Just as I found with Nashville on American Adventure 1, occasionally the pull of a landmark city becomes too much.
Drove on the I-10 continuing east out of Texas and into Louisiana (to see the map of my travels so far, click here). Once more the terrain was changing, giving way to swampland with trees growing out of the water and exotic birdcall. Not sure I would be too happy to go anywhere on foot should the car break down. I would imagine there would a fair amount of toxic creatures wandering about looking for a human to poison and consume.
The previous night I had been in a diner near the motel and suddenly discovered that - after three years and more than 12,000 miles - I was suddenly a curiosity in this vast country.
As I wandered in and made my buffet selection (Cajun style fish and Salad with “Raaancchh” dressing incidentally) I noticed that people were, if not exactly staring nudging each other and pointing, but certainly their ears pricked up when they caught a whiff of the accent.
The lady behind the counter proclaimed:
“English right? I can tell by your wonderful enunciation...I’m Greek” (Here we go again)
Not that she had been there since the mid-80’s, and then that was the first and only time, but bear in mind the cost of such a trip and the fact that only a small proportion of Americans have a passport. To her friends and family she must have appeared Columbus-like.
It is an acknowledged fact in the Mid-West (this, incidentally starts 5 miles outside of any town I am led to believe) that anywhere over the horizon that doesn’t sport a Stars and Stripes must in fact be where dragons live. This informs their lives and culture.
That is why Country music tackles the subjects that it does: love, drinking, tough menial jobs and patriotism. This may sound pejorative but we could learn a lot from their values.
However, we Brits tend to be a bit sneery on the subject of patriotism and if anyone mentions God, we tend to fall about in heaps clutching ourselves, each other and having to breathe in and out from brown paper bags.
The trouble is they just sometimes take it too far, as I will explain in the next blog.
When I sat down a tiny waitress came over, who was probably no more than 16 and asked if I needed anything. I didn’t as I had just collected everything I needed, including the ubiquitous second knife. (I really must ask at some point why, if you have a steak or meat-related dish, a serrated knife is added when the ordinary one is perfectly adequate. This means the plate is cluttered with all sorts of extra steelwork that just get in the way of the food.)
“You got everything?”
“Oh wow, love your accent where you from?”
“England, wow that is sooo cool!”
“Well, frankly, we don’t consider ourselves particularly cool and speaking as a middle-aged, unshaved and rather grubby example of my nationality I think that frankly if you were going to apportion the moniker cool to….”
“Uh, OK, just holler if you need anything”
Note to self. Just shut up!!
It was quite a big restaurant and, every couple of minutes or so, she would swing by with another member of staff in tow to get a whiff of this exotic specimen that has just wafted in from over the horizon where the dragons lived.
” No fine, I...”
“Need anything yet?”
“Yes, thank you”
“Mff!” (First mouthful)
“Need some more water?”
“Nommph!” (Still on first mouthful)
“Well, just holler”
I was beginning to think of a use for the second knife.
They were all terribly nice. Albeit a mite over attentive. However, contrast that with some British places, where you are regarded as if you have just beaten the door of someone’s house down and were sitting in the middle of their sofa watching TV with total control of the remote, having just violated an elderly Aunt and taken the last beer from the fridge; it was a total breath of fresh air.
Gulf-coast highway is pretty busy and so it wasn’t a particularly peaceful or scenic drive. A lot of it was on causeways and bridges as the ground was pretty soft underneath. Underneath there lay alligators as well.
I had intended to head for Baton Rouge. The signs were singing songs to me.
Lafayette, Crowley, Lake Charles, Thibodaux. They were all connected to the Swamp blues and Cajun music that I have loved ever since I was a teenager and bought my first “Rockin’ Sydney” and “Lazy Lester” records:
“They call me Lazy...but God knows I’m only tired”
I sang in my “way cool” accent as I crossed another bridge. At an intersection, a pick-up truck wound its window down and the person in the passenger seat (I believe this is called "riding shotgun" which would land you in a whole heap of trouble in a number of our inner city housing estates) shouted...
“Hey what you doin’ here?”
“Drivin’” I drawled. Remember I was in “Lazy Lester” mode at this point.
“You bin drivin' man! Where you headed?’
“Florida, then New York” I said, reverting to the full Hugh Grant.
“Have fun" he shouted and was gone.
How did they know I was British? Had they caught a verse snatched by the slipstream as, due to the heat and the sun, the top had been down all day?
Then it hit me. My car has Washington State licence plates so they knew I had driven all the way from the Pacific North-West which was near - but not quite - “dragon” country.
I was making such good time and the countryside had become rather ordinary, apart from the occasional lake or river that I punched in a downtown hotel to the GPS for New Orleans.
The SatNav that the hire company provided me with didn’t have (See start of AA3) a Yellow Pages option where you can ask it for hotels and restaurants, then press a button and it guides you there.
I had heard of this hotel chain and it was slap-bang on the main drag near the French Quarter, where the action is.
What I didn’t realise was that this chain was a mite upmarket.
Drove in past the Superdome and various skyscrapers, then into Canal St. Pulled up outside and was immediately set upon by a variety of uniformed flunkies and valet parking guys.
I had forgotten about the valet parking guys. They quickly remove your bags from your car and then drive it away, so I had no option but to book in. It was three times the price I have been paying in the budget motels that I have been using. However, I heard the voice of the Dark Lady telling me that as it was my birthday on 11th I should treat myself to a slightly nicer place. I hadn’t and had, in fact, spent it in a rather grim My Name is Earl-type place in Corpus Christi. So I was owed one.
I was on the 14th floor. Internet coverage was terrible hence I am a day behind with blogs and, maybe because it is “The Big Easy” or “Crescent City” renowned as a party town and famed for its Mardi Gras, that they helpfully provided a little bag containing an eye-mask and ear-plugs. Also, there was some duct somewhere outside the window that made a very loud roaring sound…all the time.
Still I was in "N’awlins" and I was going to have some fun.
Made a quick call to the show which you may have heard (iPlayer if your missed it, click here), then out into the humid night air the throng and the Voodoo.