Tuesday, November 26, 2013

An American Idyll

November 21, 2013

This is the second day on the road.  I should have told you we were leaving but things got hectic during the preparation to depart.  We spent the night in Gallup which is hardly thrilling, but unless one is really dawdling, from Southern California Winslow is too close and Albuquerque is too far.  This is our sixth jaunt across country so we’ve seen the Meteor Crater, all Winslow has to offer and we sampled the hospitality of Holbrook, thus a marginal Quality Inn in Gallup was as good as it was going to get.

Dinner was another matter.  I hate Applebee’s—a chain with so many things on their menu that the chef, nay cook, doesn’t know how to make any of them.  The worst meal I ever had was at an Applebee’s in Marietta, Ohio.  However, it was raining, Applebee’s was next door and the key card from Quality Inn got us a ten percent discount.  I knew I’d regret it.  First we got carded.  We qualify for the senior discount and we got carded.  When the waitress saw our out of state drivers’ licenses she said she had to show them to the manager.  I ask her why but she had no clue.  Then the gin and tonic arrived in a sixteen ounce glass with enough tonic water to give me quinine poisoning.  Clearly the girl was not a drinker—which is good because Indians should stay away from firewater—and incredibly it was also clear the bartender was not a drinker.  I also tarred the manager with the teetotaler brush because no kindred spirit would card a geriatric and run off to the corner to fondle his ID.  The place was simply weird and the food edible at best.  When we slogged back to the Quality Inn the police were busting somebody in Applebee’s parking lot.

Many people play counting games while driving to pass the time—a certain kind of car, or the cows on your side of the road as compared to the opposite side.  I like to count truck drivers whom I’d like to see dead.  They got worse as the day proceeded and the weather deteriorated.  I think they keep taking speed throughout the day until they are completely nuts.  We also counted six thoroughly flattened coyotes.

We just passed the metropolis of Cuervo, New Mexico, where one finds about a hundred derelict adobe houses, a quaint old abode church—also in ruins—perhaps a thousand junked cars, a gas station and three shabby old trailers.  We opted not to stop.

The following morning, at Amarillo, while basking in the warm glow of the Holiday Inn, filled with the gratifying excesses of the Texas Roadhouse which shares a parking lot with the hotel thus enabling us to imbibe with impunity, we decided to check the weather channel.  Plans changed quickly.  Sleet and snow were bearing down upon Oklahoma City and points east.  We grabbed a quick complimentary breakfast and dived south.  It was breezy driving until Lubbock when Hurricane Sandy Skipper, my adored spouse, took the wheel and the rain arrived.  Soon the road was ice and slush and traffic flow dropped from eighty to thirty miles per hour.  It was a long, frigid drive to the suburbs of Fort Worth where we passed an uneventful evening.

November 23, 2013

As I write this, the plunge south continues through intermittent rainsqualls toward the balmy climes of the Gulf Coast with Baton Rouge and gumbo as our goal.

The day progressed with the weather being sporadically awful, but in the continually warming atmosphere, the threat of ice vanished and we made good time on excellent Texan highways.  I praised the highway system by which standard California’s are a disgrace—that is until we reached Houston.  To catch I10 the map and the GPS indicated that we had to take the outer belt else die in traffic.  Neither, however, indicated that the outer belt was a toll road and one can’t use it with the EZ-Pass.  Nowhere did it tell us what the alternative was.  After many anxious minutes and reckless lane changes we deduced that the frontage road followed the toll road but never did the county of Houston condescend to tell us that.  To be blunt, their signage sucks.

I saw the first palm trees since leaving California.  They were a comfort.

We just went into a Shell station to reload.  The pump told me I had to call Shell.  We always use Shell, and as long as we leave a contiguous trail across the continent, they don’t cut us off.  Once we drove about five-hundred miles before using the card, it was refused so fast the pump gasped.  Well, I took it philosophically—yeah, right—and called the number on the back of the card, listened to a couple minutes of spiel, entered the account number, four digits of my social, punched numerous buttons in response to vague questions, zero many times to no result, and in the end was told to press zero for a person.  There was no person, only another ethereal bitch telling me that Shell was closed.

November 24, 2013

The iPhone GPS had orders to take us to downtown Baton Rouge where I had visions of gumbo and interesting architecture.  Instead it took on a tour of barrios so dark and foreboding that we ran back to the freeway and hid in yet another Holiday Inn—overpriced for the weekend— and so far from civilization that we opted to order a pizza rather than venture into the frigid night.

On Sunday morning we vowed to make it a short day with Pensacola as a goal, but again Ms. GPS derailed us and we found ourselves on I12 instead of I10 by which we would miss Lake Pontchartrain.  The Hurricane did some manual adjustments and directed across the fabled lake on the twenty-four mile causeway which afforded us a transporting view of the New Orleans skyline with the Super Dome to the right, the Mississippi bridge on the left with the sun sparkling on the waves before it.  The lure was too great and the next thing we new knew, we were headed for lunch in the Vieux Carr√©.

The French Quarter is an amazing place for many reasons, but I think the most remarkable is that it still exists.  The Spanish handed it to the French who sold it to us, of course.  Thankfully, England, who was at war with both of them nearly continually refrained from burning it and they showed restraint again in 1814 before Andrew Jackson thrashed them when the war of 1812 had already ended.  More remarkably, the Yankees did not put it to the torch in 1864 and its greatest test of endurance is surely surviving twentieth century urban renewal.  I probably should give a little credit to Hurricane Katrina (no relation to my Hurricane Sandy) for sparing it and flooding the Ninth Ward instead.

It was chilly with a blustery wind from the river as we walked through the ancient blocks admiring the longevity, tourist glitz and general quirkiness of the place.  I especially admire Chartres with its plant festooned iron galleries hanging over the flagstone walks.  Jackson Square was in a good light and Hurricane Sandy attempted some pictures of the statue of Jackson doing his horseback photo-op silhouetted against the Cabildo.  We did some Christmas shopping before I steered us into Tujague’s , est. 1856, for the gumbo I didn’t get in Baton Rouge.  It was good but the soft-shelled crab doing the backstroke in it was the toughest I’ve ever chewed.  Sometimes ones quest for gumbo takes a circuitous route.

Back on the street we had an hour to kill before the prepaid parking expired so we wandered the ragged streets browsing with Sandy snapping shots of the architecture, four-hundred year old alleys and twenty-first century freaks.  One cannot help but love the French Quarter but it has its issues, not the least of which is more rude, inconsiderate and oblivious smokers per square foot than any place in the United States, save Las Vegas.  After three hours I got into the car wheezing like a teakettle.

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