Hello again from New Orleans, where we have quickly evolved to deal with the new joys and hazards of our environment.
I can tell how much of a tourist I look like on any given day by the number of guys on the street who ask me some variation of, “hey, I bet you I can tell you where you got your shoes.” The answer is, of course, “on your feet” or “on XYZ street (wherever you’re currently standing.) This is then followed up by a request for money, or in some cases, extended harassment when money isn’t turned over. If I’m carrying my bright blue day pack, or sipping on a novelty drink, I’ll get asked. If I’m walking briskly enough, most people seem to assume I know what I’m doing and where I’m going, and leave me alone. This same phenomenon results in me getting asked for lots of directions, something I’ve given up on doing after realizing I may have sent someone slightly astray. Hope you found that laundromat, sir.
Speaking of laundromats, we don’t have a washer or dryer in our apartment here. So last Monday night, I headed to the local dive bar to do our laundry, as one does. It’s called Checkpoint Charlie. There are cheap beers, chicken nuggets, and a mildly alarming rat presence. There is also a group of semi-broken washing machines and dryers tucked away in the back. I select two clean ones and purchase soap from the bartender, provided in two plastic solo cups for a buck each.
My intention is to enjoy a $2 Miller High Life or two, do our laundry, work on the blog a bit, and get home for the second half of Monday Night Football. This plan was entirely derailed by two new friends, Doug and Deb. Anyone who knows me knows I’m not really an extroverted person; but I’ve come to the conclusion there’s something about me that attracts those people who just really, really want to talk to strangers. Perhaps it’s something about my face or general look, but it’s happened often enough traveling in the past few years that it’s become a trend. I was immediately intrigued by these two when they described themselves as “regulars, but not locals.”
They proceeded to hold court on pretty much any issues I would listen to them on, including but not limited to: vaccines, gay and lesbian rights, the proper beers to order in dive bars, the state of Indiana, the city of Las Vegas, and much more. I got about three sentences in edgewise in about an hour, but it was a pleasant enough way to spend some time, even if put me behind on some writing. I truly do enjoy these conversations, so people of America – come talk to me! I may even buy you the proper dive bar beer, which I’ve been told is a Miller High Life (I agree, incidentally.)
Incidentally, this also was the week where we got our shoes all over New Orleans’ many neighborhoods outside of our Marigny/French Quarter home.
On Wednesday, I hopped a ferry from Canal Street to Algiers. Other than a trip to Best Buy, this is my first time on the West Bank, or as I would soon be told, “the best bank” (as opposed to the east or “least bank.) The $2 ferry takes less than five minutes to cross the Mississippi, making it more convenient than driving in most cases.
When you arrive, you’re less than a mile from the heart of the French Quarter. You can even hear faint strains of jazz drifting over the river from performers in Jackson Square. But Algiers Point feels like a different universe. It’s got the same incredible and unique homes, but without any of the residual sketchiness of some other areas I’ve explored.
It feels like an honest to goodness small-town neighborhood, with people greeting one another, sitting on their porches, and enjoying a midday drink at one of their local pubs, the Crown and Anchor. Remember when I said there was something about me that just encourages strangers to engage me? Yeah.
This time, we immediately hit it off when he said he was planning on hitting the road with his wife to travel the country in their trailer. He was thrilled to learn I write about RVs professionally, and I was thrilled to learn he actually reads some of the blogs I write for. We chatted about RVs, Helen, his favorite Air Force postings (Homestead, FL), and his beloved Best Bank. I even scored an invite to a Friday night party at his place in Terrytown, and though I gave him my email and blog info, the details never materialized. I didn’t take it personally, though Morgan would have been all over that invite.
I also got to take in a bit of Mid-City up at City Park. Copious crawfish debris aside (it’s a real problem down here!), it’s a gorgeous 1,300 acre expanse of several hundred year old oaks, green spaces, and lagoons. It suffered fairly serious damage during Katrina, and lost hundreds of its oaks, though thousands still remain.
It’s also the home of the New Orleans Museum of Art, a mini-golf course, amusement park, and the New Orleans Botanical Gardens, which I visited. In the midst of the pure chaos that surrounds where we spend a lot of our time here in New Orleans, a quiet stroll in the fresh air was a perfect change of pace. The Japanese-style and edible gardens were pretty cool, but one thing I would not recommend, however, is visiting the rainforest exhibit on an already-humid, 80-degree New Orleans day (yes, in December.) I’m fairly sure I lost about a third of the water in my body in there for a minute or two, but the outdoors seemed especially comfortable after.
City Park is just north of the Bayou St. John neighborhood, so I took a little stroll through there as well. As improbable as it looks, this tiny, relatively under-the-radar neighborhood is actually where the first French explorers made landfall in the area after heading inland from Lake Ponchartrain.
I’ve discovered there’s a moment in each of our stops so far when I look at the research I did before arriving and realize I’ve checked off nearly everything in the city itself, save for a few items I have planned with Morgan for the weekend. This was Thursday. The result? I’m starting to dip into the stranger things, and this is how I ended up at the Pharmacy Museum. It’s located here in New Orleans at the former shop of the first licensed pharmacist in the state of Louisiana, and the entire United States for that matter.
It’s a great place to develop very intense gratitude for modern medicine unless you’re into dangerous things like mercury, heroin, and formaldehyde, or hilariously ineffective things like gold- and silver-plated pills (as a status symbol) which didn’t actually do anything other than maybe poison you. Stay tuned for even weirder museums to come!
