I was quite excited about visiting Louisiana, and yet, there was also somewhat of a heavy heart. I have always had a fondness for Louisiana and particularly New Orleans. This of course was the only place I had ever visited in Louisiana, but I was always assured that the friendliness and hospitality shown by residents of New Orleans was something I could expect all over Louisiana. Who was I to argue this? The few times I had been in New Orleans, it was like dropping in to see old friends. There was always a warm welcome for all.
So, as I departed Tennessee and it's raw beauty and powerful rain storms, I was pretty excited to be heading towards the Big Easy and this time, driving myself there. No planes and limos or cabs to take me in, this time I was on my time, my schedule and in my car and could experience New Orleans all by myself. Bring it on!
As most already know, on this journey, I have ALL LIVES MATTER on the side of the car. This was to give a message of positivity to all of all America. At the time I left California, there were a number of things going on that I am sure many were aware of. There was particular attention to the deaths of African Americans at the hands of Law Enforcement officers across the country and then this issue was compounded by the slaying of innocent police officers in Baton Rouge, LA and Dallas, TX. It is important to note that any innocent life lost was a tragedy that we should all unite to remove from the midst of our society.
One of my objectives on this trip was to stop and pay my respects to the cities affected by these incidents. I could not get to see the families of victims - either the civilian or law enforcement casualties, but I was able to drop by the local police precincts to show my sympathy and respect on behalf of all who had died one way or the other. As I said from the start, my message was not from any one movement or organization. My message was very simple - WE ALL MATTER. ALL LIVES MATTER! Simple as that. This is why I had a bit of a heavy heart coming in to Louisiana.
It was a long and wet drive from Tennessee, I finally arrived in Covington, LA in the early evening. By the time I got in, there were clouds forming in the dark grey sky and I was also welcomed by a healthy, gusty storm as I drove into Covington. I was right by the the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, often referred to as just The Causeway. This is the world's longest bridge over a body of water, spanning 23+ miles from one bank to the over - it goes from Lewisburg, LA to Metairie, LA and then New Orleans. I could have driven across the lake, but I felt it would be best to do this during the day time where I would be able to see more. To be honest, I was also pretty scared to drive in the brewing storm and there was also the little issue with me being quite tired already.... so the decision was made to bed down in Covington that night and go see New Orleans in the morning and from there head into Baton Rouge.
The morning arrived with quite a bit of a rain storm. On my drive from Tennessee, I had pulled over twice already when the rain was so heavy you could barely see 500 yards in front of the nose of the car. Apart from the diminished vision, I was also quite afraid of water getting up into the cold air intake of the car and hydro-locking the engine. While I appreciate that a lot of this was folk lore, there were reported cases of cars getting water logged. Believe, if you have ever experienced a rain storm in these parts, there is no need for a lot of convincing to tell you that it was possible.
So.... I decided to wait out the rain storm, so I waited a little while till things got a bit drier... and brighter too. Around noon, the rain abated and I was able to load up the car once again and head out towards The Causeway across Lake Pontchartrain. This was a big moment for me - this is the longest bridge over water, so I was about to drive across a record bridge. Also, as some of you will remember, barely ten years ago when Katrina his New Orleans, in the events of that disaster the causeway was not only flooded and parts of it were beneath water, sections of The Causeway also collapsed. New Orleans truly suffered an ordeal. It's interesting - at least for me - to note that the toll across this 23 mile, incredible achievement of man's will only cost $3 in toll fee to cross. Compared to the tolls I paid in the eastern states like NY, NJ and IL, this was a bargain. Heck! The Holland Tunnel in NYC cost me $15 to drive through..... and apparently it leaks! Love ya New York, just stating facts here.
I am certain that for many people, driving across The Causeway is just a day to day activity. For me, it was a remarkable experience. Here we are, two lane bridge across what seems to the eye to be open water. The bridge by my visual estimate only sits about ten feet above the water, one can easily imagine how scary it can be to cross it in a rain storm or when the water is higher. And there is very, very little room for error here. You steer wrong or have a traffic collision that pushes you over the guard rails and you better know how to swim! It's right into the water with you.
A little over half way across The Causeway, I started to catch a glimpse of New Orleans and the Saint's Dome. My heart beat a bit faster with excitement and also with some dismay as I remembered that the dome was used to house many that lost their homes and all their belongings during Storm Katrina. It was amazing that ten years, I could still see images of the disaster in my mind. My heart goes out to you people of New Orleans. It is one thing to see stories on the news, it is another thing to walk in the foot steps of people that had to endure it.
