Road Trip of the Southwest United States, Touring New Orleans

The morning was sunny and humid, much like the day before. We awoke between 08:00 and 08:30 following a long and comfortable night’s sleep. Showers were the order of the morning, to prepare oneself for the long day ahead. We had planned to execute the steps of Rebecca’s master plan to conquer the world … starting with New Orleans. A plantation tour and a visit to the swamps were main directives.

Several RVs and campers were packing up, preparing to travel to their homes in some distant state or country. Dhar hadn’t yet returned from his venture of the night, but we knew he soon would. Vampire or not, we had all his clothes.

The shower was inviting, I felt rather invigorated. Not a particularly active morning person, I’ve found a good morning shower as effective for me as coffee is for others. However, my morning was to take a minor plunge when I returned to the van. I found, much to my horror, I was out of underwear. I had managed to stretch my week’s worth of clothing to almost nine days (remember that I two of those nine days were virtually extensions of two others, effectively making seven days), but I had finally reached the end of the line.

Dhar entered the van a moment later, carrying a small box of laundry detergent. (I hadn’t noticed the return of the Neon on my way back to the van.) The verdict seemed to be unanimous. It was laundry day. Dhar had purchased the small box of soap for everyone, which really made a lot of sense. There was no way we were going to be washing again before the trip was over, so might as well use all that we could. Dhar had already started his wash.

I gathered all my spent clothes together (already contained in plastic grocery bags) along with my towel and bathing suit. I intended to wash all the clothes I could, so for a couple of hours that morning, I wore only a t-shirt and my fleece shorts — all my underwear went in the wash. It was a bit drafty without a layer underneath, but in the warmth of south Louisiana, you really don’t notice it much.

The laundry house was about 15 metres away from the van, a short walk around a couple of nearby RVs. Entering through the east end, the room contained washing machines to the left and right of the doors, and a double bank of dryers at the opposite end. A short line of chairs rested on the right side of the room where there were less washing machines. The solitary occupant was an elderly man, undoubtedly washing his clothes.

I dumped the entire contents of the bags into a single washing machine, not bothering to separate colours. I hadn’t brought anything that hadn’t already been washed a million times — bleeding colours wasn’t really much of a concern for me. I sprinkled in a few mounds of soap, shook it into the gaps between the shirts and shorts, then throwing in a last handful for good measure. I clapped in the $1.00 washing fee (all quarters) into the pull slot and sent the industrial washer into high gear.

Figuring on about 40 minutes to wash my clothes, I took the opportunity to get a few chores done. First on my list was to call home. I had told my mother I would call when I got to Texas. Unfortunately, we had passed rather quickly through that state, and I missed my chance to report home. A phone nearby the laundry house fit the bill.

Mother still hadn’t found my health insurance, but I wasn’t too concerned by that point. She asked how the trip was going and how well we were holding out. I kept the call fairly short for two reasons: 1) I didn’t want to talk too long during the day, and 2) I didn’t want to have to answer a lot of questions I’d have to answer again when I got home. (This is another reason why I write this. If you asked me how the trip was, you undoubtedly got directed here.)

As I hung up, I felt a few drops of rain fall on me. I looked up into the sky, noticing that a few clouds were beginning to fill the sky. I headed back to the van to make sure that nothing got wet. Dhar was sitting at the picnic table next to the van, writing postcards to his family. I asked him how his night had been. Trouble found Dhar yet again.

Having dropped us off, he had driven back downtown again to see what else he could do. He went into a bar (assumedly to have a drink or two) and was promptly discovered by a group of our fellow countrymen, in various states of intoxication. This wasn’t the bad part. That came about when one of the group announced, rather loudly, that Americans don’t know how to party. Dhar wanted to crawl under a rock. I would too in that situation.

I take objection to putting down the residents of any one country without good reason. Given, Americans tend to be looked down on by many Canadians for various reasons (some are rather insipid or meaningless), but that didn’t give those fools any reason to spout their mouths off like that. They, like us, were guests of our gracious hosts, and one does not want to offend one’s host. Especially if there are more of them.

Following his tangle in the bars of Bourbon Street, Dhar drove around for quite some time to use up as much gasoline as he could. In doing so he drove three-quarters of the way to Baton Rouge and back (a trip of about 120 miles). Still having well over a quarter of a tank of gas remaining, he toured New Orleans until returning to the campground.

I decided to take after Dhar and write some more postcards home. I wandered across the campground lawn, crossed the road and entered the KOA office just as Rebecca was leaving, acknowledging each other in passing. One of the male KOA staff, whom I assumed to be the manager, was looking at Rebecca as she left the building, shaking his head. He asked of me:

“Do you think that’s a natural thing, or do they do that on purpose?”

(He was referring to way women’s hips tend to swing as they walk.) I promptly answered: “With her, it’s sometimes hard to tell.” (There are many long stories that go into that statement, and none of them are going to be repeated here. Suffice to say, this was neither an insult or a “factual statement”. It was a ribbing if anything. Had Rebecca heard me, she would’ve returned the favour.) The two of us laughed a little, then I got down to business. I grabbed four postcards, trying not to spend too much time in selecting them, and bought four 40 cent stamps to get my messages home.

As I finished paying for my message medium, I started probing the man for information. We had plans to do some visiting that day, and I figured enough tourists came through the KOA in a year to make the staff reasonably knowledgeable in the right places to see. I asked the man what was the best plantation to see, and which swamp tour came most recommended.

Barely skipping a breath: “If you go to a plantation, everyone’ll ask ya which one ya went to, and everyone’ll ask if it was that one,” he said, pointing his finger to a rack of pamphlets next to the door. I had to ask for clarification as to which one he was referring to. “Oak Alley. Most famous one of all.” Following his pointing and reading the titles carefully, I found the illusive white booklet near the top. The picture on the front looked vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t figure out why.

As far as swamp tours were concerned, we just had to keep in mind how much we wanted to pay, how far into the swamps we were willing to go, and so on and so on. I was appraised of one particular tour guide who only did the tours at night, looking like someone who had decayed in the swamp for several years. He picked up his passengers in a hearse and took them deep into the swamp where he would scare the hell out of them. Goes to show you, people are stupid.

Taking the advise and thanking the manager for his time, I returned to the van to get ready to finish off my laundry. I figured that enough time had passed that the wash would be ready to dry. The old man was still sitting in his chair when I entered the laundry room. My machine, closest to the dryers on the right side of the room, was still going. With no visible timer built into the machine, there was no way to tell how long until it was all dry.

I left and returned a few minutes later, this time with more success. I opened the clear plastic door of one of the upper dryers (they were stacked in twos) and plopped in the 50 cent drying fee. I was about to close the door when I realized I had no fabric softener sheets. Knowing I’d end up buying more than I needed, I shut the door and dealt with slightly rough clothes for the rest of the trip.

