Tag Archives: New Orleans

Super Sonic, Not

This is the latest post in a series about a road trip to New Orleans that starts here.

The route from New Orleans to Oxford was the same as the one we’d taken going south, only this time I had no car worries so I was able to enjoy the beauty of the landscape.  We passed Ponchatoula, Natalbany, Amite City, Fluker, Osyka.

It started to rain, and I mean hard.  I drove on, in denial, the deluge so loud Lynn and I could barely hear each other talk, and so thick we couldn’t see the car in front of us or the shoulders of the highway.

Finally I saw semi trucks pulled over to the side of the road, common sense prevailed, and I took the next exit, McComb.  It was nearly lunchtime, so why not try some local delicacy?

I spied a Sonic.  Perfect!  Drive-in restaurants are such an American thing; I was excited that Lynn would get to experience one.

The only other drive in I’d ever been to was Porky’s in St. Paul, where I had worked as a car hop for one month when I was 16.  The floors were so greasy I had to grip the countertops as I skidded my way around the kitchen.  Porky’s was a dive frequented by bikers and guys with muscle cars, who aren’t exactly great tippers.  After retrieving the umpteenth food tray with a one cent tip and cigarette butts stubbed out in ketchup cups, I told the owner to fuck himself and walked out.  Porky’s has since been torn down and replaced with some bland chain store.

Porky's

Sonics are a chain, and they’re all new and shiny.  They’ve even got bathrooms.  Our eyes bugged out at the menu: once again, everything was deep fried and the drinks were neon colored.  Why?  Do a lot of people think, “Yum!” when they see neon?

Sonic

Lynn and I ordered without any language difficulties and a perky teenager named LaShonda delivered our food.  I had the Super Crunch Chicken Strip DinnerTM with tater tots, which were a staple of the American diet back when “convenience food” was a novelty.  Now they’re back.  There was also Texas Toast, which is very thick toast, and, in case that wasn’t enough brown food, one onion ring.

In the photo below it looks delicious, but this is not how it appeared in its cardboard box.  Everything was slightly wilted and smushed together in a small pool of grease.

Super Crunch

“Don’t bother asking if the chicken is free range,” I laughed at Lynn.  The chicken, if that’s what it really was, looked and tasted like thick white rubber bands that had been soaked in solvent until they were pliable enough to chew.  I gagged and couldn’t eat more than a few bites.  I should have known when I saw “boneless chicken wings” on the menu that we were not in for a nice surprise—a chain restaurant with good food.  Lynn managed to choke down her burger and a few limp fries.

The rain had let up so we pulled back onto the highway.

Bogue Chitto, Zetus, New Sight, Hazelhurst, Gallatin, Crystal Springs … “I imagine Crystal Springs is a delightful place,” said Lynn, deadpan.  “Oh yeah!” I nodded.  Pickens, Ebenezer, Durant, Possumneck.  Wait, whatPossumneck—we laughed?  Even if we hadn’t just left our Australian friend Christine, a.k.a. possum, in New Orleans, it was still a funny name.

Vaiden, Winona, Grenada, Coffeeville.  I was running low on gas and pulled off the highway but there was no town at the top of the ramp.  I drove into the countryside, assuming we would hit a town eventually, and we did.  I can’t recall its name; it could have been French Camp, Bruce, Eupora, or Paris.  It was a very small, sad, dilapidated town.  From the looks we got, mine was the first Mini Cooper any of the residents had ever seen.  I gassed up and went in to pay just in time to hear Lynn shriek, “No!”  I reached her as she was surreptitiously photographing the giant jars of pickled pigs things and what appeared to be a neon drink, or condensed urine.  Yum!

pigs lips

Festival Fever

This is the latest post in a series about a road trip to New Orleans that starts here.

Our last day in New Orleans.

We started the usual way, the four of us out on the street: “Should we go to the right?” one of us would say.

“Are you asking, or do you want to go right?”

“I don’t care.”

“Well I’d like to go left.  I saw any interesting house that way and I’d like to get a photo of it.”

Disappointed look.

“Do you want to go to the left?  If you do, just say so!”

