Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Tuesday Top Ten: Highlights of the Weekend

This past weekend, my lovely wife Jester and I celebrated ten years since our blood oath fulfilled the prophecy by taking a little trip to Bayou country without the kids.  Most people don't realize that about 78% of Louisiana is accessible only by fan boat.  As a result, we decided to go to one of the more urban areas in the state –- New Orleans.  Jester had never been, and I had only been as an adult as part of a bachelor party, so I had never been outside of the French Quarter, depending on whether you consider Harrah's part of the French Quarter.

Painstakingly modeled after Orleans, France, New Orleans was founded by Francophile pirates in at some unknown point between 1590 and 1950, and has since become a bit of a tourist destination, famous for its large river, bawdy women, swingin' jazz music, and free-flowin' liquor.

Jester and I had a hell of a time down there.  Here are the highlights, in chronological order.

10.  Jester has a Jester
The first thing we did after checking into our hotel was to walk down Bourbon Street and get a Jester for Jester.  I did not see any drinks named GMYH while I was there.
9.  Non-haunted apartment for rent
While walking around the first day we were there, we came across this sign for an apartment for rent.
This, of course, begs the question:  if an apartment for rent did not have this sign, should I assume that it's haunted?

8.  Muffaletta
Ahhh, the muffaletta.  Perhaps the best sandwich ever invented, the muffaletta combines Italian cold cuts and cheeses, an olive salad, and a sesame bread.  Central Grocery invented the sandwich, and we stopped there on more than one occasion during our few days in the Big Easy.

7.  Lafitte's
I have only visited New Orleans twice, but in those two visits, I think I've been to Lafitte's five times.  It's the coolest bar on Bourbon Street and potentially the coolest bar in the country.  Lit only by candles, it feels like your drinking in the 1800s –- other than the fact that there is a guy playing requests on the piano for $5 a pop.

6.  Court of Two Sisters brunch
One thing I didn't get to do last time that I wanted to do was to go to the famous jazz brunch at the Court of Two Sisters.  This time, I would not be stopped.  The courtyard is picturesque, with a huge wisteria plant in the middle, whose tentacles provide shade for most of the courtyard.  The brunch itself was awesome, with everything from traditional breakfast food to various salads to soups (turtle!) to creole dishes to fresh seafood to desserts (lots of desserts).  I was insanely full when I left.  Jester tried crawfish for the first time.  Later in the day, we went again when the courtyard was empty and had our picture taken amongst the wisteria branches.

5.  The Garden District
Saturday afternoon, we decided to take the street car to the Garden District, which an area of town with ridiculously huge and gorgeous old houses.  The first stop was the Buckner Mansion, aka Miss Robicheaux's Academy from the third season of American Horror Story.  I inquired about a position as the butler.
From there, we just walked around and admired the mansions.  Sandra Bullock's house is ridiculous.  Anne Rice's house looks like it would come right out of one of her books.  The Manning house (where Peyton, Eli, and Cooper grew up, and I think their parents still live) is surprisingly open, as opposed to many of the houses in the neighborhood with huge fences or privacy shrubbery.

4.  Seeing a former roommate at a cemetery
While in the Garden District, we stopped at the Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, which is where they filmed the acid trip scene in Easy Rider.  As you may know, the cemeteries in New Orleans are above ground because of the swampiness of the ground.  I think above-ground cemeteries are creepily cool, and this one was no exception.  We were surprised to find that Hugh Grant is buried there.  I had no idea he was married with children.
Even more surprising was that I randomly ran into a former roommate that I hadn't seen in probably ten years.  Then again, this had been our plan all along.  I remember it like it was yesterday.  October 8, 2015.  Yogi's Bar and Grill.  Bloomington, Indiana.  The Hoosiers had just walloped an outmatched Illinois team, 36-13, to run their record to 4-1, and the postgame crowd in the bar was drunk on excitement (and beer), blissfully unaware that it would be the Hoosiers' last win of the season.  I ran into Byrnesie, my old roommate.  We hadn't seen each other since 2002 or 2003.  We made a pact:  if we hadn't seen each other by June 13, 2015, we would meet at 12:54 p.m. Eastern that day at the cemetery closest to wherever Sandra Bullock was living at the time.  The sad thing is that his buddy thought Byrnesie was in New Orleans for the buddy's bachelor party, and Jessie thought we were there to celebrate our tenth anniversary.  Fools.  We said our hellos, gave each other a bro hug, acted like we were surprised to see each other.  "How random is this?" I said, barely containing my sarcasm.  "I know, right?" he responded, smirking as we pulled the wool over everyone there except the thousands of corpses, who couldn't help but sense what was going on, as evidenced by their silence.  After a minute or two of talking, we both went on our respective ways, chuckling.  Until November 2022 at the Russian Orthodox church closest to where Cobie Smulders got her most recent haircut, Byrnesie.

