The following is part 5 of a series recapping a cross-country road trip I recently took with my sons. To see part 1, click here. All other episodes in this epic saga can be found at this site’s home page. If cross-country road trip sagas are not for you, slip away quietly right now and no one will ever even know you were here.
There is something almost life-changing about waking up in the morning when your body feels like it’s ready and not to the hideous sound of a man-made alarm. I’ve had this epiphany on several different occasions throughout my life (my first day home after my LDS mission where 6:30 a.m. was the ironclad rule, or the first time as an adult I ever took the day after Christmas off) but as I awoke in my hotel bed in New Orleans on the morning of July 4th, 2018, it was brought home to me in a powerful way all over again. For the first time all week, there was no rush. And it felt amazing.
Amazing that is, until I rolled over and I was immediately confronted by the reality of what happens to a 45-year old body that sleeps in a foreign bed after having driven over 1,100 miles in 48 hours. It only took an instant for the euphoria of not having to be on the road again by 6 a.m. to be replaced by near hysteria as I wondered if I would ever walk upright again in this lifetime.
Thankfully, a nice hot shower and a few stretches fixed everything (well, everything except being 45) and I was ready to face the day. Much like me, I could tell my boys were equally thrilled with the prospect of having little on the schedule and being able to ease into our day. At no point did anyone protest the tortoise-like pace we’d adopted. There was no rush, there was no agenda. We were true natives of the Big Easy, happy to accept whatever came our way…
…As long as everybody got there butts in gear before the maid service came along. Good crap, we were going to waste the entire day if we didn’t get a move on.
Yep, my laid back approach to vacationing lasted all of…I don’t know, 45 minutes? Then I was back to being my old, “gotta make time, gotta make time” self. I’ll admit, I was kinda happy to see that guy. I’d started to miss him. My kids? Well, I think they’d have been fine if he’d stayed home completely. But, they rolled with it and by 9 a.m. we were back on the street, ready to go.
As far as plans go, this was again a new concept for me. We didn’t have many. The only things we knew for certain were that we wanted to go to a movie at 12:30 (we’d scouted out the theater the night before thus the specificity on the time) and watch the fireworks at 8:30 that night. That was pretty much it on the docket. So, for our morning adventure we decided to take in a little self-guided tour of the Garden District.
For those unacquainted with New Orleans, the Garden District isn’t really anything other than a fancy neighborhood of houses that are really big, really ornate and really old. Think antebellum, old south…zip a dee do dah style homes and you’re getting a pretty good picture. Also, several of these homes are owned by very famous people and yet, you can pretty much walk right up the front gate and be 20 feet or so from their front door. For instance, Archie Manning’s house (father of Peyton and Eli) has no gate on the driveway and his car was parked just a few feet off the main sidewalk. If I were a Patriot’s fan, I could have had Braden kick his bumper and then ran like heck and there wouldn’t have been much he could do about it. Except throw Braden in jail I suppose, but then that’s why I would have had Braden do it in the first place. Plausible deniability. Anyway, along with famous houses, the area also includes the well known Lafayette Cemetery.
So, after a ride on the historical street car (a ride we found extra exciting due to our love of the Disney movie, The Princess and the Frog) we spent two hours wandering around the Garden District. We had a pseudo breakfast (large pastry) at a cafe in an old historic building called The Rink, strolled through the graves at a cemetery and visited some pretty cool houses. Highlights included:
- The pastries. That little coffee shop that didn’t look like much from the outside had some pretty dang amazing pastries. The water we got to go with them? Eh. But it was free so how much room do we actually have to complain?
- Lafayette Cemetery. Apparently it is a really bad idea to bury people underground in New Orleans because the ground is so wet. I didn’t know this was possible, but I am told that bodies and caskets can work their way back to the surface with ground that waterlogged. It’s not like Arizona where the ground is so hard that when we bury someone, we have to worry about whether issues might arise at resurrection time. Anyway, the above ground graves and mausoleums were pretty cool.
- Sidewalks. Only in a town like New Orleans would famous people who have paid millions for their home put up with sidewalks like these. But here, stately trees that are hundreds of years old get preferential treatment and if that means a millionaire has to get out their all terrain hiking equipment to get to their front door. So be it.
- Jefferson Davis’ death home. I don’t know why, but historical places are so much more interesting to me when I can place a historical figure in them. And knowing that we were standing outside the place where the president of the Confederacy died was like…huh, pretty cool. It’s the same feeling I get in the French Quarter when I see the plaque stating that people had stood on the balcony above to shout support for Andrew Jackson as he rode by following the Battle of New Orleans.
