New Orleans, LA 2016

NOLA native son at Tipitina's Walk of Fame

SATURDAY FEBRUARY 6

Well, the downsides of early morning travel dwindled at the gate waiting to board. The first leg of our trip today is taking us to Orlando, where we will layover for a couple of hours. As you can imagine, several people on the an Orlando bound flight in February are heading to Disney. At some point the gate attendant walks over to a family and introduces himself. A little strange (the gate attendant does not introduce himself to everyone), but OK, there were kids in the family and I thought, maybe they were traveling alone or something. I was sitting and this was taking place next to me. A few minutes later, with the attendant back at his post, the pilot and first mate arrive. They brandish their credentials and the pilot waves the mate ahead as he has some business to take care of. He pulls his flight plan from his briefcase and walks over to the same family, led by the attendant who introduces the pilot to the kids. I take a moment to survey the situation. One of the girls is wearing a surgical mask and both wearing Make-a Wish tshirts. Too young to grasp any flight plan information, the pilot turns to the father and in a rather animated conversation, for the girls' benefit, gives dad reassurances that this was going to be a good flight. That part, the kids understand and their faces light up, secure in knowing that the pilot is going to ensure they get to Orlando today. The funniest part of the entire scenario is the apparent uneasiness dad has with flying and the pilot animating his conversation for the girls' benefit, turns into a dad's wish the pilot would stop reminding him that he was going to be flying in a few short minutes. His kids were still excited. This whole scenario makes me think of how many Make-a-Wish kids get disappointed with flight cancellations during the winter and who has to tell a Make-a-Wish kid that they aren't going to go today? Anyway, today was not that day. And even though El and I check in too late to get a prime boarding number and wind up having to sit in different rows for the 3 hour flight, we don't sweat it as we are on vacation!

So, New Orleans again. While we don’t usually go back to the same vacation spots, we did make an exception this year. While we do talk about potential vacation spots all year long, this year the cheaper option tended to float to the top of the list. With mom and dad spending their winter in Algiers Point again, a place to stay and no need to rent a car, the overall expenses of the trip whittled down to a manageable level. The domestic airfare cheaper than most international options, it just started to fall into place. Having been here exactly 5 years ago this week and never expecting to return, we were able to check off most of the first tier, must-do, tourist (or at least El and my style tourism) items. Things like a tour through the lower ninth ward, a cemetery, Preservation Hall, and of course eating and drinking spots like Antoine’s and Brennan’s. So, planning this trip has been a little trickier since there are plenty of places I do not need to go back to having already seen them. However, I think we were able to put together a list of things to do that will allow us to fill up our days and evenings with very little overlap. The other thing we are anticipating is the fact that, this year, Mardi Gras will be in full swing when we get there and culminating while we are there. Damon was in New Orleans last year for Mardi Gras and had an experience that was similar to what I imagined it would be. Like Times Square on New Year’s Eve. Drunken fools lying in vomit and pissing in public. However, unlike Times Square we can leave at any time...and have a place to go. I want to stay just long enough that when someone says "have you ever been to Mardi Gras?" I can say, "yup".

We expect to be in New Orleans around 2pm this afternoon. Mom and dad will pick us up from the airport. Today being Saturday, is one of the big parades called Endymion. It starts in the city center and rolls through its course for about 3-4 hours and ends at the Superdome. There is a concert following the parade and if there is time and opportunity, we may try to figure out how to get to the dome after dinner. Tonight, though later, there is a concert at a bar that I would like to try to make. Hopefully all other options will have been completed by 10pm and we can make it to see Agent Orange.

We arrive to Orlando on time around 10:30am. Our flight to New Orleans is not until 1:15. We decide to look around at the food options to hold us until we land around 2:30. While waiting and wandering we run into some folks from home and exchange our brief pleasantries. Comparing notes between those going home at the end of their vacation vs. ours just beginning. We manage to use our time to our advantage and now sit at the gate pondering the offer of a bump that has just been announced. Unfortunately they are only looking for one person now and we are not willing to split up. If they call for two, we may be spending a little more time in Orlando than we expected. We wind up boarding the plane and getting buckled into our seats and wait for all of the people who you would swear it was their first time on a plane with the size of their carryons, to sit down. We are waiting, when the announcement comes for "Ms. Eleonora Morrell to return to the gate." And like that, we are off the plane. El shoots a text to mom and dad to give a heads up about a later arrival. Once the gate attendants get our replacement onto the flight, they come to deal with us. Now, we offered both of our seats up, but since they didn’t need two, they did agree to seat the two of us together on a later flight, but would not offer the bump reward to me. The main thing was that we did not go from Orlando to New Orleans on separate flights. After a couple of signatures and procedures, we were rebooked for a 4:15 flight (just three hours later) and handed a $520 travel voucher for Southwest. I have a feeling this will come in handy sometime soon. We called mom to give her the new itinerary, head to the new gate and figure out how to kill three more hours.

Arrived on time and mom and dad picked us up. Since we were on a later flight, our bags had already arrived hours earlier and were waiting for us at the lost baggage room, so we had no need to wait for the baggage carousel. We handed over our bag claim tags and were on our way before the carousel even started rolling. I tell you that on Southwest, I am not a big fan of the "seat yourself” policy they have. For those unfamiliar, as boarding passes are issued they come with a lineup position number and when it is time to board the plane boarding pass #1 goes onto the plane and chooses any seat they like, then boarding pass #2 follows choosing any seat they like, then #3 and so forth. The annoyance is that couples with lower numbers tend to sit in the same row, but will grab one aisle and one window leaving the middle seat free. So, by the time we get on, there are only a handful of single seats available- a problem that would be solved if they were just assigned- like everywhere else. We head direct to mom and dad’s house and our friends, Gary and Sue bring takeout food from a local food place called the Appetite Repair Shop, that they have been talking up for a while. It is an interesting story of a local chef who lost everything in Hurricane Katrina who eventually opened up this small place where he works by himself creating a completely new menu every day of a few different items, ranging from...well, Ukrainian borsch to Indian tandoori chicken to Greek salad and Italian tiramisu. He only works Thursday through Sunday and serves until the day’s food is gone. When it is done, he closes the shop and calls it a night, until the next day. Anyway, we thoroughly enjoy the array and the company as a wonderful way to start off our trip. Even though we are a bit tired, missing an opportunity to sleep, and still on New York time, against our better judgement after dinner we decide to head to a bar called Siberia to see a concert. Tonight is Agent Orange. A punk band from the early 1980's, who I will admit I am not too familiar with, other than the name. In fact the songs of theirs I do know are because they have been covered by my favorite bands and in more of a curiosity, I decided to put it on my list of things to do while in town. Our (El and my) collective knowledge of the geography of the city is rather limited, mostly just the French Quarter and some of the immediate surroundings in Algiers Point. That said, mom, dad, Gary and Sue are able to offer some suggestions to try to enlighten us. The general consensus is that the bar is in a less desirable section of the city and that our options were pretty much limited to taking a taxi or borrowing the car. When I mention that El and I are trying to nail down how to get there using the city buses, the collective skepticism was obvious. El is able to find the bus route map online and I call the club to confirm the show is happening as well as the bus route we have found. I am able to confirm the show is happening, but she is blunt in that she has no idea how the bus system works in the area and wishes she could’ve been of more help. El and I, being the travelers we are, decide to put our knowledge and skill together to try to figure it out. 

