Sadly New Orleans was a Bust
Trip Start Jun 02, 2011
27Trip End Jun 04, 2012
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After leaving Biloxi I headed to New Orleans on a scenic highway that ran along the gulf bay for quite awhile before heading inland. It was a gloriously beautiful day. The sun was shining, perfect driving conditions and I enjoyed the scenery and being on my own again after having riders for the first few days.
I left Biloxi sort of late in the day, because I had gone to the visitor center, had lunch and found a laundromat so I was pretty sure I wouldn't make New Orleans but I decided to drive until dusk and see where I ended up. I don't like to drive much at night. I have a sort of pathological fear of running over nocturnal creatures on the highway and so far my record of killing animals with my car is pretty good. About 20 years ago I hit a oppossum late one night driving home from dancing, I cried for awhile, I felt so bad about it
Around 4:30 PM I pulled into Baton Rouge, LA - the outskirts of town, I didn't really see any reason to head into the city center and I saw signs for a casino (oh no) and I thought I could get some food, maybe play a little and sleep there for the night in the parking lot. The first casino I hit was called the Belle of Baton Rouge Casino, it looked kinda like a prison and not like a casino at all, but I followed the signs for parking which led me to a grumpy lot attendant manning a covered parking garage that said parking was $15! Not only was Annie too tall to fit into the garage, but I have NEVER heard of a casino charging for parking. So I leaned out the window and asked Grumpy Gus if there was somewhere I could park my RV and he just looked at me and said 'Nope'.
I thought maybe he didn't understand me because most casinos have oversized parking areas so I said for clarification "Are you telling me there is no RV parking for this casino?" and he replied "Did I stutter?"
I drove a little further down and decided I would ask the next parking attendant, because oftentimes when you get somebody that unhelpful and rude it's because they work very hard at being unhelpful and rude and maybe I'd have better luck with the next guy. I asked him the same question and he very pleasantly told me there was parking for RV's a couple blocks away but it was also $15. I was not going to pay that so I thanked him politely and pulled out toward the next casino a couple miles away.
The Hollywood was a riverboat casino right on the Mississippi river which was sort of a romantic idea, but it's a docked riverboat so it doesn't really go anywhere which was a little disappointing, but not at all unusual. I called before I got there to make sure the parking was free and that I could park my RV there and they said it was no problem and explained where to park and also that I needed to come into the casino, go to the guest services window, get a parking permit (free) and return to my rig and put it in the window so I wouldn't be bothered by security.
This seemed strange to me, but I went ahead and followed those steps
I got into the casino, had a bite to eat of overly salted, overly priced food and went to the casino to play a bit. I was up $100 within 10 minutes but I lost it all and then some before I left. I met a couple of nice people while I was there and had a good time. I got back to my truck and took Helo out for a walk. I wanted to take him down to the river's edge because it was pretty warm that evening, but it was overgrown with all sorts of brambles and the mud was practically sucking the shoes off my feet so we skirted the river and walked along some train tracks for awhile, then settled into bed.
By this time it was about 9 PM and the casino was just getting going for the night. There was lots of whooping and hollering, music blaring from car speakers and at one point someone knocked on the side of the RV and asked if I knew where college street was. I was pretty suspicious of that question because I clearly had out of state plates and I got the feeling that these guys were just seeing if anyone was in the RV. I kept an eye on those two for a bit and was too tense to go to sleep for quite awhile. It wasn't the most restful night.
January 21, 2012
Next day we got on the road early, only a couple hours from NO and I was really excited knowing we would finally be there today!
As we got closer I started noticing a lot of old damage from Katrina and I got a fuller picture for the first time of exactly why Katrina was so devastating. It was clear to me from watching the coverage of Katrina all those years ago that New Orleans is at sea level, and below in some places, but it adds a whole new layer to see it first hand. The land and water don't really seem separate in that part of the country - it's all boggy and swampy everywhere, sometimes it's land and sometimes it's water
The closer I got to New Orleans, the more damage I continued to see - just a few miles outside of town there are still boats in trees and refuse you can tell was deposited in places by high water. Boarded up buildings, partially destroyed homes and abandoned businesses become part of the landscape. I wasn't really prepared for how bad it still is there. I knew it wasn't recovered in New Orleans, but I'd heard good things about the recovery process - I guess that kind of thing is relative though. From a totally outside perspective, the town still looks like a wreck, but I don't know what it looked like before the storm, or how much has actually been done since those early days. All I know is that it looked pretty bad to me.
I was heading towards the place I was planning to stay while in New Orleans. I had found a lady named Pearl on couchsurfer.com and explained what I was doing and that I wanted to stay in New Orleans for a bit and work. I explained about Helo and my RV and she said that she had a concrete slab in her backyard that I could park my RV on and that her yard was fenced so I didn't have to worry about being parked on the street
I pulled up outside Pearl's place, she calls it Kamp Katrina - dubbed as such when she began taking in refugees from the storm who put up tents in her yard for months and months on end. Pearl is a street performer (mime) and filmmaker who supports others in her community, artists and performers as well as folks that just need a place to crash, by allowing them to bunk at her house. She lives in a historic neighborhood in NO and while her house is small, she has turned part of it into a bunkhouse for travelers.
When I arrived Pearl had just left on some errands and after advice from her neighbors on how to get into the side yard, I walked up on the porch and was greeted by a couple of scraggly kids in their 20's sitting just inside the sliding doors, smoking and hanging out. I could tell from their response, which wasn't much of a response, that people come and go there all the time. They invited me to make myself and home and we introduced ourselves. One was Mike and the other was Poboy or something similar, it's been awhile. They started telling me which bunks were empty and I explained that I didn't need a bunk - but I noticed on the way in that there was a school bus sitting on the concrete slab in the yard
I found out that the school bus guy had pulled in a few days earlier, he had been parked on the street and was being hassled by the cops so Pearl let him park there. I asked him if he was going to be leaving anytime soon and basically got a blank stare. But everyone assured me that if I stayed on the street outside the house, I should be fine. That the neighborhood was pretty safe around there.
