Saturday, August 13, 2016

Road Tripping USA Part Eight by Joan Donaldson-Yarmey


www.joandonaldsonyarmey.com
 
Author’s Note
I belong to Angels Abreast, a breast cancer survivor dragon boat race team in Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada. Every four years the International Breast Cancer Paddlers Commission IBCPC) holds an international festival somewhere in the world. In the spring of 2013, my team received a notice that the IBCPC had chosen Sarasota, Florida, USA, to hold the next festival in October 2014.
     We decided to attend and while the other members were going to fly down, tour around some of the sites and head home I wanted to see more of the country and meet some of the people. My husband, Mike, and I drove from our small acreage at Port Alberni, British Columbia, on the Pacific Ocean, to Sarasota, Florida on the Atlantic Ocean.
     Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine the people I would meet nor the beautiful places I would see nor the adventures I would have on our ten week, 18,758km (11656 mile) journey. On the thirteenth day of every month in 2016 I will post a part of my trip that describes some of the excellent scenery, shows the generosity and friendliness of the people, and explains some of the history of the country. The people of the USA have much to be proud of.

 Road Tripping USA Part Eight
In the morning I went into the McDonalds in Panama City, Florida,
 
to check emails. While I was there Mike saw a man sitting on the parking lot curb.
Mike’s Story: So there I was sitting in the motorhome all by myself because my wife had left me. The cats got tired of talking with me. I looked around and saw a guy sitting on a curb. Cats won't talk with me, wife is gone so I hobbled on my cane out to the guy on the curb. He was sitting with his head down and a cardboard sign propped beside him: Need Help, Thank You.
     He looked very depressed. I stood there. He looked up at me.
     “Hello,” he said.
     “Hello,” I said. I was in bad shape so I had a hard time rolling onto my knees, to my bum, to the ground to sit beside him. “So tell me your story.”
     He came from Tennessee to look for a job because he heard there was a lot of work in Florida. He was a painter and worked new construction. In order to get here, though, he had to sell everything. Once he arrived he found there was a lot of work but no one would hire him. First, because he was 60 years of age and they didn't think he could do the work, and secondly because he didn't have a means of transportation. He didn't own a car. There were places that would hire him if he had a car. He didn't know what to do. He doesn't have a pension to fall back on.
     I could tell he had a lot of pride. He missed his dad and phoned him once in a while. His dad is in his 80s and when he hears his son, he cries.
     I asked him why he wouldn't go home because it didn't make sense after that story and he said he didn't want his family to see him like he was, his dad, his brother, his sister. I asked him if he thought his dad would love him any more if he was the president of the US. It sounded that if his dad cried when they talked on the phone it didn't make any difference to him.
     “You should go home,” I said.
     “Maybe you're right,” he agreed. “Thank you for taking the time to sit down on the curb beside me and talk with me.
     “I wish I could help you more but I can't.”
     “That’s okay. The time you spent was lots and the talk was lots.”
     We talked some more and he said it was cold, he hated the nights sleeping out. I told him yes, I had done it myself when a teenager.
     “Sleeping out is a bugger,” I said “Where I come from you could freeze your ass off.”
     “Where are you from?”
     “Canada.”
     “Yeah,” he said. “Canada's cold.”
     “When did you eat last?”
     “Three days.”
     “That's counting today?” I asked.
     “No today is the fourth day.
     “How much would it cost to buy a meal?
     “I don’t know what to ask you for, you can eat cheap at McDonalds for $5.00.”
     “Could you have a good meal if I gave you twenty dollars?”
     “With twenty dollars I could eat for four days and I could start on my way home.”
     So I gave him twenty bucks and he thanked me. When he said he thought he should go home I said it would be a good idea because it doesn't matter how much money you have if you don't have family you don't have anything. He agreed.
     “Don’t give up,” I said.
     “I’m not giving up and I wouldn't give up.” He shook my hand. “God bless you. I'll walk you to your camper so you don’t fall down.”
     It was night when we entered Biloxi, Mississippi. We found a place to camp and the next morning drove to the Boomtown Casino. Part of it is on a barge where Mullet Lake empties into Biloxi Bay so it is considered a floating casino, a throw back to when gambling on land was illegal. To get around that law, paddle wheelers with poker games and machines plied the rivers and lakes. When the law was changed those paddle wheelers disappeared and casinos were built on land.
