Monthly Archives: July 2011

Days 18, 19, 20 & 21; Dusting off the knees after getting knocked down

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Up until the whole Houston debacle I had been quite happy and pleased that I had managed to stay on schedule!  However I ended up not getting delayed just one day, but two! Because my bank card didn’t arrive until too late in the afternoon to start out on a 7 hour drive.  Oh well, if I was going to get stuck somewhere Austin was the place to do it.  I had a free place to crash with some of my favorite people in the world, so it wasn’t all bad.

Wednesday morning I set off way too early considering the activities I had been up to the night before.  As usual Ms. Garmin took me through all back County Roads. Although in retrospect after looking at the map it was really the most direct route and unlike the rest of the country, the CR in Texas have a 70 mph speed limit.  What I drove through was most definitely what I picture as Texas. Giant ranches with big fence posts and huge Texas state flags.  The night before I had learned what makes Texas (& Texans) different from the rest of the country.  Unlike the other states in the Union, Texas was not annexed in but rather made a state by a special treaty.  And because of this it is the only state flag that can fly at the same level as the Stars & Stripes.  It also explains why Texans are the most pompous and bodacious.  As one guy said, you never have to ask a Texan where they’re from because within the first few minutes they’ll tell you.

Driving for hundreds of miles through Western Texas I couldn’t help having flashbacks to Eastern Africa.  Many sections looked a lot like Mozambique where I used to live.  Other sections, the drier ones, took me back to that fateful drive in Zambia where I almost got raped. Yeah, that didn’t bring back good memories!  On this drive I also saw something I had been keeping a look out for and knew I would eventually see; Hydro-fracking!  ARGH!!!! It made my skin crawl.  For those of you not familiar with fracking may I suggest you check out gaslandthemovie.com.  It seemed strangely ironic that there were wind turbines right next to them.

There were wind gusts and dust spouts along the side of the road.  No wonder since they haven’t gotten rain in several months.  But some of those gusts were pretty well, gusty!  A deer ran out 300 feet in front of me and I added ‘no hitting of large animals that can harm me or the car’ to my intention list.

After many many hours of rolling hills and constantly changing topography, I finally made it into New Mexico and a few hours later I finally made it to Carlsbad Caverns.  Unfortunately I got there at the end of the day so I decided then to stay til the morning to check it out somewhere.  When I entered the Big Room my jaw simply dropped in awe.  Honestly, I’ve been to caves all over the world and never seen anything quite so spectacular.  Just beautiful!  To call it a spiritual experience would not even cover it.  I camped out at the base of the park and headed back early the next morning…and was reminded of why I hate group tours so much!!! Oy! I abhor them, but sometimes it’s the only way to see things.  I took far too many pictures and non of them do it justice, but atleast I got some good exercise hiking down 800 feet to the main floor.

After I was done with Carlsbad I got back on the road to head up to Santa Fe.  I’ve been looking forward to Santa Fe the whole trip.  and now I only had half a day to spend with it! 😦  Oh well…another trip I guess.  The drive from Carlsbad to Santa Fe is sheer torture!!!!  Honestly, a person could absolutely die of boredom driving on the route.  There is absolutely NOTHING to look at.  I started noticing that my mind had gone into a trance state and started doing mental exercises to keep myself alert.  Look at the speedometer, look at the odometer (just crossed 8,000 miles), change the music, turn up the AC.   Anything to keep myself from turning into a zombie!  As I was approaching Santa Fe I saw a dark block of rain.  I know they desperately need the rain, but I absolutely hate camping in the rain.  Did it have to be this one day???

I loved what little of Santa Fe I saw as much as I knew I would.  These are by far the nicest, most polite and most friendly people I’ve come across.  Not that sacchariny sweetness of the south, but just cool chilled out friendliness.  Oh yeah, I will definitely be coming back here.  I’ve officially left the south and am coming into the portion of the country I feel so in tuned with, even though I’ve never lived here or even barely visited.