“No, I really don’t mind what we do.”

So we went to the right.

Disappointed look.

There’s a lot of talk about us Minnesotans being passive aggressive.  We hint at things instead of just saying what we want.  I try not to do that, but sometimes I feel I’m being mean just stating what I want.  I’ve traveled a lot; I’ve lived and worked with people from lots of countries and cultures.  Except for the Donald Trumps of the world, the desire to avoid confrontation—even the appearance of confrontation—seems universal.

A Mimosa at 10 in the morning always helps to smooth out bumpy interactions, so we ordered four, then wandered around the French Market.  This is a vast collection of booths with vendors selling everything from Mardi Gras masks and beads, dried soups and artisanal soaps, artwork and Alligator heads.  I bought an alligator head for my six-year-old nephew.  This would secure my position as adored aunt.  I found a voodoo doll for a friend; it was made in China.  Everything was made in China, of course, except maybe the alligator heads.

There was a Tsunami of Stuff.  That’s how the world is now.  I will probably sound old here, but when I was a kid and young adult I don’t recall there being so many shops that sold gifts and other useless things.  There also weren’t as many thrift stores, probably because we weren’t buying knick knacks at gift stores for our friends, who would later secretly re-gift them or drop them off at the Salvation Army.

By now, the fifth day of the festival, the French Quarter was filthy, smelly, and heaving with people.  The weekend brought in a younger crowd.  Molly and I drank beers while we walked along; this is a particular rare pleasure for me.  The only other time I can recall being allowed to do this was at the Notting Hill Festival in London, where I enjoyed a Strong Bow while having my ear drums assaulted by 10 Caribbean steel drum bands playing at once.

In Minnesota, you have to wear a neon wrist band and stand in a corral like a criminal to enjoy a beer at a festival.

We found a place to sit, in the sun, and listened a band called to Cha Wa, which is a “Mardi Gras Indian funk band.”

Cha Wa

They were great.  We walked to the waterfront, which was a 98% African American crowd.  It was great to see, after visiting the Civil Rights Museum, so many people— young and old, families and couples, flocks of teens—just out and enjoying themselves.

We took the streetcar back toward our neighborhood.  Don’t call it a trolley—apparently that’s very important to the natives.  It goes about five miles per hour, but we weren’t in any hurry.  At one point we stopped and the driver got out and wiggled the cable by hand to get us going again.

A few more drinks on Frenchman Street, a few more incredible bands.  It was the last fever peak of the festival before reality hit on Monday morning.  The drunks were sloppy, the streets were greasy, music was everywhere, I saw a guy wearing a green chicken costume, and someone else wearing a skull mask riding a unicycle.

The next day Molly flew north to Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota, where her husband would pick her up and drive her home to St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin.  Christine left to catch her flight back to Oxford, England.  Lynn and I headed north in the Happy Mini, also toward Oxford—Oxford, Mississippi.

Special Sauce, Special Spice

This is the latest in a series of posts about a road trip to New Orleans that starts here.

You may be wondering about the food in New Orleans.  Well let me give you a tip.  A coworker who is a foodie had visited the city a month before I was there.  Her advice had been: “There are a million restaurants, and if you’re walking around all day in the sun, you can get really hungry and then you end up walking into whatever restaurant doesn’t have a line, and you can get crappy food, or great food.”  So her advice was to make time to research places to eat and have a couple on our list every day for those hungry moments.

We didn’t do that, and so we had some crappy food and some great food.  If you like deep-fried everything, you would love New Orleans, because that’s easy to find. Deep fried seafood—no texture anymore, so you can’t even tell what it was—and something called a Po’ Boy, which is a basically a submarine sandwich with beef but also comes filled with fried sea food.  Then of course there are the French fries, deep fried mushrooms, deep fried green beans … you get the picture.  The New Orleans signature sweet is a Beignet, which is a deep-fried pastry sprinkled with powdered sugar.  And just in case all the deep fried stuff doesn’t provide enough lubrication to grease your swallows, everything was accompanied by oily sauces.