      We actually came out ahead on this floating casino. Mike spent $72.00 and won $100.00 and I spent $20.00 and made $30.00 so we were $38.00 ahead. We went to the buffet in the casino for lunch. It cost us $54.00 but what a meal: catfish, flounder, all the snow crab we could eat, roast beef, potatoes, shrimp, sushi, pizza, vegetables, salads and much more.
     As we drove through Biloxi, the Gulf of Mexico with soft sandy beaches was to our left. There were stately old houses to our right. We travelled about 30 miles (48km) with beside the beach. Then we crossed a bridge over St. Louis Bay with the gulf to the left and bay to right. At the end of bridge we were in St Louis and away from the water.
     As we neared New Orleans in Louisiana I asked Lola for a tourist information center. I wanted to go to one on the outskirts of the city so that we could find out where the French Quarter was and go straight there. Lola gave me about ten choices. Not knowing the city I just randomly picked one and hoped for the best. She took us right downtown.
     We didn't know where we were going but followed her directions to the Basin St. Station Tourist Information Center. We found a parking lot facing St Louis Street near the information center that charged $3.00 for a ten-hour stay or $10.00 for twenty-four hours. There were a few other vehicles and a motorhome was set up in the far corner. We paid 3.00 thinking we would only be there long enough to get our information and then be gone.
     In the center we discovered we were just a block from the French Quarter. And that we could also book a dinner cruise on the Mississippi, which we did for 7:00pm that evening. We got a map and headed out on St Louis Street to tour the French Quarter. The French Quarter is the oldest neighbourhood in New Orleans. Also known as Vieux Carre, it has been designated as a National Historic Landmark.
     As we walked down one of the streets a young lady came across the street towards us. She wore skimpy shorts and nothing else. She had painted her boobies all different colours. There was money sticking out of the waistband of her shorts and she had some in her hand. Mike got so excited that he took a picture of her.
     “That's going to cost you,” she yelled at him.
     “What?” he asked
     “It costs you to take my picture.”
     “Okay, my wife will pay.”
     “What?” I tried to hide my smile.
     Mike didn’t even look at me. He was staring at the young girl. “Yup, my wife will pay.”
     I gave her some money then took a picture of the two of them together. She didn't charge me.  As we walked away I thought, what an excellent way of make a living. Just paint your boobs and walk around in skimpy shorts collecting money. I wondered if maybe I could do the same only I would cover the seniors’ age group. I looked around and saw that there were quite a few potential customers.
     On Bourbon Street we went into a bar and ordered drinks. We had a good visit with the bartender who said he was hoping to leave New Orleans soon and pursue a different career. We continued our tour stopping in at a shop to buy bead necklaces. I wanted to take a swamp tour and we went into an agency. The man was willing to book at that time but Mike wanted to wait until the next day to see how he felt. The man said we could come early in the morning and book.
     On our way back to our camper we tried to take a tour of Cemetery #1 which was across St Louis Street from the parking lot. The gate was locked. I decided to check the next day.
     In the motorhome Mike laid down and I read. When he got up we decided we might as well stay the night in the parking lot. The cruise ended at 10:00pm and we figured we wouldn’t be getting back until around 11:00pm. Before we left at 5:00pm I went and put in another $3.00 to last us until three in the morning. We had been told that there was a trolley car we could catch to take us down Canal Street to the harbour but we wanted to walk. Mike took his cane for support.
     It was getting dark as we walked down Canal Street. It was brightly lit with lots of people, traffic, and the trolley cars going by. We arrived early at the ticket booth of the cruise. We took pictures of the cruise ship, named the Creole Queen, and then went into an outlet mall to wander around. There was a Lindt Lindor chocolate store. Each piece of chocolate was 26 cents or 150 for $44.00 dollars. Christmas was coming and those are my chocolate of choice during the holiday season. But rather than buy them and have to carry them with me on the cruise, I decided I would walk back in the morning and get some. Plus, I have absolutely no will power and I knew that if I took them with me I wouldn't have room for the meal on the cruise.
     We lined up to board the ship. We were seated and told to help ourselves to the buffet. I decided to take everything and at least taste it. I tried the chicken and sausage jambalaya although I didn't take the sausage. The rice with bean sauce and the Cajun green beans were both very spicy. The corn dish was delicious. I felt safe taking a lot of the garlic potatoes. I was told the gumbo was flavourful but not spicy and that was true. The corn muffins were sweet. For dessert there was bread pudding that tasted like a cinnamon bun with raisins. It was so good I had two helpings. There was also roast beef and Caesar salad but I didn't sample them. I can get them at home. I had water because there was either that, or an alcoholic drink or coffee and I’m not a coffee drinker.
