New Orleans, 2004

A few months ago I'd received a surprise in the mail, a "save the date" memo from my old friend Amy. We'd met through Usenet, on alt.gothic, and had kept in touch over the years, via email, and my visits to New Orleans and Baton Rouge. She and her boyfriend Anthony were going to be married on Thanksgiving weekend, and I was invited to share in the celebration. I was a bit surprised and a lot honoured to receive the card, and immediately sent her a message saying that I'd be there. Amy's parents were hosting the wedding in New Orleans, and I tended to try and get there at least once every two years.

Cris hadn't been to New Orleans for about seven years, and was willing to come along as my date for the wedding. I'd reserved a room in the hotel that Amy had secured a discount at, in Metarie, and booked our flights as the date approached and I knew I had the cash to cover them. I realised that we were a fair distance from the French Quarter in that hotel, so I booked us a night at the Frenchman. Amy had warned us that the Bayou Classic football game was being held that weekend, so we needed to book early, as there was chancy availability.

Fri Nov 26/04

I took the T to work the morning of our flight down to Louisiana, stopping at the post office first to post a package of Irish Afternoon tea to my friend Ryan in Atlanta. The day after Thanksgiving ended up being utterly silent for the first 2 hours I was in the office, until at around lunch, one of my co-workers and I startled each other by checking to see if anyone else was in the room, after I heard the door open and she was checking upon arrival. Our supervisor showed up a while later, almost as I was leaving, to drop off a laptop. I got caught up in some scripting and ended up leaving just after three, a bit later than I'd wanted to. I walked quickly to the nearest green line stop and took it to Government Center, trying hard not to check my watch every two minutes, tracking time elapsed and time to when I was supposed to meet Cris at check in (three thirty). Luckily there wasn't much of a wait for the blue line and the airport shuttle took off promptly, but I was still 20 minutes late. But Cris wasn't there. I put my credit card into the automatic check in kiosk and checked him in when the option came up along with my own name. Four boarding passes were spit out, we were transferring in Atlanta, and I grabbed them and moved aside to call Cris the first time. It went right to voice mail, so I assumed that he was still in the subway and out of service range, so I left a message asking him to call me when he got it. Paced around a bit, moved over to the security gate that we'd have to go through, took off my boots.

Still no Cris, and I was shunted right to voice mail when I called again. They were starting to board the plane, the flight left in half an hour, I was starting to panic. I slipped my feet back into my Docs, and tucked my laces inside my boots, and clumped over to the woman who'd asked me twice if I needed help.

"Is it possible to page someone?" I asked her.
"Are they arriving or departing?"
"Departing, he was supposed to meet me here to leave for New Orleans, but his cell phone isn't picking up. I just want to know if he's in the terminal somewhere." She moved me over to the Delta check in counter and I explained to the check in agent my dilemma. I gave her Cris's full name, and she looked him up first instead of paging him,
"He's already got a boarding pass," she said.
"I know, I printed it out when I checked in, both tickets are on my credit card."
"Well, we can't know if he's picked up another one and gone through security already, let me call the gate." She then proceeded to tap at the phone, ask the other agent how to call the gate, got a busy signal, and was trying again, while the other agent was urging me to just go through security and board as I only had twenty minutes left until my flight. At this point, I was close to panicking, because no one would just page him, and I wasn't sure what I should do, continue to wait and possibly miss the fight, or go ahead. I was getting worried about and upset at Cris at the same time, and kept glancing over my shoulder to see if I could spot him coming in. Finally, I spotted him, walking slowly, searching for me, I tapped the counter twice to get the agent's attention, and said "Never mind, there he is" and started gesturing urgently to him to hurry up.

We raced down to security, only to be held up when the guards decided to swab his bag. I had time to lace up one boot before he caught up with me, and then stumped along toward the farthest gate. As we approached a faint announcement became clearer: "Last and final boarding call for flight 694 to Atlanta, all passengers should be on board. Last call." I broke into a run, glancing over to make sure that Cris was keeping up with his roll away suitcase - I only had my back pack to encumber me. He was and we ran up to the gate just as the last person disappeared down the boarding ramp and presented our passes to the gate attendant. She scanned us in and waved us down the ramp. I managed to pant a sigh of relief, and another one or two people actually ran up behind us as well. We were then held up by passengers in first class rearranging their baggage instead of letting people by. I managed to get through and get to our seats, but Cris was blocked with his suitcase. He finally made it through, and we could still see them shuffling for a few minutes after we sat down.

