Friday, January 20, 2012

adventures in New Orleans: the Dad edition.

So you’ve already heard about the time my mom visited me in New Orleans. But I was lucky enough to have BOTH of my parents travel to the Crescent City to see me: here’s the story of my dad in New Orleans!

It was December 2009, and my internship at the New Orleans Museum of Art was drawing to a close. That meant that it was time to start packing up my shed and make the loooong drive back to the Midwest. My parents both told me (on several occasions) what a dumb idea that was: why would I come back to the Midwest in the dead of winter when I could stay in New Orleans, land of delicious food and warm weather? Yes, that would’ve been a lovely idea, I admit: I especially wish I’d followed my parents’ advice when winter rolls around and I’m STILL in the Midwest. Just think: I could be basking in 70˚ weather when instead, I’m chipping ice off my windshield every morning while I slowly get frostbite. But at that particular time, I had another internship set up in Minneapolis, and I really missed my family and friends. I was ready to come home.

Dad, ever the adventurer, offered to fly down to New Orleans and drive home with me. I immediately accepted: I had driven the nearly 1300 miles by myself when I was on my way down there, and let me tell you, it was brutal. I was elated to have some company.

Dad arrived in New Orleans three days before we were scheduled to begin the drive home, and I went to pick him up at the airport. I looked for him outside the pickup area, and I saw a guy in a Minnesota Twins coat: that had to be my dad. Dad always wears his Twins coat when he travels because it’s a great conversation starter: Dad’s had people approach him about his coat all over the country, and they’re either from Minnesota or South Dakota. So when I saw the Twins coat, I figured I had found Dad. But that guy had a beard, so I kept driving. Just a minute later, I got a phone call: it was Dad, wondering where I had gone. Turns out the bearded guy WAS Dad! Now, my father briefly had a beard in the mid-1980s, and it was pretty goofy (even HE knew it). As long as I’d known him, Dad hadn’t had a beard and had no plans to grow one. So when he showed up in New Orleans with a full beard, I drove right past him. Thank goodness for that Twins coat; I might not have found him the second time around!

Once I located my bearded father, we got about the important business of dinner. Mom had told Dad about the wonders of the Voodoo BBQ, so that’s where we had supper. Dad does not appreciate seafood like Mom does, so we got ribs instead. They were heavenly. The Voodoo BBQ can do no wrong.

The night was still incredibly young, so I thought my dad should see Bourbon Street. We did not get streetcar passes, so it was up to me to navigate the city streets. That was no problem: the problem was finding parking in the French Quarter. You had to pay very close attention to your street signs: some allowed parking only during certain times; others only during certain months. Some parking places had no time limit, while others stated that you needed to be sure to move your car within two hours. On many streets, there was no parking at all. If, by some miracle, you did happen to find a place to park, it was another challenge altogether to remember where it was.

We eventually did find parking, but I swear, immediately after we stepped out of the car, it started pouring rain. Dad and I had several blocks to go before we reached shelter of any kind, so we spent some time huddled underneath awnings to try and stay dry (which only kind of worked). 
See my sweatshirt? It's normally light grey.
Our ultimate destination was Café du Monde, home of the famous beignet. I had been talking them up to Dad during my entire stay in New Orleans, and he was more than ready to sample them. Dad has always had a much healthier appreciation for desserts than Mom, and he loved the beignets just as much (if not more) than I did.
See how sad he is that they're gone?
When Mom was in New Orleans, we stayed at a cute little inn called the Prytania Park Hotel. I loved it, but it wasn’t exactly up my dad’s alley. So instead, I got us a room at the ever-classy Super 8 in Metairie (a suburb of New Orleans). We figured since our time in New Orleans was limited, we didn’t have to be terribly picky about our accommodations. This will be important later.

