Hello nurse! I am traveling around the US and writing about it, and there seems to be no end in sight unless I die or go to prison or something.
US Tour Day 60: From Houston to New Orleans
I'm tired of writing. I'm so far behind with documenting my adventures that the task ahead of me is just depressing. It's hard to be excited about writing when it feels like a gigantic mountain of chores. And, I'm feeling down a lot lately, as I miss Andie more and more each day. It's not helping with my motivation.
Anyways, I tried to wake up early to leave Houston, but it didn't work. My body was just starving for sleep, so I let it have what it needed. After two months of sleepless nights I was quite overjoyed to finally find a place where I could actually sleep for eight hours uninterrupted. And, Paige was a big fan of the sleeping, so she never woke me up. She was too busy being asleep.
After waking up two hours later than planned I packed my little car and got on the road towards New Orleans. Packing my car has gotten easier and easier each time I leave a city. I am now finding creative, new places to jam my belongings. Like, my scarf is crammed into the space behind my windshield wiper reservoir. My shoe care kit is behind my tire jack. My container of 7–in–1 penetrating oil is stashed under the fuel filler cap. I feel like a dirty little squirrel, forever on a mission too find clever places to stash nuts.
I didn't spend enough time in Houston to really get close to the city, so there wasn't the usual separation anxiety I get when I leave a place. (Although I must admit I was sad to leave my insanely generous host, Paige, and her boyfriend Ronnie.) But I was there long enough to know one thing is for sure: Houston is the dividing point between East and West in the USA.
The Texan landscape east of Houston was littered with urban and suburban sprawl and the depressing nature rape of petroleum refineries and other ugly reminders of the industry that keeps our cars on the road.
I stopped to fill the tank of my car with some fruits of their labor at a gas station in Orange, Texas—the last Texan town before Louisiana. Orange was dismal and for the first time I felt like I was no longer in the Southwest. There was no more west here—none. I was in the South now.
A black woman walked down the street wearing a bandanna on her head. Two young black girls with corn rows played in the street. An emaciated white girl with stringy hair about twenty years old drove a limping, barely functioning Dodge Reliant K into the gas station. The body of the car was dented all over. Another car in even worse condition pulled in. A grown man on a BMX bicycle rode by. His shirt and jeans were filthy. The woman working inside the gas station looked like she was drowning under the weight of countless unhappy moments that had been piled upon her since the beginning of her time. I smiled at her. She didn't smile back. She just grunted and tried to ignore me. Paint lept from the façades of the houses. I breathed in the air. It smelled like the absence of hope.
I stopped for lunch a few hours later in Louisiana. The landscape was beautiful—tall trees and colorful bushes reminded me of the south of Sweden or northern Poland—but the town felt and looked and smelled just like Orange. I ate at a place with a French–sounding name that advertised po–boys on the sign outside. It was a fast food place. But, instead of having the immaculate, futuristic kitchen equipment I would expect to see in a fast food place they had what looked a lot like a normal kitchen. The people looking there looked normal, too. They weren't wearing uniforms—they came to work in their regular clothes. I didn't quite understand what was going on, so I distracted myself by ordering food. Or, by trying to order food.
I didn't know what anything on the menu was. There were po–boys and gumbo and a list of prices of buying things by the pound that didn't explain exactly what it was that you actually were buying by the pound. I asked the woman what a po–boy was, dotting my sentence with humble apologies for being an ignorant Californian. She said that it was, and I'm not kidding, "like a sandwich". It was like a sandwich?
I figured that most things either were or were not sandwiches. My car is not a sandwich. A hamburger is a sandwich. An airplane is not a sandwich. A peanut butter and jelly sandwich is a sandwich. I wanted to tell her that this is really cut and dry: it's either a sandwich or it isn't. And, if it was only like a sandwich then I wanted to know about those remaining characteristics which made it unlike a sandwich. I am happy with sandwichlike characteristics in food. It was the un–sandwichlike things that had me all worried.
Now, I didn't want to let her know how concerned I was that the food I was about to order may have been dangerously un–sandwichlike. It would've just confused her. So, I played it cool and just ordered—a catfish po–boy, please, no mayo.
After about the same amount of time it takes to cook a complete French four–course meal from scratch the nice lady nodded to me that my food was ready. It turned out that what I got was a little too sandwichlike for my tastes—especially after the long wait. There was bread. There was meat—in this case, deep–fried catfish. There was lettuce. There was tomato. If you're waiting for me to list other components, then you can go ahead and stop waiting. There were no other components to this foodstuff. And it wasn't even all that good—even dousing it with Tabasco did little for the experience. Basically, it was boring and it sucked and my stomach felt heavy and angry over the whole bread and deep–fried fish thing.
Lethargic and feeling half–poisoned by the food, I got back in my car and continued east towards Metairie. I was eager to get there—I'd be visiting my godfather—and I was eager to finish up the last three hours of my drive.