As I give a short and sweet love ’em and leave ’em visit to Santa Fe I am making my way up to Telluride.  Always wanted to go there!  Tomorrow I’ll be picking up a VERY special travel partner….So, don’t expect any blogs for the next several days! 😉

Have a great weekend everyone and thanks for reading!!!

Suz xo

Days 15, 16 & 17; Reuniting with old friends, it does the soul good.

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After the nightmare of Houston, it was a most welcome event to meet up with longtime friends.  I was originally planning to head straight to Austin and spend the weekend there.  But it turns out the my friends were both going to surrounding areas for the weekend.  So I left Houston and headed to Galveston Island to meet up with my friend Michael and his girls.  I originally met Michael and the Smith clan 16 years ago back in Casselberry FL when we were next door neighbors.  If one good thing ever came out of me owning that house it was this friendship.  Kaley was barely walking and talking when I first met them, now she is about to enter her Senior year of highschool.  And Hope wasn’t even born yet when I moved to New York.  But inspite of the distances and the moves, we have remained close friends over the years.  So of all people to meet up with after my break in, this was the best medicine I could get.

Galveston Texas is a major weekend beach get away for Houston area residents since it’s only an hour away.  But it’s not the Hamptons.  I would put it somewhere between Panama City Beach and Daytona, with a little more charm and personality….but not much.  Still, when you’re with good friends it doesn’t really matter.  There is some interesting architecture there and the best thing we did was drive around and look at the wood carvings.  Back in ’08 hurricane Ike tore through Galveston destroying homes, downing power for over a week and uprooting hundred year old Live Oaks.  It left ugly rotting stumps behind.  One of the local women came up with the idea of getting area artists to carve sculptures into them instead as a way to create beauty and promote tourism.  It most definitely worked we spent several hours driving around searching them out.  The tin man was carved infront of the house that one of the directors of the Wizard of Oz was actually born in.  There were owls, dolphins, frogs, sponge bob, and my personal favorite Mermaids!  It was such a good time and good to hang out with Mike and the girls.

After lunch it was time for me to head over to San Antonio to meet up with their mother.  Can you believe, I had to drive back thru Houston to get there and I got lost twice!!!  Not only are the highways completely confusing, but the driver’s are total assholes as well!!!  They all drive BIG trucks or Suburbans and drive VERY aggressively.  My little 4-cylinder car wasn’t quite up taking them on.  So yeah, I got lost twice getting in the wrong lane and then not being able to change.  UGH!!!!  Just get me as far away from Houston as possible!!! I finally made it to San Antonia an hour behind schedule due to I-10 being shut down for 2 miles, with no notice! When I got to the hotel parking was a big challenge and I had to resort to the hotel’s valet service.  I explained to the guy that I was basically living out of my car and would need more stuff out of it but he said that wasn’t a problem.  The hotel we stayed in was super cool!  It was an old bank that still had all the original vaults and molding and wow it was super beautiful!

Margaret and I had been to San Antonio together once before when I got a cheaper fare to fly there instead of Austin. The river walk in down town San Antonio is super cool and unlike anything I’ve seen anywhere else in the states.  It goes on and on and on and has one bar and restaurant after another.  We had such a fun night bouncing here and there until the exhaustion of my ‘event’ finally caught up with me and we called it a night.  The next day we had lunch a top the Spindle Top, Towers of the Americas. Which was built for the 1968 world’s fair.  Who doesn’t love a good spindle top?!?  Though this was definitely one of the more slow moving ones.  I recommend it if you’re ever in the area. Also check out the super cool waterfall fountains down below.

After lunch we headed over the see The Alamo.  Even though we’ve all heard the name, I didn’t really know the full story.  The first thing is what evidently most people say after they see it, which is wow it’s really small!  But I suppose since only a few hundred people were staying there it wouldn’t need to be large.  Pretty unbelievable that an army of 6,500 stormed them for 6 months!  After the Alamo, well it was just too damn hot!!!  Walk more than 2 blocks in that heat and you will absolutely melt.  We jumped in our A/C cars and drove back to Austin where I’ve been hanging out with the girls waiting for my bank card to arrive so I can get back on the road.

