Pelican state has its hidden treasures and oh yeah, the food is pretty good tooNEW ORLEANS, LA.—To borrow a word from the Cajun venacular: beaucoup.
Since I had not been back to my childhood home since I was 16 years old, the ex-cheerleader and I decided to take a real vacation this year and visit South Louisana and slide on over to the party capital of the world, New Orleans.
Not to shock anyone, but we did not eat a bad meal the entire trip.
Our first stop was to visit family at Randy and Patti J. Morgan’s house in Lake Charles, which is about an hour away from Beaumont.
Randy was fortunate enough to catch on with ALCOA in Lake Charles and they are both thriving in their new surroundings.
They have a fantastic house with a pool in a great neighborhood.
We were joined there by Jamie and Denise McQuary who were passing through on their way to Alabama to visit Denise’s brother and former Tiger standout Jackie Thompson.
While I am certainly no fisherman, we stayed out on the water for five or six hours and had an absolute blast with Patti turning in the catch of the day with a 27-inch speckled trout.
The ex-cheerleader even made the journey and actually purchased her very first fishing license.
I ran for cover however, when the license salesman asked her how much she weighed.
Randy J. got our feeding frenzy off to a delectable start when he brewed up a batch of kitchen sink gumbo on Friday and then fried up the fish we caught on Sunday before we left.
In between, we feasted on seafood at Steamboat Bill’s and ate what may be the best sandwich I have ever eaten, at a bar named Darrell’s, in the form of a shrimp poboy which was meltin your-mouth delicious.
We headed down I-10 to my childhood home of Lafayette, but not before stopping in Breaux Bridge where my dad used to get stuffed shrimp that were out of this world.
While looking for the famous “Bridge” in Breaux Bridge, we noticed a couple of thrift shops downtown so we pulled over to take a look.
It turned out to be fortuitous for both of us as I picked up a rare bobble head doll of my childhood hero and basketball god, Pete Maravich.
The ex-cheerleader got some sparkly crap.
While waiting for her to buy said sparkly crap, had a nice visit with Sheriff Babineaux of Breaux Bridge, while we sipped lemonade in a sidewalk cafe.
When we got to Lafayette, we immediately began searching for the schools I attended, some 40 years ago. My family lived in Lafayette from 1963 through 1972 before we moved back to Rockdale.
My sister Debbie was born in Lafayette.
Much to my surprise, Broussard Elementary was still standing. It was ancient when I went there.
The ominous brown two-story building was holding up quite nicely but had been converted into a detective training center. The playground that seemed so spacious when I was running around it, was much smaller to me now. That would be a common theme on our trip.
My city was gone
Next, it was off the find the old house in the old neighborhood. Easier said than done.
I let perception and memory cloud my thinking and frustration set in while we were searching in vain.
After a couple of hours, we started over and finally found it. I foolishly thought it would be the same. When we lived in the Winwood Addition, it was out away from the city and secluded.
Sadly, it has been swallowed up by civilization and there is even a Walmart across the highway now.
I had a lawn mowing business during the summer and cut all the yards in the neighborhood. I charged $1.75 a yard—and that included sweeping the driveway.
The first thing I bought with my earnings was a Winchester BB Gun.
Our three-story tree house was gone, but the coulee was there—that’s Cajun for a stream of water that ran beside our house.
All I could think of was snakes when I peered over the edge. My dad and some of the neighborhood fathers tried to catch an alligator in that thing one time after a flood.
South city midnight
We stopped off in Baton Rouge and on the advice of former Tiger great Leigh Shepherd who played at LSU, we had lunch at Mike Anderson’s and the red beans and rice were excellent. Some of the best cole slaw I have ever eaten, very unique.
When we finally reached New Orleans, the first thing we did was the most touristy activity there was to do—we went to Pat O’Briens.
We got the Hurricanes, we got the glasses, we got the picture taken.
Our hotel was two blocks from the french quarter and it had valet parking so we didn’t have to worry about our car for three whole days.
I didn’t realize how close the Superdome was to downtown. I mean it is plopped down right in the middle of downtown New Orleans.
It should come as no surprise that Austinite Drew Brees is a god down there. The Saints’ quarterback’s picture and likeness is plastered everywhere in the city and every move he makes is on the front page of the paper.
The only real disappointment we had was we had planned to go see the Preservation Hall Band on Wednesday night and then found out that Wednesday night was their night off.
We went by, but it looked like a bunch of lawyers and bankers in suits playing. No thanks.
The coolest thing we saw was on the corner of Bourb0n Street and Canal late one night, about 20 members of the Southern University marching band held an impromptu jam and dance session with drum line, horns, saxophones and one funky tuba.
Smoke on the water
One of things I liked about the Bayou City is that they really embrace cigar smoking of which I have been known to enjoy on occasion.
Spent some time in the Cigar Factory where they had an entire team of rollers in their huge store, working just for me.
The rollers were all smoking cigars as were all the salesmen who hooked me up.
Aaaaaaaah... Did someone say Utopia?
But I digress.
The cheerleader lured me out of the shop by threatening to buy another purse.
What we can say about New Orleans is that it has a good side and a bad side. The food of course is without description, there’s plenty of top notch artistry and musical entertainment and plenty of swamp activities to keep you busy.
But there are people sleeping on the streets and there are areas of the city that just out-and-out stink and are pretty trashy.
There are too many souvenir shops with too many expensive trinkets and the bodegas all have the same stock merchandise.
Also, be prepared to spend some money. Most drinks were in the double digits. Our hotel however, was very reasonable and there is a long list of interesting things you can do for free.
Down south jukin’
When I was a kid, Pat’s Seafood in Henderson (just outside of Lafayette) was considered the best seafood in the state, so on the way back home, we spent the night there in their brand new hotel, which is right up against the restaurant.
Brought back a lot of memories. When we ate there, it was a special occasion and we were usually accompanied by all my parent’s friends.
They have a couple of alligators pinned up outside the picture window.
The stuffed shrimp was as scrumptious as I remember and the platter also included alligator and frog legs.
We were the only people in the hotel in the middle of the week and that was nice.
The cheerleader really fell in love with the Breaux Bridge/ Henderson area and actually preferred that to New Orleans.
We stopped off in Lake Charles on the way back through and while Randy was in Austin helping youngest daughter Brandy move for college, Patti gave us a guided tour of one of the three casinos in Lake Charles—L’auberge.
This place is a palace.
We ate at the buffet which was as long as a football field and had every type of food you could hope for: Mexican, Chinese, Italian, steak, crab and the dessert section was the stuff dreams are made of.
As we waddled into the casino, there were slot machines as far as the eye could see and nearly every seat was filled. Playing the penny slots, the excheerleader won about $75. I broke even at black jack.
One thing you need to know about Louisiana. Every corner convenience store has a casino in it. We saw a bait shop with a casino.
Along with fishing, gambling is the state’s biggest industry.
The smaller the town, the nicer the people were and it was great to hear that unique language again, but it’s great to be back home.
And we didn’t see one barbecue joint on the whole trip. We darn near starved to death.