It's the Tuesday after Labor Day, and I am heading into terra incognita. I had been to Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Alabama before, but Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas were all places I had not been.
It's about 350 miles between Birmingham and New Orleans. I decided that while I had never been in Mississippi before, I certainly hadn't missed much based on the from my windshield. Pine forest. Pine forest. More pine forest. But as I got further south toward the gulf, I started to see more sections of the forest that damaged by Katrina. This was effectively the 2 year anniversary of the storm.
Crossing into Louisiana, I stopped at the visitor's center and browsed the rack of fliers looking for a place to stay. While I wanted a chain, I didn't want a big chain. The Ambassador Hotel seemed to fit the bill nicely with a mid-week special and free valet parking. Now I had a plan.
As mentioned earlier, I'm not the biggest fan of bridges, so I-10 over Lake Pontchartrain was not my favorite, but things got worse.
As I drove into town, the devastation of 2 years previous was everywhere. You drove in past the empty amusement park that used to be a Six Flags, and now looked straight out of Scoobie Doo. You looked left and right, and all you saw was abandoned buildings as far as the eye can see.
But every couple of miles, you would see a big banner on a apartment building or strip mall shouting that they were open.I turned down Canal St. and pass the entirely joyless Joy Theater. But things did get better as you reached the river. The Ambassador is converted old warehouses with beautiful hardwood floors and sections of exposed brick, just a couple blocks from the French Quarter. It was a Tuesday afternoon outside of the normal tourist season, and things were pretty dead. I struck out on my own, to walk down Bourbon St., have some dinner, and see the sights. As I was walking around, it felt like about 40% of the things were open, 20% were being worked on, and 40% were just sitting abandoned. These two buildings were side-by-side:
And passing this joint didn't fill me with a whole lot of "good mojo", either. But I don't want to focus so much on what was wrong. This was my first trip to New Orleans, so I don't know what it was like before. Walking down Bourbon Street at 5:00 on a Tuesday was a bit like seeing an aging southern belle under fluorescent lights: there was no hiding the flaws.
I stopped for a nice big plate of jambalaya at the Gumbo Shop. For dessert, I thought I would try the brownie and the ice cream. With a big ol' glass of milk (I didn't think the Captain and Cokes I had been drinking would work as well.) Man, was that a HELL of a meal.
After dinner, the light was fading fast, so it was rush time to get out and get some pictures around the St. Louis Cathedral and Jackson Square, before heading back to my room. No, I didn't hit the casinos or anything. I was tired, and knew I had another 375 miles to drive in the morning.