Day 14 & 15; The Good, The Bad, The Ugly & Then The Beautiful

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It’s taken me several days to be able to write about what happened in Houston.  But the more I think and talk about it the more I realize that I do have to tell the full story so all can understand what really evolved.

On Thursday, July 14th I made the long drive from Natchez, MS to Houston, TX.  I was originally supposed to meet up with a girlfriend who is currently living there. But due to a death in the family she wasn’t going to be in town.  I didn’t really have any major interest in seeing Houston and visiting her had been my main reason for going.  However I was also enroute to Austin so I had to stop somewhere in Texas!  I had absolutely no interest in going to Dallas so I decided to just use the Houston stop over as a ‘me’ day…which translates to a spa/maintenance day.  So I got another priceline room reserved at the Marriott and headed out.

I don’t know why but Ms. Garmin took me on every stupid 2-lane, windy county road thru Louisiana and Texas. And of course I ended up behind every logging truck out there.  You know what there is to see through LA and TX…??? Absolutely nothing. It was beyond boring!!!  And there was 6 hours of it!

I finally arrived in Houston just in time for rush hour traffic. Yay! Just what I wanted.  I had done a little research on the town to find out what there was to do, neighborhoods that might interest me and other tid bits.  From what I read Montrose was my kind of place so I headed over there for some dinner.  Even though Houston, like much of the Southeast, had been going through some severe heat waves that evening was actually quite pleasant as there was a hint of rain in the air.  So after dinner I decided that since I had been cooped up in the car all day I didn’t really want to go straight back to the hotel.  So instead I decided to go to a nearby park for an evening walk.  NO. It wasn’t Memorial Park as many people have asked me.  It was Tinsely Ellis Park just off of Allen Pkwy. for those familiar with the neighborhood.  There were loads of people out running, biking, walking their dogs and other normal park activities.  The park really was quite large with a small canal or lake in the middle of it.  As I was power walking my way around I looked up and noticed there was a rainbow arching right over the skyline.  It really was quite beautiful.  The air felt really pleasant with random sprinkles flirting that it may, or may not rain.  I saw several photography students out with their tripods taking pictures of the skyline and I wondered if they had caught that amazing rainbow.  As I walked the opposite side of the loop I looked over and saw my car and inspected it.  At first it looked to me like someone was looking inside of my car.  But then i realized it was just the garbage can beside it.  However it was starting to get dark so I picked up the pace feeling a sudden desire to be back inside my car.

The loop never seemed to end and I finally made my way back to where the car was parked.  Many of the cars that had been there when I arrived were gone, but there was still a handful remaining.  I can’t quite describe it, but when I was walking up to the car hitting the unlock button I did feel an anxious knot in my stomach.  I got in the car and looked to my right.  What I saw didn’t quite register with my brain. A giant hole in the window. Glass everywhere.  The last time I had a car broken into there was a gaping hole in the dashboard with wires dangling out.  But this time everything was still there.  I turned again looking at the window and then suddenly looked down in the floorboard….where my purse had been.  I looked again at the hole and the glass and suddenly the reality of the situation sank in and the strangest piercing scream came out of my body!  Not my mouth…my entire body screamed!  The kind of scream you feel come out your head, your eyes, out through your hands and shake through your legs.  I started pounding the steering wheel stammering “No no no no no no no no no no no!!!!!!!!!”  This was MY roadtrip!  The one I’ve been saving and planning for a year.  And this was my mother’s brand new car.  This was NOT happening!!

All of this probably took place over the span of 30 secs. but it felt like ages.  I saw headlights coming in my rear view window and bolted out of the car frantically waving them down.  The car pulled over and a window came down.  “My car’s just been broken into” I spat out.  I don’t quite remember what happened next. I know they pulled over and were instantly on the phone calling the police.  I think I paced around the car, still trying to grasp what was happening.  I got back in the car trying to take inventory of what happened, and that’s when things got weird for me.  I had put my purse in the floorboard, but covered it up with the hand towel down there like I always did for the Garmin.  That’s what was weird!  The Garmin was still there.  My ipod was still there. My camera was still covered up in the seat.  The only thing they had taken was my purse.  And then I thought what a stupid thing it was that I hadn’t taken my cell phone with me on the walk like I normally would have.