You may notice there’s a lot more “I” this week and a lot less “we” this week. This is unfortunately due to a hellacious cold Morgan acquired after last weekend that I, once again, somehow miraculously escaped. Thankfully, she was COVID negative and is now back to normal. In any case, it resulted in a bit of a quieter week for us both, perhaps a blessing in disguise as we enter the home stretch here in Crescent City.
Friday night, a newly-recovered Morgan and I ventured out to Frenchman Street and were lucky enough to grab a table at Adolfo’s, a Creole Italian spot that’s been a neighborhood favorite for decades. Some people waited around two hours for a table; somehow, Morgan and I were seated pretty much immediately and enjoyed an amazing dinner that basically consisted of (something delicious) topped with (several other delicious things). In my case, it was veal topped with crab, shrimp, crawfish, and capers. I would call it a “death row last meal”-worthy dinner, and I didn’t even get to eat the bread.
On weekend nights, Frenchman Street has a much different vibe than a few blocks away on Bourbon. I would consider it the slightly hip, more relaxed 30-something cousin of the drunken college student with emotional issues that is the French Quarter. We shopped at a night art market and then caught some live music at Cafe Negril, and of course, right on the street.
Fresh and lively as could be (not really), we headed out on Saturday morning to conquer yet another area of the city. We strolled Royal Street, checking out both the chandelier and breast-apron shops on the way to the St. Charles Avenue Streetcar. This is something I’d been looking forward to for most of our time here – sharing a serene streetcar ride through the Garden District and uptown New Orleans on a beautiful day, checking out the area’s ornate homes and hopping on and off to explore the local area.
Unfortunately, after 30 minutes of waiting and much frustration, no streetcars showed up. Without much of a plan, we hopped in an Uber and made our way to Magazine Street, several miles of restaurants, bars, boutique shopping and other small businesses running from uptown all the way to the central business district. After a little more shopping and strolling, we happened upon a spot that may figure more prominently in future blogs, Ms. Mae’s.
What makes it special, you ask? It’s a chill dive bar – but there are plenty of those in New Orleans. They have cheap drinks, but again, New Orleans. What sets it apart, you ask? Not only is Ms. Mae’s open 24-hours-a-day, it offers a 24-Hour Challenge for anyone brave enough to attempt it. It’s fairly simple – 24 drinks in 24 hours. But there’s no drinking a few drinks and taking a nap here. To complete the challenge, you’ll need to have one drink an hour for the entire day you’re there – no sleeping, no puking, no “getting ahead” by having extra drinks, and no leaving the bar.
The more alcoholically educated among you may know that your body typically processes one standard drink per hour; this is not a drinking challenge as much as a physical and mental endurance challenge. By the end, you’re more likely to be tired and hungover than intoxicated in any way, and you’ve just spend the last day of your life in a dark, loud, slightly sticky bar with a Prince-themed bathroom (there was a purple toilet and because I’m a mature 31-year-old man I’m not going to make any Purple Rain jokes.)
I haven’t stayed up that long since college, though to be fair I was probably drinking about 24 beers the last time it happened too. My daring fellow correspondent Morgan believes she can do it; we even went as far as discussing what time would be the right time to start (10 or 11 am, so you get the excitement of the night crowd as you hit the halfway point) and the possibility of doing it for a good cause (beyond some solid gold blog content.) Updates perhaps to come.
On Sunday, we took a drive to The End of the World. Or at least the corner of it located in southeastern Louisiana. From our little corner in one of the most hectic neighborhoods in one of the most lively cities in the world, we steered ourselves south on Highway 23. The city sprawl turned into suburbia, and suburbia turned into, well, nothing. We ran along the course of the Mississippi nearly the entire time – this was, after all, the final segment of the Great River Road. But rarely did we see the damn thing, behind levees, oil and gas facilities, woods, and other obstructions. We even hopped off the tiny Louisiana Route 23 onto the even-tinier parish road that ran as close to the river as you could get without driving on the levee. Somewhere along this route, Morgan hit a puddle at near full speed that turned out to be to roughly the depth of the Panama Canal. From then on, we stayed on the main road and drove along some of the honest to goodness saddest looking communities I’ve ever seen.
Seldom did more than two or three homes pass by without spotting one with fluorescent blue tarps stretched over some of all of the roof. Some mobile homes were toppled over on their sides, and others were just ripped open along the sides, leaving the piles of ruined possessions in full view of highway drivers. The sides of the road were lined with debris, from trash cans and coolers to full size refrigerators. This area was devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005; it took another walloping this fall, from Hurricane Ida. Perhaps my future kids someday won’t even have the chance to travel out here, as Louisiana is losing an astounding 51 acres a day of wetlands.
For whatever reason, for better or worse, there are still a few thousand people down here hanging in there, mostly running some of the dozens of charter fishing tours or working in the energy industry. Or, alternatively, just digging. There were quite a few construction crews out here just clearing large areas of land for no discernible reason. It was all vaguely menacing in a way we couldn’t quite put out fingers on, but also very beautiful in a strange way too.
I feel an apology is in order to our readers. The road does not, in fact, go on forever. At least in southern Louisiana. We hit the southernmost point in the early afternoon, just past the town of Venice. Like most ends of the road, it was appropriately underwhelming. Nothing other than a shack, some discarded lumber, and the roar of the nearby Halliburton facility. Nonetheless, it was still mind boggling knowing just how far out we were. So we did as anyone would, and ate some fried shrimp at Louisiana’s southernmost restaurant, and turned around and headed back.
Nick and Morgan