Wednesday, July 22, 2009


If that Myers-Briggsish seminar we took at work recently confirmed one critical component of my personality, it's that I'm not good at planning vacations. I'm content to skim a guidebook and turn down the corners of a couple pages containing the highlights of a given place, which I may or may not get to depending on how interesting wandering the streets is.

Jack had some illness of lethargy which prevented him from conducting his normal amount of research. I was getting over a sickness myself, and was a few days ahead of Jack in terms of recovery. My main goal for the first day of the trip was not to cough so much upon boarding the plane that they kicked me off and stranded me at home. Everything else was a bonus. Jack had prepared a good set of notes on MS and AL, and I wrote down a couple of things about NY. We were bringing a book about TN, too. My major preparation effort was going to the Roadside America site and coming up with a list of every wacky thing within 30 miles of Rte. 11. We decided to forgo purchasing maps, since we could pick them up at welcome centers or tourist information centers.

Up until the minute the cab arrived we were throwing stuff in bags and getting ourselves ready in the most disorganized manner possible. Generally speaking I'm of a mind that as long as one has a credit card (and a passport if one is going overseas) then everything will ultimately be fine. It wasn't long after we got to the airport, however, that we discovered that we (I) had somehow inadvertently left Jack's detailed notes at home. That deflated a bit of our anticipatory excitement, although he did manage to remember some highlights.

We got off the plane, got our rental car, and asked one of the staff where she thought we might get a good breakfast nearby. She suggested driving the non-highway route into New Orleans. The road was peppered with various edge-area sights: box stores, vacant lots, decaying older strip malls. This one had a difference, though; every so often we'd pass a drive-thru daiquiri joint. It was thus dubbed the "Drinkin' and Drivin' Highway".

A pancake house with a good sign beckoned us from the side of the road. We went in and got seated at a booth. Our waitress was very friendly in the Southern manner. I asked her what she suggested off the menu and we finally arrived at a Belgian waffle with pecans. Whoever heard of such a thing?? Jack got pigs in blankets: pancakes wrapped around breakfast sausages. I got the better of the two. Very fresh pecans both in the batter and on top of the waffle. It was excellent.

Knowing we were too early to check into the hotel, we took a bit of a roundabout route to get there. On the way, we happened to see an estate sale sign. It was a Friday, and frequently the best pickings can be found before the weekend hordes descend. We made a snap decision to stop in to see what kinds of things people down south kept. We parked and then Jack was asked to move the car back by an elderly woman who had apparently never street-parked in her life, since you could easily fit a Shriner car in the space between the two vehicles.

The house was an upstairs-downstairs duplex and we wandered the lower floor looking at the years of accumulated stuff which was remarkably similar to the stuff you find in NoVA. The last room had they holy grail: Heywood-Wakefield end tables at a price unheard of up here. We did one of those "I-don't-know-what-to-do" agonizing dances for a minute, and then decided that if they could fit in our rental car we should take them. We announced this to the salesperson and she emphasized what a great deal we were getting. She offered to throw in a couple of books for free, which was a bonus since we had planned on getting books on the road.

They fit in the car, and so we made off with them and then went to the hotel to check in. Our room wasn't ready yet so we left our bags and drove back towards the Garden District for a wander. It was midday and very hot. Fortunately, the shops beckoned with open doors and icily blasting AC, so we got some breaks once in a while. After stopping for drinks at a bar, we made our way back in the direction we came via side streets, which were quiet and still. Katrina's impact was still evident: some houses were marked with the symbols that emergency responders used in the aftermath, some were left to rot, and others were being slowly consumed by vines. It was sad that such a beautiful neighborhood was still so visibly suffering.

Once back at the hotel we got our room and had a siesta before turning our thoughts to dinner. We decided to go back to Herbsaint, where we had gone last time we were in town. I don't know whether it was because there was no large conference town or because of summer torpor or the slow recovery, but we had no problem getting a table during prime time at this award-winning restaurant.

We both got cocktails, Jack a sazerac and me a Pimms cup. Jack got a dish of gumbo and a plate of pan-fried gnocci with ham and asparagus, and I got a tomato and burrata salad and pork belly with creamed corn. The waiter "didn't take [me] for a pork belly type." I wonder what he would've picked out for me? It was all very satisfying, but Jack won this round.

After that we took a stroll around the French Quarter. I realize why the French Quarter exists, and that people like it, but it is just not my thing. There were fewer people there as well, which meant fewer bands playing music. We stopped into the TI for a map of LA but they didn't have one, although they did have ghost tours aplenty. We walked over to the Faubourg Marigny and nothing of interest caught our ear, so we headed back towards the hotel. We stopped in Jackson Square for a bit, took in the sight of the punk teens and the palm readers, and then called it a night.

Monday, July 06, 2009

God bless America.

"I love your Americana decor, and the wagonwheel table just screams 'western euthanasia'!"

Who can we blame for this typo? The loss of good copyeditors at newspapers? Poor spellers who rely too heavily on spell checkers who also don't notice when their second letter is obviously incorrect? Bill Gates? All of the above?