We spent Sunday and Monday nights in a creaky, creepy, funky-cool 130 year old hotel that advertises itself as a Bed and Breakfast. It’s not anything that springs to mind when you think of a B&B, but we had an interesting stay.
We woke up on Sunday morning in Lafayette, Louisiana. It was 9/11, and I wanted to find someplace we could pay our respects. We were 1,400 miles from Ground Zero, though, so what to do? As it happens, Lafayette has a creative, thoughtful memorial to 9/11.
That is two beams from WTC #1 and #2. At 13 1/2 feet, they are 1 /100 scale of the fallen buildings. The base of the monument is in the form of a pentagon to mark the attack on that building. Finally, the soil around the base comes from the field in Pennsylvania where Flight 93 was forced down.
I thought the memorial might be crowded on the morning of 9/11, but aside from a few police and firefighters, we were alone there. It’s possible that there was a ceremony scheduled for later that day. Here’s the engraving on the side of the memorial, if you’d like to know the story.
When we got back in the Silver Bullet, I realized that we were due for an oil change. It was Sunday, though, which meant that most of the oil change places in Louisiana were closed. The one place that wasn’t? Walmart, of course. So, off to Wal Marche we went. They told us the car would be ready in 30 minutes. Great! We were anxious to get started toward New Orleans. 90 minutes later, they finally finished. While we waited, I chatted up the girls who worked there, trying to find out where the best food in town was. We found it.
Laura’s II is inauspicious. It is in a strip mall, and it is not a beautiful building. As soon as we walked in, though, I knew we’d found a winner. Clue #1 was the intoxicating smell. #2 was the line, which was prodigious. Laura’s II serves Soul Food, and whatever wonderful image that just conjured in your mind, the reality was better. They open at 11:00 and close when they run out of food, which they do every day. They don’t have a set menu, but just cook whatever they want on a particular day. This day was BBQ day. Dawn ordered what was called ribs, but she didn’t get a lot of rib. Mostly, the meat had been marinated and cooked until it fell off the bone. I got BBQ sausage, along with coleslaw, baked beans and rice with gravy. I’ll just say this: If you ever find yourself in Lafayette, Louisiana, do yourself the favor of finding Laura’s II. Get there early, though – Dawn got the next to last serving of ribs, and there were a lot of disappointed people behind us in line.
We rolled out the door, pointed the Bullet toward New Orleans and spent the next few hours in a wonderful food hangover. We took one little side trip that was either wonderful or terrible, depending on your perspective. We drove about an hour out of our way to Abita, Louisiana, to visit this:
The sign that is partially obscured by the greenery says, “UCM Museum.” As in, “You See ‘Em Museum.” If you think that pun is fun, you would probably like the Abita House of Mystery. If not, you’re probably Dawn. I worried that she would roll her eyes so much that she might sprain them. She was a good sport, though, and spent as much time as I wanted to inside.
Here’s the thing: when I was a kid, I always wanted to take a road trip where we got to stop at places that were advertised on billboards on the side of the road, like “The World’s Biggest Ball of String,” or the kitschy charm of Wall Drug, South Dakota. My step-dad was never willing to go half a mile off the interstate, though, so we always blew past as I looked longingly at the colorful advertisements on the side of the road. This trip is the antidote to that memory. We are stopping at every ball of string and kitsch-stravaganza that I can find.
Here’s the front door of the UCM Museum:
The man who built this place is, not surprisingly, also a fan of roadside attractions. It was on a visit to one called Tinkertown that he was inspired to start his own, right in Abita, Louisiana. The ramshackle house and outbuildings are stuffed with crazy, junky, fun inventions and displays. There’s even a gift shop that sells offbeat items like this:
I think both of those fine items are self-explanatory. Among the other exhibits are the world’s largest collection of paint-by-number paintings.
The curator says that inflation has struck the paint-by-numbers paintings, but he is holding firm at not more than $1 per painting.
I took several thousand pictures there, but I won’t bore you with the rest of them. I will say this: The Abita House of Mystery scratched my roadside American itch.
With that burning need satisfied, we lit out for New Orleans. As it happened, our route called for us to go directly across Lake Pontchartrain on a bridge that is approximately as long as Rhode Island is wide. (Not quite, but it’s surprisingly close: Rhode Island is 37 miles across, the Lake Pontchartrain Bridge is 23+ miles.) Dawn, who is occasionally nervous about driving across bridges, drove it, in her words, “Like a boss.” I agreed. I sat silently white-knuckled in the passenger seat.
I hadn’t been to New Orleans since 1991, and Dawn had never been, so we were both excited to get there and spend a few days. I had booked us into the 130 year old B & B, which is in the Marigny neighborhood. It was a great location – a vibrant, local neighborhood, close to the “happening” places, but distant enough to be quiet for sleep. The B & B looked great online. In person, it looked decrepit. Dawn immediately loved it. You can draw your own conclusion about the fact that she loves things that are old and a little run down.
As it turned out, our room was on the third floor, at the end of a steep, narrow staircase. People were a lot less wide in the 19th century. We eventually got settled in and set out for Frenchman St., where I knew the good live music was. We spent the rest of the night wandering around Frenchman and the French Quarter, shopping the open air markets, listening to live music, eating incredible food and overall feeling like two kids on a date. About the food: Dawn ordered BBQ Shrimp. It arrived with the heads, tails, and lots of little whiskers still attached. She looked a little green at the sight, but managed to peel and eat every one. Like a boss.
Way earlier than we would have thirty years ago, we called it a night. We wanted to live to explore another day. But that’s a story for tomorrow’s blog!
Cheers, and safe travels!