Au revoir New Orleans

New Orleans, Louisiana. What can I say about the place? Wow, what a trip. This is a city that has a parade or festival for virtually everything. Oh it’s 12 days after Christmas? Time to start 12th night… kicking off the partying leading all the way up to Mardi Gras. Halloween? They’re on that. Thanksgiving? C’mon, they’re on it. St. Patrick’s Day? Really, you have to ask? On it. You name it, and they’re on it. We spent 2 weeks there and I feel like we barely scratched the surface of that city. That said, I had the impression if we scratched too far we would never have completed the trip (either we would have quit our jobs and turned into crust punks [actually there’s no way we would wind up as crust kids, we like showering too much… also from here on out they will be referred to as ‘Crusties’], or simply have rented/bought a home after living in the bus in NOLA for 6 weeks). New Orleans is a city that commands you to have a modicum of self restraint or you’ll burn yourself out.

The first week was spent in a RV park, our first time in a RV park in fact. Other than being in close quarters in the bus, living at a park is fairly comfortable. The facilities were cleaned daily, you never had to wait to use the bathroom or the shower and there were no ‘quiet time’ rules for the park, which for us is good. We generally stay up late, and we can sleep through noise. Given an unknown living situation (can we park the bus? is there room for us to sleep/work?), I would definitely opt for booking time at a RV park. Our time at the park was generally spent working, getting the bus in good order for living and working, and playing Magic at night (thanks again to Matt for letting us [see: Jake] go through his unused cards to make a deck of each color).

On our first night in New Orleans Jake and I dropped by Loren’s (our friend who has been living in NOLA for 6 or 7 years now) workplace, Buffa’s Bar and Lounge, to surprise him and find out what’s up. I had been unable to reach him by phone because he had gotten a new phone! Digits acquired (HEY BOO, HOW YO PHONE RANG?), we also met Loren’s new roommate Shifty, and got an offer to park in front of their house. We accepted but on the condition of parking out there the following week as we had already paid for the RV park. Jake, Shifty, and I bar hopped to the next joint (R Bar) but Shifty bowed out when Loren joined us due to one too many whiskeys. We shortly followed suit with a cab back to the bus. Through the week we learned not to trust public transportation in New Orleans, and came to appreciate the number of available cabs. (Side note here, I’m fairly certain ‘Baby’ is the second most common word in NOLA right after ‘drink’. When it’s used there’s really no sexualization of the word. When we walked over to a Rally’s to get fast food [we were nursing some solid hangovers] the female Rally’s employee used ‘Baby’ when taking our order virtually every other word. This wasn’t uncommon when ordered a drink or getting food anywhere else in the city. Baby is like the salt and pepper in every sentence in New Orleans. This was illustrated to great effect by Loren when we were trying to get cabs… I had called the cab company and had waited around an hour with no cab, Loren calls them up, uses ‘Baby’ about 20 times in 3 sentences and he’s promised a cab in under 5 minutes. No joke, if you don’t use ‘Baby’ in conversation it will be pretty clear to the locals that you’re not from NOLA). There wasn’t much around us at the park aside from some gas stations and a gated Family Dollar. Clearly, the park wasn’t situated in the best of areas but the park was gated and we never had any problems while we were there.

While at the park we had to restock on some necessary vittles, so we rode the city bus across the water to the Winn Dixie on Chef Menteur. While we were there I spotted Wendell Pierce (Bunk Moreland in The Wire, and Antoine Batiste in Treme) and pointed him out to Dan. I really wanted to say hello and ask for a picture but I wanted to ‘play it cool’ and not bug him while he was just around living his life. I did however hit him up on Twitter and commend what he’s doing with his community especially with Sterling Farms (bringing easy access to a grocery store in the city ). He tweeted back:

Wendell Pierce on twitter
Wendell Pierce on twitter

Pretty rad.

We all had Friday off so we went in to explore the city, get some grub, and I went to get a tattoo (you can read about the tattoo I got from Kenny Cox of Tattoo A Go Go on the ‘Tattoos‘ page). We also decided that evening to relocate the bus to Loren and Shifty’s place. As the week progressed we met the rest of the motley crew living at Shifty’s. A wonderful mix of bartenders, musicians, cooks and service people. The house was filled with 4 dogs, a couple cats (that we rarely saw), and a rotating mix of people passing out at the house after a morning/afternoon/night out. All of Loren and Shifty’s friends were great people to meet and spend time with. From George (who sings the best rendition of ‘The touch, the feel, of Cotton..’, see the video below) to Heath and Patricia, to Stephanie (who gets along ‘swimmingly’ with Heath), and everyone else that I failed to mention.

