As a kid, I could never sleep in a moving car. I could never understand why, but the motion made me feel uneasy and I would sit there until we stopped (usually at home) before passing out. This inability to sleep in cars stayed true until I went on our tour of America. I quickly learned to shrug off that apprehension, falling asleep at a moment’s notice.
I don’t know exactly when I succumbed to the ravaging of Mr. Sandman, but I do know that I did get a little sleep that night. The night was hot and muggy so I slept in my clothes. In a rare event, I managed to sleep in the rear bunk, since Stefan was driving and Rebecca was (also in a rare event) awake. As with school-buses that pass over bumps in the road, the rear end of the Behemoth tended to fling anyone in the rear in a slightly vertical motion. I was bounced around once in a while, but after a while I didn’t seem to notice or care.
When I awoke, Rebecca was sleeping in the depression in the floor, her head resting on the extra seat cushion from the rear bench. It was still very dark out, but I could tell that the desert had been replaced with trees which now lined the sides of the Interstate. Carefully stepping my way over Rebecca, I made my way to one of the forward seats. It turned out I had awaken at a very appropriate time, about 20 miles outside of San Antonio. It was nearly 05:00, and the early morning traffic was nonexistent.
The City of San Antonio seemed to come from a transformation of the forest, from trees to steel, glass, and concrete. Street lights appeared and soon we found ourselves in a bustling, albeit sleeping, city. Our primary goal was to find The Alamo. It was marked on our maps, providing an approximate location. Having no maps of San Antonio, we would have to guess our way in finding its exact location.
The I-10 came in from a roughly north direction. From there, we turned briefly onto I-35 heading west until we got to I-37, and resumed a southerly direction. After only about a mile into I-37, we got off at the Houston Street off-ramp listing The Alamo. Unfortunately the markings disappeared once we arrived at street level.
Everyone ended up navigating, trying to find some indication that would show us The Alamo. We went up and down nearly every street, road, avenue, and boulevard in the general vicinity of The Alamo before someone got the idea of following a large wall around to see what it was. To our luck, the wall that we had seen a half dozen times in our search happened to be the outer wall of The Alamo.
All the pictures and movie scenes that I had seen in my years never gave an impression of The Alamo sitting in the heart of San Antonio. From the surrounding streets you couldn’t see the mission building, the main building of The Alamo, and the part everyone recognizes. We pulled up at the main entrance of the complex while Dhar ran out and took a picture. As it turns out, all he got was a doorway through The Alamo’s walls, it was impossible to see anything past the hall.
Dhar returned to the van, and we drove off. Disrespectful as it was, I couldn’t help but find everything that The Alamo stood for (in a metaphorical sense) rather laughable. The American view that defeat is not an option is something I simply cannot fathom. 187 people were massacred when Santa Ana’s forces laid siege to the mission fortress, and Americans now view the defenders as heroes. I seem to have this rather odd view that they were too damn stubborn to realize they were hopelessly outnumbered, and would be better off retreating to return with more soldiers.
But the defeat at The Alamo wouldn’t be the last for America, though they would seldom admit to it. Take Vietnam for example: for more years than was necessary, the United States led the "fight for democracy" in Vietnam, afraid that the incursion of Red Chinese might somehow affect American freedom on the other side of the Pacific. After hundreds of thousands of American causalities (a.k.a. deaths), someone finally realized the situation was hopeless. (You’ll note that the stubbornness hadn’t gone away in the 160 some-odd years since The Alamo.) When American troops finally pulled out, the action was labeled as a "strategic withdrawal". Sometimes they just don’t know when to quit.
Stefan pulled back onto Houston Street and headed back to the I-37. A few traffic lights and a couple side streets, and we were heading north back to the I-35 and then to the I-10, which would take us to Houston. Our navigation there was the worst we had to that point (but wouldn’t be the worst overall), we even managed to take the long route out of San Antonio — we should have taken the I-37 south to the I-10 where it swung from north-south to east-west, saving about 10 miles.
Not far out of San Antonio, Stefan called it quits for driving and abdicated the throne to Dhar. I in turn took over as navigator as Stefan hopped in bed with Rebecca for some sleep. Dhar and I chatted a while as we drove, I found out that Stefan had managed to run into as many deer in Texas as we had found rabbits in New Mexico. I couldn’t help but laugh, but it explained why Stefan seemed a little strung out while we were trying to find The Alamo.
