Texas 2014 > Louisiana 2017

THURSDAY DECEMBER 3, 2014


A random art installation near our hotel


After getting up at the crack of dawn to make our 5:50am flight, we take two uneventful flights to get to San Antonio. Our second leg from Atlanta actually got us in about 30 minutes early. With our ground transport options limited to taxi or city bus, we opt for the $1.25 option over the $45 option. We head to the information desk at the airport staffed by older ladies in denim vests, oversized cowboy hats, and even bigger smiles. They answer all of our questions with a vigor that puts the perky Southwest crew to shame and with their help we are able to catch the twice hourly bus immediately. Once on the bus, that I gather gets more use from airport employees than from tourists, we settle in for the one hour ride. There are two other passengers already on the bus. I figure, who better to ask for dining recommendations than people who live here, right? I lean towards the older lady nearest to me and read off my list of top five restaurants in San Antonio to see if any of the choices elicit a stamp of approval. She is of no help and the other passenger doesn’t speak English. I guess we’ll have to wing it. Tracing the route on our city map we are able to exit within one block of our hotel. We are checked in and ready to hit the city running just after noon. We have come to meet friends for the weekend and have just about 24 hours to do any kind of touristy things that people usually do in San Antonio. Truth be told, this is my fourth time in San Antonio and I have never seen the Alamo. I plan to change that on this trip. We make it our first stop. As we walk up to the iconic Alamo facade, we had a moment of pause that we have every once in awhile when you are confronted with a landmark or point of interest that has taken on a larger than life legend in your mind, where the reality is much smaller than you expected. A bit of an "is that all of it?" moment. 


The Alamo


The Alamo, we learn, is itself a compound, most of which has been destroyed and developed over the years and that the iconic building is just the church portion of the compound. We are pleasantly surprised to learn that it is free to tour the Alamo. You can rent audio tours or take guided tours for a fee, but you don't have to pay to get in (you can make a donation at several locations throughout the grounds). There are no photos allowed inside the church- though there isn't much to take pictures of. Some exhibit cases display artifacts from the period- mostly weapons. We do spend longer in the church than I expected we would, listening to each stop in the audio tour. After the first eleven stops, we decide to abbreviate our time here and look to see only the highlights of the rest of the site. There were a few statues and monuments, but for the most part we skipped on some of the more historical features of the audio tour. We are done with the Alamo around 3:00pm and follow the self-guided walking tour's directions to the next spot: The Menger Hotel. The guidebook says that this hotel has a three story Victorian lobby. We walk through the current lobby expecting something as large as a three story lobby would stick out, but it didn't. We continue to poke around eventually stumbling upon a two-story-tall Christmas tree standing in the middle of the lobby we sought. Besides the tree, there wasn't really much to see. 


A stained glass ceiling in the Menger Hotel lobby


As we stand there admiring the holiday decorations, we both realize that we haven't eaten in hours and decide to prioritize getting some food in our systems. The guidebook points us around the corner to the Menger Bar. We assume we can get some food there. There is a plaque near the front door that explains on this site was where Teddy Roosevelt recruited many of his Rough Riders as well as being the site of some significant cattle trading- though I do not recall the particulars. The inside of the bar is very nice, though a little small, we ask about food, but are told that even though the full menu is available, the kitchen is running slow and that a half hour is expected for food delivery. Being that there are few people in the bar at this hour, we are not willing to wait since it will be faster to eat elsewhere. We each get a beer and make some conversation with the bartender. She recommends a dinner place for us and tells us a little about the history of the bar. She points us to some display cases that that have some Teddy Roosevelt memorabilia in them. Because of their hours, we decide to head over to the Buckhorn Saloon and Museum before they close. We are assured that they serve food, so we figure we can get something small to hold us until we can get to a restaurant. Realistically, we will be meeting Noelia tomorrow morning and depending on how long we are out tonight may squash our motivation to get up early to see more. Noelia has a class near downtown on Thursday nights and we are able to touch base with her by phone telling her of our plan to hit a bar in the downtown area this evening. We will take her advice and wait until dark to visit the Tower of the Americas which is an observation tower in Hemisfair Park that will allow us to get a nighttime view of the city. We get to the Buckhorn just as the kitchen is closing, though they let us place an order for fries. The bar gladly serves us a beer. The walls are filled with trophy heads of species of all kinds. We understand that the museum portion of the place has an exhibit of a three-headed, eight-legged sheep. 


Heads at the Buckhorn Saloon...and that is just one part of one wall. there were lots and lots of heads


After our beer and fries, we decide that we don't need to see that freak of nature bad enough to pay the admission fee. We walk a few doors down to see the famous Majestic Theater, an old style theater that is supposed to be pretty spectacular inside. Sadly, the theater is closed and we cannot get inside to admire the restoration. Across the street is one of the steakhouse recommendations that we got for dinner. But, the fact that they require jackets for men, (I stand in shorts), and they don't open for another hour, we decide to go with the next place on our list. We walk along the Riverwalk for awhile trying to find a Texas bistro called Boudro's. We eventually found it and got seated immediately. We order tableside guacamole and each got a steak. The food is very good and we are both stuffed as we leave to walk it off. After dinner we head to the bar at the top of the tower and get a cup of coffee and maybe a dessert to enjoy the revolving/360 degree view of the city. There’s a glass elevator that shoots up and down the outside of the tower and the attendant turns off the lights so that you start to get the display of the cityscape before you even make it to the observation deck. When we get to the top, the host at the bar tells us that due to a couple of holiday parties, they will not have any tables available. We can wait for seats at the small bar, or we can stand in one of the standing areas to see the lights of the city below. As we stand there making our decision, we begin to reminisce of similar city view experiences including our recent dining experience high above Tokyo and more distant experience of eating at a revolving restaurant in Reykjavik, ultimately agreeing, that while new to this city, we probably wouldn't see anything we haven’t seen before. We grab the next elevator down.


The Tower of the Americas with a restaurant/bar at the top


Once we are back on solid ground, we find it has started to rain. Not a downpour, but certainly annoying enough to force us to break out the rain gear. We find an entrance to the Riverwalk. San Antonio is famous for its Riverwalk and I had always thought it was just some small area with shops and restaurants- a shopping district. I see now that it is a bit more than that with a sizable path network of walking paths and bridges that run along the river and also its tributaries- which means there are a lot more shops and restaurants than I expected there would be. Having already eaten, the people trying to get you to spend your dinner budget in their establishment become more of a nuisance that than a practical part of the experience. That said, we are able to navigate our way through the Riverwalk to Soledad Street where we find a bar called Bonds 007 Rock Bar. This is good enough for us for the evening. They have cheap beer, salty popcorn, and a friendly staff. I throw $5 into the jukebox and we are good for 18 selections worth of tunes. After a couple of hours, Noelia is able to meet us after her class. Sara and TJ are also arriving tonight. Noelia is getting text updates from Sara that their plane has been delayed, then cancelled, then rebooked, then rerouted and they wind up significantly delayed on their arrival to San Antonio. We will just see them tomorrow as I don’t know that I can make it too much longer out on the town. It is the first time we have seen Noelia in almost two years. We do some catching up over a couple of beers and after my jukebox selections expire and we start listening to choices made by people that probably weren't too happy with my choices, we decide to head to another bar in the area that will probably be a little quieter. Noelia drives us to a place called The Mix. We walk in and it certainly seems like the noise level will allow for easy conversation. Unfortunately, no sooner do we order our beers, a band hits the stage. It wasn’t necessarily offensive music, but the volume quickly squashed any possibility of conversation. We move to a back room to finish the beer and then head back to the hotel to call it a night. Noelia drops us at our hotel and heads to the airport to meet Sara. We will meet up with them in the morning. 


