Traffic on Highway 65 was moderate and became heavy once we merged onto highway 10. Gone was the tranquility of the countryside. We stopped to refuel north of Biloxi. The Maritime museum would have been a nice place to visit, but we were late in the day, and they were likely closed.
Andy wanted to stay at a hotel near the French quarter, but I was counting my coins, so we ended up booking rooms at the Econo Lodge in Chalmette. Surrounded by so much water, the place was damp and moldy, and it looked like the carpeting dated back to when the motel was built.
The shower didn’t work.
We were hungry, and after checking in, we headed back to the French Quarter. Just before getting there, we spotted a restaurant called King Rogers on North Rampart. It was around 9pm. The folks who ran the place were not too happy to see us arrive, understandably, as they were getting ready to shut down. They only had some gumbo and jambalaya left. We purchased our food and stepped outside to sit at one of the picnic tables.
An elderly man came over to ask us if we could spare some change so he could eat. Instead of giving him money, Andy bought him a meal, and I gave him some of my food. The man was skin and bones and covered with sores. Grateful for the food, he wolfed it down. We thought he might have suffered from HIV. He thanked us again and left.
The food at King Rogers was out of this world.
Live Music & Lessons Learned
Still on Rampart, the next stop was Funky Butt. Music is very good for digestion, as Tuco would say in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. We arrived just in time for some live music. Andy was able to appreciate the musicianship of the band in ways that I could not. In addition to being a professional guitar player, Andy also taught music in his spare time. He told me that they were very good!
It was time to head back to Chalmette. The next morning, I looked out the window and saw a sunken boat in the marina. Was it a sign of things to come? We checked out. I had learned my lesson with cheap hotels, and we headed back to New Orleans. We would stay at the Holiday Inn that night. We left the car at the hotel and walked to the French Quarter, but we made the obligatory stop at Café du Monde for breakfast.
They serve a full breakfast, but I chose a pastry. Is there anything better than whipped cream and sugar?
After eating, we set out for a day of exploring. Walking out of the restaurant, a guy bumped into me. He was stoned this early in the morning. He looked at my Dr. Martens boots and wanted to gamble for them. I gave him a buck and sent him on his way. The sun was shining, but it was still cold. We headed for Congo Square in the Louis Armstrong Park; Andy stated with admiration that it was the birthplace of jazz. Then, we walked to the St. Louis Cemetery, but unfortunately, it was closed for repairs. It was much smaller than it appeared in the movie Easy Rider.
The way they filmed, it made it look larger.
Consulting The Curator
We also visited the New Orleans African American Museum. Downstairs, a few ladies were busy preparing food in a kitchen at the end of the hall. The actual museum was upstairs. We paid the admission fee and climbed the stairs.
When we reached the landing, we were greeted by a man who wasn’t too happy. He asked us what we were doing there. We told him that we wanted to see the museum.
He then asked if we had paid to get in, to which we responded affirmatively.
When he realized that we weren’t there to hassle him or the folks in the building, his stance softened, and a smile adorned his face. He was the curator, and although the artifacts were predominantly about slavery, he was enthusiastic about his museum, and we learned a lot.
Boys Night Out
We headed back to the French Quarter. We stopped at an internet café and were able to email home to let our sweethearts know about the trip thus far. We went to the Clover Grill on Bourbon Street. We had burgers with all the trimmings. The beef patty was cooked under a hub cap to seal in that meaty goodness. Mine was grilled under a Ford hub cap. Henry would be proud, I think. All the while, two of the staff kept bickering. We tuned them out and enjoyed our meal.
Afterward, we spent some time exploring shops and outdoor markets. We then took a break and returned to the Holiday Inn. Despite the cold, I decided to go for a swim, thanks to the heated pool. I had it to myself. Some people in the adjacent buildings were looking in on me through their office windows, probably thinking I was crazy to swim on such a cold day.