About 40 minutes later my mostly dry clothes emerged. Like many laundromat dryers that I’d used over the years, these didn’t do a perfect job, coming just shy of where they needed to be. But dry enough for me. I packed the lot into the two grocery bags that I’d brought them out in and returned to the van to sort the lot out. The first order of business was underwear, the constant draft was becoming disconcerting. I packed the dry clothes in my backpack, and laid the slightly less dry clothes out in the diminishing sun to finish drying.

I had thought earlier the clouds were going away. But more and more poured in from the north. It looked like rain. Dhar thought so too. As if on cue, the manager appeared at our side door and pronounced exactly what we were thinking. He then suggested that we skip the swamp tours. Apparently when it rained, everything one wants to see in a swamp disappears until the sun comes back out and dries everything off.

But like Cliff Clavin, he just couldn’t stop with that one fact. He immediately jumped into how much rainfall New Orleans received in an average storm. I’d heard about the rain briefly from my friend Chris, who had visited New Orleans a few years earlier on a music trip. But we had yet to experience it…

The rain, so the man was telling us, comes like an orgasm: quick, short, hot, and wet. In fact, so much rain falls in an average rain storm that New Orleans installed a series of pumps to get the roads dried out as quickly as possible. Each of these pumps empties the equivalent of a swimming pool of water every second. (That’s about 35,000 gallons, or 133,000 litres.) There are 38 of these pumps, each generating a spout of water over 10 feet across. Needless to say, Dhar and I were duly impressed.

Stefan and Rebecca returned from the office, and everyone agreed we needed food. Normally, we would be out touring or on the road to our next destination, having eaten breakfast. But we had tapped the last of our breakfast food the day before. Stefan and Dhar volunteered to find some donuts for us to eat, and promptly drove off in the Neon.

Not long afterwards, the clouds began to start shedding some of their moisture. Not a lot of it, most just a few sprinklings, but enough to cause me to starting bringing in the towels and clothes that had been sitting in the sun. The clouds kept getting denser and denser, blocking out more and more of the sun with each passing minute. We were going to experience a New Orleans downpour, but we didn’t know when.

I informed Rebecca about the problems with seeing the swamp in the rain. She looked a little dejected, but agreed that we would be better off in sunnier conditions. This left the door open for more touring of the city. (Visiting a plantation in the rain would be just as bad as the swamp — but it would be us wanting to disappear into shelter.)

Observer’s Log: Traveldate 960429.1125
Day 9
Today we’re heading for a hotel, then downtown for some fun. Did my laundry this morning, which is good ‘cuz I ran out of underwear last night. Expecting a torrential downpour today.
Dhar and Stef are off getting donuts for breakfast / lunch … brunch?
Had an interesting conversation with the manager – regarding the swinging hips of the fairer sex, he making a specific reference to Rebecca – I think only because he realized we know each other. It’s hot, it’s humid and I’ve got an acne breakout.

Checkout for us was at noon. Stefan and Dhar took a significant amount of time in returning to us with our breakfast (rapidly becoming lunch), arriving at 11:45. They claimed a great deal of trouble in finding a donut shop, eventually finding one not too far from the KOA.

On a whole, American donuts don’t quite match up to Tim Horton’s, a cornerstone of Canadian cuisine. Most tend to be rather dense, crumbly, dry, and bland. But the donuts that Dhar and Stefan found (for a surprisingly low price, only about $2) were a taste of home … with about four times the amount of sugar. Never before had I eaten a donut that made my heart palpitate from the level of sucrose. Not that I was complaining, they were damn good.

We ate hastily, not wanting to overstay our welcome at the campground. The uneaten donuts were crammed into the fridge, and we set about unhooking the Behemoth from the city utilities and preparing to hit the road. When we were ready to leave, Dhar jumped in the Neon while Stefan, Rebecca, and I drove the van.

We had decided on a hotel on the north side of the Garden District, about two miles from the French Quarter. In a map that Rebecca had taken from the KOA office the day before (the maps were free), we found a coupon for a one-night stay at the Avenue Plaza Suite Hotel and Eurovita Spa. (Long name, eh?) The usual price for the room was well over $100, but the coupon knocked the price to $50.

We pulled out onto Jefferson Highway and started heading east. Almost immediately we lost Dhar in the traffic, but in a matter of seconds he appeared just inches off our rear bumper. Actually, he appeared then disappeared as he approached our rear bumper — the Neon was so short that I couldn’t see him through the rear window.

Our view along Jefferson Highway was unimpeded by night, the “urbanness” of the area was rather plain given the city’s downtown decor. We listened to a local radio station as we drove, it was only the second time we listened to the radio since leaving home. The music was “new rock”, which is essentially a blend of rock ‘n roll and alternative styles. The radio station seemed to be populated by some rather interesting people, as was indicated by their self-promotion:

“Broadcasting live from a concrete warehouse somewhere between two cow pastures!”

We drove along Jefferson Highway until we reached Carrollton Avenue. Here we turned right to head south towards the Mississippi River. Down the centre of Carrollton Avenue runs one of the lines of the famous New Orleans trolley cars. Extending over Carrollton Avenue was a spectacular canopy of trees, forming a flora tunnel. Both the trolleys and the trees ran along most of the length of Carrollton Avenue, and continued along St. Charles Avenue.

The sky above us had by now completely obscured the sun. The wind had picked up a little, and the temperature dropped. As we reached the elbow of Carrollton Avenue (where it turns into St. Charles Avenue), we saw a wall of wind come over a small hill next to the river. The wind carried leaves, small twigs, large drops of water, and the odd small animal. The Behemoth rocked slightly to the left as we turned the corner.

A moment later, the rain started. Under the continuing canopy of trees the rain wasn’t as pronounced, but when we entered one of the gaps the full force of the rain could be seen and felt. The storm we had experienced driving through Missouri was the only thing I could think of that even remotely came close to that kind of deluge.

We had a distance of about three and a half miles to cover before we arrived at the hotel. During that time we passed by some of the most awesome architecture in houses that I’d ever seen. Rebecca and Stefan came to the conclusion that they were going to move to New Orleans and live in the area. I stifled a laugh. We passed by Tulane University and Loyola University about a third of the way along St. Charles Avenue, which only strengthened Rebecca’s desire to move. She started wondering what graduate programs they had.

As we passed Jackson Avenue, our hotel appeared on the north side of the road. Parking was at a premium in the area, so we pulled into the first available side street so Rebecca and Stefan could get us checked in. I had to park in a no parking zone (next to a fire hydrant), and Dhar pulled in on the opposite side of the street.

The rain seemed to fall in millions of continuous streams, causing the streets to look like shallow rivers. I switched off the windshield wipers but kept the engine running in case I had to make a hasty exit. I stared at the flowing water, listening to the radio while waiting for the verdict to come from inside. And I waited. And waited. And waited. It took less time for me to sign into Treasure Island and have the four of us move into room.

