets of the Quarter, through Jackson Square and all the way down to the French Market, where I stopped into Pepper Palace and tried the spiciest horseradish in the world (or so they claim it to be), which was quite tasty.  I also learned that there is a Pepper Palace in Canada (in Niagara Falls, Ontonio [sic], as the clerk informed me) and they ship across the great white north, which is solid information.

Back at the hotel we finished our laundering, had a late breakfast, did some mammoth packing in preparation for the next day’s departure and finally got out the door for a stroll around 4pm.  We had an appetite to build for our final nice restaurant of the trip, K-Pauls Louisiana Kitchen, which we were really, really looking forward to. 

We decided for a random walkabout in the French Quarter and found ourselves at Jackson Square where we popped our heads into the Tabasco Store (as if we hadn’t had enough of Tabasco!).  The prices were of course a little inflated compared to the gift shop on Avery Island but we still walked out of there with stuff: a t-shirt for m’lady’s nephew and another for our neighbour Bruce, both of which were on sale.  

We took another swing along Bourbon Street where I grabbed myself a $3 beer and then finally (finally!) it was time for our 6:45 dinner reservation.

We were seated in the back, a room we found quite chilly on our first visit to K-Paul’s several years before, and given our track record for cold eateries on this trip I was worried but no, it was fine.  Our waiter was quite pleasant and he delivered my beer and m’lady’s wine with a friendly smile.  

Now here’s the deal: I have had dinner at K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen twice before (and lunch once, but don’t go there for lunch – it’s a dramatic step down), and both times I ordered the same thing: the stuffed pork chop (which is weird because I never, ever order a pork chop when I go out to eat).  Both times it was the best meal I’ve ever had (ever), and neither time was I able to finish all of the food on my plate.  

Given that I had never ordered anything else from the menu of course I’ve long wondered how good the other items must be, and so for the last two weeks I had been torturing myself going back and forth in my mind; should I get the pork chop again, or should I try something new?  One thing I knew was that I wasn’t going to get an appetizer; whatever I ordered I wanted to save room for it.    

So I stared and stared at the menu and still couldn’t decide.  Nevermind that there were only three items that were free of seafood and hence available for me to order, could I really resist the blackened twin beef tenders with debris and stick with my glorious my pork chop?  

The waiter came; I let m’lady order first, as if killing time would help.  She ordered the beef tenders and made it look so easy.  The waiter turned back to me and, well, I poured my heart out.  I told him the whole deal, how the pork chop was my favourite meal ever – twice – and how I couldn’t even finish it either time, but how I was afraid one of my other options might prove to be somehow even better.  “But,” I blabbered on, “Better than the pork chop?  That would be unthinkable…”

I ordered the pork chop.

Our food came quickly and, well, my dinner was stunning.  The twice-baked potato was doused in a dark sauce – I won’t call it gravy – and likewise the pork chop was smothered in a thick, if lighter sauce of it’s own.  On the side were wonderful zydeco beans, long, slender, with an ample heap of chopped garlic and spices.  I don’t know what they do to the potatoes that makes them so good, but the melange of flavours packs a rich, moan-inducing wallop of goodness.  

The pork chop wasn’t as huge as I remember my previous two (I shouldn’t have said anything to the waiter about not being able to finish them), but it was positively haemorrhaging cheese from a deep slice in its centre, and it was also astoundingly delicious.  And of course the beans were great, and it paired well with my single IPA.

I tried a bite of m’lady’s beef and while I would have been very happy to have had that as my meal, I was even happier that I stuck with the pork chop again.  Especially because hers came with mashed potatoes instead of the tuber twice-baked glory that sided my plate.  When I commented on this later the waiter told me that any meal can upgrade to the twice-baked potato for a mere $3 or something like that. 

So I may just branch out next time, but whatever I order I’ll definitely up-potato it.

And whattya know, I finished my meal.  I had made sure to take it easy on the five (!) types of bread that were brought to our table before dinner.  I love bread, oh yes I do, and every piece I did have was super-great but in the end I feel very good about my decision.

Goodness, it was such a fantastically amazing meal.  I can still taste it now, typing this a week later.  And it only cost $102US plus tip for the two of us.  Skipping dessert and holding off on apps really helps the bottom line in a place like that.

On our way back to the hotel we stopped into yet another Pepper Palace where I held myself to just two bottles of my all-time favourite hot sauce (chocolate habanero), and only one of them was for me.  I had intended to get six bottles (buy five of anything in the store and you get a sixth bottle free) but now that I know it’s available in Niagara Falls (and they ship) I didn’t have to go overboard.

