Sunday, November 27, 2011

Big Easy, Big Sky, Bit Pieces

I woke up whiny on my last morning in Duluth; I don’t wanna get on another bus. During the past few weeks, I’ve sometimes woken up in the middle of the night and been unsure both of what town I was in and where the bathroom was. But by the time I was leaving Minneapolis that night, I was eager to ride for the first time in the past six weeks of traveling.

I saw lots and lots of egrets in the waters as I approached New Orleans, and then a couple pelicans as I took a ferry ride across the Mississippi River. Hawks along the highway in Minnesota, and deer and hunters in Montana.

Many things conspired against my enjoyment of New Orleans this time. Of the six hotel rooms I lived in during these weeks, the one at the Frenchmen Hotel was by far the worst as well as the most expensive. The lighting was dim, the shower terrible, and the toilet iffy. The noise level was incredible but I expected that because of the proximity to clubs. The door, loose in its frame, was very difficult to lock which I suppose didn’t really matter because anyone could have come through the window which didn’t lock after they’d passed through the gate which had a defective lock. The excuses of being an old building carried no weight with me because I’ve stayed in equally old hotels in much better condition including in the French Quarter for a similar price. I checked to see if any of them were available for my full stay but they weren’t.

The weather was usually much too humid, except on the days when there was a chilly breeze. On the day I left, I decided to walk the mile or so to the train station. When I got there, I had to take off my soaked through t-shirt and put the one I’d worn the previous day back on.

The first couple times I walked around I was pretty aggressively panhandled which put me on the defensive for my short stay and kept me from fully enjoying conversations with the street people as I usually would. I did pick up a new nickname based on my shirts (as in “Hey, it’s Yellowstone, how ya doing?") and was asked while passing if anyone had told me I looked like Jerry (why yes, they have).

I got sick. Twice. Once from something I ate, a muffuletta I believe, and once from the weather changes. And though I knew it was an extreme longshot, I was disappointed that someone from Yellowstone didn’t appear at my door.

Despite all that, I enjoyed many parts of my stay. I would love to have dba as my neighborhood bar, a club with long lists of beer and single malt scotch, and great music. It was by far the best of the bars I visited, in part because the others were too small. Because of my sicknesses, I didn’t sample all the mixed drinks I planned to—no Monsoon, no Pimm’s Cup, no Sazerac—but based on a friend’s recommendation I did accompany an early lunch (gumbo and a garlic oyster po-boy at Liuzza’s by the Track—one of my favorite meals) with a fine Bloody Mary which sent me back out into the sun with a bit of a New Orleans stagger which made me feel like I fit right in. I didn’t go to the really fancy restaurants, but my best meal was catfish, shrimp creole, greens, and yams at The Praline Connection. I think every waitress in the city called me some variation of darlin’, honey, or sweetheart, and it comes across as real instead of designed to get a bigger tip.

The free ferry ride across the river was nice, and City Park is a lovely spot deserving more exploration than I gave it. Streetcar and bus rides gave nice looks at parts of the city which I hadn’t seen before. The city’s architecture is lovely, but the French Quarter felt more cramped than I remembered, which I’m sure is largely due to the wide open spaces where I now spend most of my time.

At bus transfers in Fargo and Billings, employees move your checked baggage for you, unlike anywhere farther east. The first time this happened last year I got very nervous having my bag’s fate determined by others, but by now I’m grateful to not have to deal with the big monster I can barely carry. It would have been nice to not have to pay for a locker in Minneapolis while I went out for something to eat.

I was hoping to get a good view of the badlands terrain of North Dakota’s Theodore Roosevelt National Park, but I could only see shadows in the dawn light as I did this March also. Only last year’s late May trip gave me a good look so I guess it won’t be fitting into my bus schedule in the future. In Montana, I took a few photos through the bus window—nothing great but it felt good to have my “real” camera in my hands again after a couple weeks of using the mini. That said, I’m thinking that I’ll try to reduce the number of photos here somewhat and get back to my words.

I haven’t been offered any great free books for review in quite a while (though I was amused that while on vacation in New Orleans, I was offered a travel guide to New Orleans—what the hell—I took it) and since I no longer have a library card and very rarely buy books now either, my reading has been pretty casual stuff. The Kindle has crossed my mind a few times. Since I didn’t make it to the UP, I’ve been reading Jim Harrison’s True North which isn’t a bad substitute. And I have what sound like good readings to attend at the local bookstore the next two nights--Extremophilia and Where Elk Roam.

Tomorrow is shopping day--at REI for snowshoes and winter clothes, and at the evil big box for ten months worth of toiletries. I have more meals to eat here, then Wednesday head over to stay in Livingston for my last night out here before being picked up Thursday morning and returned to Neverland.

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