After over 15 minutes, Stefan sprinted from around the corner of the hotel and entered the side door of the van. The hotel management hadn’t believed the coupon at first, and only after a lot of wrangling with Rebecca did they give in. I was to drive around front so we could bring all our stuff inside. Stefan then ran over to Dhar to tell him the same.

Having parked on a one-way road, I had to drive around the block until I was driving west on St. Charles Avenue, allowing me to easily pull into the front of the hotel. We made quick work of pulling all our necessary stuff out, trying to stay as dry as possible. When I went around to the rear door (where my backpack was stored), I found that the edge of the road had four inches of water coursing towards the street grating.

St. Charles streetcar, New Orleans, Louisiana, 29 April 1996

If we had looked a little odd walking into Treasure Island, we put a sore thumb to shame walking into the Avenue Plaza Suite Hotel. The decor was white marble, gold trim, with mahogany desks and paneling. The upper class guests frowned upon our sandals, cheap clothing, baseball caps, and backpacks as they walked outside. I felt very strange about leaving a set of keys with a valet. It wasn’t that I was afraid he’d steal anything, but it was the fact that there was no other choice than to use a valet.

The Jazz Festival over until the following weekend, the hotel was mostly deserted. Our room was on the sixth floor, St. Charles Avenue west wing, north side. The room wasn’t immense, but had two beds, a table, bathroom, kitchenette, and a TV. We unceremoniously dumped our belongings about the room, made quick use of the facilities, and prepared to return outside to start making use of our afternoon.

Stefan protested at first, not wanting to go out (he was a little damp from running around in the rain), but his better half told him to get his ass in gear before she threw something at him. The rain had brought a change in our plans, and we reverted to visiting the Aquarium of the Americas. It wasn’t the aquarium per se that we wanted to see, it was mostly the IMAX 3D movie that played there.

The Aquarium of the Americas is at the foot of Canal Street, on the river front. We found a public parking lot nearby and deposited the Neon. By this point the rain had mostly fizzled out, leaving just a few falling drops. I was now waiting for the onslaught of the sun, which from what I had heard always came out after such a storm and dried everything out.

The Aquarium building was huge. At least two American football fields in length (but probably closer to two Canadian football fields), the massive building contained both the Aquarium of the Americas and the IMAX theatre. The front of the building faced the Mississippi River, the rear faced the parking lot where we left the Neon. A long wall separated us from the Aquarium, but it ended parallel to the edge of the building anyway and wasn’t too much of a blockade.

As we rounded the wall we found more trolley tracks. I hadn’t realized that New Orleans had more than one line of trolleys. Just off to the right, flush against the wall, was an enormous steel gate about three feet thick. The gate was solid (we don’t know if it was filled with anything, but I assume it was), running the height of the wall, about 10 feet. A steel track laid into the pathway running between two sections of the wall suggested that it was closed once in a while.

At first I thought it was a security door, closed at night to prevent someone from stealing the fishes. A moment later, its real purpose dawned on me. I had forgotten we were next to the Mississippi River, the most notorious for flooding in North America. The thick walls and the gates were flood prevention devices. There were no visible signs (i.e. high water marks) that showed whether or not it had been put into use, but if history was any indication of the future, the water would soon rise.

Just past the trolley tracks we crossed a brick courtyard. Most of the brownish-red bricks had names carved into them, undoubtedly the names of the people who had donated money to fund the Aquarium’s construction and operation. We stopped briefly at a bank machine so Dhar could try and get some money (his attempts were rather unsuccessful).

As we rounded the next corner of the pseudo-rectangular building, our hopes of a peaceful visit through the complex were dashed when we found a small ocean of ankle-biters, rug rats, brats … in other words, children on field trips. Dhar slowed briefly as we walked forward. I could hear his heart beating harder as his hatred for crowds took over.

The Aquarium entrance had about ten thousand people milling around in front of it, mostly the students and teachers getting their tickets to enter. We stood patiently in line, wondering when we’d get in. Then one of the Aquarium employees yelled out that we (that being anyone waiting in line) could get tickets for both the Aquarium and the IMAX movie at the theatre box office. Even before the employee finished yelling we were half-way to the other end of the complex.

The lineup there was almost non-existant. In less than two minutes, we had our $15 tickets for the Aquarium and the IMAX movie. Our primary goal was the movie, but we had 45 minutes until that goal could be fulfilled. To fill the time in between, we opted to visit the Aquarium first. This meant we had only 40 minutes or so to see the entire attraction (our ticket didn’t allow reentry), and paying another $7 wasn’t part of our plan.

More schools had arrived while we were buying our tickets. More kids. More screaming, hyper, insolent, brutish kids. Dhar and I were beginning to feel a little claustrophobic … and we weren’t even through the doors yet.

The atrium didn’t have much to offer. A new exhibit on squids was under construction, but aside from a concrete wall, there was nothing to see. As we rounded the wall however, everything came into view … literally. The dark grey concrete wall was part of an immense tank in which several species of fish lived. Along the bottom of the tank ran a 10 foot wide transparent tube through which visitors could walk through the bottom of the tank, seeing the fish in as natural a habitat as was possible in an artificial system.

The walls must have been about a foot thick to withstand the pressure of the water and the pounding of all the kids. If some madman ever wanted to kill off all the children on the planet, all he’d have to do is create an underwater dome made of crystal, and put all the kids in the dome. They’d break it apart long before their air ran out.

I snapped a couple fuzzy pictures of rays (or skates … can’t quite tell them apart) as they floated just above the clear tube. On the other side of the 40 foot long tube was a large window, allowing a view of the tube itself.

Varieties of tropical fish, plants, eels, and what-have-you were contained in small displays around a nearly semi-circular wall on the other side. The number of kids in the immediate vicinity was enough to drive you nuts. Stefan and Rebecca were completely unfazed by all the screaming, yelling, and crying; they didn’t notice the trillions of legs and arms, moving faster than Captain Kirk on an alien sex-kitten. I guess when you deal with Eric for 18 hours a day, everything else seems calm.

Therein lay a problem: Dhar and I were ready to quickly work our way ahead of the Munchkin Convention and tour the rest of the Aquarium in relative peace. Being immune to the effects of children however, Stefan and Rebecca were keen on seeing all the exhibits. But being rational adults (you know you’re getting old when you can write “adult” about yourself and not cringe), we came to a compromise: Dhar and I would warp through the Aquarium and meet them at the IMAX theatre 15 minutes before the movie started.

In a flash, Dhar and I entered the tropics (the next area of the complex). Spiders, strange looking fish, rays (that killed more people in the Amazon than piranhas), and a few things that I didn’t recognize were scattered about. (Not literally.) But there were kids. Where the pathway curved and narrowed, they blocked the path. Dhar was about to have a heart attack — he couldn’t handle it anymore. I suggested chucking a few ankle-biters into one of tanks to give us some more room, not to mention a wee bit of enjoyment.