After we called the police I was talking with the couple and realized I should call the bank.  Luckily the woman also banked with Chase so she had the number.  They were telling me how they often came to this park and had never seen this happen there, but that there were quite a few hobos and it was probably one of them.  I had passed one on the way back to my car so I ran after him asking if he had seen anything but of course he was unhelpful.  After answering a million security questions from the bank I finally got access to my account.  She asked me what the last transaction was and I told her.  Then she asked me if I had been at the Exxon, or the Chevron, or another Chevron. Um, NO!  These were definitely NOT hobos.  The couple and I searched nearby garbage cans thinking they may have dumped the purse. Cos let’s be honest, it’s all the personal stuff in the purse that really sucks to lose.  All of my essential oils, my lip glosses.  The business card holder that had my name engraved on it, it was a graduation present from dear friends.  But more than anything it was the cell phone, with all of my private clients, long time friends & new friends stored inside.  And all of those favorite texts I had save, that made my heart melt and put a smile on my face.  It was my little day planner with so much information inside.  UGH!!  All of that!  This indeed really sucked!!!

The couple was so sweet.  They sat and sat with me and talked and tried to take my mind off things.  But how could I?  I felt so violated!  Someone had broken into ‘my’ car and touched my stuff!  And now they were running around town racking up hundreds of dollars at gas stations on my card.  UGH! My brand new driver’s license that I worked so hard to get.  Now once again I didn’t have one.  Then I started to worry about the fact that my check book was in there.  Or the fact that my hotel room key was in there.  Oh god! what if they when back to my room to steal more stuff.  But obviously they were lazy thieves or they could have gotten off with much more.  As I sat there waiting for the cops I started thinking about how lucky it was that I had taken my passport out of my purse after I got my license.  Anyone who knows me knows my p.p. is my most prized possession, with all those stamps and such.  And thank goodness this time they didn’t take my camera.  In fact my small point and shoot would’ve been in there except I had been taking pictures from the road that day.  So at least there was that.

We kept waiting and waiting for over an hour.  The woman commented on how the police station was only a few blocks away and how ridiculous it was that there wasn’t even a police car patrolling the park!  I felt bad that they were having to wait so long with me and only then started to notice that they had a young child in the back seat and that she was 6 months pregnant.  But they assured me that they would just be home watching t.v.  That was really sweet.  Millasenth (sp?) and Tecumsah.  I noted in the back of my head how ironic it seemed that a black man from the south would be named after the General of the Union Army that defeated them, he was just impressed that I was the first person who could actually pronounce it.  After nearly an hour and a half and still no police we called once again, told it hadn’t even been dispatched and asked if we could just drive over to the station ourselves.  Oh sure they said.  Well why didn’t they tell us that sooner we all wondered.  They said they would show me the way and I gave them both a huge hug.  As we drove out of the park Tecumsah saw more glass and pointed it out to me.

