Grant McWilliams

New Orleans - Day 1

I'd been selected to speak at THE major Linux convention (Linuxcon) in New Orleans in September. I've traveled a lot as most of my readers know but for whatever reason I've never been to New Orleans. I've always wanted to go but whenever I board an airplane it's usually going overseas but now I had an excuse. To prepare I started to research a city that was part of the French empire for 45 years then part of the Spanish empire for 35 years while being briefly handed back to France before being sold to the very new United States. In addition to that it had a large immigration of German and Irish people that at one point made up 15% of the population. There were the Acadians that came from Nova Scotia after France lost Canada to the British. Those folks later became the Cajuns. The largest influence came from Africa - initially from Senegambia and then later Congo by way of Cuba and Saint Domingue (Haiti). When Haiti became the second country in the new world to gain it's independence (after the U.S.) the large French population fled to New Orleans resulting in a surge in the French culture. This time though it was a very Caribbean influenced French culture.

Take all of this plus 200 years of American culture, put it in a large pot to simmer and call it Gumbo. As you also know I'm a big foodie so I'll be discussing at length the culinary options in New Orleans as it's quite famous for it's cuisine.

I wanted to take Kris to New Orleans with me and I also wanted us to have airplane seats together. As there were no longer any adjacent seats on any reasonably priced flight we figured we'd take a chance on Southwest because at least we could make a mad dash for a couple of seats. Southwest as you may know doesn't have any seat reservation system and they're really not a budget option any longer and after going through the boarding process I wonder why they're even in business. You can weight the seat selection process by paying extra money but depending on the order paid you may end up in exactly the same category you were in previously. So there we were standing in our respective sections of our respective lines hoping that by the time we got on the plane there'd be two seats together... there wasn't. I grabbed a seat beside a 6'4" Texan who apparently thought he was carrying a couple of 14 lb bowling balls between his legs because he had to have them splayed so wide I put both of my knees in the aisle side saddle style. Later I realized he really didn't like touching another man either so every time my leg got close to his he'd move his over a bit so we weren't touching. Lather, rinse, repeat. Eventually I got the space I'd paid for and he was riding side saddle on his wife's seat. Kris sat behind me in the middle seat. I felt sorry for her the minute I saw where she was going to be sitting. These two very nice people occupying the window and aisle seats loved each other very much but they couldn't sit next to each other due to a small physics problem. The problem was they were physically too big. The seat between them was the buffer zone which amounted to a small strip of stagnant air and not much more. Kris nestled in like a thong between two very abundant butt cheeks and off we went.

Before we landed in New Orleans the pilot made an announcement that we had arrived in "New Orleans" to which some lady in the back replied "You'd think that as many times as he's flown here he'd know how to pronounce Nawlins". Perhaps he pronounces it that way because he's literate. Perhaps.

We exited the airport and walked into what felt like a very damp wool blanket that just came from the dryer. There you are humidity.... Our taxi driver was from <insert some country east of the east of the prime meridian and south of the Mediterranean> and careened around every car on the freeway. He got up to 80 mph at one point (in a 60mph zone) but we still managed to survive and arrived at Prytania Park Hotel in the Garden District near 10 pm. we planned on staying in the Garden District to get a feel for it then move to Frenchmen Street later in the week to be closer to some music and street life. We did NOT stay in the French Quarter due to the guidebooks saying it's crazy (and often repulsive, looking at you Bourbon street) and the price of hotels tripling during the weekend.

We got a suite at the Prytania Park Hotel which amounted to a loft with a very tight spiral staircase leading to our bed. Below we had a microwave and refrigerator, couch, desk and bathroom. For the price it was very nice. Most importantly it had air conditioning that ran 24/7. Coming from a green city it seemed a bit foreign to see someone run their air conditioning all day even when they weren't home but everyone did it. That and they didn't recycle which at this point I'd assumed everyone had started doing.

Being famished we asked the front desk lady where to eat. She said there's a good Japanese place a block over on St Charles street. Japanese? I came to New Orleans to have great southern food! We walked to St Charles street and asked a security guard and he again recommended the Japanese place and reiterated that it was good food. Still on a mission we went down the street to the St Charles Pub to eat some real local food. Kris got the Muffaletta (a very large round sandwich with sliced meat on it) because the people on the plane raved about them and they had been locals. I ordered the roast beef Poboy because EVERYONE that I'd met previous to flying told me to have one. The Muffaletta was comprised of mostly bread with a small amount of sliced meat. In a word, it was boring. The Poboy was a bit better but tasted strangely like a Subway sandwich with roast beef on it in a dark gravy. The gravy was pretty good but overall I was not impressed. There were no "OMG!" moments or even any "This is a damn fine sandwich" moments. It was just OK. I decided to reserve judgment until I'd tried the best Poboy places in town.

We were thankful to have air conditioning in the pub even though the local men were decked out in zoot suits with hats and everything. They didn't seem to mind the heat or the humidity. We slept great in our loft in our cute little hotel.