Taking the ferry across the Mississippi to downtown

We catch the 9:30 ferry to downtown and walk to #55 bus stop on North Peters. The metal pole placard for this stop has a message for texting on it. "text this code to this number to get the next scheduled bus information". We tried it and within seconds we know to expect a bus at 10:16 pm. It is just before 10:00 now, so we stand alone and wait. People-watching to pass the time. The scene is busy. Revelers heading between bar stops, cars in bumper-to-bumper formation heading uptown, nearby businesses hoping their obnoxiously loud music will draw passers in. At one point a car driving in our direction pulls over with a passenger window descending. As he comes to a stop in front of me I hear a voice from inside- I hear the voice, just not what he said. As I bend down to get a repeat, I miss it again. The commotion outside just clouds the words. I get my head closer and ask once again for a repeat. As I get within earshot, I realize it was his delivery of the question: “Are you waiting for a taxi?” that was keeping me from understanding him. I see he (the driver) has a can of beer, is clearly drunk, and asking his question in increments that demonstrate just how slow his brain is working: “are-yoo-wait ting-ferra-tax ee?” I politely tell him we are waiting for a bus that should be here any minute. Clearly not the answer his little brain was expecting to hear, he takes a moment to process whether or not he needs to offer me a ride or not. A few seconds later it registers and he drives off. Never before have I been so happy to be waiting for a bus that may or may not be forthcoming. Not that we would have accepted his ride under any circumstances, it is just better sometimes to have an alternate plan instead of having to explain why you are declining the current offer. As 10:16 comes and goes with no sign of a #55, or any other bus for that matter, we start to lose hope. Next, we call the transit authority number on the placard to see if the buses are even running at all. First off, the person on the other end says during Mardi Gras all scheduled are void. If they come, they come when they want, not when the sign says. Trying to do what he can for us, he works for several minutes trying to raise the driver on the radio, until the inevitable the truth comes out that there is probably no bus coming and that we should just take a taxi. Getting a taxi in this traffic would just be stupid, so we decide to walk to the French Market to catch a taxi. Once we get there, El checks the GPS to find that the club is only .7 miles away, and with all of the people on the street we didn't feel uncomfortable walking. So we wind up walking up to Elysian Fields and St Claude. We arrive to the club at 10:45 to find only the first of 4 bands has played. The place is a dive and has a lot more people than I expected to see at an Agent Orange show. The show runs very late and is only somewhat violent. We spend most of our time standing on the side, but El takes a couple of rib shots that make her wonder why she agreed to join me. We sit and watch the openers, drinking our beers. There is a sofa/bench along the sidewall and just before Agent Orange comes on, we commandeer a spot to stand on it. We are off the floor, two feet above the crowd. This gives us a great viewing position, and a face full of amplifiers. The show finishes around 2:00am, and with the ferry long done for the night, we know we need to take a taxi. It is a little tricky to get one, though about 20 minutes later, we have a driver willing to take us across the river to Algiers Point. There is no traffic and the fare runs $28 for the 9 mile ride. We are beat and sleeping within minutes.

SUNDAY FEBRUARY 7

We wake late and I have leftover dinner (spicy pork and tandoori chicken) for breakfast and discuss plans for today. We talk about parade watching options and having a base meeting place. I am the first to shower and El is next. During my shower I notice the drain is slow and mention it when I get out. El is next and while in the bathroom the flush from her toilet causes a system backup of, not quite Titanic, more USS Minnow proportions. This triggers a call to the plumber that requires someone to be home, so dad offers to let mom come along with us to navigate the downtown parade routes. We take the ferry to the east bank and our first stop is the downtown convention center to ask about the details of the Grand Funk Railroad concert tonight. I know it is going to be at the convention center, but don't know much else. We find some people to ask and they are able to confirm that Grand Funk Railroad is playing tonight and that it is part of the Bacchus Parade, but also confirm that the event is closed to the public and if you are not part of the krewe (team) of Bacchus, you are out of luck. We move on and decide to hit the Cochon Butcher Shop for lunch. I get a BLT which was very good. A little salty, but tasty. I think it is the bacon that is salty, but El breaks down the sandwich (she got the same) and reports it is the mayo/sauce that is salty and the bacon is not overly so. When we exit the "swine shop" we run into the beginning of a parade- my first time seeing a Shriners parade with the small cars and fez’. I just never imagined seeing a Shriner car done up as a low rider with an incredibly loud sound system blaring Kool and the Gang's “Celebration". But there they were leading the charge. We walk a little further towards the parade as we are looking at the leaders of the parade at the end of the route. As we get closer we start to see floats and performers in a bit more of a concentration. I am shocked by how many beads are being jettisoned from some of the floats- full bags at a time in some cases. I had always imagined strings of beads would get tossed, but these are plastic bags that, in some cases, haven’t even been ripped open. There are only a couple other people in our vicinity and they are getting the same amount of beads we are. As we get closer to the heart of the parade we realize that during the parade they don’t want to run out of things to throw, so they are a little more stingy with the beds (though there are so many bead throwers, that even a stingy amount, amounts to quite a lot). 


Some of the different floats in some of the different parades

These are the people tossing the beads to anxious hands in the foreground

More anxious bead grabbers. This float was called "Cemetery"

We sort of get our fill of catching beads and trinkets and now we are heading off to Royal Street and walk towards Conti Street to have a drink at the "best Irish bar in Louisiana" called the Erin Rose, a place known for their frozen Irish coffee. We each get one and sit for a few minutes before heading off to a bar that specializes in farm-to-glass cocktails. Mom reminds us that we can take our drinks to go and as the Erin Rose starts to get a little crowded, we hit the street and turn onto Bourbon to walk down to Frenchman for our next spot. Well, Bourbon was certainly lively with quite the cast of characters. We even witness the violent takedown of an arrestee. We make it down to Frenchman Street to find that Three Muses does not open until 5pm and it is just after 4:00. We are actually close to the neighborhood we were in last night and instead of aborting and heading back to the house, we decide to find some other local stop on our list. One block away is a metal bar called Check Point Charlie that is said to be open 24/7. It is certainly a dive bar with divey bathrooms- the kind of place where even the cleanliness of the soap dispenser is questionable. At 5:00 exactly, we head back to Three Muses for a cocktail. I get one called "The Muse" which is cucumber infused gin, St. Germain (elderflower liquor), and muddled blueberry. The drink is a little sweeter than I prefer and I could have ordered a gimlet or something I know I like, but I am glad to have sampled one of their signature cocktails. 

I wish I had a better eye for how this photo was going to come out. El looking as colorful as the doors.

Having mom with us is really helpful in that trying to figure out our best way back to the ferry, mom knows where we can get the streetcar and takes us directly there. We take it to the Canal Street stop, but miss the ferry by moments. Luckily you are never more than 30 minutes from the next one. We ferry back to Algiers Point in hopes of catching some sleep before heading out to our show at Tipitina’s tonight. We are both able to sleep for about 2 hours and get up at 9pm. Mom drives us to the ferry and we are on our own for the night. Our first stop is Emeril’s Restaurant where, we are told, they have fabulous banana pie. Unfortunately, the Bacchus Parade (one of the bigger ones) is still rolling through and makes navigating the downtown streets more difficult than we would like. El uses the GPS to track down directions for us and the internet reminds us that it is late and that Emeril’s will probably be closed when we arrive. Without even trying, we scrap the idea for the night and start walking towards Tipitina’s which we understand is far, but we are undeterred and walk it. The street cars are not running, taxis are not in this area and the buses are not running these routes during Mardi Gras. We know it is far (3.8 miles), but it will take the entire walk for our feet to understand just how far the walk is. We stop at Mojo Café for a coffee on the way. The doors to the show are at 10:00 and the show is at 11:00. What we don’t know is how many, if any, opening bands there are. Thinking we have plenty of time, we sit and drink our coffee, checking some internet while we are at it to see about the opening act situation. We cannot find anything online about an opener, at the same time we realize that it is later than we both thought and with the GPS telling us we are still 2 miles away from the club and it is now 10:40, there is no way we will make it there on time. All we can hope is that there is one opener and that we don’t walk in during Trombone Shorty's set. After 4 long miles on uneven sidewalks up Magazine Street, we finally make it to Tipitina’s. 

