Sunday, March 11, 2007
It's all here chronological order, so you can can just start at the top and read on down.
Thanks to everyone who provided the great photos I've posted.
I walked to the B1 gate for the Standby flight, but I was way early and there was another flight waiting, so I walked down to the gate with the original 9:30 Nola flight, Gate B16, conveniently located at the furthest possible point in the terminal. Gate B16 & the monitors both showed that the 9:30 flight was still on. WTF??? Passengers at the gate thought that the flight was still on. Of course, there was no one from USAir around. Eventually, someone got through on the phone and learned that the flight was originating in Buffalo, but they decided to skip Philly and fly straight to New Orleans. Makes sense to me. Why would they want to stop in Philly to pickup the people who paid for a flight to New Orleans? (Later I learned that this Buffalo flight had an entire 7 people on it. Friggin brilliant.) Back to B1.
After waiting for about 20 minutes, the man at the B1 counter, an “I’ve-seen-it-all-before” kinda guy named Geno, tells the Standbys that the 11:00 is fully booked and we'd have to wait. Oh yeah, because of sheets of ice that keep remelting and refreezing, the flight is now changing to gate B4. Before we leave, this one Nola native asks him to check on the status of our original 9:30 flight because she had been told it was rescheduled for 10:45. She's a little stressed because she flew into Harrisburg yesterday for a brief work trip and when she tried to drive back to the airport, traffic ground to a halt at the exit ramp and she missed her flight, as she was stuck for hours. She had driven to Philly and needed to get back to Nola because her guests were arriving before she was.
There were a few characters in our similar predicament, including a doe-eyed blonde, two beaded partying guys who looked like Jazzfest vets, and a guy who was turning 50 running around barking into his bluetooth headset with his kid in tow. Normally, I would hate a guy like this with his mid-life-crisis-mode-blonde-hairdye-job-with-dark-roots-exposed-in-hipster-fashion, but there was something about his I-will-break-your-balls aura that I found charming. Anyway, the guy at the B1 desk says the 9:30 flight is rescheduled for 10:45, so we all trudge back to B16. The clerk at B16 is an ass. He looks like he could care less about anyone or anything. He is inattentive. Quite frankly, it is not his problem. He is an embarassment to customer service professionals everywhere. I hate him.
After a lengthy delay that involved a lot of mashing of keys, a phone chat with a friend, and some odd squatting behind the desk, he tells beaded partying guy #1 that he's in. Beaded partying guy #2? You're shit outta luck. There are 10 Standby seats, and he's #14. This does not look good. Doe-eyed blonde is in the same boat. Then I get the same spiel. I calmly ask what happened, and I'm told that when I was put on Standby for the 11:00 flight, I lost my seat. I explain that I purchased a seat for 9:30 and was never given a choice for Standby, as the Standby ticket was just given to me by the skycap with no other option. He doesn't care. The Nola-native-stuck-on-the-Harrisburg-exit-ramp woman is next and she magically gets her seat, despite being in the exact same predicament I was in. Okay, keep it together, Brian...
So then guy with mid-life-crisis-mode-blonde-hairdye-job-with-dark-roots-exposed-in-hipster-fashion steps up and gets rebuffed, as well. I don't feel so bad until he asks Mr. Aloof clerk to check on something in his account. Suddenly, he gets tickets. Obviously, guy with mid-life-crisis-mode-blonde-hairdye-job-with-dark-roots-exposed-in-hipster-fashion is some sort of VIP. I don't like him anymore. Now I am pissed, so I go back to the side of the counter and ask why two people in the same situation got tickets and I didn't.
Mr. Aloof clerk says, "You lost your seats when you went on Standby, but they did not." My voice raises slightly, but I am not yelling. I would describe my tone as bitter resentment with a delicate hint of hatred. He says, "There are no seats. I can't do anything, and I have a line to deal with." A request for a supervisor is met with a suggestion to stand in the "customer service" line that wraps and wraps and stretches far back into the terminal, a line that would take 2-3 hours to navigate. Forget that. Then Nola-native-stuck-on-the-Harrisburg-exit-ramp woman suggests I go to B5 to try to find the supervisor who told her about the flight being delayed not cancelled. On my way, I attempt to call USAir's Manilla-based customer service department but hang up after being informed that it's an estimated 30 minute wait before you can talk to someone who can't speak English.