Bad Fish Beignet

My son, Vince, who has been a cook for many years, says that if food is deep fried by a competent cook—and this means submerged quickly into very hot oil—it’s not very greasy at all.  That’s not the kind of deep fried food we had. The kind we had was the kind where the first bite is delicious because you’ve waited so long to eat, and then all the bites after that just taste like grease.  My stomach feels queasy just thinking about it.

To accompany all this unnaturally brown food, New Orleans offers up unnaturally colored drinks. These seem to contain mostly sugar and food coloring, with a splash of bottom-shelf alcohol.

red drink Green Drinks

But there was also good food, which I define as simple and tasty, which we found by accident about 50% of the time.  I’m a seafood lover who lives in the middle of the North American continent, so I don’t often have shrimp or scallops that weren’t frozen and defrosted.

But here we were so near to the Gulf of Mexico.  This meal below satisfied; the fish is Redfish, which I’d never heard of.  It’s blackened, which is a southern cooking technique using Cajun spices; the butter gives the fish a blackened appearance and trust me, it is delicious.

Good Fish

There were crawfish boils everywhere. For 10 bucks you could gorge yourself on a peel ‘n’ eat platter of them.

Crawfish boil

When I was a kid I used to catch what we called cray fish in the Mississippi River, but the river was so polluted then we couldn’t eat our catch.

There was a wonderful food hall across the street from our B&B which had stalls serving Vietnamese, Thai, and local dishes, and this is where we had our best meals.  My favorite was a curried crawfish dish.

There are two dishes associated with the south: Jumbalaya and Gumbo.  Gumbo is a spicy stew with southern vegetables like okra and peppers and with chicken, crawfish, shrimp and/or Andouille, a pork sausage that’s a New Orleans staple.  Jambalaya is a rice dish with similar ingredients.  Both are pick-and-choose kind of recipes; there’s no “right” way to make them—it’s about the spice.

I don’t eat pork.  If I had been in Minnesota, there would have been vegan and vegetarian and gluten-free and artisanal options available, but this was New Orleans.  Every iteration of Gumbo and Jambalaya contained Andouille, so I never tried either dish.  And in case you think I’m kidding about the artisanal gumbo, a week after I came home Vince and I ate out and by chance walked into a southern-style restaurant, at which I was able to order gumbo with vegan Andouille.

Cooper versus Cruiser

This is the latest in a series of posts about a road trip to New Orleans that starts here.

Finally, I will shut up about my car, I promise.  I got to the garage, met Tracy, who was a woman, and after I paid the bill she flagged down a guy to lead me to my car.

“Honey,” she called out to him, “Will ya’ll show this here Miss Anne where her PT Cruiser is?”

PT Cruiser!?

Thankfully the guy got it.  “Ya’ll got a Mini Cooper, right? Ya’ll insulted she called it a PT Cruiser?” he laughed.

“I’ve never been so insulted!”

In my opinion, PT Cruisers are novelty cars for retired people who really want a Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV) but can’t admit it.  The PT Cruiser allows them to drive a giant gas-guzzling vehicle and pretend they’re quirky and eccentric.  Despite the fact that I was getting all-new spark plugs, I still affirm that the Mini is a finely-engineered vehicle.  And mine was nine years old, after all.

PT Cruiser

I raced back to the B&B, parked the car in front, and parked myself in the courtyard under the Kumquat tree with a book and a glass of wine. Molly texted to ask if I wanted them to come  join me.  “no enjoy yourselves and take your time.”  If there was something called a “sub-text,” I would have typed, “No!  Stay away!  I need to be alone!”

Courtyard-Bench-sm

This is how you know if you’re an introvert or an extrovert.  It’s not about whether you like people or parties or crowds, or have a lot of friends.  It’s about what you do to recharge when you’re drained. I’m an introvert, because as much as I love my friends and parties and crowds, I just want to be alone when I’ve been through a stressful experience.

So I sat under the Kumquat tree for hours.  I was reading Memoirs of a Geisha, and I hadn’t expected it to be so fascinating.  How accurate was it, I wondered? I would never dream of asking my sister-in-law Akiko, who has a PhD.  I think she would be horrified that I would think she knew anything about geishas.