At the world famous Tipitina's Uptown to see another NOLA native son, Trombone Shorty

Will call has our tickets and moments later we are inside. We are thrilled to learn there is one opener and he is almost finished. We are able to score a prime spot not only up front, but also near the door where periodic openings allow for a cool breeze respite from the heat of the sold out room. For my money, we couldn’t have timed this better. Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue hits the stage around midnight and tears through a set for 2 straight hours. With special guests, an incredibly talented band, and a roomful of love, he is in his element from start to finish. Now, his music blends funk, rap, rock, jazz, and r&b. While I tend to prefer the more rock oriented songs, I appreciate the band and am glad to have been a witness. 

Take 1000 pictures, one is bound to capture the essence of the moment.

The band was on fire and the sound was phenomenal.

The show is over about 2am and now we have to do the whole taxi ritual again. At first, I think we were just in the wrong place at the wrong time, missing several cabs by mere seconds to other concertgoers also in the same boat. That said, it turns out that at this hour, Algiers Point is not exactly the preferred destination for cab drivers and you know when the taxi pulls up and rolls down his window and asks where you are going, there is a good chance he will refuse you, especially if other people are waiting for a taxi. They know there is no return fare for an Algiers Point drop and in a lot of cases the other people are going to other parts of downtown which is better for the drivers. At some point, a half hour into our futile search, we decide to call a taxi company who does promise to send a driver after a verbal commitment that we will prepay $20 towards the full fare, as ditched fares are evidently an real issue. Ten minutes later, the driver shows, knows exactly where he is going and gets us there in short order. We will keep the company’s number in case we need a ride later in the week. We are back at the house at 3:15 and start to prepare for tomorrow and bed. Not necessarily in that order.

MONDAY FEBRUARY 8

We wake without an alarm and are eating breakfast with mom and dad. Our plan for today is limited to the cooking class that we have signed up for. After a half bagel, half banana, and cup of coffee, we shower and are on our way to the class which starts at 11:00am and happens to be in Algiers Point. Mom is able to drop us off at the chef’s apartment and we arrive on time. As the door opens, a dog comes darting out. The door opens wider and we are greeted by Chef Richard Bond, who will be our teacher/instructor today. He leads us directly to the kitchen and reminds us that today’s program will be so hands on that he will not be touching any of the ingredients, as we will be doing all of the work. We wash our hands and get started. Turns out we are the only two students today. The chef fails to introduce his assistant and El prompts her to intro herself. Stacy is an Algiers Point resident and friend of the chef who is assisting him for the first time. The dishes we will make today are a creole gumbo, a cajun crawfish étouffée, and a chocolate bread pudding with brandy mocha sauce. First we are going to make the bread pudding. We start by ripping bread into chunks, adding eggs, vanilla, and milk. During this process I get into my first skirmish with the chef. He tells us to break eight eggs into the bowl over the bread. 

The bread pudding ready to mix- without eggshells. You're welcome.

I make eggs at home a lot and I always break them into a bowl, in case I get a piece of shell. Crack, check, transfer is my method. I ask the chef for a small bowl and he asks what for. I explain my method and I can see him getting visibly concerned at my “so called” method. It garners an eye roll as he asks Stacy to pass me an unused bowl. “We are too early in the day for this”, is I am sure what he was thinking. Once we get the pudding mixed, he pops it into the oven. “How do you know when it is done?” he asks. I say “when the timer goes off and the toothpick comes out clean”. El offers the correct answer ”by smell”. Chef expounds. “Correct you will smell when it is done, then you can check the movement of the pudding. Until then, DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN!’” We move on to the sauce for the bread pudding. Chef asks us to crack 4 eggs into a bowl and he is going to show us a trick. “How would you get the yolks out?” El says she would have used the shells from the eggs as she was cracking them and offers (correctly) that I would have used an egg separator. Chef gets an empty, plastic, 12 oz water bottle. He squeezes the sides to bend the bottle into a rough hourglass shape and aims the mouth in the bowl towards a single yolk, as the plastic meets yellow, he squeezes the unpinched sides to straighten out the bottle and the yolk sucks into the bottle, leaving the whites behind. Now, while the chef is showing us something I have never seen before and I am certain many of his students ooh and aah over, I, for one am horrified at the thought that some other person has had their mouth on this bottle. So, while novel, I assure the chef I will not be using this method. He shoots Stacy another look and I know I am on this guy’s shitlist already and we aren’t even done with the first dish. We continue with the other ingredients and the simple sauce is done in moments. He instructs us to taste the sauce. El does. I do not. She thinks it needs more mocha flavor and adds it. Again he instructs us to taste the sauce. El does, I do not. He now instructs me by name to taste the sauce, and tell him that I will wait until it is cooked to taste it. ”Why?” he asks “I don’t eat raw eggs.” He gives me a look like I have been sent to try his patience and counters with, well, “how do you eat a Caesar salad?” I told him I didn’t eat those either, though I probably have unknowingly (but, if the menu says “raw eggs”, I am certain I would not choose it)- though if the ingredients list of sausage was on the menu you’d probably skip it as your next pizza topping too! Visibly frustrated by my answers, chef moves us on to the next course which is gumbo. We chop our onions and peppers, chicken and andouille sausage. The last item we prep is parsley. Chef shows us a quick parsley cutting trick and then asks us to separate the leaves from the fibrous stems and mince the leaves. I am doing just fine and my leaves are mincing as well as you’d expect- until the chef looks at me and tells me to use the “back of the knife” as it is sharper. Once I am sure that is what he asked for, the “back of the knife”, I confessed I did not know what that meant. I thought about it for a moment and could not understand how the blunt edge of a chefs knife could cut any parsley. I see where this confrontation is going, so I directly look to El to tell me what the “back of the knife” is. Before she can answer, chef is able to point to the back 1/3 of the knife edge and teaches me that this is the “back of the knife”- but not before telling Stacy that in 30 years, I am the absolute first person to mistake the top of the knife for the back of the knife. I want to ask why, at a cooking school he doesn’t just provide us with sharp knives- but I hold my tongue. We finish our prep for the gumbo and étouffée. While prepping, we have to make several trips to the sink to wash hands. Returning to my workstation after a hand wash I remark “mmm, you can smell the bread pudding”. Well, what the chef must have heard me say was “the pudding is on fire, so I opened the oven door and peed on it”- or so you would have thought since I got a stern lecture on paying attention when the chef says it will take about an hour in the oven, does NOT mean it will be done after 30 minutes. Seriously, man? Give me a break. And if you think me merely mentioning that you can start to smell the pudding is the same as me hoisting the finish flag then maybe this isn’t the class for me. Luckily, El and Stacy step in to diffuse the situation and once he is convinced that I haven’t actually opened the oven door- we are able to move on. It is break time and we adjourn to the living room where the chef is going to take a smoke break and we are able to learn a little about his personal history. Then we head back to the kitchen to start the roux. We get a brief tutorial in roux and the differences between creole and cajun roux. Creole is light and Cajun is dark. The instruction is to make a 35 minute roux in nine minutes and the trick is to keep stirring and not to stop for even one second until the oil and flour mixture turns the color of chocolate. El and I are left to stir, while the chef spends most of his time in the living room smoking and checking his email. Very weird. Though he will eventually get up to give us steps, much of the rest of the day is done this way. Although Stacy is able to act as liaison between us and chef. With him returning to check on us when necessary, we are able to get the gumbo and the crawfish étouffée simmering. It doesn’t take long since the ingredients are already prepped for everything we will make. Once everything is simmering, we too adjourn to the living room for a “quiz”. Now, I assume a quiz is about knowledge we would have gained from this class. But, these are tough, food related trivia questions. Chef asks the questions in a manner that I feel he is trying to make me/us look uninformed or feel stupid. He asks consecutively: geographically speaking, where did pasta come from? [China] Where did the tomato come from [South America]? Where did okra come from [Africa]? Well, the fact that between El and I, we knew all three, he was reluctantly impressed with our knowledge. There were more questions to follow, but we got a pass on any we got wrong from that point on. We sit in the living room in a cloud of smoke, assuming this would not fly for a lot of people and wonder what the confrontations are like when they ask him to extinguish his cigarettes. Stacy gets up to stir our dishes from time to time. At one point chef gets up and removes the bread pudding from the oven (I guess he smelled it), and asks if we have ever had bread pudding before. I said yes, that my mom used to make bread pudding. He asked me if it was “fluffy or dense”. I confessed I did not know and he started to wrinkle his forehead and ask “how do you not know?” I cut him off by saying that if I have only ever had one I wouldn’t have anything to compare it to and if I was good not knowing, I was good to continue not knowing. By this time he knew where these confrontations would lead, so he just gave up. Eventually the food is done and chef and Stacy join us in eating our creation. All three dishes come out great and are done really well. Much better on all three than I thought they would be. For a class that is scheduled for 11:00am to 3:00pm, ours ran until 5:00pm. 