I determinedly made some light comments, punching down my snippy words, especially since Cris looked upset.
"Are you okay?" I asked.
"It's just been one of those days, I just need some time to unwind. The shuttle got stuck for ten minutes behind a broken down truck."
I settled back in my seat, pulled out the magazine from the seat back pocket in front of me, and let him settle in and decompress. Our conversation started up again in little snippets, I found out that his cell phone wasn't charged so my messages didn't go anywhere anyway.

We passed most of the two and a half hour flight to Atlanta reading, talking now and then. There was only a drink service, with mini pretzels to increase our thirst, no videos of any kind - the flight attendants actually got to do the safety demo using real oxygen masks and seat belts. Touch down was fairly smooth, and we took the inter terminal train over to terminal B from A. Au Bon Pain didn't have any bagels, so I joined Cris in the line at Popeye's, and ordered two biscuits and a large orange juice. The watery Minute Maid offering didn't assuage my smoothie craving, so after I finished up the uber buttery buns and had some of Cris's mushy corn on the cob, watching the baggage trucks whizzing by under our feet, negotiating the intersection with derring-do, I went in search of a smoothie. Found one without bananas in it after a close examination of the offerings on the menu, and was sipping it as we go to our gate, just in time for pre-boarding. Cris had run back to our incoming plane to get his ID after we both hit the bathroom, but it turned out that he'd put in in an unfamiliar pocket so it was safe. A family had claimed our row on our outbound flight, but they moved into their seats in 20 when we challenged them for 21. A nice elderly Indian woman was seated next to me, Cris had the window seat. He and I did the two cross word puzzles in the in flight magazine, occasionally finding that the person who'd started filling in the boxes before us had gotten some wrong. My other seat bookend commented that her daughters were addicted to cross words as well.

The flight from Atlanta to New Orleans was much shorter, and we were there on time, at around 9:30. We followed the signs to ground transportation and found a taxi to take us to Metarie. The Wyndham was just off highway ten, the big red sign visible from the highway. We checked in, and the desk clerk wandered off for a moment and came back with a heavy silver goodie bag, a present from Amy and Anthony for traveling for their wedding. We went up to the seventh floor to our room, and I left a message for Eileen in her room. I tried calling her cell, but she couldn't hear me after it connected. It sounded like she and Klaus, an old friend of mine as well, from Toronto (her date), were out at a club, so I figured that since Cris and I weren't up to going out to the Quarter, we'd just hook up in the morning.

An exploration of two of the "ice and mixer" rooms netted zero bottled water, just an ice machine and an empty space where it looked like a soda vending machine may once have lived on our floor and the one below (there was a freshly squeezed orange and a couple of shrimp chips in the stairwell between the two), so we headed out to the main drag and the convenience store there.

The combined brain power behind the counter, staffed by two very slow women, was laughably low. I grabbed a mint tea and a gallon of water, and Cris a coffee and a Krispy Kreme donut, and we were in line for a good ten minutes. The guy in front of me was getting upset at the delay, but stuck it out to hand the new girl a five and ask her to activate his pump. I finally managed to pay for my drinks, and Cris a few minutes later joined me and we made our way back down the deserted roads to the hotel. Two Marriot hotels were next to us, a Residence in and a Courtyard, and a couple of large parking structures to accommodate hotel guests as well as the banking center employees who were isolated in the middle of all this tourist stuff. I kept switching off how I was carrying the water jug, on my hip, on top of my head, and back to my hip. By this point it was close to 11, so we ended up just going to bed, no message from Klaus or Eileen to lure us out to be social, and the spa and fitness rooms had closed at 10.