The next day was Dad’s first full day in New Orleans, so the sight-seeing officially began. We decided to go on the Hurricane Katrina tour: a downer, yes, but incredibly educational. We got on a bus and drove around the places most devastated by the hurricane. The driver showed us houses with watermarks twelve feet high, and we saw where the levees failed. We drove through the Lower Ninth Ward, which was the area of New Orleans hardest hit by the hurricane. 
This statue shows how high the water got in the Lower Ninth Ward.
Even before Katrina, the Lower Ninth Ward wasn’t in great shape, and the hurricane did nothing to help. This part of New Orleans was one of the places hit the hardest by the storm, and four years after the hurricane, the Lower Ninth Ward looked like it was in awfully poor shape. A great deal of Louisiana has recovered from Katrina, yes, but there’s still plenty of work to do. On the bright side, the tour guide did take us by some areas of the Lower Ninth Ward that are being rebuilt by people like Brad Pitt, so there’s certainly an effort being made.
We also drove by this super-creepy abandoned amusement
park, so scratch the brief happy feeling we got from Brad Pitt.
After our depressing yet informative bus tour, Dad and I decided to lighten our spirits by touring more of the French Quarter. The weather was better that day, so we got to see and do quite a bit more. We walked down by the riverfront, and Dad got scammed by his very first homeless guy.

By that point, I’d had my fair share of experiences with homeless people, especially in Denver (which is a story for another time). Even in New Orleans, I had learned to more or less ignore every drunk, smelly guy (it was always a guy) who approached me looking for money. I felt like a jerk at first, but honestly, I myself had no money to spare at that particular time in my life. Besides, it was just safer for a young, fairly small, decent looking blonde girl all by herself to just ignore creepy men who try to initiate conversation.

My dad, though, had no such reservations. When a toothless man approached and asked if he could make a bet, I was fully prepared to keep on walking. Dad, being friendlier and braver, took the bait. The guy said, “I bet you ten bucks that I can tell you where you got your shoes.” Dad was confident that the man would never guess where Dad got his Sketchers, so Dad accepted the bet. “You got them on your feet!” the man said triumphantly. Dad rolled his eyes and handed the guy ten dollars. We were about to go on our merry way when this guy (who Dad was realizing was a mistake to talk to in the first place) tried to shine up Dad’s shoes. He squirted this weird white stuff on Dad’s shoes, and THEN told Dad that he expected to be paid for the service. Dad was certainly annoyed by this point, and he gave the shoe-shining gentleman a little talking-to about how he’d already given him ten dollars. Besides, Sketcher sneakers don’t need “shining,” so Dad had no intention of paying for such a service. This guy then went into a sob story about how he has five kids and no job and boo hoo hoo. Dad finally gave him five more bucks just to get him to leave.

We spent the rest of our day in the French Quarter, avoiding other such characters. Dad and I had supper at the Clover Grill, which was a little diner a little ways off the beaten trail. I had eaten there when I had gone to New Orleans with the jazz band, and it was incredible. Greasy perfection, I tell you. One of their specialties was the Hubcap Burger, which is a burger fried underneath a hubcap (an American-made hubcap, of course). That was Dad’s entrée of choice, while I ordered an omelette. The eggs for the omelette were whipped up with a malt machine, and it was the fluffiest omelette I’ve ever had.

After poking our heads in a few more French Quarter establishments, we finally tracked down the car and headed back to Metairie. By this time, Dad had decided it was time for dessert. We headed to a place I had wanted to try for my entire stay in New Orleans: Copeland’s Cheesecake Bistro. Their menu boasted dozens of different types of cheesecake; everything you could ever imagine. Dad the dessert connoisseur was pleased. I don’t remember what kind of cheesecake he got (vanilla caramel, maybe?), but mine was Oreo White Chocolate, and it was everything one could ever hope for in a cheesecake. 
Oh, how I miss New Orleans.
When we ordered our cheesecake, we each ordered a glass of milk to go with it (as any good Midwesterner would). The waitress looked at us like we were crazy – especially after we each needed a SECOND glass of milk. They must not get that request too often.

The next day was Dad’s and my last full day in New Orleans, so we really had to make it count. The sun was shining, and it was a beautiful December day. We went right back to the French Quarter for lunch at the Central Grocery. Mom had told Dad all about the muffuletta sandwiches, and he wanted to try one of his own. Mine was just as delicious as it had been the first time around.
The face of a satisfied customer.
After lunch, we spent some time in Jackson Square and witnessed a musician territory squabble. Dad, a trumpet player, was delighted to hear someone playing “When the Saints Go Marching In” on a trumpet. We stood on the opposite sidewalk and listened for a minute or two, but then we noticed a guitar player approaching the trumpet player. The guitar player began to yell at the trumpet player, telling the trumpet player that this was HIS territory. The trumpet player apologized and walked a few blocks down. Dad hadn’t had his fill of live New Orleans trumpet playing, so we followed the trumpet player to hear a little more music. The trumpet player managed a few notes before the very same angry guitar player came back and told the trumpet player that he wasn’t far enough away. The poor trumpet player moved down a few more blocks, and he was finally able to finish “When the Saints Go Marching In.” When the song was finished, Dad approached the trumpet player, tossed a few dollars in his trumpet case, and told him he’d rather hear a trumpet than a guitar any day!

