As we packed our car that warm balmy morning we were very excited about the westward adventure that lay ahead. Things had gotten slow and easy down there in south Florida. The weather always warm and humid makes you slow down a bit.
We bumped off from Grammy’s house and sped NW up the peninsula making one important road side stop for a huge bushel of Florida oranges and grapefruits. Onward we pressed through Orlando where the temperature was still as much as 80 degrees. About an hour North of Orlando I stopped for gas and received a chill. Now down in the 50s we had driven into the more temperate winter air mass that had sunken as far South as North Florida.
That night we found a convenient camp ground right off of the highway only a few miles before the border of the central time zone. The panhandle of Florida was forested, not what I expected – pine forests with not much undergrowth. I had always pictured rolling farm country here but it looked more like the forests around Flagstaff, Arizona.
Our plan from here was fairly loose. We wanted to get to Carlsbad Caverns in southern New Mexico by Elias’s birthday on the 1st of January. We very much wanted to spend time in New Orleans on the way out but we didn’t have an exact schedule for that. We woke up that morning in the Panhandle. I rushed everyone out of bed packed up and we were on our way by 7:30. That was a record for the trip so far. Towards the beginning, back in Montana it would take us hours to break down camp. 11am at first. Slowly we pushed it down to 10am. If the boys were motivated we’d bring it down to 9:30. By the way, this is with me getting up before dawn and getting coffee going for Michelle and I, before taking on breakfast duties and so on and so forth. But today we had to leave early and everyone was on task.
The following day, the 28th of December was calling for up to 2 inches of rain in New Orleans. New Orleans was about 5 and half hours from where we camped. The job at hand was to make the most of the great weather. We didn’t want to have anything to do with that much rain. So that’s what we had to work with: Make the most of the iconic city for an afternoon and an evening and then move on.
Driving into the city you can’t help to have a reaction to the state of things. So many neighborhoods with people clearly still living in disarray. Roofs ripped off with weeds comfortably growing out of them unchecked. Unkempt neighborhoods, buildings run down to the ground, people living in desperate shambles. This was everywhere. The interstate ran above and you could look down in to these people’s lives like it was on display. Were these places forgotten? When did hurricane Katrina happen? 2005? Up in Long Beach, New York we took morning strolls on this brand new and beautiful boardwalk. Neighborhoods were in good standing there with only sandy roads a mile inland to remind everyone that the sea did try to claim that land just last year. Why is New Orleans being forgotten?
Once we parked we quickly found the perfect restaurant right on Bourbon Street. A nice place with authentic Cajun dinning but also comfortable enough for the kids to squirm a bit. Po Boys, Gumbo, Alligator Sausage, and all kinds of proper, authentic New Orleans food and adult drinks, we were having so much fun. From there we picked up and walked the town. If you are going to walk any neighborhood just for fun, than this is the one. Your eyes are constantly being entertained and taunted. The smells make you think of older places than the USA. Voodoo is everywhere. On the surface it’s for the tourists, but also around corners and in people’s eye’s.
My favorite part was the music. The Jazz was not coming from restaurants, bars and clubs like I had thought it would. It was all over the streets. The Jazz bands were made up of all of the brass wind instruments you can think of…they were just jamming kids and adults alike. High energy fun music that made everyone wanna move, and accompanied by drums so that you had to move. Everyone danced whether they were walking by on their way to something else or you were like us, just there to soak it up. The beats made everyone happy.
As the sun began to set we made our way back to the car, but not directly. We meandered because the little neighborhoods fill you with wonder and pull you in. Weaving back to the car was fun, until it was too dark…then we hurried.
As we pulled onto the interstate and began driving west again we were filled up and agreed to come back and live it up more probably with the kids once they were quite a bit older. They loved the energy but it’s not really the place for kids. For now we head west beyond the reach of the storm rolling in. That night we made it to the border of Louisiana and Texas. The following morning we only received a trickle of rain while New Orleans got well over an inch of rain.