I suddenly stopped, coming to the realization that we were in the Amazon. Every exhibit featuring the Amazon had to have at least one tank of my favourite little fish. I started looking from side to side, briefly appearing as a much larger and hairier version of the kids we were trying to avoid. Then I saw them, tucked next to a set of stairs that ran up to a wooden catwalk. The next thing anyone near me heard was:

He’s swimming in the deep blue sea!
He’s after you, he’s after me!
He’ll eat you up, oh yes he will!
‘Cuz he’s a baaaaaad fish!

Pirahna! Aquarium of the Americas, New Orleans, Louisiana, 29 April 1996

Undoubtedly, you must be as puzzled as Dhar was. It’s completely understandable. In fact I’d be rather surprised if you did recognize this. It’s a song you’ve never heard before and probably will never hear again (unless this story somehow becomes a movie, in which case this will be a featured song in the soundtrack). It’s called “Piranha” (gee, no kidding?), and was performed by Lord Tracy, from my friend Chris’ “Albums by Bands You’ve Never Heard Of” collection. It’s a very fast paced song, sounding almost punkish in its style. And it’s hilarious.

Having explained that to Dhar, he came to the realization that I was a freak of nature. I was surprised that Stefan and Rebecca hadn’t warned Dhar ahead of time, or that he hadn’t figured that out for himself before that point of the trip.

Following my little explanation, Dhar and I promptly ran up the stairs to avoid the flood of children. There were a few running around the catwalk, but it wasn’t nearly as stuffy up there. It was also a lot more boring — there was nothing to see … except a couple of macaws hanging from a branch below us, defecating on anyone dumb enough to stand under them (such as ankle-biters). We didn’t spend long up there, winding our way over to a set of stairs and running right into Stefan and Rebecca. Our plan to get away from the crowds wasn’t working very well.

The next room had the exhibits most kids (okay, most boys) wanted to see: predatory animals. Electric fishes and eels, angler fish, and the most predatory of them all, sharks. I’ve always been fascinated by sharks, even though I’ve never been able to watch all of Jaws — scares the hell out of me. We wandered about the exhibit, seeing some of the neat things the staff had built to entertain the kids.

Aside from the obvious “petting pond” (which we avoided, mostly because the low walls couldn’t be seen through the million or so children surrounding it exclaiming their disgust at all the sliminess before thrusting their hands back in the water), the exhibit that intrigued Dhar the most was a demonstration of an electric eel’s shock. It was a simple static electricity device, generating a charge by rubbing plastic plates with a wire brush and spinning a glass bowl (I know, it sounds weird … but it works).

Kids were running over to this thing, whirling it around, burning the ends of their fingers, and then daring their friends to do the same. Dhar watched in delight as all these kids were whipping their hands around in pain. One girl came up to Dhar and asked him what the device did, and Dhar explained what it was for. Then the girl suggested that Dhar try it first, but he said that he already tried it, and that she could go ahead. The look of apprehension on the girl’s face was priceless — she didn’t seem to realize that she didn’t have to use it!

Into another short hallway we walked (now beginning to lose the sea of kids) and found a small gift shop featuring entirely shark-related merchandise. It was essentially three 10 foot tall dividers that connected to one of the permanent walls to form a booth. The Aquarium ceiling was at least another ten 10 feet above the wall, and there was no roof on the booth. There wasn’t much there of interest, save a shark-shaped oven mitt.

As we left the little stand, we swore we heard a crow. Stopping dead in our tracks, we checked to make sure we heard what we thought we heard. We heard it all right. A large raven (though not nearly as large as the ones at the Grand Canyon) was perched on the top of one of the gift shop walls, cawing away happily. Dhar and I only had a moment to wonder what the raven was doing in there when I heard a guard explain the story to a woman who had asked the same question.

When the Aquarium was being built, the raven had flown into the structure. Eventually it had become a mainstay, always in the area. When the walls and windows had finally been installed, they tried to flush the raven out, but with no luck. After a while, they just accepted the bird as a permanent resident.

The next section of the Aquarium was devoted to aquatic reproduction. Emphasis came on the rituals of the reproductive cycles, shying away from the more “dirty” aspects. Dhar and I found the quickest way through the section, claiming it was too depressing to remain in for very long. As far as we were concerned, the fish were getting it more often than we were, which put us below fish in the hierarchy of getting lucky.

We soon found ourselves above the entrance to the IMAX theatre, overlooking about a trillion kids standing in line to see the film. Dhar and I suddenly felt very compelled to find Stefan and Rebecca, or end up at the sides of the theatre (not a very nice place to be).

While Dhar backtracked to see if he could find them, I went a bit further ahead to see if somehow Rebecca and Stefan had passed us. The room I entered to contained the local biology: sturgeon, catfish, paddlefish, sawfish, gars, just about anything you’d expect to find in the New Orleans area swamps and salt-water marshes … even alligators. Well kept behind a thick panel of Plexiglas (most likely Lexan), the last remnants of dinosaurs just lay on rocks, their eyes twitching slightly.

But a good Aquarium knows how to sell itself and its attractions. Aquarium of the Americas was no exception to this rule. One of their claims to fame is a rare albino alligator. I’d never seen one before, and the tank it lay in (as nonchalantly as its brethren) allowed me to get close to the great white gator. My pictures weren’t the greatest, due in part to the tank walls and the refractive properties of the water. But I got my proof for those nay-sayers.

Next to the alligator tank I found a small sign which told the tale of a rather confused shark. Apparently a lonely male bull shark managed to get lost while swimming in the Gulf of Mexico. Not a terribly hard thing to do — it is a large body of water, after all. But this guy swam up the Mississippi River … to St. Louis, over 600 miles upstream in fresh water. Okay, some bull sharks live in fresh water, but the story seemed to indicate that it was a salt water shark.

Dhar reappeared, not having been able to find either Rebecca or Stefan. We thought that maybe the crowds had gotten to them after all, and had gone ahead to the theatre to meet us there. We jogged our way out of the Aquarium and down the outside of the complex to the theatre entrance. The trillion or so children were gone, undoubtedly waiting in line for seats. To make things worse, neither Stefan or Rebecca could be found. It was not looking very promising…

Dhar suggested that I wait in line while he waited for Rebecca and Stefan to appear. He couldn’t go back into the Aquarium (due to the ‘no reentry’ policy) and waited in the upper lobby. I ran down the stairs to the lower level to wait in the line.

Sure enough, the trillion or so school children were already there. If we were lucky, we would get seats in Tuktoyaktuk. About five minutes after I got in line, one of the yellow-shirted teachers (I assume it was a teacher, all the visitors from the local schools were wearing yellow shirts) called for all the students to group on the other side of the foyer. In less than a minute, there were only thirty people in our lineup. No sooner had the line decreased in size than Dhar reappeared with Stefan and Rebecca in tow.

Our apparent good luck started to sour only seconds later, when the yellow-shirted kids were let in through the doors on the opposite side of the lobby. We hoped that we would be let in first, or at least at the same time. It was a good five minutes before the doors opened and we walked into a short hallway, picked up our polarized lenses and took seats towards the back of the theatre.

