Friday, May 10, 2013

Four states in one day

After I got to the New Orleans area and settled into a motel, I rode over the bridge from the Harvey suburb to the New Orleans Garden District and had a great shrimp Creole dinner at Jacques-Imo's Restaurant.

Jacques-Imo's was packed. People were eating at tables out on the sidewalk and even in the bed of an old pickup truck parked at the curb. I found a spot to park Old Yeller right in front. We call that "Magnum parking" in Honolulu -- on that show Tom Selleck always found a spot to park his Ferrari right in front wherever he went.

I checked in with the hostess who said the wait for a table "at the back" was at least an hour, but I could ear at the bar, if I could ever get a seat. After about 20 minutes, a barstool opened up and I was in. The Shrimp Creole was succulent and accompanied by red beans and rice, Creole cabbage and a glass of cabernet. I never did see "the back."

Next morning, I packed up and returned to town for breakfast at the French Marketplace and a leisurely ride through the Vieux Carre, the French Quarter: Jackson Square, Bourbon Street, etc.

The sign really didn't mean that bicycle.

I wanted to have beignets for breakfast at the Cafe du Monde, but couldn't find a good place to park the loaded-up bike in view of that famous Crescent City institution. So, I settled for ham and eggs, with grits of course, at the French Marketplace down the street.

Bourbon Street was bustling even in the morning as tourists arrived early and bar owners restocked for tonight's party.

The Hawaii flag flies outside Johnny White's Corner Pub on Bourbon Street, which was a favorite gathering spot for Hawaii football fans when the Warriors made it to the Sugar Bowl in January 2008. It's also the home of the "Hurricane," a potent cocktail.

Esplanade Ave., on the north end of the French Quarter, tunnels through a roof of lovely old trees and leads to the Ninth Ward.

Here's the famous levee that Katrina burst through, flooding the Ninth Ward on Aug. 29, 2005. Almost eight years later, many homes are rebuilt and reoccupied, but many others are gone or remain boarded up.

I parked the Wee on the levee and photographed a row of new "Green Homes" built by Global Green USA as part of the Holy Cross Project, an effort to create a sustainable village in the Lower Ninth Ward. The houses feature solar panels, roof gardens, water cisterns, rain gardens and "environmentally friendly finishes and furnishings."

A banner heralds the Lower Ninth Ward's Cultural District in front of the boarded-up shell of a house still waiting for repairs.

Another Ninth Ward house has coded markings on the boarded-up windows made by rescue workers back in 2005.

After almost eight years, the landscaping is beginning to devour the empty houses.

After my Ninth Ward tour, I found I-10 and headed north east out of Louisiana into Mississippi, the last state to include the old Confederate battle flag saltire after Georgia adopted a new flag design in 2001. The design was adopted in 1894, as the state emerged from Reconstruction, and was confirmed in 2001 when voters elected to keep the 1894 design rather than adopt a less controversial one.

At the visitor center on I-10, volunteers offered travelers coffee, lemonade and popcorn. A nice touch.

At Pass Christian, Miss., the beautiful Gulf coastline opens up. Heading east, there are miles and miles of ocean and beach on the right and beautiful mansions set on broad lawns and shaded by ancient oaks on the left, from Pass Christian through Long Beach to Biloxi, where mansions were supplanted by casinos.

One of the mansions in Biloxi was the summer home of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederate States of America. Behind the old house workers were putting the finishing touches on the Jefferson Davis Presidential Library.

An existing presidential library had been wiped out by Hurricane Katrina, but millions of dollars were raised to build a new library.

This bronze statue of Davis was the only relic saved from the old library. It stands in a place of honor in front of the grand new structure.

Davis was allowed to use the old house, which was owned by a rich planter named Brown. It suffered extensive damage by Katrina, but has now been restored.

A docent tells the story of Jefferson Davis and the Brown house to visitors who enjoy the view, the shade and the rocking chairs on the veranda. According to the guide, this porch stands 23 feet above sea level. Unfortunately, Katrina's storm surge was 24 feet -- so the house was flooded.

A photo of what was left of the house after the flood waters subsided is posted on a bulletin board nearby.

Also posted is Gov. Phil Bryant's proclamation of April 29, 2013 as Confederate Memorial Day and the month of April as Confederate Heritage Month.

Soon, I was out of Mississippi and admiring the skyline of Mobile, Ala. just east of the city, on an island in Mobile Bay, is the Battleship Alabama Memorial Park, which features the ship, a B-52 bomber and a collection of other military hardware.

The Alabama served from 1942 to 1947. It is 207 feet shorter than the Battleship Missouri, berthed in Pearl Harbor, which served from 1944 until 1992, but it carries largely the same armament: nine 16-inch guns and 20 5-inch guns. The Alabama weighed in at 35,000 tons, while the 887 foot long Missouri displaces 45,000.

Not long after leaving Mobile, I crossed the state line near Pensacola, Fla. Having seen my share of beautiful Gulf shores, I continued down I-10 to Tallahassee, the state capital.

In the morning I stopped at the statehouse and made a picture postcard of the Old Capitol. The new capitol surrounds the historic structure. The tall building in the background is one of the capitol buildings. House and Senate buildings flank the old building.

Workers were busy giving the capitol portico a fresh coat of paint.

Many churches throughout the country seem to be competing to see who can post the cleverest sign. I liked this one. There was another I saw in West Texas: "What's Missing from this CH--RCH?"

I couldn't resist stopping at this authentic old Florida restaurant for lunch. There was a buffet that featured a salad bar, fried mullet, kielbasa and stuffed chicken breast. The regional flavor came from the side dishes: swamp cabbage, Brussels sprouts, baked beans and mashed potatoes.

The swamp cabbage and Brussels sprouts had been boiled into soft lumps, unfortunately. The mullet had plenty of skin and bones and not much meat and the stuffed chicken was dry. I resisted the mashed potatoes, but the baked beans were excellent. You can't spoil kielbasa.

I did not leave hungry.

The love bugs were back, but not as thick as in the Louisiana bayous. These two demonstrate how they got their name. They fly around in pairs as they copulate, making the best of a short life span.

Geeze, if you don't wash your hands in Florida, Charles Bronson will be out to get you! Harsh.

Stopping for a break along US-19 on my way south, I stopped to chat with Capt. Art, who sells shrimp and lobster tails on the roadside from his old pickup.

The truck features this metal sculpture of a giant shrimp.

Capt. Art says his truck has 741,000 miles on it. "She's ugly, but she's still runnin'," he said. It still has the original engine and he's never had the heads off.

Art apologized for the condition of his white-wall tires. "They could use a fresh coat of house paint."

He doesn't go out shrimping anymore, but buys the critters off the boats and sells them to local folks and passersby. On a fine May afternoon in the shade, there aren't many more pleasant ways to make a living.


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