(Jul 13-15) - Not to be too sensational, but the death here is the city itself. Memphis felt like a poorly-reanimated corpse. Once a great city, home to B.B. King’s blues, Issac Hayes’ Stax, and Elvis’ palace (this last a fact it will never let you forget), its downtown now is a graveyard of abandoned industrial and commercial buildings, all attempts throughout the decades to revitalize a decaying center.
Fitting then that the Memphis site I was most interested in hunting down was the point where Jeff Buckley entered the Mississippi River and drowned. Not Graceland, not Stax Records, not Beale Street - Jeff Buckley’s fatal swimming hole.
Our host, Carlos, was fantastic. A marine and bartender, originally from Venzuela, he has been stuck there for 10 years, since he originally immigrated to the US. We went out with him to Beale St. the first night. It’s like Universal Citywalk, except you can drink on the sidewalk. That’s the best and worst I can say of it.
The next day we had lunch together at a local brewpub. Nicole just commented that it was “okay, not terribly memorable”. I guess the food was mediocre, but the beer was quite good. Then he went off to work and we went off to find Jeff Buckley’s point of departure. By process of elimination, we found the only point of Wolf Harbor where he could have reasonably waded in. A beautiful spot, right by the visitor’s center downtown.
Then it was off to the Peabody Hotel to witness the famous ducks waddle from their daytime home in the lobby’s fountain, down a red carpet, into an elevator, to their nighttime home on the top floor. Ducks walking in a line. Definitely the best show in Memphis.
(July 10-13) - We pulled into New Orleans late, after a day of scenic detours throughout “Louisiana’s Outback” - the deep bayou area in the southwest of the state. Matt’s cousin’s friends, Megan and Daniel were putting us up in their beautiful house just a short walk from the heart of Frenchmen Street. First night festivities? Sleep.
The next day we went walking. A guy serenaded us with poetry on our way to Cafe du Monde for beignets and coffee. Then we made a quick loop around the French Quarter until it was too hot to go on. I became delirious and Matt force-fed me an almond croissant on the way home. We lounged and played with the dog and cats in air-conditioned splendor until evening.
That night we went out for Pho and beer with our hosts at a bar far outside the Quarter, which was a pleasant reprieve from neon. Across the street, we caught a show with the Little Big Horns, a wonderful old-timey jazz set and then wandered home. I’ll never forget that they played that song from Roger Rabbit. You know the one.
The next day…guess what?! It was hot again. We drove around the Tulane campus to see where I am not going to attend grad school, and then south of town to the Jean Lafitte Wildlife Preserve (read: swamp). As we walked cautiously towards the swampy waters, me trembling occasionally “are you suuuure alligators aren’t very big?” we came upon a few people leaving one of the docks off to the side who told us “we found a five foot alligator! You just have to throw stuff out onto the water to coax him out. I threw my cigarette packet down there.” Fantastic, fat black man carrying beer into the swamp, please leave your garbage behind. Despite his ignorance, we appreciated the tip and headed to the spot where the supposed creature lives.
And sure enough, there he was, a bona fide swamp monster! Five feet long and prehistoric in appearance, he was hiding out under the dock. To coax him out, I threw some sticks a few feet in front of him. He slowly swam out, and Matt began to snap pictures.
“Matt, please don’t mock the swamp monster” I pleaded. He continued to stick his head through the railing, clicking furiously as the monster came closer. Then, the monster jumped up and snapped at Matt as Matt startling fell backwards. Last shot on the camera? The monster facing Matt getting ready to snap! We left after that, and Matt said he felt like he should call his mom to let him know he was okay.
We then drove back into NOLA, passing and stopped for a drive-thru daiquiri! We hit a tollbooth and paid for the ladies toll behind us (something I’ve been wanting to do for years!). After getting home and relaxing a bit, we hit up Burbon St. Apparently, it wasn’t as busy as it normally is, but it was still pretty hopping. Sex shows and drunkards abound, and I got a horny gator (a drink in a plastic alligator cup that was sickeningly sweet). We went to the Double Play, an awesome tranny dive bar just off the strip where the bartender bought me a shot while Matt talked up a man who used to be in the gang 18th street in LA, but now is a bouncer at the bar. A veggie po’boy and a beggar trying to talk me up while she tried to steal my purse punctuated the night, and Matt and I stumbled home to our lovely hosts home happily.
All in all, I must say, I’m absolutely in love with New Orleans.
(Jul 10) - I was very resistant to liking Houston before going there. In fact, we weren’t even planning on going there before we realized that we would be driving right through it and Matt had an AmeriFriend there that he wanted to see.
We arrived in Houston midday to a warm greeting from Karly, said AmeriFriend, and Karly’s girlfriend, Patty, also an AmeriFriend. Karly was determined to show us a little bit of the gayborhood in Houston, so after a little bit of lounging around in the comfort of her air-conditioned apartment, we went out for a some drinks and dinner.