3.  Cocktail tour
After heading back to the French Quarter from the Garden District, we decided we wanted to do a cocktail tour, which was recommended by some friends.  The tour they recommended was sold out, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise because the tour company we ended up using, TeachMe Tours, was fantastic.  We had two tour guides (the co-owners of the company, Mark and Angela), and aside from Jester and me, there was only one other couple, a nice and funny couple from Ontario.  Here we are.  Or are we?
The tour itself was half New Orleans history, half drinking history, which I suppose goes hand in hand with New Orleans's history anyway.  The cocktail was invented in New Orleans, and we went to a few different bars in the French Quarter to sample some of the many local favorites, including the Sazerac, Pimm's Cup, French 75, brandy milk punch, absinthe drip, and a dangerously good punch at the Court of Two Sisters called Bayou Bash.  My favorite place that we visited was Antoine's, which is one of the older bars in the city.  Anyone famous who has eaten in New Orleans has apparently eaten at Antoine's.  It has a wine cellar that's literally a block long.  But the coolest thing has to be the various private dining rooms that we got to see, including the one in the photo below, which is the private dining room for the Rex krewe (krewes are like social clubs that have events around Mardi Gras).
After the tour was over, we asked Mark and Angela if we could buy them a drink –- not because we're swingers, but because they aren't allowed to drink when they're on the job.  So, we went to another bar, Tujague's, and had a few more local favorites, including a grasshopper, a vieux carre (I'm sure I'm not spelling that right, and I'm too lazy to look it up), and something else I'm not recalling at the moment –- probably because I was drinking cocktails for several hours.  Needless to say, I highly recommend taking the tour with TeachMe.

2.  Commander's Palace
Sunday, we took it easy during the day.  For dinner, we went to Commander's Palace, which is one of the more famous restaurants in town, located in the Garden District.  A friend of a friend works there, and hooked us up.  If you know me, you know how much I hate dressing up, but I happily wore a sport coat Sunday night because the service was impeccable and the meal was excellent, from the turtle soup I had as an appetizer to the mammoth veal chop I had for dinner to the praline ice cream sundae I had for dessert (which had a personal anniversary message in chocolate).
We were both overly full. The pipe dreams we had of going out after that were quickly dashed as soon as we got back to the hotel room and realized we could just lie down and sleep.

1.  Lord Stanley's Cup
Saturday night, we watched Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals at Manning's (the sports bar, not Archie's house), where they actually had the sound on.  We booked this trip only a couple weeks ago, after the Stanley Cup schedule came out, so I purposely booked our flights home on Monday to arrive at O'Hare at 4:30, so that I would have plenty of time to get to Rocks to watch Game 6, since I was 2-0 in Blackhawks Stanley Cup Game 6s at Rocks.  If the flight landed on time, I could have been at Rocks by 6:30 at the latest, with a half hour to spare before the game started.  Papa Legba had other plans.

We departed New Orleans an hour after our scheduled 2 p.m. departure time.  After about 45 minutes in the air, the captain came on and told us that air traffic control was changing our flightpath, such that we were going to go over Memphis, then hook a left and go to Kansas City, then back to Chicago, to avoid some storms.  As the captain said, "If you look at a map, you'll see how much sense that makes."  So we did that, but then had to circle for a while because there were massive thunderstorms in Chicago.  After a while, the captain comes back on and tells us we have to land in Indianapolis to refuel.  This is not good.

We land in Indy, to find out that four other United planes have done the same thing, so we're fifth in line to refuel.  By the time we get gassed up, it's been about 45 minutes on the ground.  The captain comes on again and says there's a ground hold at O'Hare, which means that any flight going to O'Hare that has not taken off must stay on the ground.  Then he says that he won't have another update for another 45 minutes.  At this point, Jester is twitching because she's so angry.  We hadn't checked any bags -– because fuck checked bag fees –- so we made the executive decision to get off the plane, rent a car, and drive back to Chicago.  A woman and her teenage daughter overheard us and asked if they could split it.  "Yes, stranger.  Let's get the fuck off this plane and drive for three hours."  Turns out they were going to the Midwest to visit some colleges, and the mom's sister was driving down from Wisconsin, picking them up at O'Hare, and then they were all heading to South Bend to visit Notre Dame.  I withheld my hatred for ND, but this actually worked out well.  Conversation flowed easily, and they paid for half of the rental and half of the gas.  The sister met us at a Culver's in Merrillville, where I got a burger and was able to see Patrick Kane's magnificent goal to make it 2-0 with about 6 minutes left in the game.

At that point, I obviously knew I wasn't going to make it back to Chicago before the game ended, but I was at least hoping to have some celebratory drinks with my friends who were at Rocks.  I hauled ass home, and we arrived at about 10:35.  Jester had been tracking the status of our flight throughout the drive home, just so we knew whether we made the right decision or not.  It landed at O'Hare at about 9:45, but taxied for 45 minutes and didn't get to a gate until about 10:30.  We felt vindicated, if not punch drunk.

I dropped my bags off, parked the rental car on the street, and hopped in an Uber to Rocks, where I had the best tasting whiskey and beer I've ever had, in light of what it took to get there.  Cue "Chelsea Dagger."  I don't know if what the Hawks have is a dynasty, but I'll gladly take a couple more Cups to make it official.

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