Once in Metairie, my first stop was a daquiri place right off the freeway. It sure wasn't hard to spot this place. Cleverly–named Daquiri's, their sign bore a large picture of a daquiri in a to–go styrofoam cup. I had heard that you can purchase alcohol in to–go containers in Louisiana, and I wanted to be able to say that the very first thing I did once I reached the New Orleans area was go into someplace and buy alcohol to–go.
The bartender asked me what I wanted and my eyes scanned the array of daquiri machines, each one spinning alcohol and sugar and flavorings around and around. It looked like a long row of clothes dryers at a laundromat, except each one had a spigot. Overwhelmed by the many choices, I suggested he should just give me his favorite one.
Again apologizing for being Californian and ignorant, I asked him if it was true that I could take alcohol out of the place I bought it and drink it in public. He nodded yes. Just in case this was all part of a huge joke on me, I asked him if he was sure. He nodded again. So, you are seriously going to sell me one of these drinks and I am going to walk out on to the street and then into my car and drive away with it? "Yes, sir", he said.. I don't drink alcohol much, but if there was any time to drink some it was right then. Who can resist the novelty factor of doing something which is illegal where you come from simply because it's not illegal here? NOT ME!
I put my daquiri in my car and drove the final mile to my godfather's place. He and his wife seemed very excited to see me—they had a room all made up for me and they talked fast in order to tell me as many things as they could in as short a time as possible. I made sure to show them my daquiri, pointing to it and reminding myself more than them that I purchased alcohol, walked out of the bar, drove with it, and was now drinking it.
They'd heard that joke before, though. They were over it. They had more important things to talk with me about, such as their children and grandchildren and great–grandchildren and their names and where they were all living. They told me about the Elks lodge and additions they'd made to their house and how they had a new truck. I tried to remember as many names and facts as I could, which turned out to be none at all. I wish I had someone who could be excited about my daquiri with me, I thought silently to myself.
There wasn't much time for chit–chat, though. We had to hustle. We would be spending the evening at an all you can drink Oktoberfest celebration in downtown New Orleans. John explained that there would be home–brewed beers and wines and a buffet of German fare for us to gorge ourselves on. I'd only been in New Orleans for an hour and my godfather was already showing me that even at 65 years old he was prepared to outparty me and any of my yankee friends.
And he did. He drank me under the table. So did everyone else there. This really isn't hard to do, since I weigh a few pounds more than nothing and I rarely drink. Plus, I don't like beer much. Ok, that's not true. I don't like beer at all. I would go so far as to say that I hate beer. The crowd at this place was what I would call professional beer consumers. I'm not talking about alcoholics of the garden variety. I mean that these people were the sort that brew their own beers and wines and spend lots of time in social situations revolving around such hobbies.
I felt very sober and young and thin in this crowd. I was clearly the youngest person in the place. Most everyone else was between 50-60 with the occasional person in their thirties or forties. Most everyone was overweight, waistbands stretching out to accommodate liter after liter of beer and sausage after sausage. I was a little jealous of them, to be honest. Eating is fun, and I often wish I could eat more. Just think of their sheer capacity! Oh well, maybe with practice I can get there someday.
Everyone was nice, and people made a real effort to start conversations with me—ignoring my hair and piercings and age. And, as the evening continued people got even friendlier as they got drunker. I toyed with the thought of seducing a tipsy fifty–something woman or two, but dismissed it as idle folly. Maybe someday, but not tonight. There wouldn't have been time, as I was supposed to meet Epiphany in New Orleans after the Oktoberfest anyways.
I gave hugs to my godfather and his wife and shook hands with the many happy people I talked with and went out to meet Epiphany. She was taking me to some shady bar on the outskirts of the French Quarter. Her friend told her about this place and suggested that it was where all the alternative sort of folks hung out.
What he didn't tell us was that it was an underground renegade sort of place—not an actual zoned establishment. So there was no sign, no storefront, and nothing else to help us find the place. We asked neighbors (who turned out to live right next door to it) and they'd never even heard of the place. So, we walked around for quite a while before finally finding the unmarked alley that lead to the unmarked building where the bar was waiting for us. I can't talk about where it is, what it looked like, or what happened there, though. By entering I promised I would not write publicly (in any journalistic capacity, paid or unpaid) about what went on—at least not in any identifying manner.
I can say this, though: The bar was owned and run by a musician who I'm a big fan of—and he was there that evening running things! I met him and took a picture of us doing the Elvis–Nixon handshake pose! People there were dressed in a sort of Renaissance meets post apocalyptic garb—very costumey and ironic. Every single detail was strange—electrical contraptions and odd creations decorated the scene. The only word I could use to describe the scene without getting into too much detail would be surreal. I took some pictures, but they didn;t really capture the magic of the place. And, I can't post most of them anyways.
So I sat on my barstool for hours—continuing to be satisfied and entertained by what had been given to me exactly unlike a child is four hours after opening his toys on Christmas morning—repeating once again like a broken record how cool everything was and how much fun I was having.
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