FRIDAY DECEMBER 4, 2014
After a good, long night's sleep, we make the hotel check out time by two minutes. We know that Sara (who is running in the Rock And Roll Marathon) needs to pick up her packet on Friday at the Convention Center downtown. The San Antonio Marathon is this weekend and there are many people in town for the events. It turns out that there are a couple of races on Sunday and after consideration, El decided not to run on Sunday, choosing to spend our extra day in San Antonio doing tourism with me, instead of running. The plan is to meet Noelia and Sara at the Convention Center and go to the packet pick up together. It is now 11:00am and the packet pickup doesn’t start until noon- though we think more realistically, knowing Noelia as we do, the start time, may not be the only reason they are delayed getting to the Convention Center. The hotel is about a five minute walk from the center and El and I go to a café nearby to wait for the group. As we walk, the neighborhood changes remarkably. From clearly downtown surroundings, to an area of cobblestone streets with quaint little shops, boutiques, and galleries. I notice the signs for something I saw in the "things to do" list called La Villita. We didn’t know where it was and had done all we had wanted to do before calling it a day yesterday. But, now we find ourselves in La Villita Historic Arts Village and casually taking in this tiny district to see what is offered. We see some real restaurants, but without a game plan when we meet with our friends, we don’t want to eat too much. We wander into La Villita Café and get some coffee and a pastry to split. I update my journal while El breaks out her knitting. We are in texting contact with the group who are still making their way out of bed. We grab a table and spread out. Eventually, they meet us at the café, but they are driving in an area where it is unclear if motor traffic is allowed, so instead of joining us, we jump in the car and we head to find parking near the Convention Center. It is the first time we have seen Sara in more than a year and we meet TJ for the first time. All goes as planned. We find some parking and go to the packet pickup. As we walk through the center, El sees that the running program is not only on Sunday, but they also have a race on Saturday. They allow her to sign up for the 10K race on the spot and along with Sara and TJ plan to run tomorrow. After the issuing of bibs and tshirts and other race related paraphernalia, we snake through the center bombarded by vendors hawking the latest in runners clothing and accessories. We go through and El, who did not come prepared to run, buys some basic gear. After all are set, we head to lunch at Stella's, a bar/restaurant near downtown. This is our first chance to really sit and catch up with everybody. The table winds up sharing a few small plates of appetizers and salads as well as some wood fired pizza. The food is good and the beer selection very nice. We spend some time here and then head towards the outskirts of town. Another of San Antonio’s attractions are the missions. We stop at Mission Concepcion which is the oldest unrestored stone church in America. 

Mission Concepcion

Several of the interior rooms still have frescos visible. We arrive about 15 minutes before closing time, giving us enough time to do a quick wander. The place isn’t that big, so we actually have plenty of time. When we finish here, we go to Noelia's house. Even though her address is San Antonio, she still lives about a half hour from the downtown area. We arrive and meet her parents for the first time. Expecting us, her mom has made a dinner of spicy seafood soup with enchiladas and Mexican rice on the side. Very tasty and a wonderful welcome into their home. After dinner we head out to a local bar for the evening. We meet up with other Peace Corps volunteers as well as some of Noelia’s local friends. I think the original plan is to go to another bar, but with three running in the morning and others tiring, it is not a bar hopping kind of night. We just head back to Noelia's for the night. 

SATURDAY DECEMBER 5, 2014




Tamalada: noun. “A (tamale-making party) is a traditional Mexican party that brings family and friends together to assemble tamales”. During my time in Ukraine I would hear about the tamalada that Noelia's family hosts every year. Knowing how much I love tamales, I hoped to get invited at some point. Last year the timing was not right, but this year we were ready and that was the catalyst to getting us down to San Antonio. 

I wake with El on Saturday morning. I get downstairs to see her, Sara, and TJ head out to their run. I stay behind with Noelia to start learning the process of making tamales. Marisa and Juan (Noelia’s parents) have been preparing for this day for weeks by roasting chiles and cooking what would become the fillings. There are four variations of filling today: pulled pork, shredded chicken, bean and jalapeno, and spinach with mozzarella. 


The fillings had been prepared ahead of time. This is getting them ready to be placed on the tables to use to stuff the tamales


By 7:30 Juan has already been out to get the last ingredients of the massa (the cornmeal base for the tamale filling). I enter the kitchen to a pile of cornmeal, spices, and lard that needs to be kneaded thoroughly by hand. Marisa and Juan work the dough-like mixture continually for several minutes. The pile homogenizes nicely and is separated into bags. My first lesson are the cornhusks. The husks are bought dried are soaked overnight in giant barrels and now need to be rung out before being set at the different stations to be worked. 


Noelia showing me how to get the soaked corn husks ready for use


Around 8am, family members and friends start to arrive. Most of them don’t even need a refresher...but, I need a crash course. Noelia's friend Tonya helps me by first teaching me the basics and then inspecting my work for quality. We start by identifying the "smooth" side of the husk. You need to smear your massa mixture in a thin coat on the smooth side of the husk only, otherwise the cooked cornmeal sticks to the husk and your tamale falls apart as it is unwrapped. It is usually pretty easy to identify. Next, I learn how to spread the massa evenly on the husk (you check by holding it up to the light to see where your weak spots are). 


Tonya and her mom giving me the crash course in how to make a tamale. Great teachers!


Once you are done, you pass it down to the people that are laying the filling into the massa and then rolling and folding the tamales.


Once the husks have the massa spread on them, you pass them down to the people who fill and fold them


Meanwhile, you get the water in a steamer boiling and fill the pot with tamales all standing up. These will steam for 45-60 minutes and once the cooked massa easily pulls away from the husk, they are done. 


A tray of filled and folded tamales ready to be steamed

Just some of the steam pots. There were 4 more pots going on the stove too!

We had our work cut out for us


They then get removed into pans to cool and be eaten. As the first batches of tamales finish, some of the people who are making them get their bags and leave the party, making room for others who are arriving. At some point around noon, El returns from the run with just enough time to learn and see the process in action. 


El learning how to fill and fold the tamales

Cooling the batches

Some ready-to-eat tamales


Over the course of the day there were about 25 people that participated. Hundreds of tamales were made. Some were eaten and put aside to be eaten soon, whereas some were stored for future eating (around Christmas I think). After the people have all gone and the last of the batches are finishing their cooking, we (our group) retired to the living room to discuss what to do for the rest of the day and evening. Of course, when you get eight people in a room, the chances of everyone agreeing on a plan is close to zero. It is around 3:00pm and trying to even come up a suggestion is tricky. No one needs to eat and going to a bar seems like it has been done out. Two or three want to watch a UFC match while as many are revolted by the idea. We wind up watching the UFC fight and couple of shows on television before heading to bed. Sara and TJ have a flight very early in the morning and we say our goodbyes to them. Our flight is not until around noon on Sunday, so we have breakfast out with Noelia and her parents before being dropped at the airport for our uneventful flight home. It was a short, productive, fun, long weekend for us. I probably don’t need to visit San Antonio as a tourist again, but would gladly be part of the tamalada again. Or would certainly reach out to Noelia should our travels bring us this way again. 