-f-g-memoirs-of-a-geisha-31766513-500-233

Hours later, Lynn, Christine, and Molly strolled in and I was happy to see them.

“Why was I so stressed about a stupid car?” I wondered out loud.

“Because you didn’t know if you’d get here,” Christine said.

“You’re emotionally attached to it,” said Lynn. “I had a Mazda Miata convertible that was my baby.  When we moved to Scotland I finally sold her because I could only drive her once a year.  When they took her away I cried!”

“It was five hundred and fifty bucks!” Molly chimed in.

When I was in my 20s and 30s, an unplanned $550 expense would have been a disaster.  I would have had to borrow money from my mother, or put it on a credit card.  I would have had to cut back on some other essential item, like food or cigarettes or beer.

Slowly, slowly, I’ve worked my way out of debt and into financial safety.  If I had worked for Wells Fargo this would have gone a lot faster, but I’ve always worked for charities.  Like I’ve written before, you can work for a nonprofit and have a good life, if you’re very, very careful about your spending.  Saving, even small amounts, is super important too, because the interest eventually piles on and one day you look at your balance and think, “Whoa!  How did it get so big!”  Of course it can go down, too, if you’re invested in the stock market, so don’t look at it when the market’s down, and whatever you do, don’t sell at the bottom.

Sorry, I go off on tangents, I know.

You may be wondering if New Orleans is an expensive destination, and I think the answer is no, if you can find reasonably-priced accommodation.  They’re still rebuilding since Hurricane Katrina, so there’s a housing shortage.  Plan way ahead, especially if you’re going during a festival.  If you can gather a group of friends together and split the cost four ways, it’s very affordable.  And more fun.

Car Talk

This is the latest post in a series about a road trip to New Orleans that starts here.

If you love cemeteries like I do, you would love New Orleans.  Bodies are buried in above-ground crypts so the … whatever it is that oozes from decomposing bodies doesn’t seep into the groundwater.  Thanks to the heat, bodies decompose quickly and fresh ones can be added onto the pile in after only a year.

Lafayette Cemetery #1 is not to be confused with St. Louis Cemetery #1, where the voodoo queen Marie Laveau is buried.  I visited that one my first time in New Orleans, and the two cemeteries look the same except that Lafayette is in the posh Garden District and St. Louis is in Treme, which as depicted in the hit HBO crime series.

The four of us split up and wandered around.  I was wondering over this rubber duckie-themed tomb when my phone rang and an androgynous voice asked for “Miss Anne.”

Rubber Duck Grave

“This here is Tracy,” s/he drawled, calling ya’ll bout your car.  It’s lookin’ real bad …”

The line went dead.  I hit redial.  The connection wouldn’t work. I wandered around for another 20 minutes, clutching my phone and willing it to ring.

When it finally did, Tracy laid it on me: “It needs all new spark plugs,” s/he said.

“How much?” I asked.

“A’m sorrah Miss Anne, but I hate to tell ya it’s gonna be ….” Click.

Lynn, trying to be helpful, said, “That’s what I thought all along!  Spark plugs—and now you know that your car has spark plugs!”

I don’t remember what I said but it wasn’t nice. She went silent.  By then we had “done” the cemetery and re-joined a walking tour of the Garden District, featuring the houses of Nicholas Cage and Sandra Bullock.  It was hot.  The phone kept ringing then going dead.  For an hour.

Finally, Tracy got through. “What?” I yelled.  “I can’t hear you!”  Other members of the tour were giving me dirty looks.  I finally got that it was going to cost me $800.  Since my worst case scenario had been that the car would be a total loss, this was actually a bit of a relief, but still not a welcome amount of money to have to lay out on vacation.  Or anytime.

“It’ll take fahv days to get the parts from the dealership in Baton Rouge,” Tracy informed me.

“Five days!  But I have to be in Minnesota on Wednesday!” I moaned.

“Unless ya’ll want to use generic parts, Miss Anne” s/he said.

“Of course I do!” I exclaimed.