When we got to the police station the whole intake took about 5 minutes.  The police officer jotted my information down on a scrap piece of paper!  It felt so casual for something that to me was not!  But atleast I got my police report for insurance purposes.  Or rather I should say, I got a piece of paper with an incident number on it.  When we walked back to the car my angels gave me garbage bags to cover up the window with.  The drive back to the hotel was awful.  Glass kept falling and the sound pierced my heart each time.  The air and the sound of the highway being right inside the car with me was awful.  When I got back to the hotel I faced yet another challenge.  What in the world was I going to do with a car full of stuff with no window!  I spoke to the front desk about the situation and they called the security guy who helped me tape the garbage bag over the window and he told me I could leave the car right at the front door entrance so they could keep any eye on it.  That was something, but of course I still felt uneasy.  The hotel had free wifi in the lobby so I brought my laptop down there to e-mail everyone and keep an eye on the car.  Luckily I had taken my lap top out at the hotel right when I got there, so at least I had that.  I e-mailed everyone requesting phone numbers and quite frankly a little moral support.  I had called my mom twice from Milli’s phone but never been able to get a hold of her.  That was my number one concern.  Then I was anxiously thinking about all the other things I had to take care of in the morning.  The security guard told me there was a Chase bank only 2 blocks away that I could go to.  And that cell phones and these things can be replaced.  I knew he was right.  I was ok.  The car was basically ok.  That’s when I remembered the spare key my mom had given me and thought ‘WOW!’ I’m really glad I didn’t keep that key in my purse!!!  Yup, if I came back to find the car gone that most definitely would have been the end of the roadtrip!  One more thing to be thankful for.  I stayed downstairs until 2 AM  and then decided that I really should try to get atleast some sleep.  I slept with the lights on and ended up going downstairs to check on the car atleast 2 more times.  And finally at 7 AM I got up to face the challenges of the day.

First thing I had to take care of was the phone.  We got it turned off and ordered a new one.  Luckily I am visiting several good friends on this trip so I had addresses for things to be shipped.  “How would you like to pay for this?”  she asked me.  Well um, all my stuff was stolen and I no longer have any cards.  Can’t you just charge it to my account?  After talking with her supervisor she said they could since it was an ‘extenuating’ circumstance!  Well I should say so.  I had to wait until 9:00 to go to the bank and I was there at 8:55.  I walked into Judith’s office mainly because my car was parked right behind her and I could keep an eye on my window.  But honestly I believe there was some divine guidance because she turned out to be an absolute angel!  She had only been living in Houston for a month and told me she didn’t see herself living there long because of these sort of things.  She completely understood how I felt and printed out all my recent transactions so we could go thru it together.  She closed down my old account and opened a new one.  She made copies of my police report, She helped me fill out all of the credit bureau fraud reports. She let me use the phone to make calls.  And on and on and on.  “I want to make this as easy as possible for you” she told me.  Honestly, after going through a traumatic and violating experience, she was exactly what I needed.  She spent over an hour and a half with me getting all the in’s and out’s taken care of so that atleast I had peace of mind that my money and credit would be protected.  I will be forever grateful for her kindness and helpfulness.

After I finished up at the bank it was time to get the window replaced.  While sitting with the couple the night before I had asked them if they knew of a glass repair shop and in fact they had and gave me the name and address.  Luckily it wasn’t far and a guy at the bank had told me that that was the area to go to to get a good deal.  I drove up to Juan’s Autoglass and explained my situation and he said ‘no problem’.  An hour and a half later I had a new passenger’s window and it only cost $75!!  I couldn’t get over the price, or the quickness of it.  They had vacuumed up most of the glass, though I think I’ll be finding pieces for quite a while, but atleast it no longer had that fresh crime feel to it.

I stopped by the bank one last time to thank Judith once again and let her know I got my window fixed….and that I would never come back to Houston again!  I was on the road to Galveston to meet up with some long time friends and extremely grateful for it.

As awful as the situation was, it could have been SO much worse!!!  And I met some incredibly kind and helpful people along the way.  Let’s hope that’s as bad as it gets!!

Day 12 & 13; Deep in the heart of Dixie

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James Joyce said “There are no strangers here, just friends you haven’t met yet.”  This sentiment would pretty accurately describe my time in Natchez, MS.  A small, but historically rich town right on the Mississippi it is definitely one of the stand out destinations on my trip so far.

After driving up from New Orleans I check into the Mark Twain guest house which is directly above the Saloon.  Would I stay anywhere else?  It actually was a great location because the river was right there.  And so was the Saloon.  The legend is that Mark Twain himself stayed here…and I’m inclined to believe that.  The view of the sunset from my room was unbelievable, so I went downstairs to the river bank to take pictures and started talking to locals hearing about how the Mississippi had crested on May 20th from all the flooding and they showed me just how high the water got on the Louisiana side, and then the Mississippi side.  One of the most interesting things I learned is that the reason the Mississippi side is higher, and more hilly is that over the years wind currents blew massive amounts of dirt and soil across the river which means you have two very different topographies.