Fast forward to March 2017, we are headed back to Texas. One of my favorite bands, Saxon, are a British heavy metal band that I have been listening to since 1983. They are much more popular in Europe than they are in America, so they don’t tour here all that often. When it was announced a couple of months ago that they would be touring the states for a month, of course I looked into where they would be playing close to home. Well, Boston, NYC, and Allentown, PA don’t exactly qualify as “close to home” for me, so I had to start considering roadtrips if I was going to see any of these shows. I see that the tour starts in with four shows in Texas. The first date is Houston, then Dallas and San Antonio, and finally they were off to El Paso before heading to California. I started looking into the possibility of going to some of these shows and El agreed to go with me. I would soon buy our tickets for Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio and pass on El Paso. Now I just had to figure out how to get us there and back.
 I would also reach out to Noelia, as going back to San Antonio without letting her know wouldn’t be right.


WEDNESDAY MARCH 8, 2017
Having just gotten back from our last vacation a couple of weeks ago, we find ourselves traveling once again. This time is a little different than most of our other trips in that the purpose of our trip is to follow the first three dates of the UFO/Saxon tour that starts in Houston with the next two shows in Dallas and San Antonio. 
Our flight to Baltimore goes without a hitch. We are on time and at our gate to New Orleans with plenty of time. As we sit, they make an announcement looking for two people to offer their seat to be rebooked later in the day. Of course we are all over it. El signs us up and they give her the coveted “preboard” card. This lets you board the plane before even the A1 boarding cards do. We are the second and third on the plane and get our choice of seats. We sit and wait for the plane to fill for them to decide if they need us or not. As the last person boards, they call El’s name for the bump. Unfortunately, they only need one of us to bump, but they let us stay together (since they only need one, only one of us gets the $450 voucher incentive). Hey, it makes this virtually a free vacation for us, so I will not complain. Our next flight boards in an hour. We text mom and let her know of our delay and sit and wait for the boarding to begin.  We are now rerouted through Atlanta and our BWI-ATL flight takes off on time, but in what I think is a first, the captain comes on when we are still at the gate and tells everyone it is expected to be a bumpy ride and people who need to use the restroom should go now instead of waiting until we are in the air, a few people take him up, but I am good. Once again with Southwest I am not a huge fan of the seat yourself boarding. It is not so bad when you are travelling alone, but when you are group of two it can be tricky to get a pair of seats together, let alone a preferred aisle or window seat. As usual, we sit apart on this flight too. The game plan here is to fly into New Orleans and meet my parents for lunch- now late lunch with the change in flight. We are driving direct to Houston tonight, so we found a place that was closer to the airport rather than us having to go into New Orleans only to have to come back past the airport. This way it should save us at least an hour of travel time. Once we have the car, we will set up the GPS for the straight, mostly highway trip to Houston. We will sleep in Houston tonight and tomorrow with our first of three shows in Houston at the Scout Bar. Never heard of it, but I have had good luck with Houston bars, albeit 23 years ago.
 During the boarding call for our ATL-MSY flight, they make a call for people willing to give up their seat. They only need one, but will accommodate both of us if we will give up the seat. The agent tells us to wait until they are done boarding for her to figure if they need our seat(s) and then offers us $50 voucher each if they do not need our seats just for losing our spot in the boarding line. Once the plane is boarded we are informed she will use one of our seats. Same deal, $300 travel voucher, plus the amount you paid for your ticket ($151 for this leg). So, now, between our bump in BWI and Atlanta, we have $900 in travel vouchers…now we have to figure out if Southwest flies anywhere else we want to go! We are now scheduled to arrive in New Orleans at 5:30pm. Our lunch meeting with mom and dad is looking weak. El calls to cancel our hotel in Houston tonight, assuring them we will be there tomorrow. I call mom and let her know that we are now due to arrive at 5:30pm and also that we will spend the night at their house in New Orleans and head to Houston in the morning. It’s one thing to want to get started on your vacation, but there is something to be said for being able to pay for your airfare for our next vacation too. El takes advantage of the layover to do some work that will allow her to give back some vacation time. Yeah, working on vacation sucks, but being able to free up additional vacation time during a layover works too. It is now 3:00pm and we board at 4:20pm. 
We make it to New Orleans without further delay. Our bags, having arrived on our original schedule, are already at the lost baggage room and we are out of the terminal before our plane’s baggage has even started on the carousel. Next we head to car rental and pick up the car we had reserved. We are out of there in short order and let mom know we are on our way. They are 17 miles from the airport and we have no trouble with the GPS directions. When we arrive, mom and dad are waiting and dinner is ready. We have some before dinner drinks and discuss possible things to do on Monday when we return for one day. We asked them to think of some options to do together and we get some good ideas. Mom has made fried rice for us and it is good. A wonderful welcome in an unplanned circumstance. After dinner we head over to the Old Point Bar for a couple of beers. It is open mic night, but it isn’t too loud so we can actually have a conversation. We don’t stay too long and El and I are pretty beat. We are in bed at 10:30 which feels like 11:30 to us and after getting up at 3:00am, we are exhausted.
 

THURSDAY MARCH 9, 2017
We wake around 7:00am, shower and get our bags ready to go. We eat a quick breakfast of yogurt and fruit before getting on the road to Houston. The ride is 5½ hours and we still want to hit the Museum of Funeral History and Niko Niko’s restaurant before the concert. The ride is pretty boring. At some point I develop a pretty strong headache and see if I can cure it with a meal. We pull off the next exit, though once we get off, we realize there isn’t much choice in the way of food. We pull into a truck stop that has a diner attached. The offerings aren’t all that appetizing, but at this point I don’t want to just keep driving around looking for the best truck stop at the exit. I will make it work. I narrow down to pancakes or an omelet and go with the western omelet. It is served with grits which El eats while I eat the omelet. There is so much grease on the eggs that it is giving the omelet an unnatural color. 
I manage to eat it, but almost immediately regret it. I know I will be burping that thing up all day. We get back on the road and don’t need to stop until the very last leg. At some point I see a sign for an interstate exit that reads “no cash/no pay by mail”, we don’t need to take that exit, but this poses a real issue for us…is our rental car equipped with an electronic toll device or will we get fined for each unpaid toll we incur? I need gas anyway, but El is on it. She calls Hertz and we ask what the toll situation is. We are assured that even though every car is equipped for the electronic toll collection, if you use it, there is a $25 fee. I suppose that is better than a penalty and way better than having to avoid these toll roads altogether in this state…which could be virtually impossible. We press on with the expectation we will pay the fee and the tolls. Our first real stop in this city is The National Museum of Funeral History. I am not sure how I even ran across this place, but it struck my interest. I think the building has some sort of embalmers certification school associated with it, but we are there for the museum. It is very well laid out and actually pretty extensive in its exhibits ranging from hearses (horse drawn through modern presidential), coffins (from regular to specialty to artistic (one was a giant crab). There were exhibits regarding the history of embalming and its tools, clothing, traditions from around the world, presidents, tomb of the unknowns, celebrities etc. Many of the items are replicas, though they did say when the item was original. It was an interesting way to spend an hour. After the museum, we head to Niko Niko’s which is a place that Guy Fieri visited on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. It also gets great Yelp reviews. There are several locations of this Greek restaurant, but this is the location that Guy came to. We order a dip sampler platter which is almost a whole dinner in itself. Hummus, baba ganoush with walnuts, tzatziki, and something called Greek caviar- which has pureed potatoes and onions. I guess we didn’t really get that even though the name has “caviar” in it, that it actually contained fish eggs, though, it turns out it did. And it was fantastic. I also get a chicken kabob dinner and falafel. There is just so much food. And without a fridge to store anything we can’t really take anything to go, though El does grab some of the grilled pita bread to leave with. Everything is really tasty and it turns out to be a great stop. A little pricey, but I think we got our money’s worth. While digesting, I journal before heading out to the show. We head directly to the show after dinner and find the club with no issues. We are early enough to see the first of three bands. We get our spot for the night and stand in a good spot for sound. All three bands are great with Saxon being the main reason we are here tonight. They only get a 70 minute slot and the whole show is over at midnight. We don’t need food or drink afterwards, so we just head direct to the hotel. It is about an hour drive from the club to the hotel and we check in just after 1:00am. No issues. Clean and quiet room. We are sleeping in no time and don’t set an alarm- actually we did set a back up, last resort alarm for 9:30am, full well expecting to be up long before it goes off.