“Then it’ll cost ya’ll $550.”  Now I felt like I was getting off easy.  It’s all relative.

After the walking tour we sought refuge from the heat in Starbucks.  I apologized to Lynn, and she accepted.  No drama.  I don’t know what she would say, but I wasn’t surprised that in 11 days spending 24 hours together, there wouldn’t be some disagreement.

We caught the Hop On Hop Off bus again and got off at the restaurant recommended by the guide.  I always figure these are the restaurants owned by the guide’s brother in law, but so what?  It was really good.  In no time Tracy called again to say my car was ready, and I left my pals standing on a street corner in the blazing sun to wait for the bus while I hailed a cab.

The cabbie’s English was not good, but that didn’t stop him from telling me that Tracy’s garage was “too many crooks, and too much expensive.”  He informed me that I should have asked him where to take my car.  Right.  If I could have gone back in time … I changed the subject.

“Where are you from?”

“Palestine,” he replied.

“I was in the Palestinian territories last year.”

He stared at me in the rear-view window.

“You are a Jewish!” he said.

“Ye…sss.” Was he going to take me to a remote spot in Treme, stab me, and dump my body in St. Louis Cemetery #1?

But instead he exclaimed, “We cousins!  You, me … Jew, Arab … we must try to get along!”

Big Talkers, Long Talkers

This is the latest post in a series about a road trip to New Orleans that starts here.

I mentioned in a previous post that the owner of our B&B, Nancy, displayed photos of Donald Trump on her wall.  There was also a picture of her with Bill and Hillary Clinton.  As you walked down the hall toward our room, there it was on the left, and the Trump photos were on the right, appropriately enough.  But there were about six photos of Trump vs. one of the Clintons.

I knew from stalking her online that Nancy had been the executive producer of Trump’s show, The Celebrity Apprentice, before moving to New Orleans and opening a B&B.

celebrity-apprentice_510

To make you travel lovers drool, she also produced The Amazing Race, in which pairs of contestants complete challenges in exotic locations, and she traveled around the world four times.

Amazing Race

Nancy now had a darling six-year-old daughter who flitted around the B&B and they lived above us in their own snug quarters.

Nancy

Running a B&B wouldn’t be for me.  The first time some guest asked for vegan Andouille, I’d put up the For Sale sign.  But Nancy was endlessly patient and sincere.  She grew up in the south and went to graduate school at nearby Tulane.  She loves New Orleans and seemed to truly enjoy helping other people explore the city.  Maybe she didn’t get demanding guests.  Maybe if she did, they were nothing compared with working for Donald Trump.  Her time on the show would have been a great informal apprenticeship for running a service business.

The photos didn’t bother me; I thought they were weirdly amusing, but they bothered Molly, who is a Bernie Sanders fan.

“How can she have pictures of Donald Trump on her wall?!  She’s so sweet!  He’s a misogynist!  He’s a racist!  He’s a smug, arrogant asshole!”

So I asked Nancy, “We’re curious to know what Donald Trump is like.  Is he the same now as when you were working with him?”

Nancy seemed to consider her words carefully.  “He’s a very good businessman.”  We waited for the rest, and we got it, but I won’t quote her.  She only used one word, but that said it all.

“She must get asked all the time,” I said to Molly after Nancy left us to help another guest.

“Leave it to you to ask!” Molly replied, laughing at me.

I get this all the time.  In my job review a few months ago I was faulted for being “too direct.”  I really must practice hinting more, instead of just saying what I’m thinking.

Nancy had a guy working for her named Johnny.  He cleaned, baked, fixed things, and most of all, talked.  He was the southern version of our friend David at the Old Chicago Inn.  Johnny was one of the reasons it took us so long to get going in the morning.  He would plunk himself down in a chair near the four of us and talk.  And talk and talk and talk.  He talked about his previous jobs, being in the marines, and the secrets of making kumquat marmalade.

People who play wind instruments like the flute do something called circular breathing which allows them to play without interrupting the music to inhale.  I think long talkers do something similar so there’s never a pause where you could interject, “I’m sorry, but we really must leave now.”  The good thing about one-way talkers is that—usually—they know they talk too much.  You can be direct with them and they don’t take it personally.

