Logan’s high school jazz band planned a trip to New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz, during spring break. Because this was his last spring break at home we hemmed and hawed and then decided to follow the band down to the Big Easy like a van full of groupies. Surprisingly, he was fine with the idea, or at least put on a fairly convincing show of being fine with it.
Here’s how it went down.
Friday March 20
Jame, Spence, and I set out in our unhip minivan, the Big White Whale, with our dog, Tia, dog paraphernalia, luggage, a cooler, and just about every electronic device known to mankind, and headed south in search of verdant grass and balmy breezes.
The dog quaked and panted for 3 hours straight until, exhausted from the whole escapade, she plopped herself down on her red plaid blanket and was out like a light.
For about five minutes.
She then spent the rest of the ride draped over my arm like a living muff.
We whizzed by the first traces of green just south of St. Louis. There it was as shy and gorgeous as could be, peeking out between the winter-worn, dead-yellow hay, as the temperature shot up from a chilly 39º at home to a temperate 54º.
Kamikaze bugs forfeited their lives to our windshield left and right: a sure indication of warmer temps.
We flew by a sign for Jackson, MS and I had Bruno Mars crooning in my head for the next 103 miles. “Livin’ it up in the city!”
Saturday, March 21
Woke up in Mississippi, the land of all things catfish.
It’s 77º outside and the sky is white and heavy with humidity while the grass is Kelly green, and already in need of a cut.
Spanish moss and kudzu cloak the trees along the edge of the highway.
Finally, we approached New Orleans, driving over miles and miles and miles of bayou on an elevated causeway. What lurks in the waters below? I think it’s best not to know.
We made it to New Orleans, which will be referred to as “N’awlins” from this point forward.
It seems that we drove straight through April, May, and June, and landed smack dab in the middle of July. It’s 85º in N’awlins (Did you think I was kidding with the name thing? I would never kid about something so serious.), and about 80% humidity making it feel like a sweat-running-down-my-back-in-rivulets 93º.
Did I really just have the thought that cooler temps. don’t seem so evil anymore?
How fickle am I?
The band played at Jackson Square with the regal St. James Cathedral as a backdrop. I watched my boy improvising on his tenor sax baring his heart and soul to all, while a nearby couple cut a rug to the jazz tunes. And it was magical. My heart was melting, the sweat was pouring, all in all, it was a very drippy affair.
And here’s the band in action. Logan is the tenor sax in the front row on the far left.
A few fateful hours later, Tia was arrested.
After delicious muffaletta sandwiches for lunch and a swim in the rooftop pool, we went to dinner only to return to our room to see Tia’s crate door ajar and no dog in sight. Turns out that she had been barking incessantly so the feds nabbed her and locked her up. We sprung her, and realized that the jailbird could not be trusted by herself in the room anymore. There went our family dinner plans, museum outings, and sight-seeing tours. You name it, it was out the window.
(Here’s Tia’s cellmate while incarcerated: a Yorkie aptly named Prisoner.)
Photo courtesy of: floridakeysstore.net
And so, instead of staying trapped in the room, we traipsed around the French Quarter with a skittish 12-lb. dog, trying to navigate the drunken plodders, aggressive dogs in spiked chokers, and the puddles of stinky, questionable liquid on the ground. To me, the French Quarter on a Saturday night during spring break is like Rush St. plus the Wisconsin Dells on drugs, mud, bourbon, and voodoo. In Logan’s opinion, it’s a world of delectable bites, Cajun charm, and endless melodic jazz.
Beauty is indeed in the eyes of the beholder.
We have fallen deeply in love with many places we’ve visited, but I think it’s okay to go somewhere if only to realize that you never really want to come back, don’t you?
Sunday, March 22,
We got up early and trekked all the way down to the river once more, past the poop and vomit and urine puddles in the street from the prior night’s revelry that hadn’t yet been hosed away, to the closest patch of grass for Tia to do her business. Can you imagine walking two blocks every time your dog had to pee? In mid winter, I sometimes resent even having to open the front door for her back home, spoiled suburbanite that I am.
We then walked a block or two to Café du Monde to sample their “must-have” beignets and café au lait. Jame and Spence gave them two enthusiastic thumbs up.
Photo source: whatscookingamerica.net
Itching to ditch the French Quarter, we decided to take a drive to the cleaner part of town: the garden district where beautiful homes with heady scented gardinia bushes abounded. Walking through the streets was a literal breath of fresh air. Pictured below are our band groupie companions, Steve and Laura, and their good dog Cooper, who is actually not a felon.
N’awlins fact: During hurricane Katrina, 80% of the city flooded. The 20% that stayed dry, was the Garden District. Coincidence? I think not.
You’ve probably heard about the above ground cemetery plots in N’awlins, right? Some say the graves are raised due to water tables and flooding concerns, and others claim that the tradition began to save money since the crypts can be shared by several family members. After the remains cook away in the 300º vaults during the summer, the bones of the prior occupant are merely pushed to the back and the next new body is laid to rest.