But I quickly realized that I hadn’t received as much sleep as I thought I had. All that driving I had done the day before (or earlier that evening, depending on your point of view) had hit me harder than previously acknowledged. My eyes started sagging, my thoughts clouded over, my muscles gave out, and before I knew it, I was waking up with a stiff neck. When I awoke, Dhar started laughing at me, apparently my bobbing head had become a source of entertainment for him as he drove.
We drove until Dhar got tired, which seemed unusual for our resident vampire. So I took over driving again, just as dawn was beginning to crack. I figured I had enough sleep during our initial stint on the I-10 to make it through the day. I was wrong. Dhar passed out after only 15 minutes or so, and it wasn’t long before I felt my judgment clouding and my eyelids became very heavy. I wasn’t very far off from falling asleep. As Dhar put it, I needed to have my clock reset with the rising sun.
But the rising sun was hidden behind a thick haze, and my eyes never set upon the restorative powers of the sun’s rays — I was getting more sleepy by the second. With what few mental faculties I had left, I managed to convince myself to pull over at the next rest stop and transfer the power to someone else before I lost control and killed the lot of us in a fiery blaze of glory. Luckily, a rest stop appeared before I dozed off behind the wheel.
I pulled up to the side, behind several semi-trailers (whose drivers were undoubtedly doing the same thing I was about to do) and came to the gentlest stop the van had yet performed. No-one woke up. Not in the mood to waken anyone, I put the gear in park, turned off the engine, tilted my chair back, and went one-to-one with the sleep fairy and lost in a first-round knockout.
I have no idea how long I slept, but it couldn’t have been more than an hour. I didn’t seem to sleep too deeply either, for when Stefan woke up and promptly asked where we were, I immediately replied that I didn’t have a clue and only stopped to prevent us from dying in a head-on collision when I fell asleep while driving. Stefan accepted the logic without question.
Having only marginally more sleep than I, Stefan took over driving for the next little while. (Remember that Stefan slept through the Roswell to Fort Stockton stretch.) By that time, I was more or less awake, and sat behind Stefan while we continued our easterly direction. We drove until around 10:00, when Stefan and I could no longer withstand our stomachs’ calls to breakfast. Luckily, just east of Houston we came across our favourite eating place, the International House Of Pancakes.
We barely beat the bible-thumper crowd, arriving only about 10 to 20 minutes before an onslaught of well-dressed Texans appeared for post-worship brunch. When we entered, we must have looked quite the sight — disheveled, tired, hungry, and not smelling at all like roses. We were seated all the same (right under an air conditioning vent) and serviced no different than anyone else. Ya gotta love them Texans!
Texans are a nice bunch, but not as personable as those in Las Vegas. The service wasn’t poor, but it was like comparing a $150,000 Mercedes-Benz to a $15,000 Chrysler. Both may be good cars, but the Chrysler comes off a lot worse if you drove the Mercedes first.
We gorged ourselves on sustenance, much to the chagrin of the Texans. Every so often I managed to catch a glimpse of someone staring at all the plates, glasses, bowls and pots scattered about our small table. Large families didn’t have as much food as the four of us did, and it was Stefan and I who seemed to eat the most (though Stefan could out-eat me any day of the week).
When we exited the restaurant, we realized just how much humidity there was. The Gulf of Mexico was now less than 100 miles from us, and its effects could be easily felt. I knew that as we got nearer to Louisiana, and closer to the gulf, the more uncomfortable it would get. The van’s air conditioner was beginning to look like a good idea, even though we had ruled its use out much earlier because it sucked up a lot of gasoline.
Louisiana would become Rebecca’s domain during our trip. Here she seemed to gain total control over the rest of us, we didn’t really argue with her declarations. Her first declaration was that we were visiting a plantation and going on a swamp tour. I hadn’t really planned on that (I hadn’t planned on anything), but as far as I was concerned, it was something to do.
Her next declaration was that we weren’t going to be taking the Interstate all the way to New Orleans, our Louisiana destination. Instead we would follow the coastal highways, overlooking the swamps, bayous, marshes, and the Gulf of Mexico. My efficiency instinct kicked in again, and I tried to persuade the group that the Interstate would be a much better route. After some discussion, we compromised and agreed to take the Interstate half of the way, and the more major highways the rest of the distance. This compromise came to being mostly after I pointed out that some of the highways Rebecca wanted to travel didn’t exist any more (courtesy of past hurricanes).