What’s with the polarized lenses? Geez, I forgot to mention this was an IMAX 3D theatre, didn’t I? (How did that slip my mind?) Yes, IMAX 3D. If you’ve ever seen an IMAX movie, you know what the image quality is like, and that the sheer size of the movie makes all the world of difference when watching something you’ve never seen before. So it was fairly safe to say that when we (all of whom had seen an ordinary IMAX movie … assuming you can call an IMAX movie ‘ordinary’) heard about the 3D movie, we had to see it. (Truthfully, I can’t speak for Rebecca. But Dhar, Stefan, and myself were gung-ho enough for about 20 people.)

The process was fairly simple: the movie was filmed with a special camera that mimics the human bi-optical perspective (i.e. it has two lenses spaced about an inch and a half apart); the film is then run through a special camera that projects both images through polarized filters, which polarize one side vertically and other horizontally; the glasses block out one side of the image, allowing your brain to see two distinct images (a normal happenstance), which are pieced together in the occipital lobe of your brain, creating a three dimensional image.

Having said that, the movie was amazing. The introduction was in standard 2D, during which time the glasses were useless. But when the 3D portion started, all the hoopla (and the price of the tickets) became justified. Aquatic life was the subject of the movie, and the 3D portion started in the sea … rather, right at the surface of the sea. The water seemed to literally come right out of the screen, your eyes right at the border of air and water. It was a surreal feeling to know that you should be wet, but weren’t.

The movie made good use of perspective, having fish or other aquatic animals swim up to the camera and then swim away. A pass through a kelp forest was equally as intense. The quality of the IMAX film process led to another little feature — small particles of matter could be seen float all around you for most of the 20 – 30 minute movie. Of course nothing was so disturbing as a disgusting little sea creature that terrorized all the kids in the front rows.

Stefan, Dhar, and I spent a good deal of time looking at the technical aspects of the movie. This involved wearing the glasses upside-down, wearing the glasses backwards, not wearing the glasses, or wearing two pairs at once. Except when not wearing only one set of the lenses, you could see the 3D effect normally. Even when the lenses were backwards or upside-down, the brain could still create the proper image.

One problem we noticed with the movie was focusing. Humanity has existed in a true three dimensional environment since the day eyes were created. Focusing on a nearby item or on a mountain hundreds of kilometres away became taken for granted, we had control over the focus. But not in the movie. The focusing was done by the filming camera, so only those details that the cameraman filmed in focus remained in focus. If you tried to look deeper into the 3D image to see something else that was a bit fuzzy, it remained fuzzy. This tended to cause a lot of eye strain after a while, and both Stefan and I took our glasses off more than once during the movie to rest our eyes and avoid a brain hemorrhage.

Everyone applauded loudly when the movie ended, with good reason. It’s quite the achievement. Too bad most of them don’t know IMAX is a Canadian invention. (The company used to be based in my hometown until they moved to Toronto.)

As we left the theatre we handed in our polarized glasses, assumedly for recycling or reuse at the theatre. When we arrived back at the main floor, Rebecca ducked into the nearby gift shop to buy something for the kids. I could imagine Eric and Thea’s excitement when Rebecca and Stefan returned home — gifts from faraway lands. My sister and I were always like that when my parents returned from some corner of the Earth I haven’t yet seen. It was usually a t-shirt, but at least it was an interesting shirt.

Outside was surprisingly cool considering the rain had stopped some time earlier. According to all that I had heard of New Orleans, it should’ve been sweltering and sunny by that time. But the clouds still cast the grey gloom about the city. At least the air wasn’t dripping with humidity. It was strange weather, at least from what we had been used to since we left the Rocky Mountains, and different than we had expected in Southern Louisiana.

We returned to the Neon to drive back to the hotel. We obtained a much better view of the downtown core of New Orleans, the filtered sunshine provided much better light than the streetlamps at night. It didn’t change the fact that we still had to deal with far too many one-way roads though. But Dhar had quickly grown familiar with New Orleans, and had us back at the hotel before we could say “jambalaya”.

Upon returning however, Dhar suddenly became rather aloof again. He discussed taking the car back (we felt we didn’t need it anymore), but had some other things in mind, blah blah blah, yadda yadda yadda. I figure that by now you’ve probably realized that this wasn’t an abnormal thing for Dhar. It was still a little disturbing though.

As Dhar sped off down a side road, we remaining three reentered the hotel. But instead of going immediately to our room, Rebecca wandered over to the front desk and asked if it was possible to change rooms. Somewhere along the line we had found out that the hotel was nearly deserted (no events were ongoing at the time to warrant a full house), and this gave Rebecca the idea that more room would be a good idea for the four of us.

Stefan wasn’t really in the arguing mode, so he boarded the elevator (partly thinking that we would quickly be following) and went up without us. The hotel manager finally gave into Rebecca’s request after a few minutes of haggling and provided her with a key to a room two doors down from ours. He said that we could have it for an extra $10.

Stefan was waiting for us when we got off on the 6th floor (he didn’t have a key), and was looking a little peeved. The new room was on the same side of the hall as our current one, but was in the corner of the building. This was one of the “suites”, having a separate bedroom with king-sized bed (and a TV), large bathroom, couch, table, full kitchenette (with a dishwasher), and a large TV in the living room. It took us only moment to decide to keep the room, which led us to transfer all our stuff from the first room to the new one.

It was now time to relax slightly. We hadn’t really had a break since the early afternoon in Las Vegas, and even that was short-lived. We turned on the TV and channel-surfed for a while. We even had both TVs going so we could watch different channels. I wisely separated myself from Stefan and Rebecca, who laid down on the bed in the separate room. Before long, the door had closed behind them.

Observer’s Log: Traveldate Supplementary
I feel lonely. I should have gone off with Dhar and get into trouble. It’s not that being alone with Stef & Rebecca is bad – don’t get me wrong, they’re good friends – but if you put [a couple] in a place where they can’t be alone, they start getting annoyingly, rather, sickeningly emotional towards each other.
I’m not uncomfortable about sex – many of my friends are very knowledgeable (and experienced) about sex. My problem stems from my current solitary status – and whenever I am reminded of this, I get depressed, irritable and downright awful. I’ll have to make sure that they get some time along tonight.
I have to envy both of them – devoted to each other, defined goals, children … and Rebecca is a sex expert! I will grant them one thing over most other couples I’ve met – they’re quiet. Don’t make me any more comfortable though.

About an hour or so later, the door opened and Rebecca emerged. Stefan had apparently gone to sleep and she didn’t want to disturb him. It was time to start thinking about our next meal. Rebecca desperately wanted to eat at one of the balconied restaurants in the French Quarter. The idea was very appealing … if only the weather would cooperate.

