Now that our company was on a four-day schedule, I had Friday off, so I called up Tune C, who didn’t have to be in to work until 4 PM, and we headed out to lunch at a new restaurant in Cordova that I had heard about, called Skimo’s. The place was at Houston Levee Road and Macon, and featured a wood-fired oven for pizzas, as well as five flat-screen TVs. I ordered a ciabatta burger, which was quite good, but the TV screens were full of the shocking stock-market crash that occurred even after Congress had passed a bailout bill. From there, we headed over to the new Cafe Eclectic on McLean across from Snowden Middle School, where I ordered a Viennese capuccino. This place features coffees, or course, but also fabulous breakfasts, burgers, gelatos and homemade desserts. Later in the afternoon, I drove over to Wellworx health club and completed my membership, and by that time, it was time for dinner. I was so impressed by Skimo’s that I suggested that my mother and I try it again for dinner, so we did, and this time I ordered a shrimp po-boy. Like the burgers, it too came on ciabatta bread, which was a little unusual, but very good. In the evening, the Sanctuary Jazz Orchestra had a rehearsal at Johnny Yancey’s house, so I drove over there, and we finished with that about 9:30 or so, getting ready for our performance Saturday at the Bartlett Performing Arts Center.
Just beyond Big Sandy, I drove past a sprawling campus that signs announced as the International ALERT Academy, although signs on some of the fencing read “Property of Ambassador University.” I wasn’t sure what the International ALERT Academy was, but it was a big place.
In Longview, I was looking for a place to get coffee, but nothing was open, apparently because it was a Sunday. Driving up to Loop 281 looking for a Starbucks, I came upon a Jucy’s Hamburgers instead, and, seeing that they had won an award for having the best burgers in East Texas, I stopped and ate lunch there. I still wanted coffee, but in Marshall, nothing was open either, so I drove on into Greenwood, Louisiana to the flea market, and bought some records there, but all the vendors were closing early because of the approaching storm and the risk of flooding. Signs along the interstate announced that the shelters were already full in Shreveport and Bossier City, and buses of evacuees were being directed to the Alltel Center in Bossier City. I decided not to eat dinner in Shreveport, but I did stop at the PJ’s Coffee on Youree Drive for a breve latte, and on the TV there, Governor Jindal of Louisiana was warning that “this storm could be the worst one yet.” At Ruston, I began encountering outer bands of the hurricane, with rain and heavy wind in places, and I decided not to eat at Monroe either, but to go on into Jackson, since I felt that I would be fighting sleepiness after eating.
In Jackson, all the storm shelters were full and people were being advised to go further north. I stopped at a Lone Star Steakhouse for dinner, and the restaurant was full of people from Louisiana who were running from the storm. Rain was fairly steady from then on, and traffic was practically bumper-to-bumper on I-55 north as people were fleeing the coast. Periodically we passed cars that had broken down along the side of the road, and I stopped at Batesville for an energy drink, and then drove on into Memphis.
On the internet at home, I learned that the International ALERT Academy I had passed earlier in Texas was affiliated with Christian evangelist Bill Gothard, and was a military-style training camp for young people who were then sent around the world to the scenes of natural disasters to rescue victims. The campus however had formerly been Ambassador University, a college affiliated with Herbert W. Armstrong’s Worldwide Church of God cult. It had closed abruptly in 1997 due to financial crises brought on by the church’s gradual drift toward mainstream Christianity. Ironically, as the movement’s new leadership began to remove much of Armstrong’s doctrinal error and bizarre beliefs such as “British-Israelism”, many members broke away to form splinter groups that adhered to Armstrongism. Nowadays, the Worldwide Church of God is considered a mainstream Christian denomination rather than a cult.
Parking in the familiar lot in the French Quarter next to what had been Tower Records, I walked over to Louisiana Music Factory on Decatur Street to look at some compact discs. The store sold nearly any CD made of Louisiana music, and I ended up buying about $50 worth of discs. I then decided to go around to the Westin Hotel and get checked into my room, but I soon found that there was no parking affiliated with the hotel, so the rates were outrageous, and there would be no in or out privileges. In effect, hotel guests were deprived of the use of their cars while in New Orleans, unless they wanted to pay over and over again each time they took their car out of the garage. All the same, the lobby was above the parking garage on the eleventh floor, and with large glass windows looking eastward over the French Quarter and toward Algiers Point, it was a dramatic and striking entrance to a most unusual hotel. As I checked in, the speakers in the hotel lobby were playing George Antheil’s Symphony for Five Instruments, which I also found surprising, as Antheil, a relatively obscure American composer, happens to be one of my favorites.