Shortly before noon, we crossed from Texas into Louisiana. Seemingly almost immediately, the humidity rose. No longer was it the sticky mass of air we had been traveling through, it was virtually like swimming. If it were any higher, we could have drowned not having come close to the sea. Perspiration couldn’t evaporate — it actually attracted more moisture out of the air. It was hideous.
Observer’s Log: Traveldate 960428.12
Nevada was hot. Louisiana is humid. We’re sweating to death here. We’ve pretty much shot through Texas, although that took about 12 hours to do. We stopped once to see the Alamo, at about 5 in the morning.And so we head for New Orleans, where we intend to relax for a while.
It’s interesting to note that despite the fact that we all love control, we all get along really well.
After two hours of humid torture, we reached Lafayette. We left the relative comfort of the Interstate and entered onto Highway 90. If you want to see things off-the-beaten-track, you need to take roads that make no sense. Highway 90 is just such a road. According to the map, it wiggles all over hell and half of creation before worming its way to New Orleans. The route easily adds on an extra hour or more to the trip, but the sights are something to behold (though not nearly to the degree of going through Colorado).
There’s nothing particular special about the route, you travel through a lot of towns (both small and large), through several bayous and swamps, over canals, passing by centuries-old plantations. But any typical tourist route never uncovers these things. Louisiana is a country unto itself, containing a history and culture that can’t be found anywhere else in the world. You can’t understand it unless you’ve seen how the people live and work. New Orleans is a melange of that culture, but the individual flavours are something to experience.
But too much of a good thing soon becomes rather dull, and by the time we reached Houma, about 35 miles from New Orleans, we were all beginning to think the Interstate wasn’t such a bad idea. I resumed by post behind the wheel, and allowed myself to concentrate on the driving rather than super-saturate myself on the landscape. About 25 miles later, we finally found the I-310.
The I-310 was part of the I-10. American Interstates are brilliant examples of traffic control — they take an Interstate (say, the I-10) and when it hits a city, they divide it in several places and tack on a third number to indicate a branch or detoured route of that Interstate. Some of these detours go completely around a city, forming a huge ring. Toronto needed something like that about 10 years ago, and it’s only gotten worse since.
Like most of the Interstates in the New Orleans area, the I-310 was raised above the swamps. (What is it with humanity building cities on swamps?) The highway was pieced together in sections about 50 feet in length. Each section was slightly bowed, creating slight peaks at the seams. The result was a constant thump-bob motion for the entire trip into New Orleans. If the peaks were a little higher, someone might have gotten seasick.
Along both sides of the Interstate were tall swamp trees (don’t ask me the species, the only vegetation I’m familiar with in swamps are Spanish moss and mangrove trees), creating a beautiful wall of deep green. The blue sky above us, the white concrete in front, and the green to the sides made the final stretch into New Orleans seem like scene out of The Wizard of Oz. Dorothy was easy to figure out, Dhar was the Tin Man (he had the brains, and two encounters of the dangerous kind pretty much eliminated him from the Lion round), Stefan was the Lion (again, the brains were there), and I the Scarecrow (with reasons following soon). One thing was certain — we weren’t in Kansas anymore.
Almost without warning, the swamps parted and we found ourselves surrounded with civilization once again. Thus began the next major issue for us to decide: where to stay. There were two KOAs in New Orleans, west and east of the city centre. We read the descriptions, viewed the maps and checked out the features of each. It took a bit of debate, but we decided that the east KOA would provide us with the best facilities.
Little did we know that the east KOA was over 45 minutes from the side of New Orleans that we were entering from. We cruised through seven miles of non-descript urbanization before the I-10 curved south towards the downtown core. At this point, unbeknownst to us, was the I-610 which provided a shortcut through the eight mile ‘U’ shaped loop of the I-10. This I would have liked to have known about, since I was to become rather frustrated with the distance we were traveling.
The loop took us at its most southerly point past the Superdome, then passing about a mile or so northwest of the French Quarter. Along the route we got several good looks at the above ground cemeteries which are well-known in New Orleans. There were several reasons for the above-ground burials, varying from problems with the Black Plague, to level of the water table under the soil (which is mostly marshy in that area of the Mississippi delta). No matter what the reason, it’s still trés creepy.
