Pensacola, New Orleans, Natchitoches, then finally - Oklahoma City. It's March, 2004. My Dad and one brother graduated from NC State University at Raleigh, the other from the University of North Carolina, and I have degrees from Georgia Tech and NC State, so I certainly qualify as a hard core ACC basketball fan. But my Finals destination this year is EPICon2004, the EPIC conference where the finalists and friends get to sit through a banquet with a hilariously entertaining Jeff Strand as the Master of Ceremonies, anxiously waiting to hear the EPPIE award winners announced.
Oh, and I happened to win an
award at the destination banquet! But here
is is the
trip to get there!
Our first stop landed us in Pensacola, the historic Florida panhandle port town, sprinkled with gracious homes and anchored by the Naval Air Museum. While the Blue Angles thundered by overhead, rattling the roof, you can walk among reminders of the proud history of marine aviation. You can even sit in the cockpit of retired fighters and Coast Guard helicopters, walk the simulated carrier decks and compartments, view artifacts of life at sea and examine mint museum quality examples of naval aircraft - Navy, Marine, and Coast Guard - from the beginning to the present.
From Florida we took a quick spin over to New Orleans where we ate our way from one end of the French Quarter to the other for two solid days, breaking only to ride the St Charles trolley to the end to the line and back. Photo on the left is at the end of the line where the trolley stops, the conductor collects another set of fares, reverses the seat backs and moves to the other end of the car for the journey back to the French Quarter.
For warm ups, we ate lunch at the the Court of the Two Sisters, an all-you-can-eat-until-you-explode jazz brunch buffet featuring robust Creole and good old southern cooking. After the crawfish and barbeque ribs and a taste of various vegetables and assorted salad bar too-spicy-to-eat delights, I settled for a seafood omelet, then finished off with something light - a Banana's Foster.
Our flagship meal was at the famous Bubba Gump's (on the left), mostly shrimp prepared with a "Forrest Gump" theme. We ate on the balcony overlooking Decatur Street; the view alone worth the price of the meal. Mary Ann, our bartender, asked where we we going next on our travels. When we told her "New Iberia," she asked, "What in the world for." When we answered, "To see Dave Robicheaux," she said, "Okay. Say hello." Nice to meet literary-minded bar keeps.
Juan Pichardo and Frances Hernandez, on the right, along with a great selection of hand rolled cigars, greeted us at the Cigar Factory, also on Decatur Street, reminiscent of Tampa Bay's Ybor City shops. By the way, I picked out their Plantation Reserve as my favorite Cigar Factory brand. Try them if you stop in - a great cigar.
Entertainment is everywhere, on the street as well as in the famous Bourbon Street clubs. Jugglers, mimes, jazz bands, and some really weird tourists all mingle, some having far too much of a good time. With our afternoon coffee and jazz we tried beignets, the famous French Market donuts - and decided we could live without them - too gooey inside, too much sugar outside - but the coffee was great. And the jazz delightful.
Next was a drive through the bayou country to buy alligator egg bubblegum and rice mixes at the famous and historic Conrad Rice Mill in New Iberia. Caution! Be prepared, you are in Cajun Country and the spices in their sample rice dishes remind you very abruptly. Talk about mouth watering food, they are maybe more eye watering. My favorite turned out to be the Pecan Rice mix.
We stopped by the courthouse for a short chat with Dave, then on to Natchitoches, the original French colony in Louisiana. Another unfortunate similarity in Natchitoches history and that of my home, Tampa, is the plaque marking the resettlement of the Natchitoches Tribe of Native Americans to Oklahoma.
From there on it was all licky-split highway, not forgetting the hitchhiker nail we picked up in the construction between Dallas and Oklahoma City. But we made it, all fired up for the EPIC Conference and Judgment Day.