Gumbo before.

Gumbo during.

Gumbo after.

All things considered, I really liked the class and had a most enjoyable day with it. I am glad we were the only two and would even recommend the class to select people who I thought would be able to handle the total package. Minutes before we are to leave, the phone rings. No one noticed that the dog had gotten out and the local bar was calling to tell the chef to come get his dog that had made his way around the corner by itself. Chef sends Stacy. After class El and I walk back to the house. We are full from eating already and join mom and dad for drinks before heading out for the evening. Hoping to take full advantage of the late running ferries, we head out around 7pm. Our first stop is the farthest uptown and the farthest from the French Quarter as we plan to be tonight. It is called the Rusty Nail and it is on my list of metal bars. We find it on a side street, impossible to find if we didn’t have GPS. The music is loud, but unrecognizable to me. I am not sure what exactly qualifies it as a “metal bar” which is not true of many of the places on the list. It just seems like a divey bar with a decent drink selection. We each order a pint, but don’t plan to stay longer than it takes to determine our next stop of the evening. We finish up at the Rusty Nail and decide to walk back to the French Quarter to find bars there. The thing about the French Quarter during Mardi Gras (though it may be all the time) is that there are places with so many people that you can't even squeeze in, right next door to places with almost no one inside. Of course, you don't know before you show up which kind of place you are heading to. I choose The Dungeon on Toulouse Street. The fact that there is a strict no photography policy inside is promising & intriguing. It is very dark and Judas Priest is playing. I hit the men's room which is pretty nasty, but I don't stay long. We head upstairs and start see why there is a no photo policy. Wall hangings of vintage porn photography and a rack with a paddle are just a couple of the things you don't see at your everyday bar. We get a drink and chat with the friendly bartender. A couple of stragglers from Bourbon Street wander in, but not enough to deter us...yet. El is not feeling well, so we may call it a night soon, maybe one more stop will be our night cap. The last ferry to Algiers Point is 12:15 and it is 10:37 now, so we will plan accordingly to avoid having to take a taxi again. The music selection is really to my, actually our, liking and I wouldn't mind staying here for another round, but I did want to try to hit another spot on the way home and it is now 11:00. We choose One Eyed Jack, also on Toulouse which looks hopping as we walk towards it. El remarks that the place does look pretty crowded and as we get closer we realize there is a concert tonight and this is the line to get in. I check the concert schedule and it lists bands I am not familiar with and am certainly not willing to pay a cover to see. Instead of finding another place we opt to call it a night from the French Quarter and ferry back to Algiers Point for a nightcap at the Old Point- where we can stay until well after the last ferry if we were so inclined. On the ferry ride we strike up a conversation with one of the other passengers after wondering rhetorically what people with a lot of beads do with the beads after the last days of Mardi Gras have passed them by. I wonder, do they throw them in the garbage? Keep them? Re-purpose them? I see people that are hauling garbage bags full of cheap baubles, bangles, and beads...what do they do with these things? The young lady we ask says that she keeps the parade specific beads and then gives her generic beads away to friends who have been able to toss them in parades in other cities. Though she admits, she doubts everyone or most others have a plan with their bounty other than setting them in a corner or tossing them in the trash. She even chuckles as she thinks about the people hauling so many beads home. On our way back from the ferry we stop at the only bar between the ferry and house. It is a spot called the Old Point and the bartender assures up she never closes earlier than 2:00am and will frequently go until 4 or 5 am. We each get a beer and a bag of chips to split. They are "spicy cajun" potato chips called Crawtaters and they are just about the hottest chips I have ever had. Tasty, but spicy. One drink is all we can muster. We head in for the night.



TUESDAY FEBRUARY 9

El taking her morning jog along the levee. Standing at Algiers Point, you can see downtown across the river.

We wake a little late on Tuesday morning. Mom has already left for the morning and we have no set plan. We plan to eat dinner at home tonight and the ferry does stop running at 9:45 tonight. So, even though here is no set plan, we will need to figure out if we will eat early enough to go back to the French Quarter after dinner or eat late enough we wouldn’t have to go back. I hope for the latter, but with other people involved, I may have to work my schedule to suit theirs. Today is the last day of parades and celebrations. Mardi Gras has come and things will return to normalcy starting tomorrow, including the regular ferry schedule which ends earlier than I would have expected it to. It’s getting on noon now and I think we need some food. I expect we can hit a burger place or beignet place. I can let El make that call. On the ferry we decide to go for beignets on Royal Street. We get to Café Beignet to find they are closed for Mardi Gras. The sign says “open every day” but they lied. Feeling hungry, we Yelp the area and find the Erin Rose serves po’boys. Good enough for now. On the way to Erin Rose we spot a place called the Copper Monkey Bar that is open, serving food, and is full, but not over crowded. We are able to get a seat right away and we order lunch before wandering the Quarter. (we heard later that Erin Rose’s kitchen was also closed for Mardi Gras). We spoke with mom and dinner will be closer to 7pm and if the ferry stops at 9:45, we won’t need to come back to the Quarter today. After lunch (burger and fries with a pint) we get on to the parade app to find the Rex Parade is starting shortly near Bourbon Street. If it was up to me we would bar hop the metal and dive bars all day, but El really wants to try to get some (more) beads. We find the beginning of the Rex Parade and stay for about 20 minutes after the thing gets going. The Rex Parade is the one that features the “king” and “queen” of Mardi Gras. 

One of the floats in the Rex Parade.

The King is the centerpiece of the first float in the procession and (presumably) the queen is on the last float (?). This is where the parade makes a stop in front of constructed grandstands featuring notable city folk, like the mayor, who makes a speech. Once the parade gets going the beads are plentiful, but so are the people that want to catch them. With El being so short, she sometimes has to rely on the kindness of (taller) strangers to help her out by giving her the beads they catch- even if they were thrown to and meant for her- you will see grown men going for them like a bridal party over a bouquet. After about 20 minutes she can see I have had just about 20 more minutes than I cared to of the Rex Parade and she agrees that she has had her fill to. I choose to start our hopping at the Dive Bar on Toulouse. It is the same area we were in last night, and it doesn’t look much different in the day as it did then. We do opt to walk down Bourbon Street to get that out of the way too. I mean, I guess this is what Mardi Gras is all about…and exactly why I am not about it. It is about 2:00pm and lots of people are already drunk- or getting there. The street still smells of vomit and urine- though it is unclear if they are left over from last night’s revelry, or if it is fresh. Either way they are the landmines I am looking to avoid. 

El, trying to capture the moment. Beads and debris on Bourbon. A rivulet of urine or vomit would just complete this scene.