Biff in Houston


FRIDAY MARCH 10, 2017

We Yelp a breakfast place near the hotel and within minutes find ourselves at Cobblestone Café which reminds me of a local version of Panera. A place for coffee, breakfast and lunch sandwiches. It looks like they also do office platters, and the workers squeeze our order in between the large one they are working on. After breakfast we drive directly to Willow Park, which is near Ft. Worth, to the house of Aunt Maz and Uncle HB. We text our ETA to let them know when we are expected. The ride is long and boring, but most of the speed limit is higher than we are used to, so at least we feel like we are making good time. It is still over 4 hours. Luckily, the weather is cooperating. These are more county roads than interstates and one of the downsides is when you roll through a town the speed limit can go from 75 to 40 in the matter of seconds. Most of the route was higher speed. We arrive around 2:00pm to find that Aunt Mari has come to join us too. This is the first time I have been to this house, so luckily the GPS was able to do its thing to get us here. We sit with the group and do some catching up over appetizers. Chided for my aversion to eating sticky things with my hands, my hang ups provide a source of humor for all, except me. I have to explain once again it is not getting my hands sticky that is the problem, it is the lack of water or wetnaps to remedy the situation that is the problem. Anyway, unsure if Rachel or Nate will be able to join us for dinner, we eventually adjourn to the dining room table. The food is wonderful and the conversation fun. Maz and Mari offer some very kind words of encouragement after reading my travel journal which gets us talking a bit about travel and how we do it. It was a great way to spend the afternoon. One of the down sides (actually the only downside) to coming here today was missing Dallas. I haven’t been back to Dallas since moving away in 1994. The day I left, the archaeology site was still an active construction site and I always wondered what the site looks like today after all of the planned construction was done all those years ago. The thought had also crossed my mind to drive past my old apartment. Our detour will prevent those stops, but I realize that I could just go to Google maps to see the corner where the site was. After the fun afternoon, I do not miss the stops we couldn’t make. Nate had let us know he wouldn’t be able to make it. Knowing we are driving into rush hour traffic, we wait as long as we can for Rachel as we know she is on her way, decide to leave. We are in the driveway saying our goodbyes to our hosts and as we go to get into the car, Rachel’s car comes driving down the street. We extend another 30 seconds just to hug hello and tell her we need to get going. Having been seriously delayed by the traffic, she understands completely and joins the rest of the group in waving goodbye. We have two situations going on here: a major car accident shutting down multiple lanes of the interstate, and rush hour traffic. Luckily we are only dealing with the volume and not the accident reported and obviously affecting the flow of cars in the other direction. It takes us about an hour to get to Dallas. I barely recognize the section of the city where the club is. Besides one bar, I had almost no occasion to come to this area when I lived here. The club was built since I last was here. It is a really nice place built for shows with a great sound system. We make it with plenty of time to see Jared James Nichols’ opening set. In between sets I try to locate an acquaintance who I think might be at the show, but we don’t connect. Meanwhile, during the show, El’s phone starts ringing. It is a Waxahachie phone number. Fearing there is an issue with the hotel reservation tonight, she runs outside to the smoking area to take the call. She tells me the people on the other end were only trying to confirm we are still checking in tonight. This actually irks me because the cancellation policy is such that once you reserve a room with a credit card, it is automatically held for late arrival and they will charge your card if you are a no show. She assures them we will be there.  Saxon gives us two extra songs we didn’t get last night, and UFO plays virtually the same set as Houston. The show is out around midnight and I consider the possibility of the apartment drive by and the site stop on our way to Waxahachie. The GPS can’t seem to find the apartment address and we find a nearby destination to work with. As we follow the directions I realize the GPS is taking us around the south side of the city and then up Route 75. One of the first exits we hit on 75 is Lemmon Avenue. I know that the apartment is not too many more exits, but the reality is that it is dark out and I lived in a complex where every unit looked identical. I sacrifice the idea of hitting the apartment and get off the Lemmon Ave. exit. Of course, it looks nothing like I remember it. All built up, with restaurants and several businesses having been developed in the ensuing 23 years. As we get to the top of the ramp I look around for anything recognizable and like a rush, it all comes together in a moment of recognition for me. I see the cemetery on the left and though it is a park today, I can totally imagine the street when it was all dug up and undeveloped and picture the transformation into what it is today. I drive around the block, but quickly lose my bearings in the newer developed surroundings. I come back to the corner of Lemmon and the Frontage Rd. where I worked for almost one year. As I sit at the stop light waiting to turn, I see a plaque reading “Freedman’s Cemetery Memorial.” I drive into the memorial park to see if there is anything to see. The way the site worked was that there were four construction trailers which were our offices and indoor work space. Then there were the Lemmon Ave. side and the Frontage Rd. side where we were exhuming the skeletons. Once the skeletons were unearthed, they were scientifically processed in the trailers, then they were put back into newly constructed coffins, and reinterred on the site. 


Plaque at the site of the cemetery in Dallas


Today, the trailers gave way to an administrative building and the road paving has covered much of the actual work site, but there was one grassy section between the trailers and dig site. This area is still undeveloped but today remains a park instead of the footpath that once served as our conduit between the processed and the unprocessed remains. I find a spot to park the car and we get out to see what we can in the dark, though some artistically placed floodlights help. The memorial consists of some informational plaques, some sculptures and some concrete walkways flanked by a well manicured grassline. We take a couple of photos and walk around the area. At 1:00am we realize we are now sharing the space with some homeless residents, and at that moment think I have all the photos I need- opting to give them the space in peace. We quietly retreat to the car. We totally scrap the stop at Southwestern Blvd (apartment) and just head south on I-35 towards Waxahachie. On our 45 minute drive El sees she has a missed call/voice mail. When she retrieves the message, it is the same hotel calling us after midnight again to ask if we were still planning to check in tonight. We don’t return the call and just make our way to the hotel. When I give my name to check in, the clerk says with a smile “oh hey, we just called you”. I didn’t make a big deal of it, but did mention that I found it kind of annoying since it was not convenient to take the calls and we worried that if we didn’t confirm, would they have given the room to someone else. He assures me he would not have given it to anyone else, but I guess we will never know. As long as our room was there, I was OK. We are sleeping in short order and don’t set an early alarm. 
 