     The meal was served between 7:00pm and 8:00pm and a three-piece band played jazz. At 8:00pm we started our cruise up the river. It was very dark and we could see the lights of New Orleans as we left. The Creole Queen is an authentic paddle wheeler. She is powered by a 24 foot (7.3m) diameter paddle wheel and made her maiden voyage in 1983. Mike and I headed outside but we were going against the wind so it was chilly. We went back inside and listened to the music. When the Creole Queen turned around we were sailing with the wind and it was quite balmy.
     I spent a lot of time out on the deck watching the water churn by and seeing the lights on shore. The river was busy even in the dark as a number of boats and barges went by. I walked to the back end and watched the paddle wheel work for a while then leaned on the railing and just enjoyed the fact that I was on the mighty Mississippi River.
     Mike talked with one of the band members. The man had been to Nanaimo when he was a member of a different band that was touring British Columbia.
     The riverboat docked at 10:00pm and Mike and I started our walk back. We went slowly and Mike had to use his cane. We decided to see the French Quarter at night so we walked to Bourbon Street again. Barricades were at the ends of the street and it was closed to traffic. All the bars and stores were open and people wandered up and down the street talking and laughing. It had the party atmosphere we’d expected to see.
     We turned onto St. Louis Street to continue our way back. It wasn't as well-lit and we were nervous. As we walked we heard steps behind us. We looked back and saw a guy who appeared to be following us. When we got to a corner we walked kitty corner to the other side. Once there we turned and stared back at him. He hesitated on his corner then left.
     As we continued to walk there was another guy behind us. We looked back a couple of times which must have made him nervous or uncomfortable because he changed to the other side of the street to walk. We got back safely just before 11:00. I went across the lot to put in three more dollars which would take us to 9:00am in the morning. There was lots more that we wanted to do like take the swamp tour, go buy my chocolates, and see the river in daylight. The only other vehicle in the lot was the motorhome. At last, a quiet night.
     At about 2:00am a tap, tap, tap woke me up. It wasn’t a knock so I didn't know what it was. Mike came up and I asked him what it was and he said there is a sheriff outside. He got dressed and went out to talk with him. Our girls were on high alert at the tap on the door and when Mike went outside they headed to the windows and tried to look outside. My window was open so I could hear what the sheriff had to say.
     Apparently there had been a break in of a motorhome somewhere in the area and he was wondering if it was us.
     “No, we’re fine,” Mike said.
     “Why are you camping here?”
     “We were told we could by someone at the information center.”
     “This is a bad area and you shouldn’t really be camping here. Criminals will look at your license plate and see that you are from Canada. They know that you won’t be carrying a gun, so you will be an easy target. Last year we had 300 murders in this area and people disappear without a trace.”
      He wondered if we had any protection because we could carry a gun in Louisiana as long as it was not hidden. At one point someone walked by on the street and the sheriff pointed to him and said that was one of the people he was warning us about.
     Once he had delivered his message he and Mike chatted for an hour about fishing, hunting, places for us to eat, and more. He said he wanted to come to Canada someday so Mike opened the outside door and asked me for my business card. Purple and Red both went and sat on the step looking at him. After I'd given him my card I went back to bed.
     As he was leaving the sheriff advised us that maybe we should find a different place to stay. He said that because of all the disasters that have happened in Louisiana over the years there are a lot of homeless people who can't get back on their feet.
     We took his warning to heart. We put Walmart into Lola, picked one and drove to the west end of the city.
     We figured we were pretty lucky. Lola directed us to the visitor centre right beside the French Quarter, the place we wanted to see, the sheriff came along and possibly saved us a lot of hassle or even worse, and then Lola got us to the Walmart to stay for the rest of the night.
     We have a saying that we live by: The Lord looks after kids and idiots and we’re not kids anymore.
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