Sunday, September 2, 2012

Travelblog: The Big Easy

"Now, early this morning...I got on that long-distance telephone, and I called my mama...I said, 'Mama, this is yo boy, and I'm WAY down here in New Orleans, Louisiana'.  She said, 'That's alright, boy.'  She turned to my papa and she said, "Papa, our boy is way down there in New Orleanswe cannot let him stay out all night long!'  She did.  Long about that time, I heard my papa lean toward my mama...I heard Papa tell Mama, 'Let that boy boogie-woogie!'  He said, 'It's in 'im and it's got to come out..."Rev. B. Gibbons, Z.Z. Top (1975)

I've been waiting 28 years for that quote to sorta be true.  After years of delay, I finally made my way down to Cajun Country last weekend and visited Baton Rouge and New Orleans (just in time for Hurricane Isaac).  My good friend Tom and I had originally planned to drive over to the Crescent City in the spring of 1984 after visiting Houston, but my wallet got stolen while it was loaded with $250 cash, thus we had to truncate the trip and return home (me with my tail between my legs) and for one reason or another, I never made it down that way until now.  Apart from some flight delays and the oppressive humidity, it was a pretty good little weekend.

One of my first stops in Baton Rouge on Saturday morning was LSU's Tiger Stadium, known affectionately as "Deaf Valley" because the fans get really loud here.  It's not really in a valley, but the high-rise grandstands make you feel like you're in one, and this place is gi-normous like most all SEC football facilities.  I was able to sneak in and get this field level shot from behind their old-school two-poster goal posts.  I can see now why they play most of their games at night, too—it was about 9:30 in the morning when I snapped this, and it was already muckin' fuggy out. 

Just down the street from Tiger Stadium, I checked out LSU's baseball facility, Alex Box Stadium, and it's nicer than a lot of minor league stadiums I've seen.  I guess winning the College World Series six times in the last 21 years or so makes them worthy, tho...

And this is where the matriculatin' (and Hank Stram's incessant sideline yammering) took place—the site of Tulane Stadium in New Orleans, where the Chiefs won Super Bowl IV in 1970 and former home of the annual Sugar Bowl game until 1974.  I had trouble determining the exact footprint of the stadium because of all the Tulane University dorms and buildings that have gone up since the stadium was demolished in 1979.  But, I'm pretty sure that somewhere near the building with the garage door opening is where running back Mike Garrett successfully executed the legendary "65 Toss Power Trap" TD run to break the game open, and the near sideline is the same one Otis Taylor bobbed and weaved (wove?) down to put the dagger in the Minnesota Vikings' hearts that day.  Here's the tail-end of the game from the original CBS TV broadcast with the late Jack Buck on the call, which I didn't know still existed.  And I'm guessing Tom Dempsey's NFL record 63-yard FG (also in 1970) would have been teed up somewhere perpendicular to that soccer goal off to the left by the building and kicked toward the left from where I was standing here.  Tulane is getting pretty serious about building a new (and smaller) football stadium to the left of this photo as well.  What goes around comes around...

This is the vista from my room at the Holiday Inn in downtown Nawleans.  I love having views of downtown skylines from where I stay, and this one was outstanding.  Great location too, just three blocks from the French Quarter and just a skosh further than that to the Superdome.  Unfortunately, I didn't have time to partake of or do any "Twistin' By" the pool.

Apparently you can that here, literally.  Jim Morrison would surely have been pleased...

You Easy Rider fans out there should recognize this. St. Louis Cemetery is located just off the French Quarter (or "Freedom Quarter", to youse Republicans) and it's where Peter Fonda, Denns Hopper, Toni "Hey Mickey" Basil and the blonde chick whose name escapes me had their little acid trip during Mardi Gras. Evidently, the cemetery folks were none too pleased that they filmed in their sacred territory, which is over 200 years old.

And here is Billy Gibbons of Z.Z. Top (or a reasonable facsimilie of him, anyway) after having gone through Darth Vader's carbon freeze process.  That's a live human being, folks, sitting there completely motionless like a statue for tips in the French Quarter.  I've seen these dudes before, and I don't see how the fuck they do this in the best of conditions, but in the oppressive heat/humidity of bayou country, that dude had to me melting under all that garb.  Did I mention it was humid down yonder yet?

WHEN IN ROME... as the Romans do.  This was my Saturday repast at the Gumbo Shop on St. Peter Street in the FQ and my first real taste of genuine Cajun food.  Combo platter of shrimp creole and jambalaya, and it didn't suck.  Not sure I'd want to eat it all the time, but I actually liked it.  It was like what Campbell's soup could be if it actually had some FLAVOR in it.  To all those who accuse me of never trying anything new, HA!  I say.  HA!

Actually, they never did—they're mostly from the SF Bay area—but this is the avenue they named their second album Toulouse Street after in 1972.  The only doobies you'll find in the FQ are the ones you smoke...