I don’t know if you can spend any serious amount of time in New Orleans without coming away with some story of the NOPD being complete shitheads, and our experience was no different. On the night that we biked to the city park we also went to a bar in Midtown (the name of which eludes me). We arrived at the bar, and the bike rack forces you to keep your bike partially in the street. Someone had parked their urban assault vehicle (read: SUV) really tight to the bike rack and we were trying to figure out a way to get the bikes off the street as much as possible. While in the process of locking up the bikes, the owner of the car came out and threatened to run our bikes over if we didn’t get them off the street, flashing her NOPD badge at us while she got into the car with a beer in hand. Good lookin’ out NOPD. The flipside of our experience with the NOPD was our last night when doing a crawfish boil and the cop that came out was really cool with us and only asked that we turn our music down. Two sides to every coin I suppose.

I already miss my time in New Orleans and all the great people I met. If I don’t move to NOLA for some period of time then I will be by to visit for an extended period.

Cheers.

 

Exploring New Orleans

One thing I forgot to mention in my previous post(s), there was a tornado watch one of the days and severe thunderstorm warnings when we were staying at the RV Park. It was an interesting experience. I hadn’t really thought about weathering a storm in a school bus, but we concluded that if it turned into a tornado warning we would go to the bathroom house thingy @ the RV park and huddle around in there. The tornado watch finished up but the severe thunderstorm continued. It ended up having some pretty intense winds. It buffeted the bus a little bit even with a fair amount of cover from the wind. I think Matt ended up taking a video of it. Previously the temperatures were in the mid 80’s and the storm brought the temperature down into the 50s which was a bit welcome. Anyways, just one of the things that I almost forgot about with our stay in the park.

So we ended up moving into the front of Loren’s place. Loren’s roommate Ben had moved his truck (Hate machine? I’m kinda fuzzy on the name of the truck) from the front of their house to across the street in front of an abandoned house so that we could park at their place. We pulled up right next to the curb, but the curb is prettttty steep. So the bus ended up being on a tilt. The first couple of nights we were there, I ended up rolling into bed and I’d end up laying against the wall and my bed. Getting out of bed I had to escape the bed’s gravity well and vault myself out of it. It kinda reminded me of this house Matt and I rented when we were younger. It was in East Lansing and the house had settled… just a ‘bit’. And by ‘bit’ I mean a lot. If you set a baseball in the center of a room it would roll to a corner in every room. You had to feng shui the shit out of your bed/desk placement because of the crazy tilt of the house. TV placement was also important, you didn’t want it falling out/off of its stand. Eventually we ended up moving and parking up on the curb, ironically by that point I kind of missed the tilt of my bed.

To start out, I didn’t know if we could plug the bus into the house or what was cool. So we were planning on getting some gas and running the generator to charge up the batteries. Before we could do that though, Ben and Loren were like ‘Do you guys need power? Here let me go grab an extension cord.’. So we were able to run our laptops and fans and all that without having to resort to gasoline.

From what I could tell everyone in New Orleans owned a dog or they were in between owning a dog. Walking along the streets, dogs would harangue us. The best was the little dogs barking with all of their might letting us know how mean they were. WOOF! WOOF!! The little dogs definitely elicited a chuckle from all of us whenever we passed them. It seemed like everyone in Ben/Loren’s house owned a dog. It was definitely a house of people who liked animals. The dogs of the house were dubious of our nature for most of the first week. Want to come in for a piss or a shower? Open the door and… “BOWOWOWOWOWOWOW. ‘WHO THE FUCK ARE YOU WHAT’RE YOU DOING IN MY HOUSE?!?! BOWOWOWOWOWOWOW!!”. I think one of my favorite dogs was Linus. A little black lab mix. He looks like a puppy even though he was 3 or 4 years old. Super timid guy though. Anytime someone new would come over he’d hide between/behind your legs and bark away. Ridiculously precious dog though.