My man at B1 listens to my story. I beg him for advice. He takes my Standby ticket and magically prints a ticket for the 10:45 flight. I love this man. I want to carry his children. When I return from New Orleans, we will wed and live happily ever after. God bless you, Geno. You are a model citizen. Mr. Aloof at B16? Y ou are a dead man. I storm back down the hall ready to raise hell. I show Mr. Aloof the ticket and he says, "Where were you? I looked for you. Your ticket is here." I ask why he couldn't do anything earlier and he says, "You were yelling and you made me uncomfortable, so I couldn't help you at the time." Bullshit. When I yell, the whole world knows about it. I didn't even give him a muffled roar. As I was telling this story to other passengers, one wise old sage says, "You know, you'll get further with sugar than vinegar."
Who the fuck asked for your input, Morgan Freeman? I was plenty nice to this asshole clerk, but he tried to pull a power play. There was no reason for this piss-poor service and USAir should be ashamed. I found doe-eyed blonde and told her to check the desk for her ticket. He had one for her, but decided he would not make an announcement and was probably waiting to give her seat to someone else. Same goes for beaded partying guy #2, who took my advice and successfully visited my newfound life partner at B1. Now beaded partying guy #2 wants to gratefully buy me drinks throughout the entire time we'll be in New Orleans. Mr. Aloof's name is Devin Coleman, and I will make it my mission in life to see to it that he is fired. Devin Coleman, you fucked with the wrong guy, and you will pay.
USAir has been incredibly pathetic, as only one man, the amazing Geno, has been of any help to me all morning. There were no announcements about cancellations or postponements. There was no one to explain what was happening. This airline does not care.
And it gets better. On the plane, I learn that the pilot of the Buffalo flight with 7 people was all set to skip Philly until this one passenger with a Dad in a high-ranking position at USAir, called his pop and made them fly to Philly. Amazing. On the runway, we taxied and waited for well over 90 minutes before the pilot announced, "Folks, we've been cleared for takeoff, but there's a weight ratio that the baggage handlers need to program into our flight pattern and apparently, they all went to lunch without entering the data. They are in trouble, and we're looking for them, but we can't go anywhere until they input that information." Perfect. Now I just can't wait until they lose my luggage.
I dropped off my luggage and met up with Craemer and Lindsay. After hauling in some futon mattresses to prep for the frat-like invasion of testosterone that would be soon to overwhelm Lindsay's domecile, she dropped us off on Magazine St. Craemer and I went into Ignatius for a very late-but-I-don't-care-because-I-came-here-to-grub-like-a-doomed-man-eating-the-last-meal-of-his-life kinda post-lunch chowdown. We drank Abita Restoration Ale and I had the crawfish etoufee, which was warm and buttery with a slight hint of spice, exactly what I had craved. We then moved on to the Hermes parade.
This was my first parade (and also the first for Craemer), and we really had no idea what to expect. With the temperature in the lower 40s it felt rather tropical (compared to 13 degrees). The air had that musky, smoky scent, and with the marching bands warming up, it really felt like we were in the midst of Fall. Craemer and I found a perfect spot on the corner of St. Charles & Napoleon. We had a newspaper dispenser to set our drinks on, and we had an unobstructed view of the action. It was ideal.
The high school marching bands were awesome. These kids are born with funk in their trunk. I think back to when I was playing Swan Lake in marching band while these kids were tearing the crap out of a Jay-Z tune. When the dancers started shaking their thing, and the batons started flying, well, it was badass.
Strangely enough, there is an old tradition where poor people called flambeaus carry these torch-like things in between the floats to keep the parade illuminated. They have some sort of fuel on their backs, and from what I’m told, the tradition is that people throw money at them, and then the flambeaus bend down to pick up the change. (My, how wonderfully degrading!) As the flambeaus would bend down, they would spill fuel everywhere and flames would fall across the street. As you might imagine, it felt incredibly safe.
A flambeau barely controls the flames. Photo by J-R.
