The following is the fourth installment in a series of posts detailing my recent road trip with my sons. For part 1 of this series, click here. All installments can be found on the homepage.
There’s an aspect of traveling that I utterly despise. It’s that horrific game of chicken one has to play of knowing when to pull off the freeway for gas or food while traveling through an unfamiliar city. If you pull off too soon, you can find yourself in a maze of twisted traffic filled with street options that promise to take you anywhere you could possibly want to go except back to the freeway. On the other hand, if you wait too long, you can find yourself with no options at all except maybe a truck stop with toilets that stopped flushing two visitors before you and food options that suggest expiration dates are for suckers. This seems to be what happens to me every time I try to get out of Las Vegas headed for St. George. Of course, it may just be that there is actually no good place to stop on the north side of Las Vegas and I really should just accept my fate and try that Steak and Lobster buffet being offered for $9.99.
Anyway, as the sun rose over San Antonio and day two of our father/son road trip got underway, Logan, Braden and I found ourselves tense with anticipation as our latest dalliance with this game of chance played out. As light began to streak through the mildly overcast sky, it was clear we hadn’t pulled over too soon. But the jury was definitely still out on whether we had waited too long. Making matters worse, this stretch of I10 between San Antonio to Houston (and we would discover, all the way to New Orleans) is much more like the I10 stretch between Tucson and Phoenix than we had experienced the day before. Dozens of semis surrounded us on the road making it difficult to spot signs advertising food and gas options at the upcoming exit.
Finally, with swaths of wide open spaces taking the place of city, we decided not to press our luck any further. As it turned out, we could have done better. But boy, could we have done a lot worse. Yes, we had to eat smashed croissant sandwiches from a Burger King smashed into the corner of a large “Travel Stop”. But the entire place was remarkably clean and I felt no need to seek out a tetanus shot upon our departure.
The drive to Houston was pretty unremarkable. It was basically a continuation of what we had experienced the day before. The only real mishap was that Logan misread the itinerary and thought Houston was only about two hours away. Thus, as his bladder began to fill beyond capacity, he held off saying anything because surely we would hit Houston at any time, right? By the time we finally did, he was not looking so good.
Needing a stop myself, I recalled someone telling me about Shipley Donuts and how they should not be missed. In a moment I would come to regret many times over the next hour, I thought to myself, “Why not kill two birds with one stone and stop for a bathroom break and a donut?”
I asked Braden to find the closest Shipley Donuts and get us there. He decided to direct us to the closest Shipley Donuts in a place he really wanted to go. Downtown-smack in the middle of everything-Houston. This decision required us to find a parking spot in a maze of one way streets because the Shipley Donuts was not visible from the street. And there were no available parking spots (I should say, visible parking spots because we found out later there were plenty of parking spots right next to where we were trying to get to, we just couldn’t see them) near our desired location. So, we ended up parking on a side street about three full city blocks from Shipley Donuts. The pained look on Logan’s face was quickly transforming from discomfort to panic.
After walking for several blocks in my traveling clothes (basketball shorts, t-shirt, and orange slip-ons that don’t stay on my feet very well) we finally found the block where Shipley Donuts was located…
…except it wasn’t. There was no Shipley Donuts anywhere. Apple had led us to a high rise building with a weird little grocery store in it, but no donuts. And even worse, no bathroom.
Now things were getting desperate. We quickly started back the way we had come because I remembered an open air mall we had passed that would surely have a bathroom. Problem was, I got confused on exactly where we were and couldn’t find it. Logan was walking with a slight Quasimodo gait by this point and things were looking grim.
Eventually, we found the open air mall and…it was not so much a mall as an open air collection of restaurants and wine shops. Most of which were not open at this time of day. AAAAAHHHHHHHH! Finally, I found a tobacco shop that was open and asked about a bathroom in the complex. I was directed to the third floor. We got to the third floor, found the hallway where the bathrooms are located and were greeted by this sign:
BATHROOMS ARE CURRENTLY UNAVAILABLE AT THIS TIME
Down the hallway, I could see the bathroom doors. At this point, I basically said screw it, and we all headed toward the off-limit bathroom anyway. Thankfully, they weren’t locked, we accomplished what we needed to accomplish and decided we wanted nothing more than to get out of Houston. And so we did, sadly without any donuts.