“We have to leave now, Johnny,” I would say.

“Ha, ha, ha!  Ah know ah talk a lot.  Ya’ll have a wonderful day now.”

We wandered for an hour trying to find the stop for the Hop On Hop Off bus, which had been rerouted due to the festival.  We finally caught sight of one of their familiar red double-decker buses and rode it to Lafayette Cemetery Number 1, which is where I got the call about my car.

Lafayette

Gators and Haints

This is the latest post in a series about a road trip to New Orleans that starts here.

As I wrote in the last post, I had been to New Orleans before and toured a plantation, something my traveling companions didn’t want to do this time.  Another thing we didn’t do but which I would highly recommend is an alligator boat tour.

If we had alligators in Minnesota, and if we had alligator boat tours, you would be required to sign a legal waiver, watch a 15-minute safety video before the boat left the dock, and wear alligator-proof helmets and vests.

Not so in Louisiana.  About 40 of us tourists, many of whom were very obese, crowded onto a pontoon boat and headed into the swamp with our Cajun guide. He joked about how you should never wear white if you went canoeing in the bayou, because an alligator’s favorite food is egrets, and egrets are white.  Half of us were wearing white.

To demonstrate the “alligators like white” principle, he pulled out a bag of giant marshmallows and scattered them onto the surface of the water.  We were quickly surrounded by alligators, some of which were nine or 10 feet long.  Then the Cajun pulled out a bucket of chicken parts.  He extended a rickety plank out over the water, then knelt and held a chicken leg over the water.  It was kind of like feeding a goat in a kiddie zoo, except here you could get your arm ripped off.  Each time a gator launched itself out of the water and grabbed a hunk of chicken, the Cajun would yell, “Whoa!  Whoo daddy!  Whoo mama!” and jump back, causing the boat to rock precipitously.  This went on for a couple hours.

Now, some people would get bored with this but I found plenty to keep me interested. The other tourists, the Spanish moss, a little abandoned cemetery in the middle of nowhere, and what looked like a hunting shack.  The highlight was when we got to pass around a baby alligator.

Ally Gator GuyDesktop

No one wanted to go this time around in New Orleans.  Maybe I shouldn’t have mentioned the part about the boat rocking.

Each morning we would amble over toward the French Quarter via the wonderfully-named streets of the Marigney: Burgundy, Esplanade, Elysian Fields, Spain, Dauphine, Chartes, Mandeville, St. Roch, and of course, Music Street.

Here’s a suggested philosophy for life.  “Dream Big as Fuck!”–on garbage can?

Dream Big

I could walk around New Orleans all day and just look at houses.

Balcon 1House 1 Balcon 2 Balcon 4 Balcon 5 House 2

Some of the porch ceilings are painted light blue, which I took to represent the sky.  However I later learned from the New Orleans Gambit newspaper that this color is called “haint blue” and it’s meant to keep out “haints,” or evil spirits.

Balcon 3

“It was believed that haints could not cross over water and painting these entrances to resemble water was a way to trick them. This folklore can be attributed to the Gullah, a group of African-Americans, originally from rice-growing regions of West Africa.”

I like to take the Hop On Hop Off Bus in a new city if it’s available.  It’s a good way to get oriented, and especially if the weather is clear and there’s a space on the top deck, it’s a nice respite from walking and crowds. Then, as the name implies, you can hop on and off to see various sights.

We hopped off in the Garden District to take a walking tour.  The bus stopped at a gas station that had The Filthiest Bathroom I’ve ever had the displeasure of using.  Nonetheless, I always feel obliged to buy something when I use a gas station bathroom, so I grabbed a bottle of water and stood in the non-line of people waiting to pay.  An impeccably-dressed man was next to me, and when I said “Have a nice day,” to the cashier he looked at me for the longest time, trying to figure out what I’d said.  Then he said something to me in such a southern drawl that I couldn’t understand him.  We laughed and smiled—the universal language—even when you’re supposedly speaking the same language.