We started calling some of the restaurants that came recommended. All had a maximum of three people at a table (due to the width of the terraces), and all were open only if the weather permitted it. Rain had started to fall again, but only lightly. This gave us some hope of obtaining a table. But what if Dhar returned before we left? The problem was Dhar never said when he was returning (if at all), so we couldn’t plan anything to include him.

The rain increased to a steady heavy rainfall as we discussed the matter. The balconies seemed out of the picture. So we started digging through more of the restaurants to find alternatives. After a little debate over what kind of food we wanted, we decided upon the Café Rue Bourbon. Rebecca called and made reservations at 18:30 for four, just in case Dhar reappeared. .

Stefan stumbled out of the bedroom, looking a little disheveled, but otherwise awake. He was a little surprised to find that dinner had been planned without his knowledge (or consent) … we suggested that he be awake the next time.

The next order of business was transportation. We didn’t know for certain whether or not Dhar was taking the car back (although we assumed he was). Mind you, we were also unsure of his time of return. Excluding Dhar from the grand scheme, we narrowed the choices to the trolleys or a taxi. I held out for the trolley. I’d wanted to ride one ever since I saw one on Carrollton Avenue earlier in the day.

Thus began the tidying up. Not of the room, but of ourselves. This required me to take a trip down to the hotel lobby and coerce one of the valets to let me into the van to retrieve my toiletries bag, which I had accidentally left behind. The hair was combed, the teeth brushed, and the beard shaved. A shower wasn’t terribly necessary (we hadn’t exerted ourselves enough to warrant one), so was ignored.

As we approached our moment of departure, we knew we would have to leave a note for Dhar to tell him where we were. I opted to write the note in advance, but spent most of the note telling him where I would be after sending Rebecca and Stefan home to spend some time alone. I had decided that I would get some relief by allowing them relief from us. I already knew Dhar would be in agreement (we had discussed the issue a few times before, usually when Stefan and Rebecca were sound asleep in the rear bunk). The trick was to leave it for Dhar but make sure that neither Stefan or Rebecca saw the contents.

As we entered the lobby, we went to the front desk to leave the message. I was handed an envelope, upon which we wrote Dhar’s name. I then inserted the note (despite Rebecca’s repeated requests to read it first) and sealed it. We continued to the front door and out into the early evening to catch a trolley to downtown.

We didn’t know how long we would have to wait, there was no posted schedule. According to those we had asked, the trolleys ran about every 15 minutes. That was assuming no delays anywhere along the lines. The longer we stood waiting, the more we wished we had brought along an umbrella. The rain had never completely stopped, coming and going in spurts, and the odd few drops seemed to indicate another downpour. And we had no shelter.

A vacationing couple arrived, and a short conversation ensued. Two trolley cars passed in the opposite direction, we continued to absorb more rain, and our time kept running out. The Rebecca, Stefan and I soon starting considering taking a taxi if we were to make our dinner reservation downtown. Almost as soon as that thought had come out into the open, Dhar emerged from a taxi in front of our hotel. Immediately I yelled for him not to let the cab get away, and the three of us sped across the St. Charles westbound lanes.

Having nothing else to do, Dhar decided to tag along even though he had already eaten. Our taxi driver was a local man, possessing a very Cajun accent. He was about 25 years old, and had lived in the area all his life. As he drove us along (giving us some interesting information about the city … which I’ve since forgotten), he told us of his dream: to buy a house in or near the French Quarter and rent it out during Mardi Gras for $2,000 a week.

Sounds steep? When you consider that hotel rooms are at least $100 a night (and higher in the French Quarter), and houses can sleep as many people as you can cram into them, $2,000 isn’t such a major cost. The man added he would gladly stock the fridge and supply the beer and liquor. I figured he’d still make a ton of money during that week.

When we arrived at Bourbon Street, Dhar paid the fare and we hopped out. The rains had washed the roads, much of the smell from the night before was gone (but still noticeable). All the drunks were gone too, the lack of a festival seemed to drive them off. Bourbon Street was now the domain of the tourist, soon to give way to the drunken tourist as night fell.

As we neared the Café Rue Bourbon, we saw the Maitre D’ out front, trying to draw in early eaters. It seemed that most people tended to eat a little later in New Orleans, typically having dinner after 19:00. Ironically enough, that was when I typically had my dinner when I lived at home. But tonight we were the “early birds”, about to catch a very large worm.

The Maitre D’ spotted us as we neared, and his tirade began again. The chef was doing something special for those keen on coming out early, prepared to withstand the culinary onslaught that was about to be inflicted upon them. For nearly five minutes, with hardly a chance to catch his breath, the Maitre D’ extolled the virtues of the menu, the succulence of the food, the charm that exuded from the building itself. Then, as if on cue, we all nodded in agreement and walked in as if we had been hooked by the Maitre D’s divine skills. We promptly announced we had reservations.

The only thing that stopped the Maitre D’s chin from falling too far was the floor. For nearly a half second (which was the longest silence we heard from him) he stared at us in disbelief. To be somewhat supportive to the distraught man, I tried to cheer him up, complimenting him on his wonderful speech. He walked outside in disbelief, poking fun at the way we’d led him on when he was trying to do the same to us.

Café Rue Bourbon was a small restaurant, having only 20 tables or so. Upscale restaurants tend not to have too large a space, and usually have a large staff. Such was the case with Café Rue Bourbon. We had four or five people waiting on us in various roles: the Maitre D’, a wine steward, hostess, server, and probably someone else that I’ve since forgotten.

The wine was one of the first orders of the night, and that became a in-depth debate between the four of us and the wine steward. Rebecca was keen on a 1993 wine, but none was to be found. (From what I understand, 1993 was a good year — so good there’s no wine left.) To ensure we had an excellent wine as we could afford, I offered to pay for it (my logic following along similar lines that brought me to pay for the hotel room in Las Vegas).

I can’t remember the name of the wine, but it was a dry (a one or a zero) red. Not a terribly large wine drinker, I’m by no means experienced in what is good and what isn’t. But I know what I like, and I didn’t hate it.

When it came time to order, Rebecca and I opted for one of the Chef’s specials — blackened red fish. I didn’t know exactly what it was, but all I remember is asking for it nice and hot. I figured that sooner or later I’d have to eat something that was hot, if only to get the experience. Rebecca had done the same, but only after consulting with the hostess to make sure it wasn’t too hot. We weren’t the typical tourists that wandered through New Orleans, thinking hot for them was hot for a resident of the Mississippi delta. No, my friend, what’s hot for them would kill most people. Except Dhar. What Dhar considers hot could be used to generate steam in a nuclear power plant.

Stefan ordered some local specialty, but I can’t remember if it was seafood-based or chicken. Either way it was a lot tamer than the jambalaya he had the night before. Dhar, who had already eaten prior to coming out to dinner, ate precious little and only ordered an appetizer as his meal.