We make it down to Toulouse and the Dive Bar, being about 25 feet off of Bourbon has only a handful of people in it. We walk in to Jane’s Addiction and Motorhead playing and a wall full of skulls…and you know we like places with skulls! I will try to find another place nearby. Actually, with no shortage of options, for us it is just a matter of finding places nearby. The places with the best writeups/reviews, aren’t always the most proximal to where we stand. The next place we pick is Aunt Tiki’s which is on Decatur Street. Once again, the spillage of people into the street from bars that we do NOT want to go to crowds the street- though it looks like people on Decatur have more costumes than those on Bourbon. It is kind of funny to see a guy in a full body gorilla suit get carded and have to remove his headwear. We make it to Aunt Tiki’s and it is every bit as dark and divey as we like…one problem though, the music is Michael Jackson, and not that pre-Thriller, Off The Wall era stuff either, it was late era MJ and it was terrible. I have to check myself to see if we are in the right place. I remember the recommendation came as a dive bar, not a metal bar, so I let it go. About two songs into our beer the song cuts off in the middle and sure enough another Michael song comes on. This time, after a few bars the song stops again, and moments later yet another MJ tune starts. Now I am curious and look up to see what is going on. One more songs stops, but this time, no new song starts. During the silence, the guy behind the bar declares to the people within earshot “you will all be happy to know that the era of Michael Jackson is OVER” to a rousing applause and cheers from patrons. Someone had loaded jukebox and now he was manually advancing the preprogrammed songs to the spot where other songs could get played. We are now listening to Talking Heads covers and maybe we are on the path to redemption here. We are now listening to a string of James Bond theme songs…A View To A Kill, Moonraker, and For Your Eyes Only in a row. While more palatable than Michael Jackson, it is not enough to encourage us to order another round. We leave and head a block down to the Abbey. This place is dingy and divey too, but a little more people than I would like. We get to the bar and order a beer and a soda. About 3 sips into my beer, El accidentally spills her soda on the bar. We get a bar rag from the bartender- who gives us the rag instead of just doing the wipedown. Then l get the attention of the other bartender. El asks for a replacement soda, but is told she will have to pay again. Hoping for free refills (especially since it spilled) she was told she would be charged. She passes on the soda and I drink my beer quickly to get a move on. 

At the top of the street, preparing to head straight towards the throngs.

We decide to head to the street car and take that to the ferry. We have dinner plans with mom and dad, and we will probably be a little earlier than we expected when we spoke with mom a couple hours ago. After the ferry and the walk home, we return about 6pm. Gary and Sue are joining us for dinner and are called to let them know the dinner is ready to start. Mom has made barbeque shrimp for us and Sue arrives with Brussels sprouts as a side dish. We start with a glass of champagne and work our way through the excellent dinner. The conversation lasts some time and we are able to tell them everything about our cooking class, as they would appreciate some of the stories more than other people. I seem to have gotten enough material to keep this group entertained for a while. Well after dinner El and I head out to the Old Point. After considering our options, we agree that the Old Point is best for us tonight as it is the closest bar to the house. . About half way through my beer at the Old Point, I opt to down it and call it a night as I am pretty tired from all of the walking we have been doing. We are home and in bed around 11:30.

Three things I learned about Mardi Gras:

1) Fat Tuesday is just the last day of Mardi Gras festival. There are several weeks worth of festivities and some of the biggest parades take place in the days leading up to Tuesday and not necessarily on that day.

2) Contrary to what I always thought, the parades, for the most part, do NOT go down Bourbon Street, or even into the French Quarter at all. They used to, but the size of the floats today prohibits it. There are some small parades (like one for dogs) that does go through, but who could stand to be around that?

3) During Mardi Gras flashing is illegal and can get you sent to jail. Public urination, fighting, and flashing are pretty much the only things the cops will not tolerate. Although we saw none of the above (correct, I was at Mardi Gras parades for 3 days and saw zero boobs!)- and I did see one guy (I hope) relieving himself behind a dumpster (though not during a parade), the cops are everywhere and I guess people know what they can get away with. Open container and public drunkenness, A-OK.

WEDNESDAY FEBRUARY 10

Mom is free this morning and at the Old Point last night were able to put together a list of places along Magazine that we can hit today and then not have to come back later in the week. That said, mom offers to drop us on Magazine which is a pretty long street. We know, because last time, El and I walked almost the entire length of it. Mom drops us off at the District Donuts, Sliders, and Brews. 

Today's flavors: jelly, banana split, Irish coffee, limoncello poppyseed, orange raspberry, wedding cake, fluffer nutter, chocolate glazed, cinnamon sugar, and glazed.

District's storefront on Magazine Street.

I order a banana split and an Irish coffee donut with a cup of coffee. It is around 10:45. Mom and dad join us and each get a donut. We all have a big dinner plan tonight so we just want to eat once and it should hold us until we meet again for our 6:00pm reservation. They aren’t the best donuts I have ever had, but the creativity and all around ambiance of the place more than make up for it. A thumbs up to this place. We head next door to Steins Deli where Sue told us she bought smoked sea salt. Being a functional deli and small market, we did not stay long as the amount of people inside made it difficult to browse. We only stay a few moments and move on to the next stop, a knitting shop El found. The shop is located inside a consignment antique shop. El stays a half hour and I wander the area biding my time. I want to check out the Rendezvous Bar, but they aren’t open yet. We jump on the Magazine Street bus to Le Bon Temps Roulé. The smell and the look of this place has dive written all over it. The bartender is friendly, and besides us, there is only one other couple in the place playing chess. This place (having just opened for the day) has he cleanest bathroom in a dive bar I have ever used. We expect to stay for one beer, though stay for two comparing notes with the Oklahoma transplant bartender, throwing out potential tour stops from our list to see if she had opinions on any of them- not so much telling us the places are bad, but if someone gives us an enthusiastic approval, that place might go to the top of the list. After the second beer we decide to head out to check a couple of other places off the list. First we walk a few blocks back to Tipitina’s as I have decided in hindsight that I would like and should have gotten a tshirt while I was there. The box office opens at 10:00am and we are well past that now. It is only a matter of about 6 (long) blocks and we are there in short order- except they were closed yesterday and again today-reopening tomorrow. We press on and our next stop is the No Fleas Market which is a thrift store whose sales go to benefit local animal rescue programs. Why do we need a thrift store? To buy plates since part of the tradition of Outstanding In The Field is that you are supposed to bring your own plates. 

The table, before dinner plates or diners are placed.