Spence decided to get spiffed up, mirroring his spiffed up stop sign pal.
Reentering the French District once more, we were immediately greeted by a stark naked young woman except for a rainbow tutu and black stars painted on her tatas. (No photo, so sorry. The image is, however unfortunately, indelibly etched in my memory.)
Spencer rapidly matured during our Big Easy adventure.
We ate at Emeril’s NOLA for dinner, sampling heavenly pork cheek Boudin balls, and crab cakes with mango salsa that were to die for, followed by moist, smoky, garlic-infused drum: a local fish.
Emeril is a culinary god.
Photo courtesy of: myneworleans.com
As some of you know, we’re renowned for leaving vacation spots early. I know it sounds absurd, but I think we sometimes enjoy the vacation anticipation more than the actual stay. Folks at Jame’s work have held pools based on how early we’ll return home. What can I say in our defense? We like to hit the road, see what we came to see, and then we like to come home. Lingering isn’t something we do very well. I had guessed that we would get the hell out of Dodge by noon the next day.
So long, N’Awlins.
Monday, March 23
Okay, I was overly optimistic. We only lasted until about 10:00 a.m. until our inner gypsies grabbed the reins.
We headed out of town on the other bridge to nowhere: the 23-mile causeway bridge over brown Lake Ponchartrain. If you’re not a fan of bridges, avoid this one because all you see for miles is pavement and water so close on both sides that you feel as if you can reach out and touch it. It holds the record for being the longest continuous bridge in the world. There’s no visible land ahead, and none behind. I repeatedly scanned the contents of the car for emergency floatables.
It felt odd to leave Logan behind in a foreign city, but it was probably good practice for us, plus he was with friends and was having a ball. The band spent the next two days fixing up homes that were still in disrepair from Hurricane Katrina, which occurred 9 years ago. Can you believe it’s been that long? Can you believe not everything has been restored? Not by a long-shot.
Our quest was to drive along the coast of Mississippi and Alabama flanking the gulf.
Lunch was fish tacos on the beach. It doesn’t get more coastal than that, baby. Terns flocked around us until Tia decided to play fetch with them. Despite it only being 65 degrees, it sure felt good to see vast stretches of white terrain that weren’t snow.
Tuesday, March 24
It was a perfect 70º outside with blue skies as we drove over lovely rolling hills in Alabama. The only thing that rained down on us were petals from flowering fruit trees.
Ironically, we were stuck behind a truck full of Lincoln logs as we followed signs to Abe Lincoln’s boyhood home for 14 miles over hill and dale in rural Kentucky, only to find that the final sign on our scavenger hunt was one that read, “Park Closed”. Frankly, I think we were being punked.
Apparently, barns are often black here in Kentucky, to draw heat, therefore helping to cure the tobacco inside. Bet you didn’t know that one, did ya? Dairy barns in mid Atlantic states are painted white to symbolize cleanliness, and all other barns were predominantly painted red way back when to cheaply protect the wood with a mixture of linseed oil and rust.
Barn lesson concluded.
We zoomed past Diamond Caverns and Mammoth Cave, both of which we’ve explored in the past, but didn’t have a hankering to see this time. Every couple of miles there seemed to be a sign for a new cave. I envisioned the highway beneath us suddenly opening up and swallowing the Big White Whale in a massive sinkhole.
Because we weren’t quite sure if we were ready to head home yet or not, we rammed into a huge log that was laying across the highway while we were going 80, making our decision that much easier. An overnight stay at a Best Western became our fated move, as we pulled up to the lobby squished into the back seat of a tow truck. The fact that our room’s only water supply was colder than liquid nitrogen was fine and dandy since we were beginning to enjoy feeling “greasy and sticky” after an 11-hour car ride.
I think Jame and I actually high-fived each other and said, “Sweet!”
If I recall correctly.
Wednesday March 25
Good thing Jame was on the case. He got the front two lacerated tires fixed in a jiffy and we were back on the road again by 10:00 a.m.
We drove into Gary wearing the same underwear we had on the day before, my feet resembled stay-puff marshmallows bloated from the forever-and-a-day road trip, and my hair was sticking out in starched tufts like a blonde Bozo. Tia, whose belly and paws were skim-coated in French Quarter scum, was quietly whining in the backseat wondering why she used to consider us nice humans, and Spence had promised his first, second, and third born if he could just get out of the car and sleep in his own bed that night.
Because nothing says welcome back quite like the urban wasteland that is Gary.
We’re home! We’re home! Well, almost at least, and Dorothy and I both agree that there’s no place like it in the world!
I’m taking a long, hot shower, putting on some comfortable, clean clothes, giving Tia a much needed bath, and then it’s time to start planning our 4,000-mile round trip trek to the Pacific Northwest in July . . . or maybe not.
Have you been to the Big Easy? Did you enjoy it? Am I quite possibly the only person to visit there who didn’t succumb to its legendary charm?