Just as they finished telling me this, another guy came into the room, I totally forget his name. He had a soft voice and lisp, thin and dark as a berry and eyes that darted around the room as he talked to me. He said he was Pearls assistant and the house manager and started giving me the rules of the house (of which there were very few he assured me). They were basically, clean up after yourself, contribute toilet paper, don't waste water, and never, NEVER, NEVER disturb Pearl when she's in her room unless there is a fire or a medical emergency as she is ill and you never know how she will respond. I asked if she is ok and he says, physically she's fine, but she has mental illness of some kind and can be unpredictable in her responses to situations
He goes on to say there is one more hard and fast rule and that is NEVER talk to the neighbors across the street in the blue house (I think these are the same people who told me how to get into the yard). If you are caught talking to them you will be out on your ear as they are scammers, con artists, thieves and murderers! Darker and darker this little world is looking to me and I'm wondering how long I will actually stick around at this point.
Then Pearl comes home - she barely acknowledges me as she comes in and I try to introduce myself but she breezes through to the kitchen. So I just stay where I am and this other girl comes in and she introduces herself and tells me she is staying in her van down the block and maybe we can park next to each other for safety. She is playing with Helo - i can't remember her name at all, but she seemed really sweet.
We are sitting on the porch and all just talking and Pearl comes out and the vibe just changes. She looks at Helo and she tells me we can't have dogs there. I explain to her who I am, that we've been talking, that I told her about Helo and she never said that there was a problem about that
Pearl is a small woman, looks to be maybe in her early 60's or late 50's - she has scabs all over her legs and her clothes are all too big for her as if she's been shrinking. Her hair is lank and she has dark circles under her eyes and an expression of confusion. She makes movies about the Buskers (street performers) she knows and other things that interest her in the area. But when you begin to talk to her, it becomes pretty clear that she is in her own world going on inside her head. She is all over the place and it was frankly pretty confusing to me trying to talk to her.
She tells me the city doesn't allow her to have animals. She has been fighting with them over the state of her house and the tents in the yard for years, which they have been trying to force her to remove. They finally reached some sort of compromise where she can have three tents in the yard, but no animals
In the middle of this conversation, I start to hear drums and I'm thinking it's someone's car stereo, but it just gets louder and louder until I'm sure it's not a stereo anymore and I run outside to look and the local high school marching band is practicing for mardi gras as they march down the street with baton girls, flag girls, drums, tubas and the whole nine yards. I run and get my camera and start shooting a video and following them.
Helo is freaking out, I think it's way too loud for his sensitive ears and he doesn't know what's going on so in the video sometimes you'll see the camera turning around and stuff, that because Helo is running around my legs trying to get away and yanking on the leash.
Pearl also runs to get her camera and in one the first videos you can see her lying on the ground getting her shot while a neighborhood dork poses for my camera.
It was pretty cool and I folled the marching band for about 20 minutes.
When I got back to Pearl's house, I asked her if my truck was parked in a good spot and she said it was fine. Then her neighbor suggested that I back up to his car so I wasn't in his neighbors spot as they guy hates it when people park in front of his house. So I say no problem and start to back up the truck. Then I hear Pearl yelling loudly, "what are you doing backing up" and this guy comes to my window and says Pearl wants me to park in front of some abandoned lot down the street and I say, I was just told everything was fine and asked to back up a bit. And I hear Pearl scream at me to pull up to the abandoned lot!!! And I don't know which abandoned lot she's talking about, as there are several. So I lean out my window and say, which abandoned lot, and she points up the street and screams "that one right there, can't you see it!!!!" I mean, her tone was bitchy as bitchy can be as if I'm a stupid idiot. I don't like it much and I still don't know what lot she means, and I'm thinking how Helo isn't welcome and the slab is not available and there doesn't really seem to be much point in being there if she's already screaming at me and I've known her less than an hour
I spent the first night in New Orleans three blocks from the French Quarter in a RV park that cost $71 per night. And I knew I would be broke in no time at that rate and needed to figure something out. I answered house share ads, and placed an ad of my own looking for someplace safet to park that wouldn't be so expensive. The projects was on one side of the park, some scary abandoned buildings and empty lots on the other side. I took Helo for a walk and ran into the police station, and talked to a cop about the area. He warned me to stay on only lighted streets and to watch out because the area was rife with criminal types.
We walked into the French Quarter. It was crazy there - lots of drunk people, no grass or anything so not the ideal place for dog walking. It was hot and smelly and didn't feel super safe for a woman alone.
The next day I found a park outside of New Orleans, for $50 a night and stayed there for two nights while I decided what to do
I had wanted to work as a pedicab driver in New Orleans, but it takes two weeks to get the license and at the rates I was paying to have somewhere safe to park I knew I would be utterly broke by the time I got the license, and if I turned out to be no good at the job, I'd be in a very bad position. No one answered any of my replies to their ads, and no one replied to mine, so I had to keep moving. My options were limited and New Orleans did not seem like a good choice at that particular time.
I do hope to go back someday and get to see more of it, properly. I'm really interested in the architecture and the culture of New Orleans, and I'm disappointed that I couldn't make it work out. But, timing is important and I don't think the timing or circumstances were right for New Orleans right now. Barring anymore giant storms, it will still be there, so I can always go back.
I didn't take many pics there, just the video of the marching band and a cool bridge before I got to town, but I will post them.
Next blog is all post New Orleans and hopefully that will bring us up to present day.