For our last big New Orleans activity, Dad and I decided to go on a riverboat tour on the Steamboat Natchez. It was a great choice. We sat on the top deck and basked in the December sunshine, and we had a wonderful view of shore. 
This is what we look like on a steamboat.
The tour lasted about two hours, and the tour guide provided us with all sorts of neat facts. We traveled a few miles down the Mississippi River, passing commercial barges and Navy ships. 
Anchors aweigh!
We even went underneath the twin span bridges that connect the West Bank and the East Bank. Dad and I agreed that the steamboat was easily the highlight of the trip.
Self portrait with the steamboat? Nice try.
Evening came way too fast, and it was soon time to head back to my shed and finish packing up my belongings. Before we left the French Quarter, Dad said, “So… what was the place with the beignets? Is that on our way out?” I was more than happy to have one final serving of beignets and café au lait (half coffee, half milk, and a sprinkling of chicory). Those beignets are no less than divine, and I cannot WAIT to have them again.

After loading up the car and bidding farewell to my landlady, we headed back to the Super 8. As I was getting ready for bed, I noticed something scurry across the floor. Dad saw it, too, and we waited for it to come out again so we could see what it was. The mystery creature reappeared, and we saw that it was a cockroach. Dad and I tried to catch it, but it eventually ran behind the TV and stayed there. So now there’s a cockroach in the room somewhere. Do we get a different room, or do we stay? Dad and I decided that since it was late and it was our last night, we could just deal with it.

The next morning, we checked out of our hotel. Dad gently made it known to the desk clerk that we’d had a cockroach issue the night before. The Super 8 woman apologized profusely and gave us a $30 discount per night – times three nights, that's ninety bucks just for a cockroach. Note to self: always mention cockroaches.

We were all packed up and ready to go, so it was time to embark on the journey home. 
Our first stop was in Memphis, approximately six hours into our journey. Why did we stop in Memphis? To go to Graceland, of course! I had considered stopping at Graceland on my way to New Orleans, but things like that are never as fun by yourself. I was glad to have Dad with me, and for the entire hour before we arrived in Memphis, we listened to Elvis. We arrived with just a couple of hours before closing time, so we took the shortened version of the tour (which meant skipping Elvis’s airplane and car collection). The tour was fascinating; Graceland was nowhere near the mansion I had imagined it to be. Everything was still decorated as Elvis had left it; I’m sure it was beautiful in the 1970s, but it looked fairly ridiculous in 2009. 
Case in point: Elvis's living room.
We saw the separate building Elvis had built to house his awards and his pantsuits. It was certainly a worthwhile stop, especially now that I can say that I stood in the place where Elvis once did. Cool, huh?
Hellooooo Graceland!
The rest of the trip was smooth sailing (except for when we arrived in St Louis and wanted to see the arch, but we made a wrong turn and ended up in Illinois instead). To pass the time, we played an old family favorite: the license plate game. In this game, you work together to try and find as many state license plates as you can. I wish I could remember how many we found; I’d like to say it was close to 35. Dad and I spent a lot of time listening to music, and it was on this trip that I discovered Dad’s appreciation of Queen and his limited patience for Christmas music. Somewhere in Missouri, my car reached 100,000 miles. As far as road trips go, though quite lengthy (22 hours of driving time, to be exact), this was a good one. We arrived in South Dakota on our second day of driving. Even though we had traded 65˚ and sunny for -20˚ and snowy, it was good to be home.

Moral of the story: I’m incredibly lucky to have two parents who are willing to travel to New Orleans and back to see me. I had a great time with both of them, and I got to do so many things that I would’ve have done without them. I would take a New Orleans vacation with my parents anytime; they’re the kind of people who are willing to try just about anything and go just about anywhere. If I do have the good fortune to make it back to New Orleans someday, I hope that I have as much fun as I did with my parents. Not many people hold their parents as the golden standard of fun vacations, but I certainly do.

So if you ever have the chance to go to New Orleans, you should absolutely take it. New Orleans has something for everyone, and I can guarantee you’ll love every minute: especially if you have great travel buddies like I did.

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