SATURDAY MARCH 11, 2017 
We wake early, but not to an alarm. I suggest stopping in Austin for breakfast/lunch at a place I have fond memories of. During my time in Dallas I spent a couple of weekends in Austin and both times I ate at this place called Café Magnolia. Because of social media I know that two of my old acquaintances from then are now living in Austin. I message both of them and invite them to breakfast with us. Unfortunately, the short notice proved to be a plan preventer. Both sent their well wishes and regrets. We drive to Austin. It takes about 2½ hours and we hit our first real rain on this trip. Knowing we have no one to meet at the café, I add a stop in Austin on the way. I have mentioned this once or twice and my family knows this to be true. But, there is one song in my life that I would consider the one favorite. It is 
called “Sniper” by Harry Chapin and is on one of the earliest records I owned. The song recalls the story of Charles Whitman’s mass shooting from the University of Texas in Austin’s clocktower and I wanted a photo of myself with the tower. 


University of Texas clocktower


It is raining pretty heavy now, so we don’t spend much time wandering. We just park, jump out and take the picture, and get on our way. Hungry, we head right to the café. After a short wait, the lunch is as good as I remember. A fun, creative, quirky menu we get chips with queso/salsa, something called a Neptunian Landscape (seasoned grilled potatoes, avocado, green onion, salsa verde & lemon sour cream with jack cheese), and something called a Texan Benedict, which is a chipotle-based Hollandaise version of eggs Benedict. The eggs aren’t the best, and I probably could have chosen better, but the landscape and queso made the stop worth it for me and El loves her choices. Once we are done at the café, we head direct to San Antonio. Having nothing else to do in San Antonio (a reach out to our friend Noelia- who is the only person we know in San Antonio, failed as she is out of town for the weekend). Knowing the past couple of shows got out late, we decide to check in early and get in a nap before heading to the show. The check in process is less than smooth. I go in to the desk and am standing behind a family who has already checked in and is telling the manager that the room they walked into has not yet been cleaned. They are re-checked in and I am next in line. I get my key and head to the room. As El and I walk in, the door is not shut, the bed unmade, the television on. Ours hasn’t been cleaned either! We go back and get re-checked in, but the new room, isn’t much better. The room is just gross. Burn holes in the bedspread, unidentified stains on the blanket, even a rogue skidmark from a previous guest in the toilet. I am starting to question the quality of help the Motel 6 is hiring these days. Even though the bed was made, it wasn’t crisp and I am not 100% sure it had clean linens. I choose to suspend my doubt, knowing I will take a shower and wash any nastiness off- good thing I have shower shoes to prevent my feet from touching the floor! We are able to sleep a couple hours and wake still full from lunch. We don’t need dinner before the show. The show is in a club that used to be a warehouse in an industrial area of town with no street parking. The businesses nearby open their parking lots for $15-20/car. I opt to skip the lot parking and park on the street in the neighborhood abutting the industrial area. I cross my fingers and hope for the best. We head in to the sold out show. Unfortunately, they have added two additional bands to the lineup. Of the three UFO/Saxon shows we’re seeing, this is the only one that Saxon is headlining. They are the primary reason we are even following this tour in Texas and it turns out to be a fantastic show. Amazing in several ways. Not the least of which is that we got 10 songs different from previous nights. It is one of my favorite shows of recent memory- and not just of Saxon, but any band. The car fares fine for our free parking spot. Relieved, we head back to the hotel. It is just weird, as we arrive to the parking lot, it is just after 1:00am and when we get out of the car, there are people sitting in running, but parked cars and another car on the other side of the lot just sitting with open doors- no passengers, just an empty car with three open doors. We just head direct to the room and make sure our car is locked though I am not sure if the valuables are safer in the room or in the car. Tonight is the springtime clock change that will set the clocks ahead an hour, so our 7:30am alarm will actually feel like 6:30am. At 1:30am we know it is going to be a tough day driving to New Orleans. 


SUNDAY MARCH 12, 2017
The alarm wakes us at 7:30am. We have dinner reservations in New Orleans with mom and dad and it will be about an eight hour drive. We hurry to make it out of this skanky room and will breakfast at Lulu’s Bakery. As we drive to the bakery, we get stuck on some serious traffic on this Sunday morning. They are doing utility work on the highway and closing the road for 15 minutes at a time. All three lanes closed for 15 minutes. Open to let them by and close for another 15 minutes. Between the GPS and google maps on the phone, we are able to get to the bakery by avoiding the highways. We arrive without too much of a delay, though we take advantage of the time in the car to go online and check the menu so we know what we want to order before we arrive. This is a place we saw on one of the food shows we watch and is known for their 3lb cinnamon roll. That’s right, THREE POUNDS! We sit and order: one roll, two cups of coffee, a to-go box, and the check. The roll was warm, well cooked, and incredibly tasty. We each had a piece and took the rest to go. After the breakfast, to-go box in tow, we set off to New Orleans. 


When we were done, I looked at El and said "well, we did the best we could," at which point she showed me her travel journal where she had just seconds earlier updated with the phrase "well, we did the best we could". I guess there were no other words.