After the sunset I ended up in the Saloon and I hadn’t been in there 30 seconds before I was being engaged in conversations.  I swear these were the friendliest lot of people I’ve ever met.  The funny thing was, as the night wore on and I met more and more people explaining why I was there and where I was from, the expression and reaction was always the same.  A furrowed brow with a confused expression followed by “New York?!?!  Are you lost?!?!” Over and over again.  However the people of Natchez are very proud to be from Natchez.  A small town of 19,000 I soon noticed that nearly everyone knows nearly everyone.  Which perhaps explains why everyone I met had been divorced at least twice!  I made a few friends that night.  One being a woman named Carol Ann.  We started comparing tattoos; she had a feather, I have a feather, she has a tattoo over her heart that’s a memorial and so do I.  This comparing led us to discover that we were both Tauruses. ‘Wht daaaay?’ She asked me. ‘May 12th’ I responded. ‘Hot Daaaaammmn!’ We had the same birthday and this turned into cause for celebration.  My other new friend turned out to be the City Planner and I learned a lot about the city from him. About how back in the day Natchez was the New York City of the South. It was big oil money that made this town rich.  There were more bars and restaurants here than any other town in the Confederacy.  And for sure, the Civil War somehow made it’s way into EVERY SINGLE conversation.  They are still pissed about losing the war!  Being in this town was indeed like stepping back in time.  I did learn an interesting fact though that what I know to be the Confederate flag, or the Stars and Bars as they call it, is in fact NOT the Confederate Flag.  The actual Confederate flag has 11 stars up in the left corner (for the 11 Confederate states) and instead of 13 red and white stripes has 2 red and 1 white stripe. Sorry, can’t remember what those are for. However because the 2 flags were so similar they were accidentally killing their own men, so they resorted to using the battle flag.  And it has stuck ever since.  This was most definitely turning into a cultural lesson…in my own country.  I spent several hours at the bar talking to my new friends, until a fight almost broke out and I made my way upstairs.

The following day I had a lunch date with my friend Fred the City Planner.  I got a full tour of City Hall and even met The Mayor!  What’s next? The City Key?  I got a walking tour of downtown which most definitely was a step back in time.  Old Antebellum Homes, General Stores and a historic hotel that Bonnie and Clyde once stayed in.  It was hot hot hot though!  So I decided to take a drive to escape the heat and went to visit the Old National Cemetery.  The oldest cemetery, there are grave stones that date back to the 1600’s.  I don’t quite understand that since we weren’t officially a country until 1776, but I saw it with my own eyes.

When I came back from my drive I was really planning to go upstairs and take a quick power nap but there was always someone standing outside the Saloon who would talk to me and then invite me in for a drink, so how could I refuse.  Honestly! In the day and a half I was there I didn’t pay for a single drink or meal! I went in and met some new friends in addition to old friends from the night before.  Rounds and rounds of drinks, several games of darts and multiple conversations.  It was all good times….until as the evening progressed I started realizing that the problem with being in a small town is that everyone knows your ‘bidness’…and get’s into your ‘bidness’.  Now I understand why many will say they love the anonymity of New York.  The charm and appeal of a small town is good for 24 hours, after that it starts getting really annoying, and if I had stayed another week it would have turned in drama! Especially after I started feeling jealous undercurrents from some of the women and even more jealousy between the men, and then I ended up in a heated “debate” with one of the locals about a racist comment he made.  2 things I can’t tolerate or keep my mouth shut about; littering and racism.  After way too many rounds of G & T,  and an intense storm swept in I thought it was time to make my way upstairs and fell asleep to the sounds of the saloon below.

The next morning I packed up feeling grateful for the experience and hospitality, but even more grateful that I could get the hell out!  Til next time dear readers….

The lucky streak ends…

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I was going to spend tonight writing about my time in Natchez Mississippi but instead now I am writing a short blog about the fact that my car got broken into in Houston and the only thing they took was my purse, which had my cell phone inside. which is almost more devastating than my wallet. Thank God I keep my passport in a separate place now that I finally have a drivers license.