As we piled back into the van, I looked once more at my front two tires. I had known for several weeks that we would probably need to replace them soon. Unfortunately, when you plan a trip in less time than it takes some people to blow their nose, you don’t always address every issue you might need to before you leave. Bottom line, I felt like I couldn’t push my luck any more. As we drove out of Houston, I had Braden look up Discount Tires between us and New Orleans. There was one in Baton Rouge. And with that, we had decided upon our next destination.
By the way, as we got back on the freeway headed out of Downtown Houston, Willie Nelson made his second aural appearance of the day.
As we crossed into Louisiana, it started to rain. It wasn’t too bad, but it was constant. And with semis as far as the eye could see and constant road construction leading to very narrow traffic lanes, it led to some very white knuckle moments. Finally, we rolled into the outskirts of Baton Rouge and…severe traffic.
I have been in many traffic jams in my life, but this one provided something new. A bridge that you cross to get into Baton Rouge is unique. Unique in the fact that it looks like it was formed on the hump of camel. I’ve never in my life driven over a bridge that steep. What made it truly scary was that we happened upon this bridge in the midst of stop and go traffic in the rain. I seriously began to worry about my van stalling and rolling backwards, or the guy in front me stalling and rolling backwards. Basically, all stalling and rolling backwards scenarios played out in my mind in that short three minutes we were stuck on the Baton Rouge Bridge.
Nevertheless, we got through to the other side and eventually found ourselves on the other side of Baton Rouge at our Discount Tire. And interestingly enough, it was located in a suburb of Baton Rouge called, Gonzalez. I don’t know why I found that slightly humorous, but I did. I would expect a town name like that in Arizona, but it caught me off guard in Creole country. I guess I would have expected it to be Gonzaleaux. Anyway, we got the van checked in and headed out to lunch at a Jimmy Johns nearby.
While at Jimmy Johns, the rain intensified to Noah like proportions. Which meant that in order to get back to Discount Tire, we had to run through it and get soaked. Which we did. What I found funny was that Braden had taken to heart the instruction that one should not get close to any standing water in this part of the country and told me it was completely on me if he got attacked by a ‘gator during our dash back across a parking lot, small field and construction site.
Back on the road, it was only about an hour or so later that we finally reached our destination. NEW ORLEANS!!!
Without incident we drove by the Super Dome, found our hotel, checked in and then headed out to the Quarter. I showed the boys the small little hotel I had stayed in for a night just off of Bourbon Street called The Prince Conti. They were justifiably horrified. We saw a street band performing on Bourbon Street. They got to see the incredible salesmanship/con job of a street shoe shiner (something I had already witnessed in Chicago but thought they would enjoy so I let it play out). We walked around Jackson Square. And of course, we stopped at Cafe Dumond and had beignets. Observing Braden’s face as we ate them, I had the sneaking suspicion that maybe this one moment was the real reason we had driven halfway across the country. Forget Tulane, forget the fireworks, it was really all about the beignets.
Finally, as a closer for the day, we walked next door to Cafe Dumond and climbed up the stairs to an overlook of the Mississippi River. I’m sorry, but for an Arizona kid who is told that the Gila is supposed to be a river, the Mississippi is just something beyond description. We sat down and just watched it go by for several minutes, not one of us expressing any desire to do anything else. It was pretty cool.
For the rest of the evening, we walked around a bit more, explored the Riverwalk, and then eventually decided we were tired and we should probably go to bed. But for me, we could have turned around and driven home right then and the entire trip would have been worth it after our trip to Cafe Dumond and the time we spent watching the river. It was peaceful, and it was a memory with my sons I will never forget. And it certainly is a better memory to end the day on than the bonding moment we shared later that night when a random guy on the street called me a skinhead white piece of…you know, because I wouldn’t buy his homemade rap CD. Gotta love NOLA!
Episode 5 of The Rapier Guys Road Trip will appear later this week.