Saturday, September 29, 2012

Area Code 504.1


I love New Orleans on the installment plan. A week is plenty; more than that, and I would no doubt find myself permanently seduced by the city’s many temptations, ending up bivouacked in a fly-blown room in a no-name hotel along the Chef Menteur Highway, a shotgun across my knees and an army of urchins by my side while I stared at the door and whispered “the horror…the horror…”  Then of course, the culinary temptations of the city are such that, should I stay much longer, I will be involuntarily assigned my own area code, 504.1, or some such.

I am presently in New Orleans for a legal seminar and a couple of film role auditions, but as always I come away from New Orleans with extraneous stories. I have two I will share. The first took place on Tuesday, when I introduced two friends of mine who had never previously met, despite living with five miles or so of each other in Baton Rouge for most of their lives. Doug Wolfolk is a former deputy secretary of state of Louisiana; Carl Causey is a builder, contractor, inventor, and the husband of author extraordinaire Toni McGee Causey. Carl is proof that a “ten” marries a “ten.” It is impossible to spend more than five minutes in Carl’s presence without 1) making a friend for life and 2) coming to the realization that he is one of the most brilliant minds on the planet. Carl’s company has been busy with a huge project in New Orleans at Southern Scrap. Southern Scrap is tucked into a far corner of the lower ninth ward. To call Southern Scrap a junkyard would be an over-simplification, erroneous, and all sorts of words to that effect. With Carl expertly behind the wheel, Doug and I bounced around in  Carl’s jeep for well over an hour between and around mountains of cars, buses, and objects unknown, as they were crunched and bunched and then separated by metal class to be recycled and reused. I am not a tree hugger by any stretch of the imagination but I have hated to see things wasted since I was five years old; it was amazing to watch that which was old take the first steps to becoming new again. Any heavy duty product that you purchase in the next six to eight months made out of recycled materials will almost certainly contain something from Southern Scrap and have been in close proximity to Carl or his crew. While all of the reclamation was impressive, the author in me was also busy imagining climactic gun battles taking place as a protagonist and antagonist chased each other and dodged bullets until one or the other was fed into a grinder some fifty feet over the facility. 

That wasn’t the end of the day, however. After lunch at a treasure of a diner named “Sammy’s” on Elysian Fields Avenue, where we tucked into shrimp po’boys (a po'boy is a sub sandwich big enough for three people) and gumbo, Carl drove us to Wilkinson Street in the French Quarter. Wilkinson is a short, two block stretch just above Jackson Square, an all-but-forgotten part of the Quarter which at this point is the wallflower to its more famous and attractive sisters with names like Bourbon and Royal. That state of affairs may change. Carl and Toni are in the process of transforming a long-vacant warehouse into their new home. Where Doug and I saw an abandoned building, Carl several months ago had seen a stunning three story residence which is on its way to becoming a masterpiece. I hope to give you an updated report next time I was there.

The other high point of the week took place on Wednesday when I had the privilege of meeting and having dinner with author Victoria Allman, a loyal Kill Zone reader and frequent commenter to this blog. Victoria very graciously drove from Biloxi to New Orleans to join me at my favorite establishment in New Orleans, a proud dive named The Saint Charles Tavern. Victoria, who is yacht chef renowned throughout the world has published two books --- Sea Fare: A Chef’s Journey Across the Ocean and SEAsoned: A Chef’s Journey with Her Captain, detailing her exploits of a life as a chef and a captain’s wife at sea, as well as dozens of her recipes --- has not let her culinary talents transform her into food snob. She gamely ate the house specialty --- a boudin ball po’boy --- as a sat amazed at her ability to do so without spilling a drop. I cannot eat a meal in New Orleans without wearing some portion of it; Victoria finished hers without the trace of a mishap, all the while brightening the dim and dingy bar with her smile and presence while she listened to my interminable stories while actually convincing me that she was interested. Her tales are much more fascinating than mine, but you will have to buy and read her books (a third will be published next year) to discover that for yourself. The evening ended all too quickly but we will hopefully meet again soon, next time with Captain and husband Patrick present as well.

I have another thirty-six or so hours to go in town (assuming I don’t go all Colonel Kurtz, and my wife sends John Miller down here after me) at which point I will return home for a few days before leaving for Bouchercon! More later. In the meantime: would you each and all please share a travel story?

10 comments:

  1. I learned long ago that the best tasting food exists not in the places of food snobs but in the local hangouts, street corners, and dive bars and the boudin po'boy at The Saint Charles Tavern proves my point. YUM! I can't wait to make that for lunch next week for our crew.

    I, too, love New Orleans and have been soaking up the city's vibe and being inspired by its hum for awhile now. Wednesday I was enthralled with all your stories and history of New Orleans. Thank you for a evening of entertainment! No wonder you are such a great writer, you are a born storyteller.

    Enjoy the rest of the weekend in one of the great cities of the world.

    Victoria Allman
    author of: SEAsoned: A Chef's Journey with Her Captain

    www.victoriaallman.com

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  2. Mrs. B and I visited Cincinnati for the first time recently. The fine folks at Writer's Digest took us to a place famous for BBQ ribs, The Montgomery Inn. It was worth it. Apparently Bob Hope had those ribs flown to him every week out in Palm Springs.

    We of course tried Cincinnati chili, a special concoction that people from Dallas sniff at...but which I find imaginative and tasty. We had it 4 way, which includes spaghetti, onions and lots of shredded cheddar.

    Finally, we dined at a great Art Deco hotel downtown, where Orchids is.

