Saturday, February 13, 2010

NOLA roll-by

We are at the Hollywood Casino in Baton Rouge, Louisiana (map). We have a great spot right on the Mississippi, with a view of Port Allen across the river and the I-10 bridge downstream out one side, and the Louisiana Capitol tower out the other.

We really enjoyed our drive yesterday. Long Beach and Pass Christian, hard hit by the storm in 2005, are coming back slowly. The Wal-Mart has been rebuilt, set back from the coast by another hundred yards or so. What used to be the parking lot is now open space buffer. We did not drive up to see if they reinstalled the No Overnight Parking signs; with the coast still largely undeveloped, it's hard to imagine there is yet the sort of problem that had caused that policy to be instituted.

After passing into the Stennis Space Center buffer zone, we veered left to continue on US-90, rather than taking the much more traveled 607 over to I-10. The stretch of 90 from there to New Orleans is a lonely and forlorn highway, with a series of deteriorating bridges that we dared cross only when devoid of other traffic. It passed through some of the hardest-hit areas, completely flattened by storm surge that was trapped between the Mississippi delta and the gulf coast, with nowhere else to go. Pearlington, Mississippi and Louisiana islands like Petit Cocquilles and St. Catherines were wiped out, and today only a sprinkling of reconstructed homes stand here. Piles of debris and the remains of shotgun shacks still line the bayous.

Coming into St. Bernards on the outskirts of New Orleans, the road becomes Chef Menteur Highway. Many neighborhoods along here have been repaired, but the businesses in many cases have not. We rolled past the ghostly shadows of fast-food restaurants long abandoned, and entire shopping plazas still fenced off four and a half years later, ironically still sporting the names and logos of businesses long shuttered.

Odyssey is too much of a challenge in the French Quarter or even the CBD, and the garden district is out altogether due to low trees. So we rolled through town on US-90 as it transitioned from Chef Menteur to Gentilly to Broad, eventually turning onto US-61 which is Tulane in town but becomes Airline as it rolls west into Jefferson Parish. Even along these streets, we expected to see evidence of Mardi Gras in full swing, along with post-Super Bowl "Who Dat?" elation. Frankly, it was all very sedate and we saw virtually none of this.

I have always wanted to go to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, and leading up to this visit I had been looking forward to at least spending one night and taking in one of the world-famous parades, not to mention visiting our friend. However, as we arrived in the city in the early afternoon, it was literally just 42° outside. The parades start at 6:30, well after sunset, and we knew it would be in the mid-30s. While we do have all our winter clothes with us, of course, standing on a crowded street in near freezing temperature, watching a krewe who would surely also be suffering, was not an experience either of us relished. On top of which, given that all "normal" RV parking in the city is booked solid well in advance, we'd need to stealth park miles away, then make our way to a viewing spot via a very cold scooter ride. Even trying to hook up with our friend under such circumstances was questionable, and we decided just to move along.

Baton Rouge, a town with which we have more than just a passing familiarity, was the next sensible place to stop. In addition to having this nice casino as a known stopping option, we also knew we had a reciprocal club in town, and we thought we could get our "free" meal in for dinner. The Camelot Club is just a mile from here, and we thought we'd take a cab if it was too cold to walk. Stopping in Baton Rouge instead of New Orleans would also mean a much more comfortable drive today, as we are over an hour closer to Beaumont here.

When we arrived here in the lot, after a 20-minute traffic wait due to a train blocking the driveway, Travis from security came out of the watch tower and directed us to this great spot. I don't know if that's SOP for RVs, or if Travis was just amused by Odyssey, but, in either case, we were very happy to have his help. After we got parked and squared away, I called the club for dinner reservations.

We are a dozen days too late; the Camelot Club dropped out of the Signature dining program on February 1st. They would have been happy to make us a reservation at full price, but we were looking for the freebie that we supposedly get with our $25 monthly membership. If we were just going to pay full price for dinner, we didn't want to have to trek a mile away for it, and so we just wandered over to the casino and ate in their steak house, which was actually quite good. Prices were what one might expect for a casino steak house, but the wines by the glass were actually surprisingly reasonable. It was cold enough by the time we finished that we had the shuttle bring us back across the parking lot.

In a few minutes we will roll back through downtown and cross the Mississippi. We will be in Beaumont this evening to have dinner with some friends there. The forecast says it will be in the 50s -- break out the short sleeves!

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