And so went our last night in New Orleans.  We went back to the hotel where I pulled the remaining half-bottle of our duty-free Jack Daniels out of it’s heavily-packed spot in my suitcase and poured us a nightcap or two.  We were pretty close to being pretty close to being almost nearly ready to leave the next day, so I flicked on the television and tucked into my JD & Coke, resting easy with another great trip to my favourite city in America heartily under my belt.

012519 A Hard Farewell to the Big Easy

We had picked our return flight for this trip carefully, and we booked our 5pm departure confident that we could easily enjoy a nice, relaxing final day in the city before getting on a bus to the airport comfortably after lunch and still well before rush hour.  One snag in our plan that we had not seen coming was that our departure date magically coincided with the onsale date for most dates on Phish’s upcoming summer tour.  And so it was that we woke up having to try and score tickets (which means both of us manically and stressfully freshing and refreshing ticketing websites like mad fiends) three times, once at 9am, again at 10am, and once more at 11am.  

Don’t ask why; we just do it.

And when I passed the desk clerk this morning on the way to the grocers and asked if we could possibly have a checkout time later than their all-too-early 10am posted deadline I was told that because it was Friday no late checkouts were permitted.

“Is that because everyone checks out on Friday?” I asked.  The place is a timeshare resort after all.

“Yes,” she confirmed.

“So if I was checking out on, say, a Tuesday…” I asked.

“Yes, then you could have a late checkout,” she finished.

“But nobody ever checks out on Tuesday?”

“That’s right,” she said, so matter-of-factly that I realize she’s had much, much more practise at this game than I have, so I went on my way.  Well, not until I informed her that the toilet runs hot water.

“Yes,” she said blandly.  “The pipes are hooked up backwards.”

I walked to Rouse’s Market making sure to really enjoy the last of what had become a familiar, almost daily jaunt.  Gosh, I love New Orleans.  Every part of it, the people, the streets, the buildings, the smells, the vibe…I just love it.

I picked up some roasted turkey cold cuts at the market and nothing more.   After making a final pair of grilled cheese sandwiches to go and a final little cheese omelet m’lady finished off pretty much all of our remaining groceries by making seven turkey and cheese sandwiches for us to eat on our flights home.  We were disappointed to leave behind almost a whole pack of jalapeño cheese slices, but other than that (and a bag of chips that was also reserved for the flight) we had eaten every crumb of food we had purchased.

Except one, single frozen burrito that we forgot in the freezer.  They sucked anyway, though m’lady had come to like them.

I showered and did a final pack – toiletries, the previous night’s clothes, the last bit of Jack Daniels – and down to the laundry/computer room we went, where we spent the next hour getting shut out of tickets.  Then we officially checked out and stored our bags and went back to the laundry room for round two, where we scored a ticket for a friend but failed to find a pair we wanted for ourselves.  Finally at 11am we spent a final hour getting shut out of tickets once again, and there went our final NOLA morning.  M’lady (being the Phish ticket guru of the family) would have some wheeling and dealing to do once we got back home.

We decided to use our final hour to explore the nearby (and hitherto unexplored) outlet mall where m’lady perused a couple of clothing shops, but mostly we just cruised the aisle from one end to another.  We scored a free sample at the Lindt store, so it was worthwhile.  

And then, finally, it was time.  We retrieved our luggage and made a quick two-block walk to the bus stop.  Instead of continuing to its next official stop, the bus driver let us off directly at a bench where we could wait for our connection to the airport bus, a kind gesture that saved us and our luggage a five-block journey.

It was a good thing too, because in addition to our two small suitcases, my camera bag and another bag of m’ladys, I was carrying a large, square, plastic shopping bag that was sure to tear if carried by the handle.  So I cradled it in my arms, and it was bulky, and it was heavy.  In short, it was very, very uncomfortable and I was happy to save every step burdened with it that I could.  Bless that bus driver.

I was happier still when I stuffed the bag safe and relatively sound into the final of our two overhead bins on the way home, on a final leg to Ottawa that featured two very, very drunk, loud, and swearing guys sitting in the seats behind us.  They immediately fell so deeply asleep that the steward couldn’t wake them up to put on their seat belts for takeoff, but when two stewards got together and managed to rouse the pair well, they were up and at ‘em for the duration.  Luckily it was just a twenty-five minute hop from Toronto to Ottawa.

I can’t tell you how refreshing the cold, cold Ottawa air was when we stepped out the door at 1am to get a taxi home.  I sure do like spending time down there in Louisiana, but I gotta say, I really love Canada.

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