We worked from the bus and weathered the heat. We went out a bunch of the nights and checked the city out. It’s kinda dangerous though, if you’re not paying attention to the time 4AM CST can creep up on you. 5AM EST, which means just barely enough sleep if you fall asleep right as you hit the bed. One of the nights we ended up staying out super late, and from that point on I made it a priority to check the time so I could get enough rest.

The city has all sorts of little quirks, from the pronunciation of things (the street Burgundy is bur GUNdee) to people’s houses to the traditions of the people in the city. One of the traditions is that you take a dollar and pin it to your shirt if it’s your birthday. You can wander around the bars and people will pin dollars on you and wish you a happy birthday. This ended up working out pretty well for Matt and I since our birthday occured while we were in New Orleans.

On one of our last nights we ended up riding bikes around City Park and around midtown with Ben and Loren. It was definitely a highlight for me, a chance to see more of the city outside of the bars and the neighborhoods. While we were biking around City Park we stopped at this spot that has some statues and columns in front of a pond. We hung out there for a bit and drank some beers. Loren swilled the remaining of the bottle of vodka. He then wound up to hurl the bottle into the lack and overstretched a little bit and SPLASH. Wet Loren. He ended up bouncing right up and tossing us his cell phone and trying to get out. I was looking away, so I was like.. ‘Man, that’s ballsy.. taking a dip in this pond.’. Anyways, we were backing back to the city to hang out in midtown again and we mentioned wanting to do a boil. A boil can consist of crawfish, corn, potatoes, onions, mushrooms, oranges/lemons/limes, artichokes, tons of garlic, and the boil seasoning (I might have missed something). When I say, ‘we mentioned wanting to do a boil’, what I mean is that I drunkenly said ‘HELL FUCKIN YEAH WE SHOULD DO A BOIL! I’LL BUY THE CRAWFISH!‘. The next day, nursing a minor hangover and a little bit of lack of sleep.. I was determined not to do the boil. Fortunately Ben held me/us to our word and said ‘Fuck you man! I’ve been calling people, we’re doing the fucking boil‘. So, with a fire under my ass.. I finished reading my book. Matt kept harassing me to get it together, but I was determined to be shitty. Eventually I relented and started calling people. One of the guys we met, Heath, has a car so he drove us to Walmart to pick up all of the sides.. and maybe crawfish. One of the wonderful things about Walmart is that they don’t care what they sell. If it’s local and people will buy it? They’ll stock it and sell it to you. They had crawfish! Also it was like $1.68/lb which the guys were saying is an amazing price. Especially considering at the start of the season they cost around $4/lb. So we picked up 65lbs of crawfish (2 sacks.. sacks are anywhere from 30-40 lbs). Matt and I bought the crawfish and some beer for around $140. Loren (maybe Ben threw in on it too?) bought all of the extras, potatoes etc. Ben had the boil pot (which is a huge monstrous thing), that Heath had been using for his beer brewing. So, long story short we ended up putting the boil together in something like 2-3 hours.

There’s a process with the boil. You get the crawfish and they’re chilled, which slows them down. As they warm up they turn into frenzied monsters. That doesn’t matter so much as what you do with them next. Which is to bathe them in a salt water mixture and let them sit around for a while so that they’ll purge. The little mudbugs will just sit around and shit out all of the mud and whatever other garbage they eat. While we weren’t planning on doing this for 4 hours, we ended up doing it for 4 hours. The propane that was heating the boil pot ran out, so Heath went out and picked up a new one with Matt. That took a while to do. So, we got the propane hooked back up, but now we needed to boil 25+ gallons of water. Ages. AGES. Ben ended up tweaking the propane so that it was burning hotter, and then another hour later we had boiling water.

Now, boiling water. Most of the veggies go in along with the boil seasoning.  Withholding the mushrooms until later. Let it come back up to a boil, and then wait 10-15 minutes to cook the corn and potatoes. Then, with the boil rolling dump a sack of crawfish in along with the mushrooms. Run the heat for 2-4 minutes? Then turn it off and let them soak. This is all guesses. By this point most everyone who showed up was drunk or getting there. We ended up digging into the fruits of our labors. I learned some better crawfish eating methods as well as finding out that the first boil is never as good as the subsequent boils. The cops were called earlier in the night because we had some loud music going. He saw that we were doing a boil, and just asked us to turn the music down. Which we did. Party continued! Eventually we wound down. Full, drunk and tired. My first ever boil completed.