Our first stop was a cute little dive bar that served up some amazing veggie burgers, and many fine beers on tap. After filling our bellies, our next stop was a swanky bar, which offered white and red sangria, and the ever-popular cake pops. We sat at a bench, sipping our sangria and enjoying the umbrella-covered benches.
Our evening was punctuated by a game of Apples to Apples, in which Karly proceeded to kick all of our asses (I believe she had more than ten cards).
I would like to say a special thanks to Karly and Patty for letting us invade their weekend alone together. While I’m still not bowled over by Houston, I have to say it is much more livable then I ever imagined.
(Stay tuned for New Orleans!)
(Aug 6) - That these blog posts are OLD. I’m going to start dating them. We’ve already been to these places and moved WAY on. I’m writing this from an excellent cafe in Halifax, Nova Scotia, while sipping an excellent little drink called a Lethal Buzz, consisting entirely of dark hot chocolate and espresso. Delicious.
(Jul 6-9) - After our Duke City fix, we headed south to Carlsbad Caverns. We had been before, but in the winter, when the bats are summering in Mexico. We wanted bats. This became the theme of the next few days.
The Carlsbad bats were cool, but they came out when it was already pretty dark, and there was a big to-do with the ranger who didn’t want to be there trying to educate people who didn’t have the attention span of the mosquitoes the bats were waiting to eat. The kids yelled, the parents chatted, the ranger begged for quiet (because noise disrupts the bats) between giving her amplified lectures.
We drove through the night (again) so we could get through West Texas with a minimum of awful. The hills outside Austin rolled over us as the sun did. Central and East Texas are, apparently, quite pretty. We killed some time on the lawn outside the state capitol, then at a suburban movie theater (we hadn’t learned of the Alamo Drafthouse, a movie theatre with a full bar), before meeting up with our host.
They were very welcoming, if busy, people who had traveled absolutely everywhere. Iran, Burma, etc - plus all the usual suspects. She gave us some tips, and a key, and was off to bed, never to be seen again. Never even met the husband.
The next day, it was bats again. There are several hundred thousand, if not millions of bats living under the Congress Ave bridge in downtown Austin. They emerge earlier in the day than the Carlsbad counterparts, and have a much more natural audience, despite their less natural dwelling. It was amazing. The tiny beasts streamed out steadily for 30 minutes or more, first from one side of the bridge and then slowly the stream shifted toward the other.
On our way out of town we checked out the Cathedral of Junk in South Austin. Once again, words won’t do it justice. It’s a 20 year-long (and counting) art project that this guy has constructed in his backyard. It’s a 3-story, multi-winged structure made entirely of junk. Skis, bed frames, license plates, CD’s, beach chairs, bicycles, chunks of blacktop. Just pure junk and pure ingenuity. It’s even been permitted by city engineers.
And Austin was fine too. Fun city with a lot going on, but with a weird mix of Cowboy and Too-Cool that wasn’t really winning me over. With its huge reputation as a music center, as I was also appalled at how few places there were without a $10+ cover charge. Not to worry. We’d be in New Orleans soon.
(Jul 3-6) - Albuquerque was, well, exactly how we’ve come to know Albuquerque. Slow and easy. It was hot and dry - surprise, surprise, but we had a rare treat. Shoghi is living in Albuquerque currently so we stayed with him at his rental home in the far NE of the city.
We were greeted with cocktails and beers, and that was pretty much the theme of the visit. Because we know the place so there was no touristic pressure on us to explore. We ate green chile at El Patio and had drinks at Kelly’s. We played drunken eight-puck air hockey in Shoghi’s garage. We watched 4th of July fireworks from a flood control concrete dam-like thing out in the far east of town. We weren’t so much watching one show, but rather all the shows at once, from really far away.
That was the big disappointment actually about our time there. Typically New Mexico is the best place to go to get ridiculous amounts of cheap and loud fireworks and then to light them off in the street in front of your house with the law completely on your side. This year, because of the fires throughout the southwest, fireworks have been all but entirely banned. Even a lot of professional shows were canceled.
It wasn’t so bad though. Albuquerque is colorful enough on its own.
Apparently road tripping presents few opportunities to sit down and work on a blog. Most sit-down times are spent securing a campground or a CouchSurfing host for the next destination, figuring out the route or monitoring and adjusting finances.
It’s been pretty stormy up in Maine, apparently far stormier than usual, so we’ve had some more time indoors. This girl who just helped us at a cafe said it was the craziest lightning she’s ever seen. Definitely the craziest I’ve ever seen. It was nearly constant. There were times last night when the sky was so bright it was painful to look at, and times when the thunder cracked so loudly I thought the sky was reaching its limit, ready to snap in half at any moment. Ever turned up the music so loud it pops the speaker? That’s what this was - over-amplified, harmonically-distorted thunder.
So here’s some downtime. Enjoy!