Sat Nov 27/04

Luckily, the family in the room next door hadn't been loud all night, but we found out that they were leaving for breakfast at 8:30am the next morning when the door slammed shut behind them, jolting me out of sleep. Then the room across the hall's door slammed as well, and a few more. A lot of basketball teams and supporters were staying in the hotel for the weekend, and the conference room space was booked for their dinners and team meetings and, this morning, breakfasts. I managed to ignore the increase in noise for a while, but by 9 or so, I gave up the fight. I threw on cargo pants and a tshirt, laced up my docs, after realising that I didn't have anything to cut the moleskin pad that I'd brought along to preemptively apply to blister points. I decided to leave my purse at the hotel, and tucked palm pilot, wallet with the hotel room card key, and cell phone in my various pockets. I was hoping that Eileen would give me a call during the day so that we could link up, but as we were leaving the room at 10am, I didn't want to call her room and wake her up. The hotel desk clerk called us a cab, and we directed it to take us to the edge of the garden district on Magazine street, to Joey K's. It was packed with tables for four, and one reserved for parties of six, most filled with couples and a few groups of four filling out the tables near the back. We had a short wait as the waitress cleaned off the table nearest the door, scooping up her tip and wiping it down, before we settled in to peruse the menus. They were held on wall mounted cast iron baskets, with simple faces above them. The whole restaurant made extensive use of that style. Our waitress soon returned to take our orders, and we tried the orange juice to start, but I was disappointed to find out that it wasn't fresh squeezed (this would unfortunately be a trend over the weekend). I settled on two hot cakes, as she warned me that each one usually filled the plate, and Cris went for an omelette. The restaurant had appeared on Amy's list of recommended New Orleans eateries, tucked into the goodie bag that she'd left for us at the hotel. Conversations flowed around us as locals and shop keepers had their breakfasts and geared up to face the day, as we were doing. The hot cakes were good, though by the last half of the second one I was offering bites to Cris and I'd managed to drench the dough in table syrup. We rolled out of there, replete, and started a meander through the Garden District.

We kept dodging around low hanging branches, climbed over roots that had pushed up the concrete of the sidewalk, and squeezed through single file where bushes had taken over the sidewalk. A group of four intersected with us, and we paused to let them pass, taking pictures of the moss covered tree roots and a sign post that had been adorned with clay pots stacked one upon the other. The mansions peeked out from behind high privacy fences, I think we passed the Rice - Reznor corner but I wasn't sure. We made our way up toward St. Charles street and jumped onto the trolley. It had been raining heavily at times through out the morning, then tapered off and now the sun was baking the moisture out of the ground and into the air, and I began to worry about getting sunburned. I'd forgotten to bring a rain coat or umbrella, but I was glad that my hoodie had been enough to keep the few drops I'd run through off of me without getting soaked through.

The trolley rumbled up to our stop, the wood and steel contraption reminiscent of a bygone era. The green paint that covered it was still shining, probably the result of a loving maintenance program. We slid our dollar bills into the new fangled reader and deposited our quarter into the coin reader, then made our way to an empty bench as the trolley lurched into motion toward the French Quarter. We passed the circle where the trolley moved up to the street north of St. Charles and went directly away from the D-Day Museum, and we soon arrived at Canal, where we disembarked to walk south to the Riverwalk mall.

We were on a quest for a tie for Cris, preferably grey to match my planned outfit for the wedding, and a last minute card for the wedding couple. I also wanted to pick up a pair of nail clippers to deal with a pesky hang nail. After wandering a bit dazedly through the main part of the mall, and being denied by the clerk in Abercrombie and Fitch ("We sure don't" we were told when we asked if they carried ties), and the Gap ties gave us sticker shock (forty dollars), we found a convenience store with a small but appropriate card selection (one from a Nova Scotia painter claimed my attention) and clippers and I was all set. A store dedicated to patterned ties and boxers soon came up and we wandered around in there for a while trying to find something without a cartoon character on it. The clerk tried to push Cris to buy a second one at half price after finding us the lone grey tie and a similar blue tie, but he resisted. She was able to verify his identity by asking his name, when it became apparent that he didn't have his license with him after she asked for id. We ducked out onto the outside walk as soon as possible and made our way to the aquarium, just down the river from the mall.