We drove further and further away from downtown, and I began to wonder just how close this KOA was to the French Quarter, as the ad in the KOA guidebook claimed. Then before us came a causeway across the eastern end of Lake Pontchartrain, a lake north of New Orleans. The causeway is over eight miles long, yet it isn’t the record holder. That goes to a sister causeway over the middle of Lake Pontchartrain, which is over 23 miles across.
We exited the I-10 at Slidell, and headed east on either Highway 190 or a side road, I can’t remember which, until we reached the New Orleans East KOA campground. It was a beautiful campground, surrounded and speckled with huge deciduous trees, casting shade all over the area. I was immediately surprised to see all the tents and RVs, and wondered what the devil was going on. To that point in the trip, we had managed to avoid all the tourists and traffic ... a sudden burst like that was most disturbing.
Despite the incessant pressure in my bladder, I held fast behind the wheel while Stefan and Rebecca (quickly joined by Dhar) ran inside the office to see if we could get a camping spot for the night. It seemed to take far too long to acquire the information we needed, but eventually Dhar appeared to inform me that the camp was totally full, and the New Orleans West KOA had only a couple slots left. I told Dhar to make sure one of those slots was reserved before we hauled our asses back nearly 50 miles to the other side of the city.
As our luck had it, we had arrived on a very auspicious day — the last day of the New Orleans Jazz Festival ... the last day for that particular weekend, that is. The Festival would resume the following Friday night. It explained why all the camping spots were taken, and it was our good fortune that a spot could still be found at the other KOA.
Good fortune or not, I was getting really grumpy. I was tired and annoyed that we had to travel another half hour before I could take a whiz. Okay, not entirely true, but that was the way I viewed it. Furthermore, I was especially pissed off at the description for the New Orleans East KOA. It had said that it had the "easiest access to the French Quarter". This meant a shuttle bus to downtown New Orleans. We were under the impression you could walk there. In essence the ad didn’t lie, but when we found out the shuttle only ran when there was enough interest to warrant a trip, the grey area between a lie and a truth suddenly got a lot thinner.
And so we doubled back on our route, crossing over the seemingly endless causeway, missing the I-610 shortcut due to a lack of knowledge, viewing the Superdome from a different direction, and finally arriving at Williams Boulevard about a half hour later. Here we turned south until we reached Jefferson Highway (nothing more than a four-lane city thoroughfare). We headed east along the Highway for about a mile or so before finding the KOA on the north side of the road.
The New Orleans West KOA wasn’t nearly as nice as the East KOA, but it had two things the East KOA didn’t have: a regular shuttlebus and a space for us to park. We didn’t ever use the shuttlebus, but the fact that it was there was of some importance to us. Stefan ran in and got us checked in fairly swiftly. Arriving at 19:00 gave us the rare opportunity to make normal registration.
Unfortunately, the only spot left that had both water and electricity also had sewage, which we didn’t need (nor could we reach with such a short waste hose). We parked and immediately set about having a swim and a shower before figuring out what we were to do with the rest of the day. This meant a quick run to the toilet for myself before my bladder emptied onto my shorts.
Having quieted the call of nature, I proceeded to make my way towards the pool. I was, admittedly, a little distracted as I left the washroom. This KOA had a very interesting arrangement for the washrooms and the showers. A long hallway running the width of the building provided access to all the facilities. Entering from the west side, the men’s washroom was immediately to the left, the women’s washroom further down on the left, and a half dozen doors were on the right. These doors were the showers, and there was no distinction between male and female.
Two of the showers were in use. I stood there for a moment, knowing full well I had heard Stefan, Rebecca, and Dhar come in through the outer door. Then, in the second shower from the outer door, I heard two voices ... Rebecca and Stefan. I shook my head, laughed to myself, and proceeded towards the pool.
The pool was already populated by a large German woman and two young children, a boy and a girl. I paid them no attention (they politely reciprocated) and promptly fell ungracefully into the pool. Instantly half the stress that had built up over the course of the previous 24 hours vanished in an instant. I swam two lengths, and then bobbed in the shallow end.
A few minutes later, I was joined by Rebecca and Stefan, having finished their bathing. They had decided to have a shower before entering the pool, worried more about the grime they had than the chlorine smell they would take out with them. I was opting to get rid of both of the elements with my shower.
Dhar appeared, fully dressed (he didn’t seem to like water very much), and announced he was renting a car. The bus would arrive shortly and he would return with transportation. This action of his worried me a fair bit: were we disturbing him in some manner?, was I disturbing him in some manner? I didn’t know whether or not I was the only one a bit puzzled by the whole fiasco, so I just kept my big mouth shut.