Nothing can really prepare you for the floats. One second you're looking at this amazing display and the next second you are being pelted with beads and dubloons. This catching the beads thing is pretty serious here, and people were diving and jumping for them, but by and large you needed to protect yourself. Beads were flying from all angles. Dubloons were being hurled. Frisbees were chucked, footballs thrown, and tons of plastic cups were hoarked from the top of the float. We quickly became skilled short-fielders, and we caught beads and cups left and right. I tried to take pictures, but it was too tough-- the beads just kept flying. Cramer got drilled in the side of the face when he turned his head to look at another float, but he made a nice grab when someone tried to pelt him with an entire bag of beads. Oddly enough, the green beads seemed to be the hardest to find, so we made it our quest to get the green.
We covered ourselves head to toe until we looked like two gay Mr. T's. What can I say? It was fun.
Our group had our own little room in what looked like it was once an alley between two buildings. We shared a ton of appetizers, and I will admit to being shocked that I loved the rich chicken livers as much as I did. I had had the alligator-andouille cheesecake in the past and had been underwhelmed, but there was magic in that gator this time, and the creamy-spicy combo was dead on. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to grab a piece of deep fried roast beef po boy, but I guess that’s reason enough to return. My entrée was the fried chicken plate (and you know I went with the dark meat). While the late Chef Austin Leslie was a renowned Fried Chicken Guru at Jacque-Imo’s, he obviously taught his skills to the staff because this was easily the best fried chicken I’ve ever tasted, falling somewhere between light and crispy. Oddly enough, the slices of pickle on top were the perfect compliment. I paired it with some tangy smothered cabbage and country greens. They brought out a ton of desserts for our table, and I don’t remember what we had, but I remember liking all of it. (Shock of shocks.)
Fried chicken-- nothing short of amazing. Photo by J-R.
Teddy gets ready to dig into his enormous fried fish.
One thing I did notice was that everyone, and I mean everyone, was eating wayyyyyyy faster than I was. I don’t know why this is because I typically have a bad habit of inhaling my food like a starving Ethiopian gorging himself at the Old Country Buffet. Perhaps I was downshifting my internal rhythm to match the slower pace of New Orleans? Maybe New Orleanians do everything slowly except for eating? Or it could be that I finally learned to savor my food….nah, I doubt it. Anyway, this seemed to be a running theme wherever I ate during my trip, as everyone was always waiting for me to finish and pull away from the feeding trough.
We left Jacques-Imo’s and went back to our gracious host Lindsay’s home. We stocked up on some beer. Once again, I must my express my affinity for states that allow you to buy copious amounts of alcohol in a gas station. (Get with the times, Pennsylvania!) We also spent a good amount of time blowing-up inflatable toys and action figures. We have a friend who owns a novelty company in Rhode Island, so he sent us a bevy of inflatable things, including musical instruments, Superman, The Incredible Hulk, and a blow-up doll that we named Ofeelya. These inflatable objects provided hours upon hours of joy. I honestly don’t know why we loved them so, but this was a bachelor party, and I tried not to make too much sense of it.
Ofeelya enjoyed it as she was blown by three of us. Photo by J-R.
Photo by J-R.
To make matters worse, Anders was not very good. Typically, I would walk miles to see him play, but on this day, he looked much more tanked than normal and was unimpressive to say the least. In addition, this was the first time I had seen him playing without Kirk Joseph on sousaphone. He had someone on electric bass, and while the guy was a fine player, it just didn’t sound right to my ears. About 45 minutes into the set, I had wiggled through the crowd enough to see who else was in his band, and then I saw the king of New Orleans drumming, Johnny Vidacovich. Suddenly, I didn’t give a shit what Anders was doing because THE MAN was on drums.
If I did nothing but watch Johnny Vidacovich play the drums for the rest of my life, I would die a happy man. Simply put, he is an incredible musician. His mastery of rhythms and creativity always lead to one immensely danceable beat. Speaking of dancing, he is the only drummer I’ve ever seen dance across the kit with such grace and swagger. Okay, I’ve seen footage of Bill Kreutzmann doing it in 1974, but Johnny’s drumming is really a sight to behold.