Two paid admissions later and we were walking through the clear tunnel at the bottom of one of the salt water tanks. Rays were gliding along the glass, and a hammer head shark passed by as well. Two divers were in the water, bright green in their suits, "hi" inscribed on their gloves, feeding the rays. The one guy near us pulled off a bit from a bunch of broccoli and the rays ate from his hands. We continued on into the main part of the exhibit space after gaping for a bit. The penguins were resting, only one swam while we were there, but the white alligator (huge) was a bit more active. The sea horses were fascinating, one male had a belly bulging with eggs, tail wrapped around a branch to keep him in place amid some friends, and the ferny sea horses were gorgeous, well camouflaged amidst leafy sea vegetation. Copious amounts of pictures were taken, in attempts to capture their beauty unblurred. We went through the amazon rain forest section, hot and humid, with mists dripping down on us. The anaconda was all stretched out but torpid, and still managed to freak me right out. Yay for phobias. The parrots were brilliant, and I spotted a horned owl up above us, perched on a rock near the rim of the enclosure. The spotted rays were beautiful, white leopard spots brilliant against their black skin. I reached in to pet a nurse shark in one of the touch pools, it's skin was like sandpaper. We caught the bulk of a talk in front of the huge gulf tank, the woman giving the lecture silhouetted against the blue tank with tiger sharks, huge rays, and a few large turtles thrown in. The electric eel seemed cramped in it's tank, seeming to have outgrown the space it had been given. The jelly fish were mesmerising, tendrils and fronds waving in the current, one disk tank hosting a washing machine like rotation of flipping and tumbling jellies. The translucent ones that looked like they were shimmering with electric current were just waving their cilia fast enough to refract the light and produce an illusion of current moving through them.

We came out bemused by the beauty of the creatures that we'd seen, and walked for a while along side the Mississippi River. We went back into the Quarter near the Gazebo Cafe and settled there to grab lunch, reveling in eating outside and being warm enough. I went with my standard crayfish etouffee, and Cris had the fried shrimp plate. The etouffee was runnier than I remembered it being, but it was still very generously laced with small pink curls of cooked crayfish. A live band was playing as we ate, sometimes getting a bit loud, and the lead came dancing around, a fan of cds in one hand, a cut away water cooler jug in the other for donations.

From there, we dropped into Cafe du Monde and waited a bit to get a plate of three beignets to share and a cup of coffee for Cris. I noticed for the first time that the waiters paid for their orders as they moved past a cash register and then pocketed the money that the people at the tables gave them up on delivery of their food. It was crowded and noisy, we were at one of the last free tables inside, and left quickly once we were done. I'd coated myself with napkins and tapped off each beignet before eating it, and was successful in avoiding getting spattered with powdered sugar.

From there we wandered back and forth along the streets, stopping in at art galleries and clothing stores. Trashy Diva is still there.

Right after breakfast we'd stopped in at CD exchange, being buzzed in right after their opening time of 11am (maybe 10am), and finding some deals on used disks. I picked up a Putyamo compilation of world music - electronica from various countries, passing on music from the chocolate lands, despite it being a good companion for my music from the tea lands disc already in the cd case at home.

We made a reservation at Brennan's for breakfast on Monday when we passed by it on Royal St. It was another recommendation from Amy and Anthony, as well as from our friend Alli in Boston, so it was well endorsed by A people. As my feet started to get really sore, we realised that we should head back to Metarie and start getting ready for the wedding. No calls from Eileen, so I hoped to catch her in her hotel room so we could all go over together.

We caught a cab on Iberville and were swooped back north, skirting the traffic around the domed stadium. We were back at around 5pm, plenty of time for a leisurely bath. It relaxed me a bit too much, I was scrambling to iron my shirt and skirt before meeting Eileen and Klaus at six thirty. I'd gotten a hold of them in their room, she'd been trying to call my cell phone all day but it had just rung without going to voice mail, and I hadn't received or missed any calls.

The elevator ride down was really slow, apparently the basketball dinner was at 6:30 as well, and when we finally reached the lobby, Cris asked me if I had my camera. I didn't, so I went back up, slowly, ran to the room and grabbed it out of his backpack, and ran back to wait for the elevator and take it slowly back down again. Just as I got there and ordered a taxi, Eileen and Klaus made it to the lobby and we were reunited at last. Hugs were exchanged and then we moved out front to wait for our cab. The driver of one that was already there approached us, it turned out that he'd been waiting around for a call and since he had my name, we jumped in. We got to St. Joseph's with some time to spare, and after verifying that the bride's side was the left, made our way up the side aisle to find seats on the outside near the front. Amy's family filled in around us, Anthony's was a bit more sparse across the centre aisle. The church was quite large, the side parts connecting up to a taller central barrel ceiling, brown support beams dark against the cream paint. Murals adorned all the surfaces, with a statue of Mary on our side's side altar, and St. Joseph on the other, possibly tied to the bride versus groom side assignments. We had a bit of a wait, but a small group of musicians were playing a selection of music to mask our murmuring, including an instrumental of "Somewhere over the rainbow".