    Things I learned there: They love their Bengals, and it's right across the river from Kentucky.

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  3. I took a ski trip to Aspen with a friend that had great local contacts. In 12 hours I skied with three ex-Olympians, waited in lift line with Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith, had dinner at a table twenty feet from Humter S. Thompson and literally bumped into Kato Kaelin - this was during the year of the O.J. trial. I'm not a celebrity guy but was interesting.

    I also want to share that I know a bit about Victoria Allman's upcoming book. She has crafted a mystery with a great premise, compelling characters and a backdrop of boats and the exciting maritme locations that she knows well. I'm looking forward to its release.
    Joe, sounds like a gathering that many KZ'ers would have loved to sat in on.

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  4. Joe, my only visit to New Orleans was in 1968. I was fresh out of basic traning in San Antonio and was assigned to Biloxi for my tech school.

    The base, Keesler AFB, was also a flight trainging school for German Air Force pilots. One weekend, we had a pass, and four of us, and one German pilot one of us had befriended, drove to New Orleans for the day packed into the German pilot's VW Bug. No one new how to get there, and the pilot spoke very little english. When we finally found the place, we spent the day in the French Quarter. It was amazing. I don't remember where all we went, but I do remember a beautiful park with artists sitting around the sidewalk doing paintings for tourists.

    We ended up on Bourbon Street at night with all the hawkers urging us to come into their joints. We found a bar and everyone had drinks. I was a non-drinker, but succomed to the pressure and had my first burbon and coke. And my last.

    It was quite the experience for an 18 year old Christian boy from Kansas City.

    I've always wanted to go back to visit, but haven't made it yet.

    Thanks for your stories.

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  5. While in Aruba, traveling with dear friends from Alaska, we got attacked by alien space invaders at the Pega Pega bar. (Alcohol was involved.)

    And we scored free gaming chips when we impersonated tourists from a travel group at our hotel. (Think fake moutaches, sunglasses and tropical shorts.) Of course, we had to spend those free beauties, but we decided that before we try our luck, we rented a car and went looking for the shark feeding grounds, a spot in a very clandestine part of the island.

    The rental car had a skid plate and we found out exactly why all rentals did. When we ran out of road, we kept going. Big mistake. We gunned it over sand dunes and boulders until we got stuck in sand. After we dug out, the only way to escape our predicament was to gun the engine and fly over the next soft spot, smash into a steep hill of rock on the other side, before we hit high ground and found a way back to our hotel.

    My friend, Quency, was so afraid we'd die out there, she began to think about apportioning the half can of Pepsi she had and started praying. (That couldn't hurt.) All that praying must've done us some good, because we killed it at the blackjack and craps table later at the casino. We won $350 US dollars and had a grand dinner for free.

    I love traveling.

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  6. Victoria, again, it is I who thanks you for making the drive from Biloxi and being such a gracious and interesting dining companion. Certain of the waitstaff have been interrogating me as to who you were, btw.

    Before my system rebelled, James, Skyline Chili was a weekly favorite for me. 5 way of course. My father was born and raised in Covington, Ky, which is treated as a Cincinnati suburb, so I am very familiar with the Seven Hills. His favorite dish was goetta, a concoction peculiar to that area. They even have a festival. I am sure the natives enjoy it. I don't alas.

    tjc, a friend like that is as good as an oil well. Kato Kaelin...have you ever seen Beach Fever or Night Shadow two movies he was in prior to his 15 minutes of OJ fame? As far as other KZ'ers sitting in on dinner...wonderful! Next year we'll plan it better!!!

    That park, Dave, sounds like Jackson Square. You can only use the park during the day now but the artists still surround the perimeter, along with fortune tellers, etc. Bourbon Street is still crazy. Thanks for the interesting story, and be glad you didn't sample the Daiquiris...they are brain-damage inducing.

    Jordan, it sounds like you're fun to travel with! See you in a few days at Bouchercon!

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  7. I don't get to travel outside of Alaska as much as I'd like. Once in a while for work, maybe every other year for a week so so, I get sent to a city in the lower 48 for training or a conference. Last year we had an IT conference in Orlando Florida, and I happened to have sold enough books to afford to take my family along. Boy am I glad I did, my two younger boys (10 & 13 then) had never seen darkness and heat at the same time. They had never seen a lightning and thunder storm like what happens down there all the time. It was their first time to a theme park (Busch Gardens), first time in an outdoor water park (aquatica), first time on a roller coaster, first time in an outdoor shopping mall, first time for my 21 year old driving a Dodge Charger at 90 mph on the freeway...legally at least.

    A highlight for my youngest was when their flight down went to JFK to refuel the plane dipped and Lady Liberty appeared out the window. His eyes got huge and he exclaimed "It's really real! Mom! The Statue of Liberty is really real!"


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  8. That's a really cool story, Basil. You don't get lightning in Alaska? I never knew that. Thanks!

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  9. Oh, we get lightning, but not the kind of lightning storms we saw down there with dozens of flashes around the horizon. Ours will be one or two booms in a storm and that's about it. Our bad one is 'ground lightning' that comes up, just as it sounds like, from the ground. usually during the dry summer months when static builds up like a ball of energy in a forest and BLAMO! lightning from the ground up and next thing you know...a forest fire rages.

    But no super tall lady statues...not a one.

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  10. Oh...and one more thing my kids have never seen.

    Fireflies.

    Half my family is in Ohio, and fireflies are one of my treasured childhood memories that I really need to get my kids to see before they're too old to look at it with wonder.

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