The group decided to split at setbreak to go shoot B.B. guns in Kevin’s kitchen (word has it that Craemer is a great marksman—a very scary thought), but I stayed to grab a spot on the rail in full view of Johnny. Per usual, the bassist, Johnny, and Tim Green all got back on the stage to start Set Two but Anders was AWOL. Johnny seemed a little pissed and suggested that the band just start playing, so he whipped into a beat and a little jam began. A harmonica player came up from the crowd, and he lent some throaty vocals to what became an excellent version of “Hey Pocky Way.” By the end of the song, Anders showed up and seemed much more inspired. Later, Monk Boudreux appeared wearing a wig and sang vocals on a few tunes before acting all cracked out and sitting on the floor. Anders tried to get him up, but Monk wanted to sing from the floor, so he did. It was odd.
Photo by J-R.
Monk cannot be talked into getting off the floor no matter how hard Dude With Tambourine tries.
Photo by J-R.
Vince Herman, formerly of Leftover Salmon, also sat in on vocals and washboard. I ran into him after the show and asked him whether he would be playing with a band this week. He said he was filming a documentary on the recovery (or lack thereof) from Katrina, and it would be posted online at http://www.iclips.net/
J-R and Craemer returned for the end of the show, which had vastly improved since the first set, and we left somewhere around 2 or 3. Carmody and his friend Barrett were finishing their 8-hour drive from Asheville and would be arriving shortly, so we walked over to St. Joe’s, a cool little bar near Lindsay’s place. The Ashevillians arrived, and we had a few drinks. St. Joe’s has cool, dark feel, and the jukebox didn’t play a single song recorded after 1974, so I was in my power alley.
We retired back to Lindsay’s, had a few beers, and called it a night/morning.
We then went grocery shopping to prepare for Sunday’s party. It was at the Winn Dixie where I encountered one of the best wine labels ever:
Photo by J-R.
A genius creates a masterpiece. Photo by Barrett.
Photo by Barrett.
Craemer finds his intellectual equal. Photo by J-R.
I had done some advance scouting of Dante’s menu, and I was pretty sure I’d order either the Trois Mignion plate or the rack of lamb. Unfortunately, they were out of the lamb, but they had something phenomenal in its place. I ordered the special crab trio appetizer, which included marinated crab claws (incredibly tiny, flavorless, and rather pointless), moist lump crab meat on top of avocado (buttery and smooth), and one crab cake that made a serious case for best-ever status. Then came the entrée of entrees…a roasted pork shank on top of a maple-turnip puree with a mustard green vinaigrette. Wow. This was a Fred Flintstone-sized, mammoth piece of swine that just fell off the bone into the delectable mush of flavors below. It was phenomenal and probably the best thing I consumed all week. I followed it up with what was probably the best, most creamy and luscious piece of key lime pie I’ve ever tasted. The best crab cake, best pork shank, and best key lime pie in one meal. That’s not too shabby.
Ladies and gentleman, observe the pleasing plate of pork perfection.
Photo by J-R.
Photo by Carm.
Saint Richard, The Divine. Photo by Teddy.
J-R had made these great laminates for everyone in the bachelor party. These things had everything you needed to know: tons of cellphone numbers, numbers of cab companies, addresses for our food/music destinations, and a daily schedule of events. J-R even included phone numbers for both Cara and his parents, which would have come in handy had he lost a limb or needed a sudden liver transplant or something. (It was a bachelor party during Mardi Gras, so you couldn’t be too careful.) The laminates were a godsend and they even looked rather professional with a hologram at the bottom. As if all of the above were not great perks, these laminates also inexplicably got everyone into the VIP area at Tipitina’s, so we had our own private place to watch Galactic.
Galactic put on a great, guest-laden show, and we had a blast. In particular, Barrett was channeling some sort of divine spirit through his dancing. He was living on an entirely different plane than the rest of us and having the time of his life during his first trip to New Orleans. I don’t know what happened during the encore, but Galactic ramped it up to new heights, and in a frenzy, I got lifted up into the rarified air where Barrett was floating. Andy also felt the power, as he ripped off his arm brace and started swinging it around his head. It was a powerhouse ending to the show, and I was now covered in sweat, but it was only 3 or 4:00AM, so the night was far from over.
