Becca and I took our time waking up in Clarksdale, for when we did fall asleep we found that the bed was too comfortable for any ghosts or haunting spirits to keep us awake. We still managed to pack up and leave the Chateau Debris early, and we grabbed coffee at Yazoo Pass downtown before hitting US 49 south through Mississippi.
It was cotton fields and marshland all the way down, with maybe one other car passing up every ten miles or so. We were so amazed by the lack of other humans around that we parked on the side of the road in Minter City – a small unincorporated community – and took pictures in the middle of the road.
Our first stop was Greenwood, where Becca’s dad grew up. According to Becca, her dad always loved the South, especially his hometown, and I could see why. Despite the clear signs of gentrification popping up around the area – kistchy gift stores, signs advertising luxury apartments, a Starbucks – magnolia trees lined the side roads and sprung up from the church yards and in front of all the old houses. Becca’s father passed in 2008, but I could tell he was with us as we drove around Greenwood, pointing out old haunts and commenting about how much had changed. The way Becca was looking around at everything, you could tell she could hear him.
We visited Turn Row Books to get a shirt and explored around town for a bit before stopping at the Waffle House by the highway entrance. It wasn’t the cleanest among the Waffle Houses we visited, and because of that, we ate quickly and got on the road as soon as we could. It was the last real meal we ate all day. That would become our biggest mistake of the trip.
We drove from Greenwood to New Orleans on I-55, stopping once in Summit, MS to fill up the tank. At about 3:30, we pulled off of I-10 and did about ten U-turns on Basin Street before finally figuring out how Google Maps wanted us get into the French Quarter. Finally, we pulled into the valet spot at the Hotel St. Marie on Toulouse Street, brought our stuff up to our room, and took a moment of respite on the king-sized bed to prepare ourselves for Bourbon Street.
Folks who know New Orleans gave us plenty of suggestions before heading down South. One of Becca’s grad school friends from Slidell told us to try the Hand Grenade, a drink billed as more powerful than a Hurricane. Upon further research online, we learned that a Hand Grenade is nothing more than a tropical-flavored Long Island iced tea. But that wasn’t gonna stop us from trying the damn thing.
As soon as we hit Bourbon Street, we rolled into a Tropical Isle on the nearest corner, got two Hand Grenades, and sipped them as we made our plan of attack. From the first sip, we knew we were in for a time. The combo of several different alcohols and the sweetest mix on the shelf hit us like a tidal wave, and it didn’t help that we hadn’t eaten anything before going out to drink. We had thought to eat after getting a drink. How wrong we were! How so wrong we both were.
The liquor flowed through us as we poked our heads into a few voodoo shops. We did, after a while of exploring and getting more drunk, sit down at a restaurant (I didn’t write down where, unfortunately) and get some fried pickles to snack on before finding a real dinner. Of course, we had finished our Hand Grenades, and so we ordered a couple of Painkillers to wash down the pickles. This was about the time that we realized that we had gone too far, but Becca and I figured that as long as the spirits had us in their grasp, they might as well squeeze a little harder.
So we left the restaurant and headed to The Cat’s Meow, a famous karaoke joint which had a good crowd of ten to twelve folks just as drunk as us. It seemed well-attended for the Wednesday before Christmas at 6:00. Becca and I got a couple of Hurricanes – our third powerful mixed drink of the evening – and although the egregious amount of alcohol in us would soon rear its ugly head, we signed up for song after song, rocking the stage and becoming great friends with the karaoke hosts and the audience. One woman visiting from Nashville stumbled over and introduced us to her children, who were both our age. They both apologized for their mother profusely.
We left The Cat’s Meow at about 7:30 and sat down at the Desire Oyster Bar just a few blocks from the Hotel St. Marie. Just after ordering our appetizers – Buffalo-style gator bites and a dozen oysters – the devil called us home. Our three tastes of New Orleans’ finest alcoholic offerings had done us in. We had to return to the hotel at once.
The restaurant cancelled the oysters, put the gator in a doggy bag, and sent us on our way. We made it back to the hotel room just in time. Both of us in our drunk and hopeful way thought that our time in the hotel was nothing more than a moment of respite, a quick power nap to recharge, hit the town, put some real food in our stomachs, and rally for round two. Again: So wrong! Very wrong. As soon as Becca went into the bathroom she was shuttling between there and the bed for the next several hours. I had somewhat sobered up out of necessity – maternal instinct taking over, as usual – so I did what I could to help her power through the heaving.
I hate to out her like that, as anyone talking about any sort of someone’s gastrointestinal business is embarrassing, but I say it as a word of warning. Friends! If you go to New Orleans, prevent yourself from spending your evening hurling in the hotel room. Make sure you eat plenty before you obliterate yourself on Bourbon Street. Don’t get the three most powerful drinks all on the same night. And for the love of God, don’t order oysters if you have any doubt that you’ll eat all of them. You’ll just look foolish in front of the server. I felt bad cancelling the order. Half of those oysters were probably already shucked.
Anyway, at about 1:30 in the morning, we feared alcohol poisoning. Becca sent me out to find the nearest CVS and pick up some crackers and Pedialyte. I learned that the only 24-hour CVS was a mile down on Canal Street. So I got to explore a bit of New Orleans after dark on my way down Bourbon Street. Plenty of the bars were still open, but much of the party had spilled outside. Folks were dragging their half-comatose friends back to their hotels and shoving them into Ubers. Street drummers were taking advantage of the inebriated late-night crowd and raking in the tips.
I didn’t feel insecure walking down a strange street during the wee hours. Living in New York, that’s a way of life. But in the city, more convenience stores stay open all night, especially around big tourist spots like Times Square. One would think that in the heart of New Orleans nightlife, one wouldn’t have to walk for half an hour just to get a snack and some medicine. This paragraph is dedicated to the St. Louis Market on St. Louis and Bourbon, which was quite clearly open except for the locked door and the woman behind the counter saying that they were closed. I still don’t buy it.
At about 2:00, I returned to the hotel with the Pedialyte, a couple of ginger ales, some crackers, and a few other stomach-soothing treatments. Becca was asleep, finally having rid herself of all her demons. She barely stirred as I climbed onto my side of the giant bed with the gator bites. It was not exactly how I had envisioned dining on Cajun cuisine in New Orleans, but even hours later, the gator was so delicious that nothing else mattered.
Now you may think, “Well, that’s a waste of an evening.” But our first night in New Orleans was anything but wasted. We planned two nights in the city because we knew we would spend our first night spinning around the French Quarter like a couple of drunkards. On our second night, we would take things easy, take time to explore, to appreciate the city and all of the good food, great music, and incredible sights that it had to offer. I’m happy to say that nothing we did on the first night in New Orleans negatively affected how much we enjoyed the second night.
However, Becca barely touched alcohol for the rest of the trip. The Hand Grenades and Hurricanes did her in. They almost did me in. And they’ll do you in too, if you’re not careful. There’s voodoo magic in that mix and it will either knock you back into the spirit world or rip the spirit right out of your throat.