End of the week and moving into the city

We ended up getting into a rhythm in the RV Park. Wake up, go to the bathroom, login to the computers and start working. Make some eggs, and toast some bread on our griddle outside beneath the awning.  It was actually quite comfortable. We broke the AC unit out and vented outside the driver window. It wouldn’t get the bus terribly cold but it would relieve us of the humidity which, if you’ve lived in the South, you know can be pretty brutal.

Eventually we went into the city for a night. I think it was on Monday. Loren told us to eat at The Joint in the Bywater before they closed down for the night. We took a bus stop to a stop that we thought we could take into the city from the RV park. We waited and waited. Waited some more. It was near a Winn Dixie so I thought, heck I could go get some more sudafed to help with my killer allergies (of course the pharmacy was closed because of how late it was). Eventually a bus went by in the wrong direction (or so we thought) that was numbered what we wanted. We waited a little longer and said ‘Fuck it, call a cab’. So we did. The driver dropped us at The Joint for some to-go food. Matt and I both got sausage sandwiches and Jake got the chopped pork. Some seriously legit barbecue. Smoked to perfection.  This was my first night in the city and it was interesting. All of the houses are close together, the roads are complete bullshit. Lots of one ways. It was dark when we got into the city so I wasn’t sure what I was looking at. Anyways, we took our food to a bar up the street to a bar Loren used to work at called J&J’s Sports Lounge to watch the NCAA Men’s championship game. Michigan lost. Loren introduced to everyone there as his brothers from Michigan. Loren ducked out right after this. We finished up our drinks and we stopped by a bar that I can’t remember the name of. Neither can Matt or Jake. We ended up meeting some cool people there. Some guy from Cleveland who knew our friend DRB. I met a girl Zooey who was road tripping her way from her family’s place in California back to her place in New York, apparently just because it was something to do. We also met Kelly who was in town for conferences. Jovial drinking and listening to live music. We ended up going to Karaoke @ Kajun’s pub to finish out the night.

I woke up with a nice hangover the next day and worked my way through it. We went back into the city to get some dinner @ Buffas. Looking at the menu I saw redfish and po boy, and knew instantly what I was getting. Jake opted for the red beans and rice with sausage. The redfish was ridiculously good. We ended up getting some more drinks later on and cabbing back to the bus.

The next morning/afternoon Matt and Jake walked down the street and got some monstrously huge shrimp po boys. They were pretty good greasy messes. Just too much bread.

The rest of the week was pretty uneventful. We just worked and hung out on the bus to start with. Matt called and setup an appointment for his Tattoo on Friday, so we decided to take the day off and go into the city and eat some seafood. We stopped by Super Seafood in Uptown which was near where Matt was gonna get his tattoo. The pictures speak for themselves. We got a pound of boiled crawfish. Matt and I ordered a cup of gumbo each and split some fish on corn. Jake opted for a half dozen char grilled oysters covered in herbs and cheese.

Jake and I wanted to go check out Loren’s place. He said there was a spot for us to park, but many people don’t realize how large the bus really is. Anyways, we took the trolleys up as close as we could to his place and walked the rest of the way. We dropped by bars along the way and got day drunk in the city. I kept not bringing a beer to walk with. It still felt unnatural at this point. We ended up making it to Loren’s place and there was ample room for the bus!

Day turned into dusk and into night while we waited for Matt. Jake fell asleep for a bit. Matt showed up in the cab, and regaled us with his troubles finding a cab. He waited over an hour, the French Quarter Fest was going on so the city was a bit of a shit show. Anyways, Jake and I were still a little drunk so Matt had to drive. Which he was not super pleased about after having gotten his tattoo. We ended up going out that night after parking the bus. It was a bit of a mad rush to get everything secured on the bus so that we could head into the city.

I’m kind of surprised at how long this post is, because the first week felt so uneventful while it was going on. We managed to fit stuff in though to keep it eventful. We parked the bus on the street, unfortunately the street in front of the house dips way down near the curb. This meant that the bus was at an angle and I’d roll into bed. I eventually got used to this and it got to be kinda comfortable. We didn’t plug the bus into the house to start with. I didn’t know if it was cool or not since the only person I knew in the house was Loren.