SET ONE: The Moil, Lickity Split, Spiderbite, Buck-it like a Horse (w/ Coolbone Brass Band), Blacktalk, Goin' Down (w/ Eric Lindell), Lady Day (w/ Eric Lindell), Groove Holmes, Immigrant Song
SET TWO: Little Miss Lover, Linthead, Crazyhorse Mongoose, Bottle Up and Go (w/ Papa Mali), Jump Into the Fire (w/ Papa Mali), Chicken Pox> 2 Dots, Hercules (w/ Ivan Neville), Big Chief (w/ Ivan, Big Sam, CoolBone BB), Sunday Araq (w/ Glenn Hartman on accordion), Bongo The Dog, Bakers Dozen (w/ Big Sam)
Stanton tears it up. Photo by J-R.
The Hevy Duty Krewe at setbreak. Photo by Barrett.
Papa Mali sits in, too. Photo by J-R.
Photo by Barrett.
Someone is onstage here, but don't ask me who they are or what on Earth they were playing. I would call this show a blur, but such a phrase would imply that I actually remember something other than the drinking and the temporary happiness it brought me.
Photo by Carm.
It was pretty late/early when we left, and Kevin took us to some bar (again, don’t ask me where) to do snakebites. The shot tasted awful, and that’s the last thing I remember. I didn’t get sick or cause a problem or anything, but I’m sure I was really tired, and everything is a blank from there on. It was probably around 5 or 6AM when we crashed.
Brothers Mitch and Andy Cahn enjoy a pre-parade beer. Photo by Rich.
Carm feels like a million bucks. (He hasn't eaten anything yet.)
Photo by Rich.
The Thoth float presents Dick Cheney's worst nightmare.
Photo by Carm.
In the middle of the parade, a skywriter made a big smiley face. This was later followed by "Jesus loves you," but the wind was blowing and it took him so long to finish that it just looked like "sus loves you."
Photo by Carm.
We all caught a ton of beads, cups, and other crap, and most of us got whacked in the face at least once. Of course, no one had it worse than a guy who was basically asking for it. One of Kevin’s friends wore a Saints helmet and held up a sign that said “(name of some guy he knew on a float) throws like Brooks.” Apparently, this guy and his floatmates did not appreciate being compared to the Saints former, interception-prone quarterback, so they pelted him with beads. I mean, he got drilled. The float stopped in front of him, and everyone threw everything at him. He was pummeled by beads, dubloons, cups, footballs, and more. The poor guy even sunk to the ground in the fetal position, but they showed no mercy. It was so brutal that the bead throwers broke a store window.
Ofeelya becomes a painted lady. Photo by Teddy.
Even though the party is in full swing, Craemer decides to consumate his relationship with Ofeelya. Photo by Carm.
Everyone wants a piece of Craemer. Photo by J-R.
Teddy applies the butter. Photo by J-R.
From there, it was off to the Bacchus parade. We didn’t get there early enough to see James Gandolfini as the King of Bacchus, but we did catch a lot of the parade. Of course, we caught a ton of stuff, per usual. At this point, the bead bin back at the house was starting to get quite full.
The beads come off the float and are thrown right back into the shark's mouth.
Photo by Rich.
Saturday, March 10, 2007
While we were gone, Ofeelya had clearly been cheating on Craemer, but she did manage to make Spongebob Squarepants a very happy man...er sponge. Photo by J-R.
Lindsay and Kevin deliver sustenance. God bless them both.
Photo by J-R.
Behold, Fryer Tuck. Photo by J-R.
Photo by Teddy.
Alex O.D.s on beads and goes into shock. Photo by Carm.
The bachelor straps in and gets ready to cause some serious damage.
Photo by Carm.
We killed the keg and then got a ride up to Tipitina’s, where we faced the difficult task of finding two cabs that would take us near the French Quarter. Eventually, we found cabs that would take us to Howlin’ Wolf, where George Porter was going to play a free show. We went in and got stamped, but because nothing was happening, we decided to move on to One-Eyed Jack’s to see an all-star combo, the Souls of NOLA Mardi Gras Soiree, featuring Papa Mali, Anders Osborne, Kevin O’Day, Robert Mercurio, Rich Vogel, and Monk Boudreaux.