It is a long drive with few stops and we drive direct to Algiers Point (where mom and dad live). We have been keeping an eye on the weather at home and they are predicting a tremendous snowstorm to hit the Northeast on Tuesday this week. We are scheduled to fly out on Tuesday and it is looking increasingly unlikely we will get out as scheduled. We called Southwest to ask them if there was any way to change our flights to Monday. Sadly, they are completely booked for Monday and Wednesday would be the first available rebooking they could give us. Once we were told that Monday was out, we opt to come up with a plan B before committing to the change to Wednesday. I thought back to recent years where storms get predicted and turn into a bust. The thing is that if we rebook for Wednesday and the storm fails to cause cancellations that would make us look foolish (whereas moving it forward makes us look good). We still have the rental car that we need to return before 6:00am on Tuesday. That said, my idea is to drop the car off on Monday and go into the airport to discuss rebook options and maybe we will know more by that time. With two hours before our reservation at Galatoire’s we have made good enough time. We tell mom and dad about the trip to Texas and lay out some ideas for the next couple of days. Mom drives us to the restaurant and we make our 8:00pm reservation with plenty of time. Galatoire’s is a place that is weird. It has been a New Orleans staple for years. It is on Bourbon Street and recommended by a few people with food knowledge of this city- as well as landing top spots on many “best of” lists. On our drive today El finds a couple sites with recent reviews of the place and sees a significant disparity in ratings. With every 5 star review we found, we found a review that had a less than favorable rating. We took a couple of suggestions from the sites, so the menu isn’t a complete surprise at dinnertime. The bottom line is that as far as I can tell this is what is known as a “teflon”, which is a term for a restaurant that has a good history, but whose current, sub-par food/service is riding on the reputation of yore. The reviews we saw universally mention the room being too loud and a couple of last week’s reviews mention that for a restaurant known for their crab dishes, it was disappointing to hear they were out of crab. Really? In New Orleans? Out of crab? I would expect that the purchasing manager would lose their job for that. One of the things recommended is something called Crab Maison and also the filet mignon is supposed to be good. We are shown to our table and before we sit the four of us are already commenting on how loud the room is. It sounds like a high school cafeteria. Additionally, the room is so full of tables and chairs, that everyone is constantly getting the back of their chairs knocked into by the waitstaff, busers and other diners heading to the restroom or out. We are presented with the drink menus and dad picks a decent wine for the table. One of the ironic situations is that our waiter has laryngitis- making it extra difficult to hear any of his information. I order the filet mignon and something called potato soufflé. El orders fried chicken and an appetizer of Crab Maison. The waiter takes this opportunity to tell us that they have no crab. I am momentarily stunned, considering the previous reviews, they are still out of crab?! Waiter and mom both step in to tell me that the State of Louisiana has a temporary moratorium on fresh crab and no place is allowed to sell it by law. El changes to an appetizer of shrimp remoulade. El shares and it is probably the best thing we eat during this dinner. It is very good. My filet is very dry and there is not much taste. Potato soufflé with Hollandaise is not all it was cracked up to be. One of the funny things was that every time the waiter poured the wine, he tilted the bottle straight back and dripped the end of the pour all over the table, our food, and my leg. He was oblivious/inattentive at best, and unprofessional at worst. I have to admit that I did think the bill would be more for a table of four with two bottles of wine. That said, it would have only added insult to injury if it was higher than we were expecting. Given the option, we don’t even stay for dessert instead opting to stop at the Old Point for one beer before calling it a night. While at the Old Point I get an email from Southwest telling us that both of our planes have been officially canceled due to the impending snowstorm in the Northeast and instructs us to call or go online to rebook our travel. When we get back to mom and dad’s El calls the airline, hoping to beat any customers to the rebooking line, she waits on hold with two different phones for more than one hour before hanging up and calling it a night. Knowing that our flight is cancelled opens up an opportunity for us to drop the rental car off on Monday instead of having to get up early to do it on Tuesday. I am sleeping by 11:30pm. We don’t set an alarm, but will go to the airport in the morning to resolve this issue and get rebooked.


MONDAY MARCH 13, 2017

We share the leftover cinnamon bun for breakfast before heading to the airport. It is a 17 mile drive and we catch a little bit of rush hour, but nothing too bad- I guess we were going in the opposite direction of most of it. In order to save time and mitigate redundancy, I drop El at the departures counter to deal with the rebooking while I go find a gas station to fill the car and return it. Finding the gas station turns out to be the most difficult part of the whole process. Luckily, I have the GPS to help. After getting my receipt I head to the departures gate to meet El, who has already got our reschedule for Thursday flying into LaGuardia as there are no Thursday flights into Albany (with room). We will figure out a plan this afternoon to get me home from NYC on Thursday. Now, we head to ground transportation to find out about taking the city bus back downtown to get on with our day. The bus costs $2 each and it comes every 20 minutes. We just missed the last one, so we have some time to find the stop and call mom with the news. The bus takes about 45 minutes to get downtown, stopping at any stop with riders along the route- it’s not a shuttle, it’s a city bus. The last stop is the corner of Tulane and Loyola, which is just two blocks off Canal Street. Once we had our new flight schedule, I check for bands in town on the next two nights. One is the Experience Hendrix show playing at the Saenger Theater on Wednesday. Once we get back into downtown we walk to the theater and buy our tickets. Now we are looking for stuff to fill our days with. Right now we are walking to the Voodoo Museum. It costs $5 to get in and is surely one of the smallest museums (though not THE smallest) we have ever been in. The whole thing is two small rooms and a short hallway. When you pay the entrance fee, you are given the two sided Xerox that with explanations of not only what you are seeing in the museum, but also terms associated with voodoo. Of course you can’t have a voodoo museum in New Orleans without some Marie Laveau stuff, but most of the artifacts on display are just examples of what can be used in ceremonies and to communicate with spirits. 


A display inside the Voodoo Museum


It was interesting enough to be worth it, but not enough to stay longer than a half hour or so (or buy anything from the gift shop). We get some pictures and remark at the amount of current offerings at the wishing stump (among other shrine-like spots in the rooms) where museum visitors leave coins and make wishes for spirits. As we leave, we shuffle down the hallway sideways to allow for the incoming side-shufflers to get past us. Next stop is Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop (which is a bar on Bourbon St.) to journal and figure some stuff out in terms of things to do in this area (or others) over the next couple of days- since we weren’t planning on these next two days in town, we didn’t really plan for things to do during that time. On the way to the bar, I stop at Skully’z Record Shop and ask about bands in town Tuesday night. The guy gives me some interesting options, though I think they might not work as El wouldn’t have any interest in them. As we get to Lafitte’s we pass a horse carriage tour stopped outside the bar we hear that there is actually no proof that Lafitte ever actually worked at, lived in, or owned this building. The place smells awful, and it is pretty crowded for a Monday afternoon. El thinks it just smells of a mixture of stale beer and cleaning products. At one point I went to use the restroom where I find myself in front of the oh-so-pleasant pissing trough. As I am doing my business, I see that someone has been here before me to use the receptacle as a vomit bucket. As my outflow streams down the stainless steel channel, I can’t help but wonder if the deposit is from someone who has drunk that much before noon today, or is it leftover from last night’s festivities? Either way, I am happy to get moving on. Our next stop is up in the Treme section. It is only a few blocks from where we stand. We are going up to see something called the “Tomb of the Unknown Slave”. 


"Tomb of the Unknown Slave"


Although there are no actual remains buried underneath, it is a large metal monument memorializing the struggles of the oppressed at one of the darkest chapters in American history. The monument stands outside of St. Augustine church. There isn’t much to it, so once you arrive, you can pretty much check it off of your list. When we are officially done with the stop we head to the street corner and text mom to come pick us up. She is volunteering in the area and we plan to get a take-out dinner from a restaurant a few blocks away. While we wait, I call the Premier Limo in Albany, which is a company that operates a shuttle van service between Albany Airport and LaGuardia/JFK Airport. I make my reservation for Thursday to get me home. This is better than Amtrak because once in Albany, I would have to get myself from the train station to the airport, but this shuttle takes me right to the airport. Mom discovered Roosevelt’s Black Pearl Soul Food on one of her bike group rides and was trying to describe it to us, but I think it is one of those, “easier to understand when you see it, rather than describe it” kind of places. Mom, picks us up at 3:00pm and we head to the Black Pearl. There is no sign on the building or door and the place outside and in leave a little to be desired in terms of welcoming décor or inviting aesthetics. 