Despite my request for hot food, my fish wouldn’t have made Frosty the Snowman break a sweat. It was good fish, but it was lacking the spicy flavour I had been hoping for. I was tempted to return it and get something spicier, but I wasn’t feeling like an asshole that night, and quietly ate my fish.

Stefan picked up the tab for dinner (later to be recorded in the log for prosperity … and so Stefan would get some of his money back), and we returned to Bourbon Street. In the hour and a half that we had dined leisurely, what was left of the tourist population of New Orleans had descended on the French Quarter. Not all of them in the streets — many were eating, or in the various shops. But it didn’t look dead any longer.

We sauntered down the street, looking for something that would interest us. Dhar and I were hatching plans to ditch Stefan and Rebecca, in hopes the two of them would go back to the hotel early. Unfortunately, no matter what stores and whatnot we entered, the group stayed tight. We must have entered half a dozen sex shops, three or four voodoo stores, about a half-million t-shirt vendors, and a couple of artwork boutiques. But no such luck, we were still together.

After a while, one of us came to the conclusion that we needed to listen to some music. We passed by one particular club that was blaring some of the funkiest R&B that I’d heard in years … and it was live! Dhar was the first to duck in the door, the rest following on his heels. We could hardly hear ourselves, but we didn’t much care. At least until we realized that the one drink minimum cost $8.50 apiece. That, unfortunately, was after we’d already bought the damn things. I happened to notice the prices on the back wall, hidden from view.

We quickly agreed that one drink was all that place was going to get out of us, and as soon as we were done, we were gone. But we didn’t escape that establishment any further unscathed. To add injury to insult, one of the band members started making rounds of the club with half a water cooler bottle collecting tips from the audience. It wasn’t mentioned anywhere, nor was it said by anyone, but the tips were mandatory. I found the smallest bill I had and tossed it in. I was very reluctant to pay $8.50 for a drink then have to pay another dollar to leave. I only wish I could remember the name of the place so I could warn people not to go there.

We hastily left and resumed our wanderings. Down side streets and along a few alleys, all the while Rebecca was complaining about how cold it was. That much I could agree with. All I had every heard of New Orleans was how hot and humid it was there. The day before, New Orleans lived up to that reputation with every second. But as we tried our best to get lost, we shivered in temperatures that were in the low teens (Celsius) and possibly even as low as single digits.

We visited several stores, shops and boutiques before Dhar remembered that he wanted to buy a radar detector. That led us back out to Canal Street at the western edge of the French Quarter. All along the east side of Canal Street are a half dozen large electronics stores which cater to tourists of all countries. Huge camera lenses, multi-lingual radar detectors, more audio products than you could listen to in a life time … and all over-priced. Must be because of the tourists. Rather, the gullibility of the tourists and the greed of the owners.

Rebecca and I did window shopping while Dhar and Stefan haggled with the twits behind the desk at one of these shops. While they argued for a better price, I hinted to Rebecca that Dhar and I were staying out late that night, to give her and Stefan some time alone. She took a little offense to it, but I added (as humourously as possible) that the two of them were driving Dhar and I crazy.

Dhar left the place empty-handed. The prices that the stores wanted (they all seemed to have the same “high-priced” supplier) were more expensive than ones Dhar could get back home … even if the exchange rate was 1:1. Dejected and forlorn, we continued to wander our way around the city.

It didn’t take long for our topics of conversation to start swaying towards being drunk. I suppose it was in part to our earlier attempt that evening at the R&B club (thwarted due to the exorbitant price of a $0.50 drink) and constantly being passed by overly inebriated tourists. The conversation continued until we walked into a store just inside the French Quarter to purchase something highly intoxicating.

The store was like a small Wal-mart: everything you could possibly never need all under one roof. Including the illusive Captain Morgan’s Spiced Rum, which was what the goal of the night quickly became. In addition to the rum, we also purchased a large bottle of cranberry juice for mixing. I chose to look for something more along my lines, but struck up empty. In our following continued wanderings along Canal Street I looked in several of the smaller corner stores with about as much success.

Finally the lure of the liquor got us directed towards our awaiting hotel room. We weren’t up for the walk however, and jumped into the first taxi we came across. The driver was an older man (compared to our previous driver), in his 40’s, and a member of one of the Louisiana cultural groups: Creole, Acadian, or Cajun … I don’t know which. He hardly acknowledged our entrance into his cab, barely indicated that he understood our request, and continued his unintelligible conversation with someone over taxi’s radio.

Arriving back at the hotel, I paid the cab fare and we proceeded to our hotel room. The TV shone to life as Stefan poured out three drinks, myself abstaining. And there we sat and talked and watched TV for a couple of hours. One of our topics was the plan for the following day. Not knowing exactly how long a drive we had until we reached home, we didn’t want to stay too long in New Orleans. Stefan and Dhar both wanted to return by Saturday so they could do some work (a taboo subject to be discussing on a vacation).

Observer’s Log: Second Supplementary
New Orleans is cold. Why, I dunno. Our hotel is nice, but having Stef & Rebecca in the next [private] room is going to be interesting. I still want to go out and leave Rebecca and Stef alone for a while.
Went to the Café Rue Bourbon. Good food, but was hoping for something a tad spicier.

At a quarter after midnight, one of Stefan or Rebecca promptly announced that it was time for bed. Dhar and I took the cue to announce that we were still hungry and were going to get something eat. At first our action might have appeared rather innocent in its nature, but I quickly emphasized that we would not be back until 02:00 at the earliest. I figured that an hour and three-quarters would be sufficient enough time for whatever was needed. (For Dhar and I, it was simply to escape for a short time.)

After changing into some slightly warmer clothes, Dhar and I took the only room key and ventured out into the cool night air. Our first order of business was finding a place to eat. I vaguely remembered seeing a restaurant that featured a garlic-based menu not far from the hotel, so we decided to check it out. Alas, we were too late, it had closed almost an hour earlier.

Still hungry, but not discouraged, we turned in the direction of the French Quarter and started walking. I learned a great deal about Dhar that evening, it was kind of a “male-bonding” thing, I guess. I don’t particularly believe in “male-bonding”, I think it’s some term a female psychiatrist came up with to make men feel better about “talking”, which many don’t appear to do. My friends at home and I talk a lot, so this wasn’t something foreign to myself. It didn’t seem to be foreign to Dhar either.

One of the things I learned that night was one of the probable reasons why Dhar went off on his own so much. Unlike Stefan, Rebecca, and myself, Dhar had never had a vacation before. He had lived the first 26 years of his life in eastern Ontario, with only the odd excursion outside of his realm. With the advent of this trip, he had been exposed to the wonder of travel, the excitement of discovery, and the feeling of freedom that comes from a true road-trip. At once I understood why Dhar had gone off on his own, why he had chosen to see all that he could see — he might never see it again.

About two or three blocks from our hotel we stumbled across a little diner called The Trolley Stop, assumedly because it was next to a trolley stop. Not the fanciest looking place we’d seen, but the “Open 24 Hours” sign in the window was enough to convince us to drop in and see what we could order up.