The three of us just floated in the cool water, allowing us the break we needed in an otherwise hectic trip. Already we knew that we were traveling far too quickly, and for once I agreed with several other people that we weren’t taking enough time to do the trip properly. But as far as we were concerned, it was a taste of America, and we could tell where the best places to go when we went down the next time.
A few times Stefan got stuck on his sentences, which I found a tad peculiar. After Stefan managed to sort himself out, he explained that he had been listening to the German woman speak to the children. Being German by birth and raised with the German language, Stefan’s ears were trained to listen for the familiar tongue. Still speaking it with his parents, Stefan also regularly uses German. While well naturalized for Canada, Stefan still stumbles when his brain tries to shift gears from English to German.
Ten minutes after falling ungracefully into the pool, I forced myself out to have my shower. I walked the short distance to the front of the KOA office and went in the washroom door. For no particular reason, I walked into the second shower stall and prepared to clean myself. In the left hand corner of the room, next to the door, was a used yellow condom.
It wasn’t the first time I’d seen a used condom, it probably won’t be the last. For a moment, I wondered if it was Stefan and Rebecca’s. I stared, half of me wanting to see if it was still warm, the rest of me yelling at the other half for thinking of something so repulsive. I immediately felt a little annoyed that someone would leave it sitting there, and I refused to believe that Stefan and Rebecca would be so inconsiderate.
I then started feeling very alone. I was a single guy. I’d been that way over 23 years. I’d never been on a real "date", never kissed a girl, never done anything that would suggest a "social life" of any kind. Most of the time, when the subject came up, it became a big joke for me. "Oh don’t worry ’bout me," I’d tell employers when they asked insane deadlines of me, "I don’t have a social life to screw up." Everyone would laugh and I’d get down to work.
But there I was. Naked, and staring at a recently used condom. I still find it amazing at how a little piece of latex rubber can make a guy feel so damned insecure. I started questioning myself — why was it I couldn’t "pick up"? Too shy? Maybe. Too forward? Possibly. Too weird? Definitely. Too intense? That was the claim from several of my close friends. The only problem there for me is: how do I act any other way?
I thought about that discarded prophylactic throughout most of my shower. For some totally morbid but known reason, I wanted so badly to know where it came from. As I left the shower room, I started to put the thought out of my head. We had things to do that night, and I didn’t want something as depressing as old memories of opportunities lost dwelling on my mind.
I returned directly to the van, where Stefan and Rebecca had already gone, and proceeded to find out what we were doing for the rest of the night. Dhar hadn’t yet returned from the car rental agency, so the three of us took the initial planning steps: visit the French Quarter. Planning took about ten seconds.
At a little after 20:00, Dhar returned with his rented blue Chrysler Neon. Dhar hated it. But the Neon was the only car left in the lot that fit Dhar’s requirements. A dedicated driver, Dhar was quick to point out all the flaws in the car: the transmission was like a "tin box", closing the doors only sounded good with the windows up, the construction seemed flaky, and so on and so on and so on... I found out later that for fun, Dhar would rent cars on the weekends and drive them around. I took this to mean that Dhar knew his automobiles.
Dhar seemed up for the trip downtown, but I will admit he didn’t seem too chipper. We filed into the Neon, Dhar and I in front, Rebecca and Stefan in back, and we went to see how long we could drive before getting hopelessly lost. The first thing we noticed about the Neon was how low it sat. The Behemoth received its name in part from its size — we could see over most vehicles on the road. In the Neon, we suddenly felt very vulnerable because every vehicle was taller than ours.
We drove east on Jefferson Highway, which by that point was part of Highway 90. Exiting from Metairie (a suburb of New Orleans), we entered New Orleans proper and the road became Claiborne Avenue. We followed the road around and through several areas of houses and industry before finding our way to the I-10 again. We drove along it briefly before exiting at Canal Street to head south into downtown.
