Driving down was a beast, but not nearly as bad as I expected. (I was worse for wear arriving in Chicago, a shorter trip where I didn't even drive.) I hate knowing firsthand that PA does seem to have the worst roads in the country, which is to say I hate driving in PA, particularly after any stretch of time driving far-from-state. I like messy cities, but well-planned highways. Cut down a few trees once in a while instead of curving around each and every one. Flatten a bit of hill here and there, or do the tunnel thing. And um. Fix the roads. Fix them in a way where each year you're not filling in last years potholes and fissures in an endless loop of construction zones.
I still love Virginia (and West) madly, even though they hate me and the horse I rode through on. I think I had some ideas about living there in secret on the way down. Something about I could never leave the barn, no one would even know I was there. And there would be goats. And huuuuge magnolias, and a sulcata or five, a superb internet connection, and a pony (lick).
There were some other states as well. Many of them had flat, straight highways. We had cds, so we didn't end up listening to Peter and the Wolf on the way through some -tucky or other (the part of Bort will be played by the tuba). (Editor's note: I got this car, with its stereo, in the middle of last November, and this was the first time I brought cds.)
All I remember about arrival is that Embassy Suites New Orleans are a bunch of unclefuckers and this fork was outside our room (the second room, that is) the entire time. The last day Chris kicked it into the middle of the walkway, and the cleaning cart maintained its insistence of nonexistence. I try not to think about what corners the housekeeping cuts in the rooms, what treasures went undetected. (Unlike the long, dark hair stuck to one of the towels, which was quite detected.) I'd expected alligators to wave us in, or to see little
About 5 feet out the door the following morning it struck me that it would have been an entirely different trip if I still had bangs. The place isn't humid, it's wet. Walking through street-level clouds, an entire city full of them. For at least half a day I felt oppressed, and I'm still not sure if I just got used to it after a while, or if the dampness actually lessened. As we walked around and saw the effects of intense, constant moisture, I softened to it a little, which I never would have expected. The growth is just.. indescribable. (cheat) Green was either sprouting out of or spreading over any and all surfaces. Green over green over green, as clusters of leaves grew over another sort of tree growing out of a crack in the cement with two kinds of flowers mixed among the leaves and a layer of kudzu on top for good measure.
Beyond the plant life, the city felt alive in a way I wouldn't have expected from a tourist haven, not since having my cherry popped by Las Vegas, anyway. I assume it's as easy as the difference between one being a city people go to for a while, and one being a city people live in, as well, but I'd like to think Elvis figures into Vegas' aura of decay somehow. I expected an ambient bitterness and scarlet T treatment, but there was none detectable. People were social. Friendly, even. Nobody walked up in your face and demanded money. Sure, they walked up all smiles and gratuitous charm, and you knew they wanted your money, but that's different. I guess I like to be romanced, in that way. The young guy from the other hotel who came to take someone's packages recommended we go see some cemeteries, in particular the one in his neighborhood. It had a neat tree, he said. You have to go out to at least one cemetery, because it's something you'd never do at home, he said. (My heart smiled.) That gas station cashier, wearing makeup I would have been embarrassed to be seen in post-6th grade, who asked if we'd ever tried that kind of soda before. People talked to us in a way that was decidedly unFishtownlike, which is to say people talked to us, yet we didn't want to run down the street and hide in a bathroom. Beyond the friendliness, people were just living their lives, and it was great.
Ignoring almost everything relating to tourism ("I am so sorry for buying your horrible merchandise!" (penitent)), on the night described here I suspected someone of trying to pickpocket me. Chris had run into a bar on Canal St to use the bathroom and I was standing around out front. The street was crawling with drunken partiers. A solo guy similarly standing around meandered behind me after a minute or two. I maneuvered into another spot on the street, looking around at people and into store windows, all casual like. After another minute or so, he ended up behind me again. As the overly paranoid wearer of a backpack, I didn't wait around any more, but kinda paced. Growing up going on family trips, I've been being trained for this since infanthood! Watch your stuff! Keep your mind on your pockets! Attend your zipper! (Editor's note 2: I actually do attend my zipper. That bulky decorative zipper pull is as much a flag as it is decor.)
Eventually, we ended up at Chris's grandparents house where his grandmom has this amazing accent and his grandfather made him cringe every 2 minutes or so. The area immediately surrounding New Orleans is like.. the fanciest ghetto in the world. Everything all curling trellises and intricately decorative ironwork and sinking into the ground. It's like the Taj Mahal's own shantytown. We found a newspaper clipping from when his granddad was a teen and shot himself in the hand. At some point in the night, I came to realize that I'd taken off my socks in a house where one of the occupants had enormous, bloated fungal growths for feet, the kind where the toenails are completely yellow, crusty, and look about to pop off any moment. Food was shoved at us from every angle, and I do mean shoved. I expected to wake up to forkfuls of pie being stuffed into our mouths. Fight as we might, we ended up leaving with two massive sandwiches that neither of us wanted anything to do with, but they bought that turkey for us, so there wasn't much choice.
Next episode: On to Florida!