My room was high on the 14th floor, and had a similar view of the Quarter as did the lobby. Although the restaurant off the lobby was crowded, I feared that it would be too expensive, so I decided to walk around the French Quarter, looking for a place to eat dinner. My original plan had been to drive to someplace outside the tourist area, perhaps Ted’s Frostop which I had heard so much about, but the parking debacle prevented that, so I walked down Peters Street, past the Jax Brewery buildings, which were now largely vacant. There was an amber glow in the air as I passed Jackson Square and St. Louis Cathedral, with the lovely palm trees swaying in the breeze, and people were out, enjoying the cool, moist evening, sitting on porches, sitting on balconies, sitting on steps and talking; not as many musical sounds on this evening, more voices and cars, the sky now purple, blue and finally grey as I rounded the corner onto Bourbon by the Clover Grill, which I recalled from some novel I had read about New Orleans. Their signs bragged of burgers, but in the novel people had gone there for breakfast, so I made a mental note to head back there on some morning before I left the city.
Bourbon Street seemed tamer than I remembered it before Katrina- there were a few sex clubs, but many more normal music clubs and regular bars, one on a corner where a young Black drummer was in the middle of a funky solo that spilled out into the street. I had been aiming for the Embers Steakhouse, but, when I arrived I noticed the high prices on the menu, and, worse, the lack of any crowd of clientele, which had me worried about the food quality. So I kept walking, and finally ended up at Star Steak & Lobster, which was a truly tiny restaurant fairly close to my hotel. Altogether, the prices weren’t that bad and the food was decent, although the portions were small and I had to contend with a house musician who was alternately singing or playing saxophone accompanied by a pre-programmed box-not the music experience one would want to have in New Orleans.
The Quarter seemed strangely devoid of street music, compared to what I recalled from pre-Katrina days. Back then, it seemed common to come upon a brass band playing in Jackson Square, or maybe that’s just how my memories are of it. Snug Harbor was a little too far to walk to, and the name of the group playing there didn’t particularly sound like a straight-ahead jazz group, so I opted for the French Market instead, and the Cafe du Monde, where I sat outside enjoying beignets and a cup of cafe au lait with chicory, the quintessential New Orleans experience.
Back at my hotel, I learned that the pool was on the rooftop, so I rode up there, but I really couldn’t enjoy it, as I got lightheaded about being so far up on the roof with just some glass balcony railings rather than a sturdy concrete wall. Instead I headed back down to my room, opened the windows to let the lights of the French Quarter shine in, used my laptop as a CD player, and enjoyed some of the albums I had purchased at Louisiana Music Factory. Finally, I fell asleep in the overstuffed, luxurious bed, with the windows still open to the lights of the Vieux Carre.
I checked out early from the Hyatt Regency, and had decided not to eat breakfast there because of the high prices. Instead, I used my iPhone to locate a new place called Rise N Dine in Emory Village near Emory University, so I drove there and enjoyed an outstanding breakfast. The coffee they were serving was Ethiopian Yergacheffe, so I purchased a pound of that, and then sat outside on a park bench calling stores around Atlanta looking for a used copy of Season Three of The Wire. Nobody had anything until I called the FYE in Union City, and they had a used copy for $45, but I suddenly remembered a store called Grumpy’s in Chattanooga that was full of DVD’s, so I called up there, and they had season three for $35, so I decided to drive home to Memphis by way of Chattanooga. The weather was really hot as I headed north on I-75, and when I got to Chattanooga, I stopped at McKay’s Used Books and CDs. I didn’t find any books to purchase there, but I did find some choral music scores for our church, and then I drove further north across the Tennessee River into Hixson, where Grumpy’s was located, noticing that a new waterfront restaurant had opened on Lake Resort Drive north of the river. At Grumpy’s I purchased The Wire DVD, and then I headed around the riverfront drive toward downtown, but I soon found it closed off for something called the Riverbend Festival, so I had to follow a detour in order to get to I-24. The drive from Chattanooga to Huntsville seemed to take forever, and at Huntsville, I decided to stop at Cheeburger Cheeburger in Providence, where I ate a bacon cheeseburger for dinner. Next door at Sweet Dreams Cafe, I ordered a latte to go, and then headed west on Highway 72 toward Corinth. At Corinth, I wanted more coffee, but the only coffee bar there, KC’s Espresso, wasn’t answering the phone, so I settled for something out of a convenience store, and headed on into Memphis.