Here was our second dismal job of navigating. Rebecca (the "most responsible" person on the trip) was guiding us using a couple of maps we had brought along. However, Stefan became frustrated when we began to get lost in all the one-way roads. (Dhar and I were reading off road signs as we drove.) What ensued was a small argument before we finally figured out that Canondelet Street became Bourbon Street when it crossed Canal Street. (Got that?) This was after a few very hasty (and probably illegal) U-turns Dhar managed to pull when we weren’t looking. This countered a suggestion given to us by one of the KOA staff — if you missed a left-hand turn in downtown, pull three right turns to get you where you wanted to go ... pulling a left-hand turn would get you a nice fat traffic ticket (you could hardly ever turn left into a one-way road down there).
After what seemed an eternity, we entered the fabled French Quarter. It was teeming with Jazz Festival revelers, most of them quite inebriated. As I would comment later on in that evening, I had never in my life seen so many drunken people before in my life. As I would also add, following that statement: "When in Rome..."
Dhar drove down several roads and alleys before we found the parking garage of the Omni Royal Hotel. Dhar picked up the tab for the parking (he also picked up the tab for the car rental), and we began to wander about the mythical French Quarter.
The French Quarter dated back to the founding of New Orleans in 1718. Many of the brick and plaster buildings still possessed French architectural styles of the period. When the Spaniards took over in 1762, they brought their style to the area as well, leaving their mark in the ornate lace terraces that still overlook the streets. A post-Spanish addition are porcelain plaques pasted to the walls of buildings on street corners bearing the Spanish names of the streets.
Hunger was the driving force for us. We hadn’t eaten since breakfast that morning, and we were well beyond peckish. (Stefan and I were downright famished.) Finding Bourbon Street, we wandered down its length looking for a suitable establishment to dine at. The selection of restaurants was overwhelming. Lined on either side of the street (which was a pedestrian street for about a half mile) were either restaurants, hotels, bars, or small shops. In the street was about half the tourists in New Orleans, in various states of drunkenness.
It took me a minute to realize that we were really walking on Bourbon Street. All I had ever heard of the famed road came back to me in a sudden flood, and for a moment I felt a little disappointed. It wasn’t the Bourbon Street I had pictured in my mind. I guess I should blame my vivid imagination for that. Most of my views came from Sting’s Moon Over Bourbon Street from his The Dreams of Blue Turtles album. I expected cobblestone roads, gas light lamps, a near constant haze about the streets, dingy little shops and music halls mixed in with small French eateries.
What we got were a few high-rise buildings near Canal Street, a well-paved road, concrete sidewalks, fairly large and clean stores, bars and, restaurants, and completely clear air — almost the opposite of what I had in mind. One thing that did stand out was the smell — decaying garbage and vomit. Pretty much what you’d expect from a heavily used and abused area of the city.
The first restaurant we tried was a more upscale place, which turned people away by politely stating there was a 45 minute wait. This prompted us to walk further east. Oyster bars were prevalent throughout the French Quarter, which I ruled out as a possibility — there’s no way in hell they were going to get me to eat a raw oyster. And I wasn’t too keen on having Stefan and Rebecca load up on aphrodisiacs with me sleeping 10 feet away from them.
Eventually we found a hip little joint called Remoulade. Slightly away from most of the boozers in the road, the little restaurant gave us a little bit of shelter from the storm. I was still a little apprehensive of the place, but in retrospect I was apprehensive about the entire French Quarter. Like Las Vegas, it was a new experience that required a little bit of adjustment for me. It wasn’t long before I felt at home there.
Our table was closer to the back of the restaurant, but we still had an excellent view of the entire restaurant (complete with pictures of their all-seafood cartoon band) and Bourbon Street. Authentic Naw’lins (say it aloud, say it proud, and you’ll discover the "proper" pronunciation of the fair city) cuisine was the order of the night: Jambalaya for Stefan, Shrimp Creole for Dhar, Red Beans for Rebecca, and Blackened Chicken for yours truly. The drinks came quickly too — gin fizz, planters punch, and a long island iced tea.
Not personally fond of mixed drinks, I flipped through the list of beers. Not finding anything that particular thrilled me, I asked the waitress what she recommended. It was then I heard of Abita Turbodog. I had never heard of anything like that before in my life. Mind you, I had only been drinking since late on December 31, 1995 so my experience in beer wasn’t too in-depth. A little more than curious about the name, I asked what it was. All she had to say was "dark beer" to whet my interest.
To this day, I have not had as fine a beer as Abita Turbodog. When the waitress said it was a dark beer, she wasn’t kidding. The only beverage I’ve had that comes close is Guinness. But that’s a stout, and has a much more bitter taste. Turbodog was dark, strong, and smooth. It was a damn good beer, and I’m disappointed that Abita doesn’t ship the stuff up here.
