I am irritated this morning. What a way to start the day. Here I am traveling on a limited budget, and the McDonalds restaurant in LaPlace, Louisiana just charged me four dollars for a sausage biscuit, a hash brown, and a bottle of water. I did not even want a bottle of water. I wanted a cup of water. When I asked the lady about it (after I had paid of course) she said that a cup of water would cost me $1.09 and that a bottle was $1.39. This is just one more reason for me to hate McDonalds. I only ate here because this restaurant is part of the Wal-Mart Supercenter where I spent the night. And to top it all off, no free Wi-Fi.
This town stands in huge contrast to my adventures of yesterday, which began with Mary Katherine’s mother graciously allowing me to take a shower at their house before I set out for Gator Alley. Gator Alley is a board walk in Daphne, across the bay from Mobile, which is free to the public and is known for the many alligators that you can see swimming, or sunning themselves along the shore. I personally saw three.
From Gator Alley, I travelled across the unreasonably long causeway and through a tunnel to Downtown Mobile. Mobile has a very peaceful feel at 9:00 on a Monday morning. I spent a short time cruising around the streets, taking time to stop at a rare book store and a large, well manicured park. The thing that impressed me the most about Mobile was the way people treated each other. These people are true southerners. As I was walking, I saw a table and umbrella blow over outside of a corner restaurant. Almost immediately, a gentleman down the street walked over to the restaurant, notified the wait staff, and offered to help them. This sounds like a small thing, but you do not see this kind of behavior in many other cities.
On my way from Mobile to New Orleans, I decided to stop by Biloxi, Mississippi. Now I had never heard much about Biloxi, so I was amazed when I found that it was a beautiful beach town, with old houses on one side of the road, and unobstructed ocean view on the other. After hurricane Katrina destroyed several of the oak trees that lined the road, people carved the remaining stumps and branches into sculptures.
When I finally arrived in New Orleans, I was immediately struck by the smell of human waste, a smell that I stopped noticing within a few minutes. The Garden District was just as beautiful as everyone claims that it is. I was spoken to by several people as I walked among the old houses and stately oak trees. Without knowing, I parked my truck directly in front of the former home of Ann Rice, one of my favorite authors.
From the Garden District I made my way to the French Quarter, where I spent three hours exploring the old streets and Spanish style buildings. I was uncomfortable with the amount of voodoo and fortune telling that abounded on the streets of this city. I stopped in many small art galleries as I wound my way through the ancient city.
It was almost time for me to leave, and I could already tell that in spite of New Orleans beauty, I was ready to move on to a new place, so I decided that I would take advantage of my one opportunity to have a drink on bourbon street. I changed in the back of my truck and then made my way to the north end of Bourbon Street, away from the strip joints, past the GLBT clubs to a little place called Blacksmith Bar.
The Blacksmith Bar is said to be the oldest building that is currently used as a bar. The structure was built in 1722 and eventually served as a front for the smuggling activities of the pirate Laffite, who would later assisted in the defense of Mobile from the British invaders. In 1782 the structure was converted into a charming, low key bar.
It was here that I met Caroline, the Cubs loving geologist from Chicago. Caroline talked with me for more than an hour about travelling, school, work, and life in general. Caroline works with an organization that does research on super contaminated soils in accident areas. She is serving a five month stint in New Orleans dealing with redevelopment and the creation of green space after Katrina, before she heads off to Texas to be closer to her boyfriend.
It was refreshing to have a long conversation with someone that I did not have to instigate. Years from now, I will not remember the art gallery that I passed or the house that I photographed. I will remember Caroline and the Blacksmith Bar, and the earthy feel of New Orleans.
Before we go, I have one final memory of New Orleans that I would like to share with you. A couple stagger to the left and right as they drunkenly make their way down the street. I smile as I pass them.
“Hey! I remember you!” The man grins as he talks, “ I saw you BEFORE I was drunk!”