It is part of making the participants be a part of the uniqueness of the day. A fun tradition, though we do not travel with tableware. That said, we have popped our head into a few antique shops today hoping to find some sort of scratch and dent section, but all we find are sets of china starting in the hundreds of dollars range, obviously not what we are in the market for. As we arrive to the thrift store there are mostly clothes and shoes, but the back part of the shop has all of the non-apparel items that could fit our bill. We pass the obligatory couple of boxes of used CDs and DVDs- full of CDs you would never listen to and DVDs you would never watch- and I start to wonder who would have bought them new in the first place to even own to donate to the shop? Some small appliances that may or may not work or have all of the attachments that came in the original box that is either tattered or has been replaced by a plain box with the name of the item written in magic marker. Puzzles, board games, books (see CDs and DVDs), and finally some kitchenware. Unmatched glasses, flatware, and sure enough some plates and bowls and even some Japanese soy sauce dishes all labeled for individual sale. Figuring they should have taken a queue from the antique shops and bundled the sets together, we are glad they did not, and are able to find four plates that we can take to our dinner. I cash out, while El stays to peruse the clothing section. I head next door to Rivista Café for a cup of coffee and journal, waiting for El to come back with clothing bargains. I won’t go so far as to say devastated, but I am surely disappointed to learn that an errant keystroke caused me to lose my last 24 hours worth of journal. After asking El to look at it, we both decide it is better to just revert to a previous version and continue from there. There have been trips where I have lost my entire journal (see Azores trip of 2011) and others where I lose parts of single days (China 2009). It is incredibly frustrating, but still better than the alternative of carrying a pen and paper around. I start to recreate as best I can, though most of my journaling is done as close to real time as possible so I can try to describe my feelings about my experiences while they are happening, but, shit happens. After a decent cup of coffee, we grab the Magazine Street bus and head down to Sixth Street to Pete’s Out In The Cold. We find the place and the door is plain white with a window that has been covered over from the inside, preventing you from seeing in. The non-illuminated Lite beer neon sign in the side window leads us to believe we have found it. I see no sign with hours on the door, or anywhere, so I extend my hand to try to open the door. And with the surprise of a joybuzzer, I am buzzed in. As we walk in, we are greeted by the only man in the room. Right away I ask how the heck was his timing so good to buzz someone on the other side of a windowless door. He points to his closed circuit TV monitor, mounted on the wall like mismatched flat screen television. We grab a couple of barstools where we like and notice it is bottles and cans of beer only, no draft. One Heineken and one Abita round out our order. “Five dollars” he says- for both! No place on this trip have we paid less than $5 for any one beer, and this is $5 for 2? Nice. The place smells of stale smoke. Though the cleanliness makes it obvious that the owner of this place is takes pride and care of his bar. Vacuumed carpets, clean glass, even decently clean bathrooms, make this a little different that the places we are used to. But, it is the kind of place that has probably seen its share of rough action in its long history. With a bartender/owner who has been here for 25 years and a picture on the wall of the last owner, the bar’s namesake, this is just about the dictionary definition of neighborhood bar. And while we are here, we like it. Kevin, the owner, is friendly and talkative and we opt to shoot the shit rather than journal or talk about our plans. After the single beer, we need to get heading to the French Quarter to meet mom and dad for dinner at Brennan’s. We text with mom to find they are at the casino for before dinner drinks, but tell them we probably won’t be able to make it there in time and to meet us at the dinner spot. When we visited New Orleans in 2011 I knew I wanted to go to Brennan’s to try their Bananas Foster and dad and I did while out for the day, just the two of us. What I did not realize was just how important trying Brennan’s was for El, who was not with us at the time. It has been a challenge getting her to experience the dessert invented here since then. Anyway, when they knew we were coming, mom and dad gave each of us a very generous gift card for Christmas, making it a sure thing that El was going to get her chance on this trip. With mom and dad having already had their before dinner drinks and us full of beer, we jump right into ordering our dinners. I start with a crab salad, which is basically a chilled crab and avocado salad served between slices of jicama. Dad and I get the Steak Diane for two. The salad is really good and I wish I could have made it my entrée. The steak is cooked tableside and includes flames. It is not bad, though my filets are drastically undercooked. I eat it. I mean what am I going to do? Have him wheel the stove over again and cook it longer- after it has been dressed with the sauce? I remain one who can eat a steak from raw to well-done, though I prefer it more medium, especially when sauced. The sauce is tasty and mushrooms well cooked. For dessert, having already experienced the Bananas Foster, I choose the southern pecan cake with bacon ice cream (yes bacon ice cream). It was good, but I should have just gone with the Bananas Foster as I do love that too. 

Flames make everything taste better.

Your glorious Bananas Foster is served.

The after dinner Irish coffee was bested by the hole in the wall café in Barcelona where more Irish coffees were consumed than at any other time in my life…collectively. The meal was good and I liked spending the time with mom and dad. After dinner we go home. It is really not late, 9:00pm maybe, but I am starting to fade a bit. Once we get home I will decide if I have enough energy to head to Old Point but right now it is doubtful. As expected after only a few minutes I am already getting drowsy. I call it a night and am sleeping well before 11:00.

THURSDAY FEBRUARY 11

We are out before 10:30 and mom drives us up to City Park which is farther than we have been out of the center since we have been here. The park has a 24 hour beignet shop called Morning Call. Mom drops us off, but does not stay. This is the warmest day we have had yet, so we opt for the outside tables. There is a bass & guitar duo that plays Beatles and Everly Brothers kind of stuff that we don't mind. Even though this is our warmest day, the breeze on the patio makes it cooler and not conducive to eating beignets (for me). 

A complete order at Morning Call.

We order one coffee and one order of beignets each. They are delivered quickly and we try to remember what we are supposed to do with them (apply sugar? dunk in coffee?). The waiter brings a metal shaker frosted white on top and gives a slight eye roll at my request for knife and fork. I sit, planning my next step, since my prediction is that once either one of us shakes the canister, at least one of us will have a shirtfront full of powdered sugar should a slight wind kick up. I am already regretting my choice of seat. Before I can mitigate, what I see as inevitability, El grabs the shaker and starts shaking it. The sweet powder begins to blow all over, though mostly just leaving a white streak along the metal tabletop. Until I can figure this out for myself, there is no way I will be sharing the metal canister anytime soon. El starts to eat her fried dough and I sample the coffee. The coffee is good and I try to eat the fried dough plain. Like a doughy plain donut, it is OK, but it really does need the sugar. Without getting into building windbreakers with my backpack and my body, I decide to head inside the café to apply my sugar. I take the plate in, find an empty table, use its canister and sprinkle until my beignets look ready to eat. I head back out to the patio, passing our waiter who is thoroughly confused by me walking out with a plate of food. I am able to eat my tasty cakes with the plastic flatware and I enjoy it with the coffee. At some point during this meal we spy a waitress delivering a similar order to a table nearby. She, on the other hand, grabs the powdered sugar canister, holds it top down over the plate and with one swift ketchup bottle rap, dispenses two consecutive sugar topping to the two plates on the table. No mess, no fuss. Why didn’t our waiter do that for us? And why didn’t I see that service before I tipped him? We finish the airy pastries and head to the Besthoff Sculpture Garden. 

El and I hanging with Karma.

Karma, from a different angle.