Roosevelt, making our dinners


The people working the counter, they are as friendly as can be. There are only three small tables in the room, two have customers. I casually ask the old guy eating his bowl of beans and rice what he recommends and he replies with “everything’s good”. We ask for a rundown of the offerings as some are not so obvious, especially from the other side of the Plexiglas window- that could probably use a cleaning. Once we hear what’s available, we start discussing the combinations. Then the man behind the counter, presumably Roosevelt, comes out and asks if we are all set. I explain that we need dinner for six people and are trying to figure out what combinations will give us the best way to sample everything. Roosevelt smiles and says “I got you” and begins to take care of it. He starts with six to-go containers and starts scooping and placing all the food in neatly and well varied. All of the mains were: fried chicken/baked chicken/smothered pork chop/hamburger steak/and neck bones. The sides were: cabbage with pig tails/mac and cheese/and red beans and rice. The dinners run $9 each and unfortunately they ran out of corn bread before we got there. We grab our bundles and head home. Gary and Sue are coming to eat with us (which is why we needed six). Mom separates all of the dinners and puts all of the mac and cheese in one bowl, all of the cabbage in another bowl, and reheats those items needing it, before calling everyone to help themselves buffet style from the kitchen. We have a trivia night tonight, but it is early (around 4:00) and we don’t need to leave until 6:30 to head to a bar called Finn McCool’s on Bank Street. I found this place on a list of current trivia/pub quiz nights in the city and this was the best option on the list for us as a team. We arrive around 8:00pm and there are no tables left. Luckily there are four spots at the bar for us to sit while playing. We get the rules from the host and we are off. This place offers frozen Irish coffees which are pretty tasty. I will spare the details of the trivia questions, but we lost. Not even fifth place. Though once the host gives the round category teams have an option to double their score in the round. We took this option on a round called “1960’s music record titles”. As a team it was our only 10/10 round, doubled we got 20 points. Unfortunately we did not fare as well on categories such as dog breeds or legends & mythology. I had a fun evening with the game, though I think dad’s level of interest is directly related to how many questions he can answer. Get in a game that asks questions about sports and pop culture and he will give you all the reasons the game is rigged against him. Throw in geography or tough history and he is back in his element, but some of us like the mix. I thought the prizes were funny, fifth place got a bag of potatoes, second place got a broken computer keyboard, and first place was a $20 bar tab and a Nerf football. Others didn’t see the humor. Anyway, there were a lot of teams and I thought it was a fun game. Tomorrow we will go to dad’s regular game to see if we can do any better. Once again we stop at Old Point for one last beer before calling it a night. 

 
TUESDAY MARCH 14, 2017
We get up and have breakfast at home. The end of cinnamon bun, finally. El and I have made reservations for the 10:00am tour of St. Louis Cemetery #1. I wanted to go at our leisure, but it sounds like the only way to get in is with a group. The tour is $20 each and meets at a church a couple blocks from the cemetery gates. Mom is able to drop us at the church and the guide and group of 25 are collecting inside. The tour takes 1½ hours and is informative enough. Our guide seems to know his stuff and we are able to see the tomb of Marie Laveau who is probably the most famous resident here. You can take photos inside, but any and all video is strictly forbidden. 


Our guide pointed out this weathered sculpture on a tomb in St. Louis #1. I wish there were more of these, as they are usually what I love about cemeteries.


During the course of the tour it is explained that for many years people could come in and walk around, but that the archdiocese that oversees the cemetery was getting fed up with the vandalism that was being committed. So, they completely restored Marie Laveau’s tomb only to have it completely defaced within 24 hours. The archdiocese decided to close the cemetery for good. However, the tourism companies knew what a devastating blow that would be, and suggested that tourists be charged to come into the cemetery, shown around only by licensed guides, and that a portion of the entrance fee be used for cemetery upkeep. This was agreed to and today you can only get into the cemetery with a group. This being the third cemetery we have visited in New Orleans (you know we love cemeteries), I have to say this wasn’t one of the better ones we have seen (I liked Lakewood better). Most of the tombs were very plain and one of the things I like about cemeteries are the sculptures and when tombs are made interesting with some adornment or architecture. Most of these weren’t. Though we were reminded that the acid trip scene in Easy Rider was filmed in the cemetery and when some people did some things in the film that the archdiocese was not happy with, videography of any kind became prohibited…to this day. The grounds are not too big and after the tour we head across the street to the tourist information office to see if we can get a bus map. We are on our way to the Bywater section for lunch at another Guy Fieri recommendation called The Joint. 


Our lunch at The Joint


It is a BBQ place that looked good while he was visiting there. We are pointed to the bus stop and are reminded that rides are $2 each way, but learn that $3 will get you a 24 hour bus/street car pass and you buy it on the bus. We find the bus stop easily and it doesn’t take long for the 88 bus to arrive. We take it a couple miles and get off at St. Claude and Mazant Street. After about a seven block walk down Mazant we arrive at the only restaurant on the block that has a line out the door. Always a good sign, I guess. Once we get inside, I realize that some of the reason for the line is the single order taker who does not seem to be moving with any sense of urgency whatsoever. This gives us enough time to look at the menu and pick our lunch. Knowing we have trivia night at another Irish pub where fish and chips are on special, we don’t want to kill our appetite even though it is several hours away. At the Joint, we split a half rack of ribs and get sides of baked beans & mac and cheese, and split a garden salad with a smoked tomato and onion dressing. The dressing is great. Actually, everything we have is great and the dressing just kicks it up a notch. Full from lunch, El get a slice of pecan pie to go and we walk a little to take some of the lunch off, but our next stop is the National Museum of Pharmacy on Chartres Street. They close at 4:00pm, and we want to get there with enough time to see it all. We find the bus stop heading in the direction of the French quarter. It goes down Decatur Street and drops us just a couple blocks from the museum. We make it before 3:00pm and this gives us an hour. The admission is $5 each and you get the Xerox’d handout to take around with you that explains the things you are surrounded by. The museum is the first floor pharmacy and the second floor doctor’s office of the first licensed pharmacist in New Orleans. Like other museums it really is a pretty extensive collection of what would have been found in a working pharmacy of the 1800’s. From the obvious bottles of herbs and spices used to mix medicine to cocaine and heroin that used to be available to people without a prescription, since pharmacists were allowed to dispense drugs at their discretion before laws changed requiring a doctor’s script. Most of the exhibit cases have cards explaining what you are looking at. As we walk around on the second floor, a window is open a crack and I find myself listening to some pleasant melodies performed on flute. Like Muzak, I recognize some of the tunes. I don’t think much of it beyond that though. We finish up on the first floor taking pictures of an authentic soda fountain (found in a pharmacy so you could get your medicine mixed with soda syrup to make it go down easier. We hand in the Xerox and are on our way. Once on the street, about two doors down, we find ourselves face to face with the flute player. He has no change basket to collect coins for his playing. Since I have been enjoying his tunes for the past several minutes I reach into my pocket and pull out everything in it. It doesn’t amount to more than a dollar or two. With a small fist of coins, as he continues to play, I reach out and slowly drop the money into his breast pocket. He doesn’t miss a beat and finishes the song looking me in the eye while we stand there. When the tune ends, I tell him he needs a change box or hat because his playing is actually standing out in a neighborhood with amazing street musicians. First he thanks me and agrees that he is working on getting a receptacle for coins, but then just starts talking about people, places, and songs we have no idea about. I assume he mistook our admiration of his playing for being totally knowledgeable of local artists and their community. We try to neatly wrap up the conversation, but he just keeps talking- at one point he busts into a dead on rooster crow impression- though I have no idea how we got there. He is telling us about locals he has played with and songs he has either written or played on recordings of. We keep inching away, but he keeps his story going. At some point he asks where we are from and we tell him “New York”. We are trying to make the next ferry and firmly, but politely end the conversation to keep moving on. As we walk down the block focusing on our direction, a lilting rendition of “New York, New York” comes about and El and I both turn around to give our new friend the thumbs up as we continue out of earshot. 


