DAY ONE – VANCOUVER / NEW ORLEANS CONTINUED

So I’m sitting in this shuttle van and it’s quite apparent I’m not in Vancouver anymore. The weather is stiffling hot. Not only is the mercury at 34 degrees Celsius, the humidity is also kicking my ass. It’s just oppressive weather.

The van is nearly full and I’m looking around for the driver to come. He finally gets in and starts reading out destinations. I hear mine, which is a good thing. Two people are going to Tulane University.

The van starts up and so does the A/C. I’m in heaven. We pull away from the curb and begin to exit the airport. The driver informs us it should be a 20 minute drive to downtown New Orleans. I immediately take note of the condition of the roads, the traffic density, and type of cars. We pull onto a multi-lane interstate. It must be at least four or five lanes wide in either direction. Coming from Vancouver, this is always a treat for me to see. Even though I think most Americans drive way too fast and recklessly, I don’t get that feeling watching the traffic around me. I see several large billboards featuring seductive women enticing me to go to “gentlemen’s clubs” in the French Quarter. The names I see are “Rick’s” and “Hustler”. Nice.

Pretty soon we’re approaching the city proper and I spot the “world-famous” Superdome. It’s been the site of several Superbowls. It’s like a big concrete upside-down bowl. It’s ugly. Built during the days when concrete was all the rage, it is beginning to contrast greatly with the newer open-air stadiums. We get closer to it and actually take an off-ramp that goes right near the base of the concrete behemoth. The driver also points out the arena next to it, which is the home to the Hornets of the NBA.

I begin to notice the architecture around the city. Some of it looks very recent and modern. Other areas are very old and run down. I guess that could be said about most cities. I try to see if I can recognize some streets from the map I was looking at on the plane. It’s not until we’re very near the French Quarter that I do see some familiar names. We drop a few people off at the Sheraton. I’m informed that I’m next.

Some of the streets are very narrow and go only one way. We’re on one of those type of streets when we stop at a corner. The driver gets out and so do I. I’m handed my single piece of luggage. I give the dude a dollar ’cause I’m a high-roller. The van drives away and I’m left in front of the Royal St. Charles Hotel. I quickly step into the lobby to escape the heat. It looks exactly as it did on the web site. I make my way to the front desk where the concierge is waiting for me. She doesn’t smile at me the entire time I check in. She gives me a spiel about the fitness room and the continental breakfast. It sounds so rehearsed and tired. The rest of the hotel looks great, but this woman looks so out of place.

I’m on the third floor. I grab my keys and head into the first available elevator. Exiting the elevator, I examine the decor of the hallway. It’s simple but elegant. In a strange way, it looks like the decor from 30’s. I like it. I arrive in front of my hotel room door. This is the part of the trip I always enjoy. The moment right before you see your hotel room for the first time. I slide the card key through the lock. The warm green glow of the LED signals me to enter. I turn the door handle and swing open the door to reveal…. darkness. The lights are off and the curtains are closed. I enter and fumble around for a light switch. I flick on a light. The room is small, but nicely appointed. My room at SJC is probably larger than what they gave me. The bathroom is the highlight. It’s smartly decorated with a sorta fake marble theme. It’s also clean which I like in a bathroom. I have a queen-sized bed. In the dresser is the 28″ TV. I also have a mini-bar where if it strikes my fancy, I can have a $8 US bag of peanuts. And yes, if you’re wondering, the Bible is in one of my nightstand drawers. I throw open the curtains to see I have a view of the Marriott Hotel across the street. Oh well.

I’ve been in worse places. I unpack all my clothes and hang them up or put them in drawers. My next goal is to get something to eat. I’m starving and I’m ready to try out the local cuisine. I’m also eager to get back to my hotel room in a reasonable amount time because I was told not to walk around alone at night. I would later on find out and be told this warning was unnecessary.

Anyways, consulting my travel guide, I head off to the nearest recommended restaurant. It’s less than a block away from my hotel, located in another hotel. The place is dead and I’m the third person in there. I order up some oysters and some crab cakes. It’s good but expensive. My waitress tells me that I’ve come at the slowest time of year for the city. The locals have gone to escape the heat and most tourists won’t come because of the weather too. It’s a good news and bad news type of thing.

I pay my bill and leave. I get back to my hotel room at around 9:30pm. I’m really not that tired and it’s early. To hell with the warning I think. I’m a block away from the French Quarter and Bourbon St., I might as well see it now. I make my way down to the street and it’s still hot as hell. I walk across Canal St. which is one of the widest streets I’ve been on. I hit the beginning of Bourbon St. and begin to take in the sights and sounds.

I’ve seen Bourbon St. many times on TV, and like always, it’s a little different in your own eyes. For one, it seems a lot smaller and narrower. TV doesn’t prepare you for the stench that emanates from certain areas of the street. The heat makes any garbage can on the street stink like a landfill.

There are any number of bars on either side of the street. Some are jazz clubs, some are topless (and bottomless) clubs, and some are just places where they have a dozen margarita machines inside where you can take it go. Drinking in public with non-glass containers is legal in New Orleans, so you see lots of people with alcohol in hand outside. Even though it’s not even Mardi Gras, almost everyone has a string of beads around their neck. Strangely, no exchange of beads and brief nudity is going on anywhere.

I make my way along Bourbon quite a ways, almost to the end. After a while, it becomes almost uniform in appearance. It’s neon everywhere, it’s loud, there’s music, people enticing you to go inside, and there’s a thin layer of seediness over everything. I decide to go back to my hotel after about half an hour of exploring.

I’m tempted to grab a margarita to go in a plastic cup, much like a 7-11 Slurpee, but I decided I need to be fresh for the next day.

I arrive safely at my hotel. I notice they have a WebTV-like service in every room. It’s $9.95 US for Internet access until noon the next day. I go for it and spend the next hour reading my mail. I feel sorry for anyone using WebTV because it sucks crap. The resolution of the browser on the TV is like 120 x 80. I have this wireless keyboard which is nice, but it’s difficult without a mouse. I answer a few mails and then attempt to blog. It won’t work with the sucky browser.

I give up and think Letterman is on. I am wrong. I keep forgetting I’m in Central time and he’s on at 10pm. I watch a bit of Conan instead and then turn in for the night.

The next day, I wake up at…

TO BE CONTINUED…

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