I drove around New Orleans for a bit, just marveling at the fact that I WAS HERE! I was actually in the Big Easy. I visited areas like Canal Street, but was a little miffed by the fact that I apparently needed a tour guide to visits the grave yards of New Orleans. No.... I did not have some sick morbid fascination with the dead, nor was I there to disturb their peaceful rest. It was more fascination. In case you are not aware, New Orleans sits a bit beneath sea level, and a friendly Limo driver once explained to me that if one tried to dig barely six feet into the ground, the hole will literally instantly be filled with water. So.... the dearly departed are placed to rest on top of the land. Okay.... I can admit that there was also the fascination borne of watching Interview With the Vampire. Would I run across Louis or Lestat while I was exploring? Most likely not, it was after all day light. Short of some miracle PF-100 sun screen, there was no way my long toothed friends would be out and about.
I finally made my way to the one and only French Quarter. I warn you now if you are planning a visit, you are probably best served to bring a jeep or something similar. My lowered M5 was not enjoying the immense road work projects that were going on. That aside, it was nice to be in the French Quarter. New Orleans is always like a non-stop party town. Not necessarily wild and boisterous during the day, but there was ALWAYS a festive energy in the air. It helped that I was able to get a refreshing Mojito to accompany on my walk through the quarter on this typical hot and balmy afternoon.
I had a fun walk around the French Quarter. Funnily enough, this was my first time walking through this area during the day. Only other times I ever visited New Orleans was at night and every night is almost like Madris Gras here! Let's party! Anyway.... it was afternoon out in New Orleans and time for me to have some food.... naturally I hunted down a restaurant that promised to serve me excellent Beignets. Whoo! I was soon settled down to a basket of genuine, New Orleans Beignets... this was soon followed by what I have to say was an okay plate of Étouffée. I have had incredible Étouffée before, so I am not dismissing the one I was served, however I have had Étouffée with a lil bit more passion applied in it's preparation. Maybe this one was cooked for mass appeal and less excitable palettes. Next time, I explore a bit more and a bit deeper and seek even more authentic New Orleans cuisine. Look out N'Orleans, I am coming back to see ya!
I left New Orleans close to mid afternoon with a happy familiarity and warm fondness in my heart and of course my belly. I set out on my drive to Baton Rouge fully equipped with a basket of warm, juicy and very tasty Beignets. This was my first time of truly driving through Louisiana, it was quite interesting to drive across the various causeways and over swamps. I could have sworn to myself that I occasionally caught the glimpse of the ribbed back of a gator. Maybe it was just my imagine acting wild.
I made it to Baton Rouge and was pleasantly surprised when a number of people actually rolled down their windows to give me a thumbs up about the ALL LIVES MATTER on the side of the car. I went off and got some flowers and made my way to the Police Headquarters where there was a memorial for the slain police officers of Baton Rouge Police Department. It really brought a heavy sorrowful feeling to my heart when I saw this. For me, it not only represented the slain Police Officers - it also represented to me all the events that led to this barbaric and terrible act of senseless violence. The innocent citizens who had died, the officers in Dallas, my thoughts went as far as service men and women of every ilk of uniform who had died. We REALLY need to come together as people and find a solution to this. We can do it.
The Police Headquarters were understandably cordoned off as a security measure. While debating what to do, I was approached by a young Police Officer inquiring what I was doing there. I explained that I was from San Francisco and wanted to pay my respects to Baton Rouge by laying flowers at the memorial for Officers Montrell Jackson, Brad Garafola and Matthew Gerald. He was very kind enough to escort me in and also took me into the memorial that had been moved inside. We were able to chat briefly and I thanked him for his time and kindness and wished him well. Always remember folks, Police Officers are people too, they are doing their job like you and I. Just like civilian life, there are good and bad among the rank, but let's not let a few bad apples taint our image of the all other great officers out there. Instead, let's work hand in hand to improve things and flush out those that don't belong.
I spent a few minutes at the Baton Rouge Police Department and then left to let the good men and women of the BRPD get on with their work. I was only able to stay a short wile longer in Baton Rouge itself after that, but I what was important is that I had delivered the flowers as I wanted. After leaving the city of Baton Rouge, I started to make my way to the great state of Texas.
A I left Baton Rouge and Louisiana that day, I knew it was a place I would be visiting again. Again, it was one of those places that I feel I need more time to spend there and that is what I intend to do in the future. To the beautiful and warm people of Louisiana, I thank you for the hospitality during my short stay.
AUGUST 27th, 2016: I just wanted to add a mention. Once again, New Orleans has suffered flooding. Places like Livingston and Baton Rouge have suffered massive flooding. My heart goes out to everyone affected by the flood.