Saturday, July 29, 2017

Down in New Orleans

I held a day and half workshop for some terrific clients in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The workshop was to review the block and tackle fundamentals of proposal development...specifically for a Mississippi Medicaid quality assurance contract that was coming up for renewal. We had helped them take the contract from the incumbent earlier and they hired us back to help them keep it.

It wasn't that good and nobody particularly liked it but then again, nobody actually likes writing contract proposals and that is why I am occasionally employed to assist with it. 

I had arranged the trip to go through New Orleans so I could continue as a passenger in good standing with United. United doesn’t fly to Baton Rouge and if you let your exalted frequent flyer status lapse, they regress to treating you in common cattle fashion. So, they have me trained right! On my return home, I decided to spend Friday night in New Orleans and come back late Saturday afternoon - a little ‘tourista stuff to go with the business.

Enter Paul Murrell, friend, mentor, confidante and man in whose debt I continue to get...deeper and deeper. I called him to discuss the project (he helped us with many over the years) and he quickly gave me the drill on "what to do in New Orleans with less than 24 hours". Paul was born and raised around Baton Rouge and the area so he knows it like his backyard, maybe better...He told me what restaurant to hit in the French Quarter Friday night, what areas to avoid walking in (I am sure he was remembering my ability to go places I shouldn't), and where to go Saturday.

Armed with this information, I hit the city like I sorta’ knew what I was doing. Except for the streets down town...I had a hell of a time getting to the downtown Marriott parking garage, and I knew where it was. If you haven't there, the streets have a fan pattern like Richmond Virginia and lot of other river towns I guess. The trouble is, they have inconsistent block size and lots of one way streets. Block size probably came from early days when you only needed room for horse and wagon and you didn't need surveyors…you just built right "over there" or wherever you wanted too.

The one-way streets are another surprise. They don't alternate so you might have two in a row going the same way! The founding fathers (I can think of other names) must have thought, "Let's really complicate this area!  Mess up them Yankee visitors who think they can figure this place out. Thanks for visiting and toss your maps. They won't do you any good.” Of course, after a few loops, you remember not to take anything for granted.

Initial impressions...flat...hot...and wet all over...and they have tons of trees that don't seem to have tops surrounding the city. Striking...you wonder if the freeway might sink at some point. Dirty... (I don't want to ask where tax dollars are going).

Checked in downtown New Orleans late Friday afternoon, grabbed a little map from the desk and looked up the addresses of my "gotta go there" stops. Then hit the road in sandals (If you want to solve the one way street problem..Walk!). First stop, the Hard Rock on North Peters street near the French Quarter. I had to hit this place to pick up additions to Samantha's guitar pin and Tyler's shooter collections - it has been my die hard, "I am thinking of you" move for years now.

Then, my eye was caught by a cigar shop across the street. I thought it would be a good evening to light one up and walk through the Quarter working up an appetite for dinner. It was impressive, smelled great and they were rolling them on the spot. So, I bought a box of ten Coronas and hit the streets (Bourbon, Royal and others) with a fresh-lit one (delicious!). Most of the remainder would go home with me.

It was fun walking through there...I recall thinking if I would have hit the place when I was 20 I might never have left! Bars...If you can find two businesses side by side on Bourbon Street and one of them isn't a bar, I will buy you a beer. And everybody is drinking in the street...guess that doesn't stop when Mardi Gras is over. And when dusk sets in, there are automatic drunks wandering around...guess they start in their rooms in anticipation of the evening. Great variety in music, jazz, funk..and lots of people dancing (you guessed it, in the streets).

Then, I hit Mr. B's on Royal Street for dinner, and this is where Paul Murrell started taking on saintly status in my lowly eyes. I was just in time for instant seating. The waiter, when asked, recommended a gin and tonic to help me study the menu - they are damn fine tasting in that kind of weather. The menu looked just great, all kinds of wonderful sounding stuff on it! I picked an onion torte for an appetizer and Mr B's specialty barbecued “whole!" jumbo shrimp with French bread "for dipping".

The waiter, Fernando, helped me with a wine selection and I was on my way! The onion torte had vidalias, cheese and tomatoes in a light pastry shell and was one of the finest dishes I have ever had. The shrimp entree came and I knew I had an adventure going when he tied a bib around my neck. I asked Fernando how to eat the damn things and he set me straight with a two-handed motion that looked like opening up a hot dog bun (no, Paul, I did not suck the juices out of the heads though I was thinking there are probably many locals who would). The service was terrific, everyone friendly there and really, everywhere I went in the city.

I gotta tell you, It was as good a meal as I have had in my life. After dinner, headed back to the hotel and stopped at a bar for a local Amitas amber ale and another stogie...Yup, might have been my first ever two-stogie evening. Good crowd dancing in the street. How do they do that and not sweat profusely?!

Saturday morning, I got up early, threw on jogging/shuffle gear and was on the St. Charles trolley around six. I rode out past the crusty part of downtown, then the stately mansions and finally arrived at Audubon Park. There I joined others jogging on the trail that circles the park. It was beautiful, about two miles around with ponds, great oaks and other trees I couldn't identify, a golf course and lots of herons, geese, swans and ducks. I jogged back toward downtown a couple more miles on the grassy St. Charles median and finally stopped to get back on the trolley.

Back to the room for a quick shower and on to the major objective, another of Paul's recommendations, the Cafe Du Monde. The menu is pretty simple there so I figured I better order the Cafe au lait with Beignets (doughnuts) and some orange juice. Doughnuts were fresh, warm, loaded with powdered sugar and delicious. Coffee has a little chicory and was also great. So, I kinda caught on to why there were long lines waiting to get in and get a seat for some. I was by myself so I just walked in and parked like I belonged there. Then, back to the hotel for a short "yup, I am getting old" snooze followed by a trip to the New Orleans Harley dealer to see what there was to see and on to the airport.

It was a hellofa trip, Paul steered me to perfect spots and I am, once again, eternally grateful. I think, when I pass (notice I didn’t say, “enter”) the gates to Heaven I will drop off a Harley there for Paul that is guaranteed to stay upright.  Now, I gotta take Julieann to New Orleans...to Mr. B's, the Cafe Du Monde and the French Quarter - I have a mission - and if she wants to share a plate of beignets with me well, that's OK too!!!

Dear Paul,

Merci Beau Coups!

Tom

PS - We worked that Mississippi contract renewal and others a few more times thereafter. Once Julie flew in to meet me for a long weekend and I was able to share the finer things Paul had graciously pointed out about the city. The food remained delicious and the people and sights…great!

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