It was dinner time, and the plan was to go to Jacques-Imo’s restaurant on Oak Street. We didn’t bother driving since some drinking was planned. We hopped in a taxi. We arrived at Jacques Leonardi’s eatery to find that it was standing room only. There would be an hour wait before we could be seated, so we were invited to sit in the bar. I was starving and convinced Andy to skip the deep-fried cheeseburger and to go eat somewhere else. Reluctantly, Andy agreed, and we ended up at a run-of-the-mill pub for pizza. If we find ourselves in the same retirement home, years from now, I’m sure I’ll still hear about not having gone to Jacques-Imo’s.
We took a cab back to the French Quarter and walked off the pizza on Bourbon Street. The place was packed with all sorts of interesting people. I treated myself to a handmade cigar. $10 for a thinly packed smoke was a bit much, but it was better than a machine-made stogie.
(Not So) Happy Couple
When we woke up the next day, we decided to return to the Clover Grill, thinking that breakfast would be as good as lunch and the place would be quiet. The place was packed, but we managed to get a table. The same two employees were still arguing as if they had never stopped, but the breakfast was great.
We went back to the Holiday Inn and checked out.
Man Versus Parking Gate
It was my turn to drive, and when I pulled up to the Holiday Inn parking gate, it would not open. I tried the passcard a few more times to no avail. We called the attendant. He kept telling us how to insert the card in the reader. We followed his instructions, but it did not open the gate. He finally made his way to our car. I gave him the card, and it wouldn’t work for him either, which made us smile.
He finally opened the box and lifted the gate manually.
The next stop would be Tampa Bay. Andy’s wife had a cousin who lived there, and we were invited to stay overnight. We stuck to the highway this time. We saw several roadkills, and most of them were dogs. We meandered our way down through Tallahassee, eventually reaching Tampa and heading straight to the cousin’s house. She was a single mom raising a teenager. We were grateful for her hospitality. We decided to treat her to dinner at Hellas Greek Restaurant in Tarpon Springs to repay her kindness.
It was too cold to eat outside on the patio.
The next morning, we said our goodbyes. We drove to the other side of the airport and topped up on cigars. We then checked out the University of Tampa and Plant Hall, formerly the Tampa Bay Hotel, where Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders stayed. After a brief tour of downtown Tampa, we drove southwest to St. Petersburg. It was slow going over the tall bridge, but we would soon find out that there was an accident on the other side. We trickled past the wrecks and headed for The Salvador Dalí Museum, which was located in an old marine warehouse back then.
Before we made it to the museum, we got lost. A fortunate error in driving caused us to find a restaurant where they served the best hamburgers in the world. I wish I could remember the name of it. The visit to the museum was one of the highlights of the trip. As small as we found the cemetery in New Orleans, we were bowled over by the sheer size of some of Dali’s paintings in that museum, such as The Ecumenical Council.
Andy couldn’t leave without buying souvenirs for his kids. Of course, the gift shop was conveniently located at the exit. It was time to head back to Atlanta, and we stuck to the highways again. We were scheduled to fly out the next day.
From Hard Rock To Hooters
The sky was cloudy, and the temperature still cold. We made it to Atlanta. It was dark when we got there and checked in at the Hampton Inn downtown. By now, it was past dinner time, and we decided to go to Hooters for chicken wings and burgers. Some of the Hooters girls looked bored, but they quickly cheered up when somebody celebrated a birthday. Our final morning in the south was spent relaxing. We had lunch at the Hard Rock Café, not too far from Hooters, and then left for the airport. The trip back north was as uneventful as was the flight south, and our journey was fantastic despite the lower-than-average temperatures.
Hop in your favorite vehicle and don’t just go west, but go south. You will meet interesting characters, eat great food, and your travels will be filled with new adventures and discoveries.
As Jack Kerouac put it: “The road is life.”
*Michael Bellamy is the author of our Memory Lane series. He enjoys driving his 1997 Lincoln Mark VIII LSC and his 2001 Ford F150 7700.