The wait was over finally, as the ushers seated the grandmother, the mothers, and then the bridesmaids and groomsmen came up the aisle arm in arm. Amy finally appeared on the arm of her father, radiant in white, smile lighting up her face, eyes only for Anthony waiting for her at the front of the church. A full Catholic mass followed, incorporating the wedding ceremony, and I remembered most of the responses. Amy spent most of the time standing or kneeling at the front, her skin gleaming through the white veil, her gown sparkling along all the hem lines, her train adjusted by variously the maid of honour or the photographer or Anthony. Their voices were almost lost in the cavernous space, the priest was wearing a microphone, but I mostly followed their vows by reading their lips. I'd teared up a bit when I saw Amy coming up the aisle, she looked so radiant, and I was so glad to be able to be there to share her happiness. The ceremony was big on love and friendship and was very beautiful. We clapped enthusiastically to welcome them to their lives as husband and wife.

We waited with Klaus while he listened to the last of the ceremony's music and then made our way out at the tail of the family. We attempted to get a cab, able to flag one down, but the cabbie didn't know where he was going and was going to charge us twelve dollars each, so we jumped out and tried to get better directions from the motorcycle cop waiting to lead the caravan to the reception. He wasn't able to help, and then Amy caught our eye from the back of the car she was riding in, and we scooted over to congratulate her. She insisted that we find her friend Laura in the parking lot, she had an Expedition and could give us all a ride. We were a bit desperate by this point, most everyone had gotten into their cars by now and were lining up for the drive to the Chateau Country Club for the reception, and no cabs were in sight. We scooted around the side of the building and didn't see any Expeditions in the lot. Eileen went up and knocked on the tinted window of an Excursion and found Laura, who was willing to give us a ride over after we reassured her that Amy had sent us to find her. I contributed the directions that I had buried in my purse, and we peeled off from the processional (er, well, they lost us when we couldn't make a quick u-turn) and followed the map that had come with the wedding invitation. We had to hunt a bit for parking in the lot of the country club, but found one eventually at the edge of the crowd, thanked Laura and her date for the ride, and we all made our way around the side of the building to the reception entrance. Up decorated stairs, and we were in the line up to sign the guest book which morphed into a long receiving line. We decided to skip it until it shortened a bit, and found a table to drop our stuff at, and drinks to sip while we were in line. I ordered a cranberry and amaretto, the drink that Amy had introduced me to on my first trip to New Orleans. In fact, I was wearing a skirt with a pleated fringe that was reminiscent of a slip dress of hers that I'd admired that same night. When we were two couples from Anthony at the head of the line, the announcement came that they had to go for pictures. We groaned in disappointment and stood our ground with the rest of the line. They let us continue through and I was able to give my congratulations to the groom and bride, say hello again to Amy's parents and briefly meet Anthony's.

Then it was time for the eating and drinking and dancing. Amy and her mom both at various times exhorted us to eat and drink lots, with an overflowing of southern hospitality. We did our best, grazing the two buffets and the others drank wine from the bar. I switched to water after my first drink, and ate sparingly, but was just able to squeeze in one final crab rangoon when a last plate of hors d'ouvers came by - it had the best filling I'd ever tasted, though the wrapping was a bit more like a fortune cookie than I was used to.

