(July 2, 2012) AUBURN, AL to NEW ORLEANS, LA â€“ Today, after wanting to come here for nearly 30 years, I finally made it to New Orleans.
I started the day bright and early, bouncing (read: trudging) out of bed at 5 a.m. I showered, packed, and headed into the living room where I was greeted by Rachel, who keeps farmer’s hours. She handed me a bag full of her delicious black cherry tomatoes for the road. Thanks, Rachel!
My pal Patrick was kind enough to pick me up at 5:45 to take me to the Greyhound station in Columbus, GA. My bus wasn’t till 8:25, but Auburn is on Central Time and Columbus is on Eastern Time, so our 45-minute drive actually added up to an hour and 45 minutes. Oh, and someone I saw on the side of the road inspired the first poem of the day.
I made it in plenty of time and had my bag checked through to New Orleans. That was the first truly exciting moment of the day. The bus was on time and we left Columbus without a hitch. The bus was full so I had to share a seat, but it was no big deal. I also found out from the driver that I’d be staying on that same bus all the way to New Orleans, which was convenient.
Or would have been, but the bus’s power outlets weren’t working, meaning that charging my phone and computer during the 9-hour trip would only be possible at the stations. We had very short rest stops, so there wouldn’t be much charging time, and I needed my phone to work when I got to New Orleans so I could find my way to the place where I would be staying.
For the first half of the trip â€“ through Mobile, I think â€“ I had a quiet young woman sitting next to me. For the next section, I had a similarly quiet soldier heading home to Fort Polk in Alexandria, LA, with his baby daughter. She was pretty quiet, too. And very cute. And for the final couple hours I was accompanied by a goateed skateboarder. A real slice of life, my seatmates were.
Around Mobile, AL, I got my first peak at the Gulf Coast. I then had a much more extended look as we reached and then passed Biloxi, MS. What a thrill! I’ve read about the Gulf Coast and written poems about it, too, but today was the first time I actually looked on it with my own eyes. (And yes, I’m thinking of Vader at the end of Return Of The Jedi right now.)
I was so excited once the coast was in sight that I was bouncing around in my seat, taking pictures out the window of the fast-moving terrain. The last hour or two to New Orleans took forever. They felt like the culmination of a nearly life-long journey.
When I was about 8 or 9, I think, my grandpa, Bernie Flanders, took me to see two New Orleans jazz giants, Pete Fountain and Al Hirt. Ever since then, I’ve wanted to visit the Big Easy. It took me roughly 30 years, but I made it.
We passed over marshland on big arched bridges, then hit the long bridge over Lake Ponchartrain, which I’m sure brought a gasp from me:
And then we were in sight of the city. The first unmistakable sight was the Superdome, home to so much tragedy and triumph. And then we started seeing the famous streets like Rampart and Calliope. The bus dropped us off at Union Station, probably the nicest Greyhound station I’ve been in on the tour:
It’s actually a bus and train station, which I’m sure accounts for its condition. Had I ever hopped on the Crescent City in Penn Station all those times I so desperately wanted to, Union Station would have been waiting at the end of the trip.
I got in a cab and asked the driver to take me to Port Street, where I’m staying while I’m in town. He turned up the radio and off we went. And yes, there was good modern jazz playing on the radio courtesy of WWOZ, which I listened to without a computer for the first time in my life. What an amazing feeling!
More famous names: Charles, Royal, Bourbon, Dauphine â€¦ the list goes on and on. I was trying to play it cool with the cabbie. Thank god Port is an easy one to pronounce. I’m afraid to say any street names aloud because none of them are said they way they look on paper. I hate sounding like a tourist, even though I am one.
In about 10 minutes I was at my destination. Thunder was rumbling nearby as I got the keys to the apartment I’m staying in from a neighbor. Here’s the first photo of me in New Orleans:
I’m staying in a couple places, but for a few days I have this amazing spot all to myself. What a delight:
After relaxing for a bit, I looked online for nearby restaurants and ended up at the Lost Love Lounge and its backroom Vietnamese restaurant. I had an incredible Kung Pao tofu bahn mi. The setting and the food inspired a poem, which you can read here.
Then it was back to the apartment to Skype with a friend and make today’s show, featuring saxophonist Brandon Wright. Here it here.
I also posted the audio of my poetry reading in Auburn, courtesy of Southern Public Media Group.
Tomorrow I’m going to catch up on sleep and then start exploring. If you’re near a computer at 12:10 p.m. Central Time (1:10 p.m. Eastern Time), be sure to tune in to WTSU 89.9 FM from Montgomery, AL, to hear me interviewed by Kyle Gassiot. Kyle’s one of the good guys. Here’s the link to the stream: http://bit.ly/vrN3EZ.
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