- Famous people’s houses. As mentioned, we saw the family home of Peyton and Eli Manning. We also happened to stop by John Goodman’s house and Sandra Bullock’s house. As near as we could tell, they were not home. Or at least they were not out working in their garden when we happened by. And why should they be? It was July in New Orleans. Hot and unbelievably humid! I’m sure that’s why they didn’t come out and say hi. We also happened by Anne Rice’s old home, but I’m not a big enough fan to have bothered with a picture.
Home of Archie and Olivia Manning
John Goodman’s Home
Sandra Bullock’s Home (Not very visible from the street, by design)
Sandra Bullock’s home was one of the last we visited and so, having decided that we’d had enough of the majesty and beauty of the Garden District (not to mention sweltering heat with 893% humidity) we decided to commemorate the moment by going back downtown and taking in the movie Ocean’s 8, starring…Sandra Bullock. It seemed only fitting.
The movie was pretty good, but the one comment I’ll make about the whole experience was that I had never been to a theater before that had no concession stand. They just handed us menus on our way into the theater and that was it. I think I might have warmed to the concept better if the old couple in front of us hadn’t decided to enjoy a full seven course meal with after dinner wine, all served over the course of our feature presentation. Because of that alone, the “menu with a call button in a movie theater” idea gets a big thumbs down from me.
After the movie, there’s not a lot to report other than we wandered around the French Quarter and The Riverwalk for a couple of hours trying to decide what it was exactly we wanted to do. This is one moment when I wanted to desperately strangle both of my boys for nothing more than being teenagers.
“What do you want to do?”
“I don’t know. Whatever.”
“Would you like to (Fill in the blank)?”
“Then what would you like to do?”
“I don’t know.”
This stimulating conversation repeated on an endless loop while we aimlessly walked and it led to two different outcomes. One, we ended up having beignets for lunch and two, we found ourselves outside and no where near shelter when an afternoon monsoon appeared from nowhere and pounded us with a vengeance. Beignets? Awesome! Walking around soaking wet on the streets of New Orleans with heat and humidity at levels that would kill most small canine breeds? Not as awesome. We headed back to the hotel for a rest and a much needed change of clothes.
That night, we decided to get crazy and go to the hole in the wall diner next to our hotel (there really aren’t any diners in New Orleans that aren’t of the hole in the wall variety) and try proper Cajun cooking. At least Logan and I decided this. Braden had a hamburger.
Logan and I on the other hand had gumbo, a shrimp po’ boy, fried green tomatoes, and my personal favorite, alligator. Okay, it’s my personal favorite in that I get to tell people I ate alligator. But in actuality, I probably wouldn’t rush out and have it again. But the rest of it was exquisite. And Braden liked his hamburger as well, in case you were wondering.
Finally, the hour we had traveled half way across the country for arrived. It was time to go get our place along the river for the fireworks. Having never been here before, we decided to leave two hours early and wait. As it turned out, that was probably a tad excessive. But, we ended up with a great spot.
With nothing to do for two hours, we took turns going into the Riverwalk mall behind us to cool off and do something other than stand along a railing by the Mississippi River. What we discovered is that Cafe Dumond had a satellite cafe here. We decided it couldn’t hurt to top off our highly rich dinner with another round of beignets. This leads to a question we should have asked ourselves before making this decision. That question being: how many beignets are too many beignets to consume in a 24 hour period. So that you are aware, the answer is 9. I will elaborate no further other than to say that this answer may also hinge on whether or not you have eaten alligator in that same 24 hour period.
Finally, the sun set and we prepared for the fireworks to begin. It was kind of fun. In the half hour leading up to the fireworks we made friends with a couple who were originally from Jamaica but now lived in New York. They were really nice and friendly and it was neat for my boys to be in a setting where they could literally be chatting with people from all over the world.
And the fireworks themselves? Holy Cow!!! Pictures or videos can’t begin to do them justice. Let’s just say it was definitely worth all of the effort we had made to see them. However, I did want to get one final picture of our vantage point from a different perspective.
Once the fireworks ended, it didn’t take long for brutal exhaustion to come crashing down on us. There would be no partying late into the night for the Rapier boys. We were done. Slowly, along with several hundred of our new best friends, we trudged the streets back to our hotel with the promise of a soft bed providing the only incentive to keep going. And sadly, with our Tulane visit scheduled for the next morning, the luxury of easing into our day was not an option we could look forward to again.
The sixth and final chapter in the Rapier Guys Road Trip series will appear later this week.