I feel sick and devastated. I knew this place would be trouble when my original plans fell thru. I hate Houston!

Day 11&12; Diving into the Big Easy

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After nearly a week of catching up with friends it was time to get out of Florida.  A friend of mine says the drive between Orlando and Tallahassee is a death trap because it is so boring.  However I feel that is more the case on the endless stretch of I-10 between Tally and Pensacola.  The only thing to break up the endless monotony of road and swamp is the need to constantly watch your speed because I swear there are State Troopers every half mile. It was that way 20 years ago and the same is true today. But god it’s awful. Trying to find something ‘decent’ to eat at a gas stop was also a challenge.  PLEASE GET ME OUT OF THE PAN-HANDLE!!!

I actually made brilliant time, but that was probably because I had forgotten about the time change! LOL!  My stop in New Orleans was actually the first time I ever had to book a hotel room.  My love affair with Priceline has not been diminished.  That website has never done me wrong as far as hotels go.  The most I’ve ever paid was $60 and that was a 4-star room.  For $40 I got an really awesome room in the heart of downtown with a pool and breakfast.  I didn’t get my USA today though.  I hadn’t put a lot of planning into N.O. since I’ve been there before and felt it would just be better to take it as it came.  I did however contact a couch surfer prior to my arrival.  I’ve tried to explain couchsurfing to several people and they usually just look at me dazed and confused.  But for those of us that use it and understand it it’s a travelers best friend.  Megan was a born and bred New Orleans girl and did me a huge favor by picking me up and taking me out to The Marigny. A far less touristy area than the French Quarter but with just as much music. It may have been a Monday night but there was still a buzz about town.  We hopped between several places soaking in the music and culture and did do the ‘mandatory’ walk down Bourbon St.  This was my first visit to New Orleans that wasn’t centered around Mardi Gras or Jazz Fest, so it was interesting to see the Quarter less crowded (and less inebriated too).  Even on a Monday night that block smells of puke! It was a great night, even if I didn’t come home with any beads this time…;)

Megan gave me some really great tips about places to check out the next morning, since I’d never ventured out of the quarter before.  New Orleans was soupy as soupy can be so I hopped on a Trolley Car down to the Garden District. Perhaps I should’ve just stayed on, for $1.25 it was a bargain.  Walking thru the Garden District reminded me of being in Savannah.  I can see a lot of similarities between the 2 towns.  Some of the architecture was breathtaking and Crepe Myrtles were everywhere (many shrouded in beads).  I came across LaFayette Cemetery and finally got to see what I’ve always heard about.  The cemeteries in New Orleans are unique. Because the city is built below sea level, the graves are above ground to prevent them from floating away.  It was cool to finally see this in person.

After sweating my way thru the Garden District and visiting a few galleries I just couldn’t take it anymore and headed back. While waiting for a trolley car a local man was talking with me talking about the heat and giving me the history of every storm to ever come thru the area.  For sure all this heat does cause a danger of another storm brewing.  It’s like being in a real life pressure cooker, sooner or later the steam has to break and release.