I got some blurry pictures of Amy dancing with Anthony and with her Dad, but a low battery led me to not try getting pics of the cake cutting. When Amy had sat with us for a while just before the cutting, she'd been corralled by a staff member to go cut. I felt bad for them, they seemed to be getting moved around like game pieces throughout the night, receiving line to pictures to first dance, to cake cutting. She sat with our table, in the annex room behind the back buffet table, again, and we got to reminisce a bit about the old alt.gothic days and our visits to New Orleans. It was great to see her and Anthony boogying it down on the dance floor in all their finery. Cris and I, and Eileen and Klaus, took to the floor for a slow dance to "Put your head on my shoulder" and then chatted for a while longer. Klaus and I weren't used to evening weddings, but things were starting to slow down around midnight, twelve thirty as usual, so we decided to make our way back to the hotel. Amy and Anthony had left just before, and family was trickling out. Laura's huge truck was gone from the parking lot. The operator at the front desk called us a cab around 12:30, and they said they'd be 10-20 minutes. At the half hour mark we called back, it would be another 15 minutes. After that we called again, it was on it's way, really this time, there was a huge game on downtown and they'd sent all the cabs there. Cris and I kept watch on the road approaching the club, I was tempted to run out and flag down a passing cab, but we waited. And waited. Two deep leather arm chairs faced each other in the lobby, Cris and I took turns in one, while Eileen put Klaus's leg to sleep by napping on him, when she wasn't lecturing the cab dispatcher.

When the cabbie finally showed up, after the dj and the photographers had left, she was really nice and we didn't take our ire out on her, especially as she got us back to the hotel going mach two all the way, her car threatening to rattle apart from underneath us. The cab had taken an hour to get there, we didn't get into bed until just before 2. We could have stayed to the end of the reception without getting home any later, it was kind of frustrating. At least the ride up the elevator was quick this time, no one else was around.

Sun Nov 28/04

Check out was set for noon, but we were showed and ready to go by eleven. I called Eileen's room and woke her up, she and Klaus weren't ready to go. Cris and I were just going to check out and head down to the Quarter, and would meet up with Klaus later that day, Eileen would give him my cell number. I didn't trust that it would pick up so planned to call him at the hotel later on. I tucked the remnants of the gallon of water into the wedding gift bag, and we were off. Check out was smooth, we split the charge on two cards, and they called us a taxi. The day was gorgeous, bright blue sky, warm sun, bit of a breeze. Our taxi driver was friendly, and directed us to the Verti Mart, a few blocks from our new hotel, the Frenchman, as apparently it had a good deli in the back. We thanked him and decided to try it out for breakfast.

He dropped us off at the hotel on the far edge of the french quarter. We checked into the Frenchman, put our stuff in the room off the courtyard, and wandered out again for food. We found the Verti Mart and I picked up stuffed eggplant. We wandered over to the river with our food and sat on a bench there to eat. Then we wandered about shopping for a while, popping into art galleries as well. I picked up another pair of sparkly silver striped tights. At 3:30pm, we met up with Klaus at the D-Day Museum, taking three trolleys: along the river, up to Charles and along it. We spent the time until it closed going through the first set of exhibits on the invasion, and then skimmed over the Pacific section. I grabbed a drink at the cafe in the corner of the first floor and waited outside for them, looking at the bricks inscribed with names and dates that made up the sidewalk. We got back on the trolley and took it back to the Quarter with Klaus, and shared supper at the Country Flame Mexican restaurant. Good food, minimalist restaurant, with plastic sheets on long tables with benches around them. Cris and I walked back to our hotel, and Klaus headed back out to Metarie to sleep a bit before catching his red eye flight home. I took my palm pilot and key board out by the pool and typed up a lot of this, taking breaks to dip my hands into the warm water of the whirl pool to unfreeze them. Cris went out to meet Marc L at Dervish, but I fell asleep and wasn't able to wake up enough to go with him.

Mon Nov 29

We packed up and left our stuff with the front desk clerk in the morning, and headed out for breakfast at Brennan's. Flaming banana's foster were prepared at a table near by, and Cris ordered that. I indulged in the strawberries with double cream and (I think) the Eggs Nouvelle Orleans. A family with kids was at the table next to us, and they kept going out into the courtyard to let the kids work off steam. Then we walked up to Louis Armstrong Park, with a quick stop at a very friendly cafe for drinks and a bathroom break. The Park was quite quiet, and we chatted for a bit with the replacement duck feeder, as she threw food to the swarm of ducks. The Muscovy (? after digging, I don't think that's what they were, as they were swimming) ones were really gorgeous, plus there were some Pekin ones as well as mallards and swans. We made our way back to our hotel, called for a cab, and went back up to the airport for the trip home.
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