I arrived in Florida at around 10 AM on Wednesday morning. As I exited the secure area, I saw Bill right away. He was looking up at the monitors. I broke out into a smile and walked right up to him. Yaaaay! Me with Duckman! We played it cool, of course, being in a public place in the solidly Republican south.
We drove straight to his apartment. As I expected, it was nicely decorated, in that very-masculine-but-leaves-room-for-wondering way of his. LOL. We hung out, relaxed, and got caught up for a while. I brought out the three bottles of wine that I got for him and got a kick out of his (very appreciative) reaction. Then we went out to get something to eat. Neither of us had gotten much sleep the night before, but we were famished!
Went to a Hard Rock Café. Every single person in that place was white, except for me. I really get weirded out in situations like that. Makes me appreciate living in a diverse area even more. The food was ok - nothing to write home about. After eating we checked out a neighboring bookstore and then drove to a wine store. Bill got me a bottle of a California pinot that he first tried out in Florida. It's from Foley Winery in the Santa Rita Hills. It was for me to take home, he said.
Went back home, hung out some more, and eventually fell asleep. After a couple of hours we woke up and I found myself hungry again. We went to Sonic Drive-In as I had never been to one. Got a bacon cheeseburger and a chocolate malt to go. Ate at home, had one of the bottles of wine that I brought with me, hung out some more and went to bed.
Thursday morning, as I was putzing around the apartment, Bill asked me what I wanted to do. I didn't really have any ideas, so he suggested that we drive out to New Orleans. Cool! That's one of the things I love about him - he's impulsive in a good way. So he went online and booked us a hotel room and off we went.
On the way to the Big Easy we stopped at an airplane museum to check out some of the planes they had on display. I had never seen an SR-71 before and Bill knew that, so he took me to the museum to check one out. Wheeee! Finally! The plane is bigger than I thought it would be. It's kind of mind-boggling to think that the giant piece of black metal was once the fastest airplane in active service anywhere on earth!
We stopped at this awesome barbecue place called Sonny's to have lunch. When in the South, one MUST have barbecue! The food was fantastic. We got combination plates, that included pork ribs, beef brisket, and chicken. Alongside the meat was baked sweet potato, coleslaw, and unbelievably good cornbread. We also opted for the salad buffet option. Lemme tell ya... there was so much food - so much GOOD food, that we didn't finish everything because neither of us could breathe anymore. And the kicker? The entire feast, including drinks and tip, cost us less than $40! Yum! *burp*
The rest of the drive was pretty uneventful. Interstate 10 between Florida and Louisiana is a whole lot of nothing. Just miles and miles of tropical forest, punctuated by freeway exits, all of which had a Cracker Barrel and a Waffle House.
Every. Single. One. LOL
We did encounter a couple of torrential downpours, where the rain fell so hard that we could hardly see 10 feet in front of the car. Bill had to switch to the right lane so he could watch the white stripe on the side of the road and make sure we didn't drive into a ditch! Thankfully the cloudbursts each only lasted a few minutes.
Entering New Orleans, we were struck at the destruction still very evident in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. From I-10, you could see blocks and blocks of houses with roofs full of holes, missing windows, and boarded-up doors. Entire neighborhoods of single-family homes and apartment complexes lay severely damaged, and apparently still abandoned. Strip malls, car dealerships, and even a huge Wal-Mart lay in ruins, devoid of shoppers or even looky-loos.
We reached the French Quarter and started to look for our hotel, which Bill said was the Westin. We couldn't find it, but we did see a W Hotel on Chartres. Long story short, it turned out that he booked a room at the W after all, not the Westin. What a nice surprise! Those familiar with the W Hotel chain will know that their hotels are hip, impeccably decorated, and pricey. Ours was no exception.
There was a very nice courtyard, with comfortable seating, a fountain, a grand staircase, and a cute little swimming pool. The cold airconditioning in the corridors was a welcome respite from the unbelievably muggy New Orleans air. Along with the AC blast, the corridors had muted lighting, cool pictures on the walls, and incense that smelled great.
Our room was great! I had stayed at a W once before, in Manhattan, and out there the room was all black, white, and red. Very sleek and sophisticated, but that kind of decor would have been out of place in Nawlins. Ours turned out to be done in brown and white. It was big, cool, and had a window that opened out onto Chartres. The beds were fantastic (one could be yours for only $1600!) and the amenities were top-notch. The bathroom was huge, with a large sit-down vanity with a pillowtop stool, anthracite marble everywhere, and a shower big enough for two (hee hee hee).