It was almost like stepping into an episode of Cheers — there were patrons who immediately looked like regulars, and I felt like I was trying to break into a tightly knit group of friends. But the feeling didn’t last long. A few moments after stepping into the diner, a smiling waitress swooped down upon Dhar and I, and led us to a corner table. The African-American woman looked in her early 30’s, and was a classic example of a “people-person”.

Most restaurant employees are “professional”, in that they stand next to the table, intently listening to the orders, speak “properly”, and do not engage in idle conversation. This woman swung a chair around so it was backwards to the table, plopped down on the seat leaning her large arms over the back, clutching a pad and pen in one hand. She then struck up a brief conversation about what was on the menu, and asked if we liked what we’d seen of New Orleans. I guess to the well-trained eye, you can’t escape looking like a tourist.

When the topic of food rolled around, we began to ask for suggestions. We concentrated on the things we had never eaten before, and gumbo rose to the top of the list. Dhar ordered a seafood gumbo, and I ordered the chicken variety. Dhar then engaged in a debate about hot food with the waitress, denying the cook could make it hot enough for him. Lo and behold, the cook came out to support the diner’s end of the conversation. After a few minutes, the waitress winked at him and said: “We’ll take care o’ ya honey!” and laughed as they went off to concoct a gumbo that the army could use as a chemical weapon. I made sure that they understood I was keen on living that night.

To drink I ordered another Abita Turbodog, purposely asking for the bottle so I’d bring it back with me. I had every intention of showing my friends back home the label of my new favourite beer. It was just as I sort of remembered it from the night before (one Turbodog and lime daiquiri do strange things to you — I suppose I should be glad I didn’t have a margarita): cold, dark, and tasty.

Gumbo is a rather interesting dish. It’s a soup poured over a little bit of rice. It’s thick, made with vegetables, meats … just about anything you can think of … and a lot of spice. Dhar immediately took a spoonful of his bowl, swirled it around in his mouth like an experienced wine taster, the swallowed. The waitress and the cook both stared at him waiting for a verdict on the gumbo. Without a crack in his voice, he pronounced it: “good”.

But it wasn’t good enough. Dhar was looking for something that would at least make him break a sweat. Although spicy enough to burn out the sinuses of most normal people (I tasted a drop from my little finger and found it more than enough to make me choke), Dhar slurped it down like a glass of ice water. He was quick to point out that it was a very tasty dish — the flavours were intense and countered the lack of spiciness. Although not deathly hot, I had to agree that gumbo is a meal that I would eat again.

Paying our bill and leaving a nice tip for the wonderful service we received, Dhar and I resumed our trip towards the French Quarter. We still had over an hour to kill before we could go back, so we decided to see what trouble we could get into. I felt a little apprehensive about following Dhar after midnight, wondering if we’d get shot at or attacked by some freak in the shadows. Trouble seemed to follow Dhar. I just hoped trouble didn’t like me.

Along the way we passed two women and drunk man arguing with one another; a different drunk man urinating in the middle of the sidewalk, oblivious to our existence; a few vagrants trying to find a place to bunk down for the night; and a couple bank machines, both of which Dhar tried to use. It was at the first bank machine that I came to the realization that I had forgotten the Turbodog bottle, despite my asking Dhar to remind me.

Dhar’s luck with bank machines south of the border was dismal. Every time he tried to withdraw $100, the transaction was refused. I wondered why he was having so much difficulty, especially when my bank card neatly deposited nearly any amount I needed with only a slight wait for the CIBC’s computers to figure out where my bank account was. Then I found out that Dhar was using his Mastercard to withdraw money. I don’t like using credit cards to do that — too much of a hassle. Eventually Dhar had to settle for $20 at a time, which cost him over $4 in transaction fees each time he tried.

The business district was devoid of activity, save for the biting wind that blew through the canyons created by the skyscrapers. Dhar and I blasted through the area with the determination of the most dedicated speed-walkers. In only a few minutes we were standing on the edge of Canal Street, looking into the French Quarter.

Some had left, but the heart of the city continued to pump with life. The strip bars were still open, the bars still poured drinks, and a few restaurants still served food. On this occasion, only Dhar entered any of the establishments, which was to obtain a drink.

Having no plan other than to stay out until at least 02:00, we wasted time by walking wherever it seemed like a good idea. That brought us to the Aquarium of the Americas. But we approached it from the eastern side, from where the French Quarter met the Mississippi River. A pathway ran alongside the river, parking lots on the one side, bushes and the river on the other.

All the drinking finally got to Dhar, and he needed use of the facilities. Specifically a toilet … any toilet. Unfortunately there wasn’t any in the area, at least none that were open for use. Dhar couldn’t just whip it out and let loose on the path either — there were undercover cops around. (You can tell because they’re the ones sitting in large cars in parking lots at 01:45 in the morning.) So we kept walking until we were partially out of sight, at which time Dhar dove behind one of the bushes before he wet his pants. I kept watch for the aforementioned authorities.

Feeling a little lighter and a lot more relieved, Dhar returned to the path and we walked towards the Aquarium. It looked very different at night, all the lights were off except for a few neon signs. I wondered what the crow was doing then, and if anyone had fed it that night.

We rounded the western corner of the building and passed through the flood-wall gate, debating for a brief moment to follow the trolley tracks to see where they went. Soon we found ourselves back in the business district again, and with nothing else to do. Trouble had seemed to elude us.

All the souls of the evening realm of New Orleans that we had met on our way to the French Quarter were gone. A trolley clunked by on what I assumed to be the last run of the night (even though everything we had read indicated a much earlier stop time), heading towards our hotel. For a brief moment we contemplated taking a ride, but the extra time it would take to walk the distance we considered time well spent. The last thing you want to do is walk in on your roommates when they’re occupied.

It was after 02:30 when we arrived back at the hotel. For a fleeting moment I had this awful thought that we wouldn’t be able to get in, that the hotel locked its doors after a particular time. That was a short fear that disappeared when we saw the beaming face of the night clerk, watching the door for any activity. We smiled and said ‘hello’ as we boarded the elevator.

The lights were all off, and the room was quiet. We entered as silently as we possibly could, not a particularly easy task when the door has squeaky hinges and the toilet flushes loudly. I brushed my teeth, relieved my bladder pressure, and removed the sheets from my cot. I didn’t feel like sleeping on the cot that night, and flopped on the couch for my rest. Dhar opted for his cot.

Dhar fell asleep almost instantly, not having slept for nearly 30 hours. Unfortunately it also meant he started snoring earlier than usual. But soon I too was sleeping soundly. That is, until Dhar woke me up some two or so hours later. That I considered quite the feat — once I fall asleep, I sleep hard. The only think I know that gets me up in the middle of the night is a fire alarm. But Dhar’s snoring was so loud I woke up. I lay in amazement for a few moments before I got up and nudged Dhar awake to get him to stop.