It too is located in City Park and recommended by a few people we have spoken to this week. Mom had told us how to get there from the café and we are there in seconds (as we walk out, not one, but three tourist buses arrive making seating inside or outside of the cafe hard to come by. That said, we get to the sculpture garden in short order. Most likely looking to get in and out quickly, we ask the greeter what the most famous sculpture and/or artist in the park is. She does not know the answer to either, but does give me a layout map, points out a tour by text which we are able to download. She also is able to tell me one or two of the more popular installations in the park. There are 60, I think. Each done by a different artist. One Rodin and one Renoir (which I thought would have qualified as a famous artist each) are in the first couple we see. We start following the guided tour, but frankly the amount of information about each stop is overkill and we wind up bailing on the guided tour after just a few stops. Again, with only 60 pieces, you can pretty much cruise by the items that do not interest, and linger when you find something of fancy. A couple of interesting pieces make for good photo ops. We are through the park in about an hour (and with free admission, it was totally worth it). On a nice day, I would actually recommend it to a visitor willing to take the Canal Street streetcar all the way to the end which is across the street from the park entrance. Very easy. We take the streetcar to the French Quarter. Where we head to the Museum of Death [where the Big Easy meets the Big Sleep]. This is an offshoot location to the one in Hollywood, CA. Though we have never been there, we have been to other death/medical oddity/macabre exhibits. We are greeted at the cash register by an upbeat worker and a photograph of the aftermath of a particularly grizzly motorcycle accident with a dismembered rider lying in the grass just feet from his equally dismembered cycle. We are warned about the contents of the “museum” but can’t figure out who would have gotten this far (the cash register/entrance) and then gotten dissuaded by the prospect of seeing disturbing images. It costs $15, which, in retrospect I find a bit steep. The museum is small (at only three rooms) and the contents seem more like a loosely curated collection of items rather than actual flesh and bones of the dead. The first section is animal skeletons (presumably to ease you into the more potent stuff)? Lots of handwritten stuff from serial killers. Letters to and from “fans” as well as other oddball written stuff. Handwritten recipes from a female serial killer who used to poison the food that she served to her victims. Some of the more interesting things we saw were crime scene photos from the Nicole Simpson/Ron Goldman murders, an official psychiatric evaluation of Ed Gein, and an excruciatingly detailed description of the pre-frontal lobotomy and the tool kit of the doctor that developed the procedure. Instead of anesthetic they used electroshock to knock the patient out and then used a long pointed instrument to bore through the eye orbit over each eye and a mallet to tap the pick into the front of the brain. Since it was first tried out on cadavers using an ice pick, it became known as an “ice pick lobotomy”. It made my eyes hurt just reading the exhibit card. But some of the weaker exhibits included newspaper clippings of the San Bernardino shooting spree, a rock (literally just a rock) from Spahn Ranch (look that one up), a generic tshirt said to have been worn by David Koresh and looped news footage of the 9/11 news coverage. Though I did catch some interesting stuff on the loop that included actual conversation between a federal aviation office and someone on Flight 93 who was reporting the hijacking. She had no knowledge of the events that had already unfolded at the World Trade Centers earlier in the morning, but was trying to warn the aviation office that there may be other hijacked planes. I found some of the crime scene and autopsy photos were somewhat interesting, and though probably by design, we both had mixed feeling sitting in actual church pews watching a film loop of silent autopsy and crime scene film set to a Dixieland jazz soundtrack. I would like to think there is a fine line between being a curious onlooker and a gawker. Though I am certain that is just a rationalization tactic to justify my actions [not knowing what side of that spectrum I stand to others judging me]. After the museum, we head to the Chart House, a dive bar on Chartres Street for a couple of beers. We are hungry enough for a small bite, but do not want to eat a full lunch as we have dinner reservations with mom and dad tonight and we don’t want to spoil the appetite. We ask the bartender if they serve food. “No”. Is there a place nearby that we can get a sandwich or something? She points us across the street to the Fleur De Lys and even offers to call to see if they will deliver for us. They won't deliver, but they will take our order if we are able to pick it up. We are all in. A shrimp po’boy and fries fits the bill until we can meet mom and dad for drinks around 5:00. After El runs across the street to get our food and we eat, she heads off to a knitting shop while I work on the journal in the meantime. El is gone about an hour and has high marks for the shop upon her return. I work on the journal and drink a couple more beers. 

I can't take El anywhere. Somewhere, Auguste Rodin is spinning in his grave!

The next stop for us is the French Market where El is looking or some items for her mom. After we bid our adieus to the bartender at Chart Room, we walk to the market that is open until dusk. It is just about 4:00. Only a few blocks, it does not take us long to get there. However, since El knows what she wants and I will only slow the progress, I opt to grab a stool at Café Sbisia holding the bags while she goes off to get what she needs, if she can find it. I order a gimlet and journal while she is on her quest. It is still shocking to me- order: "May I have a gin gimlet straight up, please?" reply: "Sure. For here or to go?" That's right, I do have the option to take my liquor to go! I choose to stay. We meet mom and dad at The Palm Room at Harrah's. Dad is a member of Harrah’s frequent gambler club and gets access to the players lounge at the casino. The perks include unlimited drinks and complimentary appetizers. We meet mom and dad here for our before dinner drinks. My gimlet is really good and the shrimp cocktail is very well prepared. This high roller room is nice to visit and dad certainly seems like he is in his element. I, on the other hand feel like I am out of mine. I enjoy the free drink and convenience of having a meeting place, but I feel more pedestrian in my drinking needs- see the Dungeon or Le Bon Temps Roulé. Places more likely to cut the tie off of your neck than require one to be present. At 6:00pm we head to the Besh Steakhouse in Harrah's for dinner. Not needing more before dinner drinks, El and I split a salad and a steak for dinner. The dinner is very tasty and the steak for two turns out to be steak for four! The sides of an orzo risotto and an order of onion rings rounds out the meal. For dessert I get a coconut cake and it is also pretty good, but the crowning moments of the evening have to lie in the coffee. El, mom, and I all order coffee, and as we drink it, all of us remark how good it is. Really, individually we all say, “my goodness, isn't this coffee fabulous?” And a resounding motion of agreement is carried. The waitress comes over to ask how we are doing, and we take a moment to ask ”what kind of coffee is this?” her response, “it’s Folgers!” I was like, wow, seriously, is there a hidden camera here? Folgers?? We all got a good laugh at that including the waitress, who said she gets this all the time and reminds us of the commercial from several years ago, lowering her voice to the level of a golf commentator she recalls “we are here at world famous Antione’s Restaurant in New Orleans and we have secretly replaced their regular coffee with Folger’s. Let’s see the reactions…” Though the commercial featured Arnaud’s Restaurant, you can still find it on Youtube today and we totally felt like the unsuspecting guests! The whole situation could not have played out better. Especially in a city known for the quality of their coffee! We sipped again this time knowing the source of the coffee and the taste didn’t change. It was still damn good coffee. After dinner we decide to head to Old Point for an end of the night beer. All four of us get out of the car and run smack into Gary and Sue going into the Old Point. A table for eight for one drink makes for a very fine end to a very fine evening. At some point we discus doing a food walking tour and Gary invites El and I along if we are interested. We agree and he is able to book online immediately for the Free Tours By Foot culinary tour of the French Quarter. Within minutes we have a plan for the morning and get ready to call it a night. As we finish our drink, a band is taking the stage and a little louder than I like, so we figure this is a good time to head out.

FRIDAY FEBRUARY 12

I have a rough sleeping night and wake not feeling very well. Not sure if it was something I ate or something I drank, but my stomach is not sitting well. I am hoping hold it together to make the walking tour. The arrangement is that Gary will pick us up at the house and drive us to make the 9:00 ferry. He does and we do. We are in the French Quarter with much time to spare. We meet our guide at Antoine’s Annex and he does the tour exactly how we expected. This is a "culinary history" tour and NOT a food sampling tour. 

Inserting ourselves into art.

Though at the end we get a chance to sample pralines. The tour lasts about two hours and we get a lot of recommendations of places to eat as well as a more detailed history than we had gotten from the cooking class earlier in the week. Our guide is animated and somewhat knowledgeable. We whip though the Quarter and end at the French Market. By the end, I am really not feeling well and even though I make it to the end of the tour, I pass on lunch with Gary and Sue, so that I may get back home to slow my stomach down. After a pit stop at the Harrah's Casino where I know I will at least have a clean restroom, we decide to knock another item off of our list and stop at Emeril's Restaurant for a slice of banana cream pie. We get one slice to go and head back to the ferry. We make the ferry with seconds to spare and are back home in a matter of minutes. El and I split the pie as we get ready to head to our Outstanding In The Field dinner. The idea for getting this pie came from one of those “best things” lists. This list was compiled by asking famous chefs and food industry people what their single favorite item to eat in New Orleans is. And this was Wolfgang Puck’s pick when he answered the banana cream pie at Emeril's. While decent, and knowing that Wolfgang himself could whip up something ten times better, I can only imagine he hasn’t spent an awful lot of time in this city- otherwise he would have chosen something more on the level of Willie Mae's fried chicken or Bananas Foster at Brennan's. The dinner is in the town of Folsom and is about an hour north of New Orleans. The reception lasts about one hour and starts at 3:00pm. Because of some faulty directions we arrive closer to 4:00, but in time to enjoy a pre-dinner cocktail and some of the passed hors d'oeuvres. My favorite is the fried green tomatoes with shrimp remoulade. Luckily, by this time, my stomach is feeling much better. As with all of the OITF dinners the next step is the formal welcome and introduction followed by a tour of the farm. The farmer, while pleasant enough, has no concept of projecting her voice to a group of 80 and the chatting of the crowd quickly drowns out any possibility that we will catch much of what is being said about the farm or its workings. We four enjoy the dinner very much with each of us choosing a different personal highlight. The wine pairings this year were better than we have experienced on almost any single OITF dinner. The bread was fantastic and I think the roast duck breast with stewed lentils, charred cabbage, swiss chard & cane syrup jus was the course that tasted the best. 