Ummm, mais non!  I'm not even sure her was a her with that baritone voice I heard coming out of "her".  Just a little example of what I saw roaming the streets (rues) of the the French Quarter.  I was a bit surprised at how dirty and run-down the FQ was (in places, mind you), but overall, it's a trip within a trip.  I later returned after the Saints game after dark (without my camera), and if I could sum up my overall impression of Bourbon Street/the French Quarter in one word, that word would be Decadent!  Baltimore's Memorial Stadium was affectionately called "The World's Largest Outdoor Insane Asylum", but that ain't quite accurate—that title goes to Bourbon Street.  I couldn't help but think of the words of Paul Stanley from 1984's Kiss Animalize tour video: " got a lot to be proud of—this place looks like a damn zoo!"  Guys holding hands.  Girls holding hands.  Horses holding hooves—anything goes here, and I enjoyed the hell out of it.  Hell, you'd never have known by the way people acted Saturday night that there was a major hurricane headed for town.  And you talk about the penultimate people-watching place, this is it.  And yes, the women really do flash their tits for them damn beads people throw from the balconies, and I saw my first live pair of bare breasts in 13 years, come to think of it.  I think this place may well have been the inspiration for Ozzy Osbourne's "Going off the rails on the crazy train..."  And this was just in August—I can only imagine what New Year's Eve and Mardi Gras are like down there.  Would love to pay a return visit, but I think it would be infinitely more fun to "geaux" with friends or a group instead of "geaux"-ing alone.

I've been dying to see this place since the day it opened, and it's pretty impressive.  Not quite as big as Cowboys Stadium in Dallas, but taller, and not a bad place to watch a football game—for a dome, that is.  I gotta give it up to the good peeples of New Orleans, too—they love their Saints.  They acted like this meaningless exhibition game actually counted, and reminded me a lot of Chiefs fans, only minus the tailgating and BBQ.  Hard to believe this is the same structure that housed such utter squalor seven years ago this week, and they had a special photo gallery on display on the concourse that chronicled the whole Katrina nightmare and the refurbishing of the Superdome.

P.A. announcer at the Stupordome encouraged fans to check out the Saints Hall of Fame inside the stadium.  Being the HOF junkie that I am, I took them up on their offer.  Well, folks, yer looking at it!  Now, I do realize the Saints have had a fairly checkered history, but you gotta be shittin' me—a Hall of Fame that's smaller than a walk-in closet?!?  If your Hall of Fame can fit comfortably into my bedroom, you've made some tactical errors along the way!  By the way, young master Ellis wasn't kneeling in silent prayer to Drew Brees there—he was merely chowing down on his nachos.

—On Sunday after my French Quarter-induced hangover subsided, I took a little drive along the Gulf Coast and checked out Gulfport and Biloxi, and it was quite impressive.  Too bad I'm not much of a sand, sun and surf kinda guy, tho—I fry like bacon in the sun anyhow.  I also made my way over to Alabama and passed through Mobile for the first time since I was like three years old when our family visited there.  Same damn battleship still resides in Mobile Bay too.  Didn't have time to visit our good friend Benjamin "Bubba" Blue in nearby Bayou le Batre, tho.

—Did I mention the humidity?  No?  Good-goobily-goop, it's muckin' fuggy on the Bayou!  It was a shock to my system going from a land that's brown and dry to one that's green and wet, and when I stepped out of the airport terminal in Baton Rouge, I felt like I was inside a terrarium—and that was at night.  It's even worse during the day, and I don't see how folks can stand living down there, but I guess you get used to it after a while.  Speaking of weather, I have now completed the severe weather warning Superfecta by being in a Hurricane Warning area for the first time in my life (to go along with Tornado Warnings, Flash Flood Warnings and Winter Storm Warnings).  Fortunately, I got the hell out of Dodge 24 hours before Isaac arrived. 
—I experienced my first flight delays as an infrequent flyer on this trip.  My connecting flight to Houston on Friday on United was delayed by storms in Texas, and they actually moved me to another flight on American Airlines to Dallas to get me to Baton Rouge.  I didn't fly to New Orleans proper because it was $150 cheaper to fly to BR, and I was planning to drive over there anyhow.  Was fairly impressed with DFW aeroport too, while I was on the ground—very clean, nice waiting area, big TVs to watch, etc.  Can't say as much about Houston's airport, though, where my return flight to KCI on Sunday was delayed for no particular reason (the weather was fine).  The gate I had to wait at didn't even have a friggin' TV, nor did it have a jetway—I had to board the plane from the tarmac.  Then again, whaddya expect from an airport named after Bush?  Baton Rouge's airport was my favorite, though—small, nicely organized and completely navigable by foot. 

—While I waited to check my bags in at KCI on Friday, I was behind one Felipe Paulino, a Royals pitcher who is currently on the DL.  Then, on my return flight Sunday night, I was seated across the aisle from none other than Stanford Routt, the Chiefs' new cornerback.  Didn't know who he was, though, until we reached the terminal and one of those valet people was holding up his name on a sign.  You see, I flies with da stars...