I did it. I had the best beignets in New Orleans this morning! When I Googled “best beignets in New Orleans,” Café du Monde got high marks for their beignets and café au lait, so that was my first stop this morning. Of course, the Board of Health said Max wasn’t welcome but the friendly staff get around it by having him sit outside the railing next to my table! The waitress even brought him a styro cup of water…
It was chilly this morning, and we sat at a table in the sun, which made a huge difference. There was a young man outside on the sidewalk, playing beautiful guitar music the whole time I was there. When we left, a man and woman were dancing to his music!
We walked to the riverfront, and discovered a film crew – QUIET EVERYBODY! including passersby like us! I asked what was being filmed, and was told it was part of an episode of the HBO series Tremé, which I’ve never seen. It was fun to see the whole setup; lots of lights and gear, people standing around with cups of coffee, clipboards, etc. Since I’m not familiar with the show, I don’t know who the actors were – sorry, if you are a fan!
After that diversion, we began walking around the Jackson Square area, and almost immediately met a woman who thought Max was “such a beautiful dog!” (Big surprise there…) She asked if I knew about the dog park – NO, I didn’t! – and gave me easy directions to Dauphine Street then 4 blocks to Governor somebody or other street.
The dog park was wonderful – totally enclosed by a nice NOLA style fence (translation: brick and wrought iron), and lots of shade, water for the dogs, and chairs for the owners. There was one other dog and owner there when we arrived, and Max made friends with Bree, an 8-month-old female Australian Shepherd almost immediately. Ditto for me and her owner, Evelyn.
As we chatted and watched the two puppies romp around other dogs showed up, mostly in pairs. Two Great Danes (Ulp! will they be friendly? They were.); a beautiful black and white Great Dane girl puppy, all gangly legs and tail; two Italian shepherds (the breed name escapes me), also large dogs, but extremely gentle; and several mixed breed dogs.
Max and Bree played together for almost an hour until I realized I needed to get back to the car before the meter ran out, so off we went. Evelyn and Bree had a commitment too, so we all four left at the same time.
On the way to the car, realizing that I was planning to leave NOLA today, I decided that another order of beignets and café au lait would be a great sendoff to the Garden District. I put Max in the car, more quarters in the parking machine, and headed back to Café du Monde for takeout. Perfect Elevenses, as they say in England!
When I got back to the car, I pulled out the handy dandy tourist guide to NOLA and figured out how to get to the Garden District for our little self-guided tour. It was easier than some of the jaunts the GPS has sent me on! By the way, I’ve given her the name Vanessa – and we sometimes carry on conversations as she tells me to “Continue to highlighted route,” or “in point four miles, please turn right on…” and I answer with “Alright Vanessa! I’m doing it!” She can be very bossy, and she gets really annoyed when I miss a turn and she has to re-calculate the route.
By 12:30, we had seen enough and were on our way out of town. I know! All you friends who love NOLA probably think I’m nuts for leaving so quickly! BUT, it WAS chilly, it’s hard to do a lot with a dog: Can’t go into most shops, hard to find a place for lunch where he is welcome as well… you know the drill.
I decided to take Route 90 West and pick up I-10 later, thinking that 90 would take us through some small towns and interesting landscape as it looped sort of southwest then north to meet up with 10. BIG MISTAKE. Oh, it took us through small towns alright. Stoplights that all seemed to turn red just as we approached, mostly the strip mall edges of the small towns. So, nothing interesting, nothing breathtakingly beautiful.
I had a lot of time to think as I drove today. I was in what I called a “cell phone swamp” for a couple of days last weekend – where I didn’t have cell service, so couldn’t make or receive calls, or access any data for research about where I was. Today, I realized that I have been in a public radio black hole and I miss NPR! Down here in the South, the left side of the dial is filled with Christian stations, and there’s a dearth of public radio. Sometimes, I’ll get a faint signal filled with static and interference. I can hear those familiar voices in there, but it’s too difficult to try and decipher what they are saying.
Today, WWOZ, New Orleans’ Jazz and Heritage station, accompanied me with the blues for a couple of hours, and I was so happy to have them along! When their signal finally buzzed out, I turned the radio off and hoped I’d drive into another station’s signal later in the afternoon. Unfortunately, that never happened.
After what seemed like DAYS, we finally connected with I-10 and started to make some good time (speed limit is usually 70 MPH on interstates down here). Cruising along, headed for Sulphur, Louisiana, and wondering WHY it’s named Sulphur. I was thinking it might be because of oil refineries or oil drilling. My daughter Cindy suggested maybe they used to mine sulphur there. I still don’t know the answer.
I was shocked to realize that I still had almost 2 hours to go and it was already 3:45. I had that much more time to continue thinking about what I was hoping to find on this journey. I left expecting to find small towns that still had a small town attitude – you know the one I’m thinking of, that open, friendly, everybody-knows-everybody kind of place. The kind of place that has a small diner or restaurant that’s been around forever and if you asked where to eat that’s where they’d tell you to go.
I expected to meet people from these towns, have some sort of conversation with them, learn something from them, and maybe teach them something in return. I’d like to say I’m not complaining, but I guess, to some extent, I am.
From my experience over the past 26 days, it feels like small town America has vanished, subsumed by the interstate system and its accompanying chains of fast food, shopping, and motels. I think the real small towns – the ones I hoped to find – are so far off the beaten track that they only get found by folks who know someone who knows the town.
Those two lane roads I wanted to take? Well, they seem to be more like four lanes divided by a grassy median, with endless stoplights, gas stations, fast food, Publix or Winn-Dixie or Piggly Wiggly stores, billboards for everything from the Virgin Mary “This is my time” to lawyers advertising for all kinds of services, to casinos and “adult entertainment” shops. I am so proud to be from Maine, where billboards have been banned since the early 1970s!
I’m disillusioned but determined to continue. I’m hoping that the southwest will hold some of that small town magic I’m searching for. And I’m looking forward to driving the Pacific Coast Highway in parts of California.
Oh yeah. That almost 2 hours I still had? It ended up being almost 3-1/2 hours due to a crawl of 3 miles that took an hour and ten minutes in backed up traffic around Lake Charles, LA. I was afraid it was a bad accident, but it turned out to be an oil tanker broken down on the bridge, causing our traffic to funnel into one lane from three…
Add that to the interminable stop-and-go of Route 90 West, and it was a pretty lousy day on the road. Now that I’m done grumbling, I think I’ll go to bed. Tomorrow HAS to be better!