Friday, August 07, 2009

NOLA to Hattiesburg

New Orleans was in the grips of a rainless month in June, although the humidity was quite high. All the Spanish moss had shriveled up back onto the branches of the oak trees, resembling the arm hairs of a hirsute 70s porn star. While our room was nicely conditioned, it was a bit of a shock to leave the building early in the morning and find it so hot and sunny. We asked the person at the front desk if he could recommend another coffee and beignet place that was not the madhouse at Cafe du Monde, and he suggested a more low-key competitor. The beignets were hot, fresh, and delicious, and we subbed the normal cafe au lait with the iced version. The one sour note was that, in spite of it being in a courtyard that really only served the restaurant, it still smelled like stale vomit. The French Quarter gets up in my nose when I go there and won't let go till I leave the neighborhood. We walked down to the nearly shadeless waterfront park to say hi to the Miss-sipp, then went to go check out and hit the road to start our epic journey. Shortly in we discovered that our GPS unit didn't work, most likely because there was a blown fuse for the electrical hookup.

Not having a destination except for Burlington in 10 days made it a little tricky to decide when to stop, but we pretty much stopped everywhere that looked interesting. It was too early to get po' boys, but we kept our eyes open for some place that might have them as we drove. (For some reason all the Asian places we passed referred to them as "poor boys".) Our first stop was the Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge. There was a little parking lot with some interpretive signs and a boardwalk out over the water. We saw some cool birds and dragonflies and stuff. Back in the car, Jack got a shot of the sign as we started our Route 11 journey a few miles down the road.

A mile or so further on, we passed through Irish Bayou, a community that amounts to a strip of land bordering either side of the road, and water beyond. It was apparently almost entirely destroyed during Katrina, but seemed to be back in operation by the time we drove by. The one thing that was undamaged was the castle house, which looked like it probably ate hurricanes for breakfast. We stopped at a gas station for water, a LA map and a convenience store lemon pie.

Next we crossed Lake Pontchartrain and sang all the songs we knew about it (1), then headed into Slidell and sang all the songs we knew about it (also 1). We cut away from 11 to head towards Abita Springs, thinking it would be cool if we capped both ends of our trip with brewery tours. The brew pub was pretty much the only game in town, judging by the throngs of people inside waiting for a table, but the actual brewery sits far outside of town. Before we headed out there we stopped by the town museum, situated in a former train station, and hit the water park fountain.

Parking was nearly impossible at the brewery, but eventually we scored one of the last spots. Once we had been given wristbands which cleared us for drinking and were issued our plastic cups, we got in line for the freeeee beer from the taps behind the bar. Since we were so late for the tour, we only got a single beer which we drank while watching the introductory movie, but there were people who were pouring themselves a brew and immediately getting to the back of the line, so some must've managed to get down three or more before we went down onto the factory floor. I bet the tour was a regular thing for some locals--cheaper than a drive-thru daiquiri.

The tour was terrible--the woman was speaking through a megaphone and was almost entirely incomprehensible and she was also reading from a piece of paper. It was almost like she wanted to admit that people were on the tour as a courtesy and really wished they could just get back to the free beer. Which, before too long, they did, but not before I noted that they were using some Sharples centrifuges in there. There was a sign over the water fountain that it had pure spring water piped into it, so I filled up my cup and weaved my way through the people who were back in line and headed for the open road again.

Before too long we had crossed the border into Mississippi and were thinking about where to stay.
At Hattiesburg we bought MS and AL maps and went to the very nice train station. It was obviously a large junction point for freight, but at that hour there were only some idled cars with graffiti and a rusting engine. We thought they'd have tourist information, but the station was shut tight, as was the most of the rest of downtown on this Saturday afternoon. We came up with some Plan Bs for places to spend the night and eat and then settled on the Western Motel and Brownstones, respectively. The former was out by the strip malls, but the price was good and the room was quiet. The young woman at the front desk reminded me of the columnist Jean Teasdale from The Onion--I could just see her going home to her apartment cluttered with cats and her wacky earring collection. She was trying to ignore the skinny, nervous guy pacing in the lobby who didn't seem to have anywhere else to go.

We headed out for an okay meal with local beer at Brownstones, and then watched part of a really long train pass by down the street. We returned to the hotel and took a walk in the dark down some quiet residential streets and then got some Lazy Magnolia Southern Pecan ale for drinkin'. Although there didn't seem to be much going on in the city since college was not in session, after dark there were a fair number of people cruising in their shiny vehicles, playing loud music and looking at each other.

None of that for us, though. It was time to rest and get refreshed for another day on the road.