Saturday, December 30, 2006


"New Orleans gotta get..." - Alice In Chains

As a result of events that transpired over the past year (bad and good), Skychick and I decided to spend Christmas in The Deep South. It was the first time Skychick had made the trek home for The Holidays in years.

My brain is still overloaded with thoughts and emotions from our trip, so I'm not going to attempt to win the Pulitzer Prize with this post. Here are some random highlights from the New Orleans portion of our journey... in chronological order:
  • A completely random encounter with the co-worker who sits in the office next to me at 6:15AM at SFO. She was catching a flight home at the gate next to us. It was so random... and I took it as a good year end omen as far as work goes.
  • Upon arriving in New Orleans (NOLA): As we drove the Chevy Cobalt off the rental car lot, XM satellite radio (tuned to XM41's Boneyard) filled the car with Metallica's version of 'Am I Evil'. "My mother was a witch, she was burned alive..." The Rock Godz work in mysterious ways.
  • For years on previous visits, Skychick and I had stopped at a place called SuperStuff to get an oyster or shrimp po'boy. Sadly, back in April we discovered SuperStuff hadn't survived Katrina. After traveling all day our craving for a po'boy was inhuman; we were beyond starving. As we drove towards the city we hoped to stumble upon a new eatery... and like a shining beacon in the dark a place did appear in our path: River Pond Seafood in Metairie! The place was PERFECT. Divey in a charming way with a bar on one side and a seafood counter on the other. The owner was a Cajun fellow who was very excited about the shipment of fresh crabs he'd just received. Our oyster and shrimp po'boys were amazingly fresh and the goblet of beer made for the perfect start to our trip. R.I.P. SuperStuff.. but all hail River Pond!
  • Once we got settled in our French Quarter hotel, Skychick and I ventured out into the heavy rain to find some food. Yes, it was raining heavily but it was funny watching CNN scream "FLOODING IN NEW ORLEANS!" when in reality the flooding was actually, like, 1 lane out 3 on the expressway being closed off due to standing water. Such is the media's thirst for another sensational (and potentially tragic) NOLA story I guess. At the place we found to eat, the waiter informed us that Dixie Beer (The PBR of the South) hadn't survived Katrina, which was news to me. However, he suggested that I try "a beer from Belgium" they now had on tap called "Stella Artois". Never heard of it (HA!).
  • Sitting on Alida's dark, 3rd floor porch on a rainy NOLA night... drinking beer and wine as she told war stories about Katrina.. Her own experiences, tales about people she knows, tales told by folks she's met. Stories of normal people.. Fucked up stories.. Sad stories... Surreal stories.. Funny stories.. Firsthand stories that weren't documented by the press. Stories.
Alida's dark porch on that rainy night.
  • Having dinner with friends Peter and Diane at The Gumbo Shop and then taking a nighttime walk around The Quarter with Peter giving a tour of buildings from his family's history.

  • In Fiorello's in the French Quarter, a random comment about San Francisco led to an interesting conversation with our hipster waiter. He took a cigarette break to chat with us; he introduced himself as "Neptune". His Katrina war story: He and his girlfriend attempted to walk to higher ground through the flooded areas, but after seeing 3 dead bodies they turned around. Also, "a lot of shit was going down around them" and they didn't have either a dog or a gun for protection. The last straw was when they came upon a guy casually barbecuing while a corpse lay next to him... They ended up walking for 3 miles on Interstate 10 pushing a shopping cart with their belongings before a guy in a pickup truck stopped and gave them a ride. Stories.
  • Alida took us on a nighttime drive through the Lakeview District, which was hit hard by Katrina and 6-8 feet of water when a levee was breached. It was obvious from the houselights that a good 80-90% of the houses in the area were still vacant. It was stunning how dark, empty, and quiet these nice middle class areas still are after over a year. Also, driving past the huge abandoned housing projects was equally surreal. Miles and miles of empty streets. The Patsy Cline CD in Alida's car stereo was the perfect soundtrack.
  • Skychick being reunited with her childhood friend Kelly after 20 years! We stayed up 'til 1:00AM drinking red wine at Kelly and her husband's new post-Katrina house.. Talking... and hearing their Katrina experiences. Stories. It was a fun night.. Thanks to Alida for facilitating the reunion! Note: If you find yourself in NOLA you should check out Kelly's New Orleans Culinary History Tours. Kelly is a professional historian and educator AND she saw ZZ Top in 1978 so "cred" is her middle name. Click HERE for more information! DO IT.
  • Umlaut friend Cindy (aka The Culinary MacGyver) setting us up with her homemade crawfish etoufee and muffulettas. There's nothing like 'em... I'm hungry just typing this. Damn you Cindy and your mad cooking skills!
  • Based on a tip from Peter, we stopped to eat at a place in Slidell (where Skychick grew up) owned and operated by Capt. Humble, who was the DJ on the local Rock radio station back in the 70's and 80's (WRNO - "The Rock Of New Orleans"). Old people like me know how important the local Rock DJ was back in The Day, so it was trippy for Skychick to finally meet the dude behind "the voice" of her teen Rock radio years; she had her picture taken with him to brag to her friends. Capt. Humble had a platinum sales award given to WRNO for Journey's Departure album hanging near the rest rooms.

Later in our trip, Skychick and I drove along the Gulf Coast, through the decimated coastal areas in Mississippi (Biloxi and Gulfport). For the most part they've been cleaned up... and the miles and miles of empty beachfronts are beautiful... but then we realized those miles and miles used to be filled with buildings, houses, stores, and people. Gone.

Returning to NOLA was an amazing way to end 2006.. but I feel weird about commenting too much about the situation there. I don't have to spend every day in that environment like our friends... and I feel weird about passing judgement on what I think is good, bad, and ugly there. Who am I to say, ya know?

I'm thankful that Skychick and I were able to visit NOLA twice this year and bear witness to its post-Katrina world. I will say that many times I couldn't help but think to myself "I can't believe this shit is happening in the United States of America.."

If you can't visit NOLA to bear witness yourself, you should at least watch Spike Lee's riveting Katrina documentary When The Levees Broke; it just came out on DVD. Things are still broken down there, but folks are hanging on and making the best of it despite the circumstances and bullshit... and the Saints are kicking ass this season! "Laissez les bons temps rouler!"

NOLA is still very near and dear to me and I'll be back; peace and much love to all our friends. If you need ANYTHING you know how to get ahold of Umlaut. Oh Lord, yeah.

Irish Bayou, Louisiana - Christmas Eve 2006
(Pic by Umlaut)