After unpacking and cooling down for a bit, we headed out onto the town! The French Quarter is old, very old. Quite run-down, as a matter of fact. The combination of old buildings and the oppressive humidity makes one feel a little bit dirty, I think. But... this area is something else! Blocks and blocks of cool little shops, bars and restaurants, and people all looking like they're either dying from the heat or having a wonderful time.
Bourbon Street is like no other place I've ever seen. The whole drag is lined with bars that have doors opened wide to the street outside, garish signs hawking everything from alcohol to clothes to trinkets to live nude girls. Every bar readily serves drinks in take-out containers, because apparently drinking in public is legal here. We had some alcohol-spiked slushies that were really good. And these slushies didn't come with just any alcohol. This was 150-proof liquor! Whoa momma!
There was quite a lot to see and do, even though FQ is a relatively small area. Here's a little list of the stuff we did and saw throughout our stay (not necessarily in chronological order):
- Checked out a voodoo-themed souvenir shop.
- Had a good meal of genuine Nawlins barbecue shrimp. I have to say, though, that the shrimp at San Jose's Poor House Bistro was much better.
- Walked along the Mississippi waterfront, where we saw a Holocaust Memorial that was interesting. We also saw a statue dedicated to immigrants (see photo post below.
- Debated whether we should go on a Gray Line tour of the Garden District and the famous cemeteries. In the end we decided against it because it was just too fking hot.
- Walked around the (very small) gay section of Bourbon Street. We didn't see any eye candy and we didn't go inside any of the bars.
- Played Wheel of Fortune slots at the Harrah's casino. We both started with $20 at the quarter slots, but Bill lost his money a lot quicker than I did. I just kept hitting Wheel of Fortune over and over again and kept extending my play. Unfortunately I eventually lost all of the money anyway.
- Walked around aimlessly until we stumbled upon the St. Louis church / basilica / cathedral / whatever and the pretty little garden square in front of it. Near the church we saw the famous Café du Monde. Also near the church, there was a guy with a chair and table on the sidewalk, and a sign that read "Bone Reader". Apparently he was some kind of fortune teller. Mwahahahaha. Bone reader. LOL. We still don't know how exactly that kind of fortune telling works!
- Checked out the Blue Dog (aka Rodrigue) art gallery. As far as we knew this was one of two galleries dedicated to the artist, with Carmel being the other location. At first, the staff didn't pay any attention to us, probably because we were sweaty, very casually dressed, and didn't look like we could afford a $3,000 silkscreen or a $15,000 painting. (They were right. lol) But as soon as they overheard us talking about the Carmel gallery they perked up. They told us that another Rodrigue gallery had just opened. In Aspen. Oooh-la-la.
- Hung out at the hotel courtyard with a bottle of Domaine Drouhin Laurène that I brought with me. Bill brought along a couple of his Riedel wine glasses. It was very nice. We sat on comfortable sofas and enjoyed our wine in front of a fire-and-water fountain. It was quite muggy still, and while we were down there the power went out! Hahahaha! How ghetto is that? We stayed down there until the wine was no more and the power came back. It was very pretty. Would have been absolutely perfect if we had had cooler weather.
- Had a good night's sleep in our awesome beds.
- The next morning we headed out to Café du Monde to have beignets and coffee, which is de rigeur for any tourist in New Orleans. It's a nice place, and the beignets are awesome. Because of the oppressive heat, we had iced coffee instead of café au lait or hot chocolate. One thing strange about that place - all the servers were Vietnamese, and none of them spoke English worth a damn. Hahaha.
Bill wanted to take me to a restaurant called Dharma Blue, but we exited the freeway too early by mistake and couldn't find the place. Since my flight check-in time was drawing near, we decided to stop looking for it and stop at a Krystal burger joint instead. Krystal is a southern burger chain that serves small burgers a-la White Castle. It was pretty good, and very cheap.
Went to the airport and checked in. Bill lingered a bit then I walked him back to his car. Before he drove off we snuck a quick goodbye kiss, then I headed off to my gate.
So that was my short little trip. It was nice to see that part of the country, and very nice to see New Orleans. But most of all it was really great to see Bill again. It was great to see that we took to each other immediately like ducks to water, as if we had never been apart. Too bad our time together was too short. I can't wait till we get together again soon.