The food arrived not long after we had our drinks. I couldn’t help but stare at the immense pile of orangey-brown rice, shrimp, and vegetables that made jambalaya. Suddenly gathering up enough guts (probably in part to the high alcoholic content of the beer), I asked Stefan if I could snitch one of his shrimp.
To this day my parents testify that when I was a wee babe, I stuffed anything and everything in my mouth. If it was edible (and in a few cases that wasn’t even necessary), I ate it. As I got older, I started hating things. For a while, there was very little I would willingly eat. I still don’t like olives, mushrooms, or liver. Of seafood, I only ate fish. That is, until I was tricked into eating linguini with clams. Since then I’ve also tried cooked oysters (in a stir-fry) and squid. But a shrimp seemed beyond my ability. They just looked too creepy crawly to eat ... kinda like eating a large beetle.
Nevertheless, I stared at the small orange and white curl, opened my mouth, and tossed the sucker in before I could have a second thought. I chewed on it a moment, swallowed, took a swig of beer to counter the sudden burst of fire in my mouth from the Cajun spice in the jambalaya, and announced that it was bearable. I suddenly realized that when my family found out, I’d never hear the end of it. (My sister especially took fun in bugging me about my little experiment.)
The only complaint of our dinner was Dhar’s long island iced tea — it was brutally strong. Being a gentlemen, he swallowed the rest of it without much ado and ordered something different ... a lime daiquiri.
Our meal completed without dessert, there was nothing there that really appealed to me. Of course I was beginning to feel the effects of the beer by that point, which probably affected my judgment. Correction: I know it affected my judgment. Having finished the beer and debating on buying another, the others tried to convince me to have a mixed drink. I had already forgotten the adage: "Beer then liquor, never sicker" so I had nothing else to hold me back in my decision (the rest of my higher logic functions having taken a nose dive after the Turbodog).
And so arrived another lime daiquiri. I didn’t know what to make of it at first, but the taste was something else. I like tart food and drink, so something sour usually appeals to me. I sucked back that alcoholic slushie like it was nothing more than a lime-flavoured ice cone. That was my second bad move for the night (the first having given in to having a mixed drink).
Having only started drinking anything alcoholic at New Year’s left me with a decidedly significant disadvantage — I had no tolerance for booze. I would feel a buzz after only one beer. After two I started feeling numbness in my face. After three I couldn’t feel my nose. After four I couldn’t walk properly. After five I was a lost cause and needed to be protected (though usually from myself). After one strong beer and a lime daiquiri, I was at the three beer mark.
Actually, I was a little past the three beer mark. I’d lost some of my coordination, but oddly enough I could still feel most of my face (although it was well numbed). We worked our way back into the street to mingle with the rest of the drunks and wandered around Bourbon Street. I had wished two things almost immediately: 1) that we had arrived a day earlier to catch some of the Jazz Festival, and 2) that I could come back again with my more musically-oriented friends (who lived for that kind of thing). I’m not saying that Stefan, Dhar, and Rebecca were bad company, just different.
Now here’s where my memory gets a tad on the cloudy side. I don’t know exactly what we did after we left Remoulade. All I truly remember was it wasn’t even 22:00 when we reentered Bourbon Street. We wandered in one (possibly several) directions, looking in stores, bumping into people, and watching some of the oddest behaviour I’d ever seen.
Take this little game for example: usually occurring at Mardi Gras, this little erotic game involves women exposing their breasts to men, in return for beaded necklaces. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking: Where do I sign up? I had to admit, I was shocked. All these years of the National Organization for Women cramming down our throats that women are equals, not objects and blah blah blah blah blah. I had accepted all that hot air when I was knee-high to a dust mite! This little act was sending NOW’s work back 30 years.
Rebecca was particularly interested in the game (she’d heard of it from a friend of hers, who had participated when she had visited New Orleans), watching the spectacle with keen interest. (I guess this is what sex experts do when they see something sexual. I guess this would also apply to men, who look anyway.) For a brief moment, I actually thought that Rebecca was about to join in the fun. For a brief moment I hoped that she would, if only to see the expression of utter horror on Stefan’s face.