Anyways, after going out on saturday night and getting a pretty nice hangover.. Matt and Jake wanted to get some breakfast. There were a lot of good reviews for The Ruby Slipper in Marigny (pronounced Mare ih knee). The food was fantastic, and the place was still pretty packed in the early afternoon on a Sunday. Everyone was ordering mimosas and bloody mary’s. I opted for an iced tea. We ended up walking back to the bus and I napped most of the day and caught up on some reading.

The one thing I noticed when walking back. There are so many little things to look at around the city. Just always something to check out. Street art, or decorations, or how someone painted their house.

So. Now we were in the City.

First week in New Orleans

We pulled into the RV park late on Saturday. You can read about the rest of that night on my previous post.

The next day, I woke up feeling significantly better. It was kinda weird waking up with a bunch of RV around me. What was really nice though, is that our lot was directly next to the bathroom/showers. While we have a toilet in the bus, the intended purpose is only really for needing to pee late at night or absolute emergency stomach situations. So far no one has had the emergency stomach situation and we hope to keep it that way. The plus side to being close to the bathroom is that we didn’t have to fill our little portapotty toilet up. (We bought ours from Walmart, but this is the portable toilet I was looking at for a long time). The bathroom was cleaned daily and everyone else who used it tended to keep it pretty clean as well. Apparently the prospect of having to use something again keeps people from being complete shit heads.

The first week was nice and laid back. We played card games, worked and later on in the week we went out into the Bywater to go to The Joint and stop by some spots that our buddy Loren told us to check out. Overall though, it was a pretty tame experience in the RV Park. The neighborhood it was in wasn’t the greatest but there was a spot to get some greasy shrimp po boys.

End of the week and on

Earlier in the week Matt and I had biked out and bought a basketball because we forgot to bring any of ours along and there was a basketball hoop nearby. (Side note, drivers in Florida lived up to their reputation. A lady almost hit me when I was crossing a street on my bike, and Jake said that he almost got hit twice when he went out to get postcards) We had some mid-week rain, but we managed to get out and play some pick up games. Afterwards I realized how long it had been since I had played ball. I had some pretty bad tendinitis in my shoulder for about 6 months (the period of time that I would have wanted to play when we moved back to Detroit). Anyways, it was great to play again but my calves were killing me the next day.

The end of the week was a bit of a blur. Between working, and trying to get out and see stuff the rest of the week fairly flew by. Matt and Katie do a weekly dinner thing with their friends where someone hosts it and the hosts make the main dish and people bring sides. We got the chance to cook, so we went with some pork shoulder and coleslaw.

At this point I had been fighting a cold/allergies for a while. Pressure in my sinuses and in one of my ears. I had an ear infection earlier in the year when I had gotten a cold and I was damned if I was going to go through that again so I went to a doctor. Fortunately it wasn’t an infection, it was just not draining because of the allergies. He prescribed me some steroids and told me to get some Sudafed from behind the counter. The stuff that has pseudoephedrine. Some zyrtec and sudafed eventually got me feeling better but I felt like fresh garbage for a couple of days.

We were unable at this point to get a hold of our friend Loren in New Orleans, so we decided to just book some time at an RV park. We ended up going with http://www.riverboattravelpark.com/. They had pretty favorable reviews from what I was seeing, the only down side being that it’s several miles east where we wanted to be at. With a big ole bridge to cross which I wasn’t super excited to do on a bike.

Friday rolled around and we packed all of our things up and headed on out to Louisiana (a little later than we were originally hoping, but we got going eventually). I was definitely anxious about leaving and going to an RV park, something which we had never done before so I didn’t know protocol or how things worked. Driving through Alabama we went through Mobile. They have some tunnel that goes underneath the city which was kinda a trip. Felt like a short version of the tunnel to Windsor. I drove most of the route, and ended up passing off after a 1 and 1/2 fill up. I was kind of a dumbass and was fighting off being sleepy for a bit towards the end of my driving shift. I should have had Matt or Jake take over sooner. Anyways, of course when I’m not driving I finally perk up and can’t nap. We ended up getting in right before the older couple that ran it closed up. Right around 8:50pm CST.

We setup shop and Matt was itchin’ to get out and see the city. He ended up convincing Jake to come along with him. I was too wiped out so I just stayed in the bus and started moving some stuff around so that living in the bus made a little more sense. With that squared away I finally laid down opened my book and got 3 pages in before falling asleep.