This was my first visit back to New Orleans post Katrina and it was very important for me to see first hand what has become a major part of our country’s history.  There are living reminders of it everywhere.  Just like 9/11 it’s there, and it makes it’s way into nearly every conversation.  I knew I wanted to visit the 9th Ward but didn’t know where to start. So I did what anyone these days would do…I googled it.  One of the things that came up that caught my attention was a bicycle tour of the 9th Ward with Katrina highlights.  Spending hours in the car driving, I’ve been looking for any source of exercise possible. When I called though I was told they aren’t doing the tours right now due to the heat. Well I can understand that.  However the guy on the phone was just ‘sitting in his kitchen’ and gave me a wealth of information of leads.  He highly recommended I visit the House of Dance & Feathers.  I called up Ronald to make an appointment to go by.  Ronald is one of those special people that make the world a better and more interesting place.  He has a make shift museum in his back yard that is full of Culture, bead work and information.  Ronald can tell you anything about Katrina that you want to know.  I spent over an hour sitting and talking with him and felt really fortunate to cross his path. After my time with Ronald I drove all around the lower 9th; passing houses that had been re-built, houses with ‘Do Not Demolish’ spray painted, houses that still looked like the hurricane had hit and empty lots where no one was coming back. I drove around the block where the “Brad Pitt” houses are, or as Ronald calls them ‘Architects Gone Wild’. I saw what he meant. Ronald told me that several Architectural Schools from all over the states had designed them.  When I talked to locals in the neighborhood they told me that each one had been designed by someone different. They were definitely ‘interesting’.  I tried to understand how the ‘system’ worked…or didn’t work. Why some houses were re-built, but others weren’t.  Many people aren’t coming back at all.  Many took a ‘pay-out’ from the government.  But if the residents don’t come back, how can the community rebuild and move forward.  The economic downturn and lack of jobs is a double whammy to NoLa now.  Even though I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness, there is also a pride and love of New Orleans from many of the people there.  People like Ronald are making sure the world does not forget them and that the lower 9th will come together and rebuild.

As I made my way out on the highway I felt flooded with mixed emotions about what I had seen and learned, but incredibly grateful for the life I have.

Day 9 & 10: Finishing up the FL tour

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The 4 hour drive from Orlando to Tallahassee is brutal.  The only thing present to break up the awful monotony of the trip are the toll booths. And even they eventually disappear.  I’ve made the drive dozens of times and the only thing that makes it bearable is the anticipation of seeing my friends.

First pit stop was a visit to the Hennessy household.  Matt and I went to Engineering school way back in the day. We used to be study partners as well as happy hour mates.  Matt was a Tallahassee native and the running joke was that I was his Tallahassee girlfriend since his real life girlfriend went to UF.  All these years later Matt and Ann are still married and have 3 beautiful children.  And even though I’m no longer an Engineer it’s always good catching up with them.  I have to say this visit was one of the best in recent years. They’ve never looked healthier or happier, which is always a good way to see friends. It’s even nicer now that the kids are old enough that we don’t have to constantly watch them so we got to catch up over beers for several hours on their new deck.

After catching up with The Hennessy’s it was time to meet up with my old HH crew.  I first met Jim way back a hundred years ago when I had just become legal to drink.  It’s sort of funny that I decided to have my first legal drink at the Ruby Tuesday’s in the Mall, but that’s what I did at a 3:00 pm on a Thurs way back in ’93. No big surprise I made friends with the bartender and therefore returned many more times. (side note; I used to get so tipsy at the bar at RT’s that I would have to go shopping in the mall until I sobered up. The only thing more dangerous than drinking and driving is drinking and shopping.  It never failed that the next day I would have a complete panic attack over what I’d bought and have to return it the next day).  One day I was in there having my afternoon cocktail and an older gentleman a few stools down started chatting with me.  “Has anyone ever told you that you look like a young Norma Jean?”  Now you wouldn’t think that a line like that would lead to a 20 yr. friendship would you? But somehow it did. Jim and his lovely wife CJ have become some of my longest lasting and dearest friends all these years later, across the miles and thru multiple moves on both sides.  The funny thing about this town is that people never seem to leave.  The same bartender has been moving around with us for years as have the patrons so there were a lot of familiar faces.

The next morning, after a week of libatious reunions I decided some exercise was in order.  Lake Ella was my refuge during those crazy college years. I used to run several rounds around the lake to clear my head and reconnect so it was the perfect place to get my blood pumping on a Sunday morning. Despite all the Moscovy Duck runs I attended, those pesky, filthy birds are still in abundance there. Late morning brunch, afternoon thunderstorm, a retail visit to the Quarter Moon (the coolest store ever) and a few other pit stops, it was a full day.  The evening was finished off with a house concert over at a friend’s house of a successful Nashville musician.  It was a great way to end my FL tour.  I had a great time catching up with all my old friends and now look forward to the next chapter of the journey!