160 people eating al fresco on the farm.

All of us, mid-dinner.

My choice for the best dish of the dinner. 

The dinner goes on well after dark, which I understand was an issue for the people trying to use the portable restrooms. Surprisingly no bugs, though. The ride home is quicker than it took to get there in Friday afternoon traffic. Both ways were uneventful crossing the longest span of road over open water- the 24 mile Lake Pontchartrain Causeway. On the way home we text Gary to meet us at the Old Point for our wind down drink. The timing worked out and we all enjoy one last round together. As the band is getting ready to hit the stage, we high tail it out of there and get home in short order. After a cup of tea, we turn in for our last sleep in the Big Easy. 

SATURDAY FEBRUARY 13

While we are ending our week long vacation here, mom and dad are getting ready for another week’s worth of guests and when we get up we take showers and strip beds to get laundry going for the next group of visitors. We do plan to check one last culinary adventure off of our list. We will try to go to Willie Mae’s Scotch House for lunch. Known as one of the city’s fried chicken institutions, we will stop on the way out of town to the airport. We let Gary know the plan and they will join us as well. We spend our last morning packing and getting our stuff ready to travel. One of the things El wants to buy is a jar of “Slap Ya Mama” cajun spice. It is supposedly what the locals use. In mom’s neighborhood, there are really only two markets within walking distance that would have this stuff. We start with the closest one about 5 blocks from here. We go in and find other brands, but not this specific one. We press on and walk to the other one that is about 10 blocks away- in the other direction. It is called the River Market and has probably been in the neighborhood for many, many years. The tattered sign on the side of the building advertises “fresh meat”, but after going in, I am pretty sure lottery tickets or cigarettes would be the only things I would consider buying here. Any food products in cans are surely expired and possibly not suited for human consumption. We look anyway to see that they too have no Slap Ya Mama spice and turn to leave. El spies a shelf nearby with not one, but a double facing of jars filled with flamingo pink brine and a label that reads “pickled pig’s lips”. El puckers as she returns the jar to the shelf. Lest she drop it and my story becomes titled “How I came to buy a jar of pickled pig lips”. We are within a half hour from leaving and now just quietly sipping our coffee and seeing if any last minute adjustments need to be made. Gary and Sue arrive at 12:30 and we caravan in two cars to Willie Mae’s. Mom knows her way around these areas of the city. It doesn’t take long to get there and as we drive, El and I know that we could easily have gotten here by streetcar and/or bus. We arrive around 1pm and the line single file along the side of the building is about 25 people long. 

The line to get in to Willie Mae's Scotch House at noon on a Saturday

The host comes out of the door periodically and either asks how many in the next party or for a show of hands from the next group of a specific amount. I ask the people in the front of the line who tell me they have been here for 25 minutes. We are a group of eight. I can’t tell how many tables are inside and I can’t yet get a sense of how big the place is overall- though it looks small. One of the guys in our group aims to find out. He goes in to use the restroom and reports back that the place is bigger than it looks from the outside. Next, he tells the host that we are a party of eight. We are fully expecting to sit as two tables of 4, though he reports back that, ironically they want to seat us next as they may not have another table for eight anytime soon. That said, as we get called and are walking past all of the people who got in line before us. Thinking that I would have been peeved if I were in the line, but who was I to argue that our wait in line, for what has been called the best fried chicken in the city, was only a couple of minutes? We are seated at a table in the back room and are welcomed in short order by a waitress. She gives us the menus, but we are mostly here for one thing…fried chicken. Those orders come three pieces including a side. You can choose white meat only and there are about 6 options of sides. I take the chicken, white meat only, with a side of string beans served with rice and gravy. I also get a corn bread muffin. That’s it. A couple of variations around the table, but similar for the most part. Our guide on the walking tour yesterday, when mentioning Willie Mae’s, claimed that this place has no heat lamps and the do not even bread the chicken until it is ordered. Well, I certainly believe it! This has to be the freshest, most tender, perfectly cooked piece of fried chicken I have ever had. It is absolutely fabulous. There is some spicy component to the batter this chicken was fried with, but it is not too spicy, just a little beyond pepper. Dad tries to get the waitress to give up the secret family recipe, but backs off when she says “if I tell you, I have to kill you. Now what is it you want to know?” Everyone agrees the meal is great and we are so glad to have made it the last stop before heading to the airport this afternoon. A great end to a great vacation. 

Our gang after eating the best fried chicken I have had this week, month, year...
clockwise from left: Mom, me, MaryBeth,Rocky, El, Sue, Dad, and Gary

Mom and dad are really easy to be with, and gladly join us for some excursions, while bowing out of others. I reflect on some really good meals with had with them. Afterwards, we head straight to the airport. They have several hours before having to meet the next guests and plan to hit the movies in the meantime. Once we get inside the terminal, we say our final goodbyes and they head off and we head to security.

In conclusion, when we made the decision to come back to New Orleans I was not sure what to expect. Having been here just five years (exactly to the day) ago, we were able to check most of our top tier tourism off the first time around. We saw almost everything we needed to with the expectation that we may never make it back again. So, when we decided to come back, we knew that we would have to find stuff to do that we hadn’t done before. With Mardi Gras happening, Outstanding In The Field, a couple of concerts, the amount of new stuff wasn’t as big as would might have needed if it were someplace else. Just some fun lists: top 10 dive bars, weird things to do in New Orleans, where did Anthony Bourdain go when he was in this city? This is how we like to travel. I have spoken to people who spend a week at an all-inclusive resort, never leave it, and report on what a great vacation they had. I just don't have the same appreciation for that style of vacation, just as they may not have had the same fun doing the things we did. I recall when we used to seek out record shops on our travels that took us to some of the more out-of-the-way areas that we otherwise may not have seen. I collect records less these days and El's interest in yarn shops has replaced record shops on our itineraries and I appreciate them for the same reason. It is a huge disappointment coming home from a vacation with a feeling that it did not live up to the initial expectation. Though I never thought we would have a disappointing time, I guess I was just concerned that our second tier tourism would not meet our top tier that we enjoyed so much. But, this city surprised us once again. As with the first time we came, the food in this city was such a great discovery for us and the food on this trip did every bit to remind us of what we loved about it the first time around. Would I go back next year? Probably not. Would I go back in five more years? For sure. It will be interesting to see what the third tier or tourism has in store for us.

Parenthetically, the weather warmed during our week in Louisiana. We arrived to the 50’s and by the time we left it was squarely in the 70’s. We left our winter coats at home, having not needed them much this season, we just packed a sweatshirt to carry us through this trip. These shirts would spend more time in our suitcases than on, of course. Until we got home that is! Getting off of a plane there is a sliver of space between where the jetway meets the aircraft and as you pass from the plane towards the terminal, you can sometimes feel a cross-breeze. Tonight the temperature of that breeze was jarring. We made our way down to the baggage claim, which, of course, is near the exit doors that are opening every couple of seconds as passengers exit the terminal. The more time that passes, the more times the door opens, the colder it gets in the room as we wait for the conveyor to start. The fleece isn’t holding up as well as we would have hoped. We get our bags and now have to wait for the shuttle bus to the economy lot. We walk outside. It is -8 degrees with a whipping wind, making the windchill -35. Our travel clothes are no match and we huddle inside the sliding door foyer to the terminal waiting for the bus. We make it to the car and though it takes a couple of cranks, it starts up and we are on our way home. Welcome home indeed.

This could have been taken at point on our trip. My favorite travel partner and me.
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