One of the things I appreciate about walking through the French Quarter is the quality of musicianship. This band was amazing.


We are able to catch our ferry. Around 6:00, we head out to a pub called The Irish House which seems to be a regular trivia night for mom and dad. They invite their other player friends and we all meet at the bar. It is rather busy for a Tuesday night and the host is running around assuring everyone that the game is on. Unfortunately, it seems that in a full room, it is a bit of a challenge to get a group of six seated. However, instead of alerting the hostess station that we are in need of a table, we, for some reason, alert the trivia host, who assumes we have talked to the hostess. We sit and wait for a while and our group collects. Again, mind you, we think we have someone keeping an eye out for a table for us, when in reality, the people who arrived behind us who have spoken with the hostess are being seated and we have no seats. It is becoming a comedy of errors. We eventually get a four-top to sit our group of six. The waitress takes our order for drinks and leaves. Sadly, the drinks (all beer and wine) take so long to arrive that in the meantime, the host realizes it is just too busy for the people at the pub to help him get set up and he verbally calls off the game. The waitress returns to find out if we still want our drinks or if we want them cancelled. We take the latter and head out to place that will hopefully be less full. Not knowing the other two in our group I am a little timid to recommend a trivia night at Siberia, but the decision is made to head to Frankie & Johnny's, which is a "locals" eatery near Tipitina's. It is on a side street off Magazine and the people are more likely to be neighborhood people than tourists. The service is much quicker than we got at the Irish House. Everyone seemed to like their meal except me. I ordered a roast beef sandwich, that I assumed was cold cuts between bread with lettuce, tomato, and onion- more like a sub. What I got was a roast beef po'boy, hot, smothered in hot gravy that was inedibly salty. I expect it was probably fine earlier in the day, but as the day winds down to closing time, the gravy must condense and concentrate the salty ingredients. We skip a night cap and just head home to go to bed.


WEDNESDAY MARCH 15, 2017
This should be our last day/night in town- weather permitting. I am able to check into our flight for tomorrow, which is a good sign. Today, we will start at Café Beignet on Royal Street. We tried to go here last time, but they were closed for some reason. We get there around lunchtime and stand in the long line. Here, you order your food at the counter and get a number post when you pay. Then, a runner will bring your food to your table. I get a café au lait, and we split an order of beignets and a turkey and cheese sandwich called a "Decatur". I am pretty sure it took less time to eat the lunch than it did to stand in line to order it. While, fine and decent, El thinks she remembers better café au lait's at both Cafe Du Monde and Morning Call. I can't say I remember what the coffee was like at those places. The food here was fine, but nothing to write home for. I am glad we went, but would probably go to a different place next time. After breakfast/lunch we walk to the Backstreet Cultural Museum which has the most comprehensive collection of New Orleans black culture. Second lines, social clubs, Mardi Gras Indians and a section dedicated to those who have passed on are extensively represented. It is not a very big place, two large rooms and a hallway is all, but it is much bigger than the voodoo museum from Monday. The entrance fee is $10 and while maybe not worth that, we have certainly paid more for less.
 It is quite the colorful place- lots of feathers. 


This room in the Backstreet Cultural Museum with several of the Mardi Gras Indian costumes


I think mom would really like this place as she is much more knowledgeable about this culture than we are. We stay only as long as it takes to go through two big rooms. The young lady working tells us she is available if we have any questions, but I don’t have any. Afterward, we walk back to the ferry, but almost there we realize that we don’t have the exact change needed for the ferry which is $2 each- no change given. Between the two of us we have $3.40 and some twenties. I duck into a Walgreen's and buy a bottle of water to break a $20. I am convinced that this short stop prevents us from making the 2:45 ferry. We miss it by seconds and have to wait 30 minutes for the next one. When we do get on the ferry, we see Sue is on the boat already, so we do a quick catch up and trade stories of our mornings adventures. Once across the river, we stop at the Old Point for a beer to journal and El writes postcards. Tonight mom will make corned beef and cabbage for dinner and Gary and Sue will join us. El and I will pack our bags tonight to be prepared for our early up and out tomorrow (another 3:00am alarm!). The dinner goes as planned and we are done around 6:30. We borrow mom's car to drive to the Saenger Theater for the Experience Hendrix show. This is a three hour tribute to the music of Jimi Hendrix with several accomplished guitar players and singers playing together on Jimi's songs. Some collaborations worked better for me than others, but the show was overall pretty good. The show doesn’t get out until around 11:30 and we walk back to the car. We get home around midnight and we set the alarm for 3:15am for mom and dad to drive us to the airport for our 6:05 flight out. 


The Saenger marquee

IN CONCLUSION

I have said it before that El and I can have a good time anywhere- and that has been proven once again on this trip. One of the tricky things, on this trip in particular, was the circumstance of being tourists in New Orleans for the third time. The thing is that when you travel somewhere for the first time, you will have a list of what I will call "first tier tourism". The things that you always wanted to do should you ever make it there. For us in New Orleans, that was 2011. We did the walk down Bourbon Street, toured the Garden District, went to the lower 9th ward, ate beignets, rode a streetcar, went to Preservation Hall. All stuff that people, like us, think of when they think of New Orleans. Then you have your "second tier tourism" which is either things that got missed from the first tier list, or things that you may have discovered on your first trip that you say, "if I ever come back, I might like to...". For us in New Orleans this was just a year ago when we made our second weeklong trip to the city. We were able to do Mardi Gras, went to City Park, saw some of the French Quarter that is not Bourbon Street, went to Tipitina's etc. This trip we planned to spend just over 24 hours in New Orleans. We would arrive on Sunday night and leave early Tuesday morning. We wouldn't need a "third tier tourism" list because we wouldn’t be here long enough to check anything off the list. However, with the extra 48 hours in town due to the weather we are thrust into putting together an impromptu list. These were the things like the National Pharmacy Museum and Voodoo Museum. Really, mostly all of the stuff we did that were leftovers from the tier two list from last year. I don't think there was any first tier stuff on our agenda this time. Again, it was proven that we can have a great time no matter where we are, even if it is in New Orleans for the third time. I am torn in my feeling about this city in that I like visiting my parents, but I feel that the tourism aspect has been kind of done for us. I would much rather visit another city instead of returning to the same one over and over again. I know you can't pick where your family lives, but maybe we can arrange to meet them somewhere instead of going back to the Big Easy. Either way, I am glad everything worked the way it did. Family time is important and vacation time away from work more so. As for me, I am going to start working on a first tier list for some new city that we can visit next year- and it WON'T be in the state of Louisiana! I shudder to think about putting together a fourth tier list for New Orleans. 

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