Voodoo shops are creepy places, and the French Quarter’s got a few of them. Whether or not the proprietors believe in the religion or not is hard to say, but the signs pasted all around the store seem to indicate as such. Jars of shrunken ... things, voodoo dolls, potions, powders, wands, rubber chickens (don’t ask me), and a lot of stuff I wasn’t too comfortable looking at, let alone buying them.
Sex shops abounded in the area, with probable reason. Naturally, tagging along with a sex expert, we had to do some field research. I swear Rebecca sounded like a school girl, giggling at some of the things she hadn’t seen before. Most of the stuff was old hat for her, she rifled through the clutter like she had intimate knowledge of what the stuff was. Dhar couldn’t bear being those stores very long, and would quietly leave, waiting for us either on the street or in another store nearby.
The other streets near Bourbon street weren’t spared our perusal. Heaven only knows how long we stumbled around ... rather, I stumbled around ... until we arrived at the foot of Orleans Avenue. In front of us was St. Anthony’s Garden, and just past that the St. Louis Cathedral. At night there’s not a heck of a lot to see, except for a statue.
A simple pose of Jesus Christ with his arms extended. In front of the statue was a bright white light, which when shone at the statue formed an enormous shadow on the front of the cathedral. It was a powerful image, and one that didn’t escape my camera lens. If I ever return to New Orleans, I intend to retake that picture having had a little more practice at night shots.
We walked hardly a block before we spotted a store where all the merchandise sported a blue dog. I, still under the influence, muttered quite loudly: "What’s with the blue dog?!" We were quickly answered by passing African-American man (also under the influence) who told us the history behind the dog. It was apparently the pet of the owner, also an artist, who began painting a blue likeness of the dog. The locals seemed to like it, and eventually the dog became local lore. Go figure...
From there we found the building in which the Louisiana Purchase was signed. But I neither remember what the name of the building was nor where it was in the French Quarter. We milled around for a few moments and then headed to Canal Street. We walked up Canal Street back towards Bourbon Street, Dhar and Stefan stopping several times at the closed electronics shops (it was a Sunday, after all). Dhar was keen (bordering on desperate) to buy a new radar detector for his car.
I never really understood the reasoning for a radar detector. Unless you happen to be a professional race car driver, I don’t see any reason why you should speed excessively. Driving 20 km/h over the speed limit I don’t consider excessive (seeing as all Canadians seem to do that), but most people buying a radar detector tend to travel much faster than that.
Following more wandering, we eventually found our way back to the parking garage where we left the car. While we waited for the valet to retrieve our vehicle (it was a posh French Quarter hotel, after all), I got a good look around. The most interesting feature of the garage was the lift (you couldn’t quite call it an elevator). It was a vertical conveyor belt that ran to the upper levels of the garage. Every eight feet or so was a platform that stuck out about a foot. Valets would stand on the platform and be carried upwards. The device was devilishly simple, and judging by the motor running it, also very old. Not terribly safe either, one false move and you could lose a arm or leg ... even a head.
The blue Neon reappearing from the depths (or in our case, heights), we filed back into the car and tried to find our way home. I don’t know who was navigating (Dhar was driving), but we ended up on a road heading east. Not the proper direction, you say? Correctimundo! We came to the same conclusion when we found the oil refinery. Somehow we got turned around and drove in the opposite direction. That mystery solved, Dhar turned around and got us going the right way.
I don’t know exactly what route we took, but I think it’s safe to say we didn’t take the Interstate. Eventually we found our way back to Jefferson Highway (why do I keep wanting to type ‘Jefferson Airplane’?) which ultimately led us back home to the Behemoth. It was past midnight by the time we got in, and most of the campground had settled in for the night. A few stragglers from the Jazz Festival were still up.
Dhar pulled up in front of the van, and three of us filed out. Dhar then pulled out and drove off, explaining that he wasn’t tired and wanted to see more of the city. He had pre-purchased his gasoline, and wanted to use as much of it as possible. So he said. If I had been a little more sober, I might have been a little more concerned. But by that time, I was a little more focused on going to sleep.
Observer’s Log: Traveldate Supplementary
Despite a strong beer (#23) and my first lime margarita, I’m able to write this. Tonight I experienced the French Quarter. Somehow, I had a totally different idea of Bourbon Street than what we found. I ate a shrimp and actually like it – my parents will be freaked. Dhar went off on us again – it must be nice to be a vampire...More and more I hate being single. I need only watch Stef and Rebecca to see what I’m missing. It’s become truly sad when the "jokes" I make are based in truth.