When you last heard from us way back on June 2, Gustav and Sonja were knee high in deep-fried shrimp, spicy creole gumbo, shucked oysters, music on Iberville Street at the 21st Amendment and the unique Cajun charm which is New Orleans.

Then, suddenly…the road map on these pages to our southern adventure you were following disappeared like a warm off-shore gulf breeze in fall.

Fast forward…today, August 1! Wow. Two months have passed since the last entry here.

Sorry!

But, hey…look! We’re back!

And I promise (fingers, ankles, eyes crossed) there will be no more dilly-dallying around here. No more getting sidetracked by everyday life. No more being interrupted by spur of the moment trips to, like, Italy.

Huh? What?

More on that later.  And yea, this catch-up might take awhile.

Gustav and Sonja

We’re back! We made it to JazzFest!

Our song of the south…road adventures through New Orleans, Savannah, Charleston, Hilton Head, Montgomery…continues here with maybe a few more pictures than words…just to keep, you know, the traffic moving.

Ah, JazzFest.

It was the first real destination on our journey and pretty much the primary reason Sonja agreed to pile into my car with me for our Great Southern America Road Trip. Sonja had never been to JazzFest…and I’d been once ten years ago…with still vivid memories of a terrific city putting on a great show.

However, over the course of two long weekends the last of April and first of May, JazzFest is more than a great show.

JazzFest is a celebration.

When walking onto the festival grounds one is surrounded by a joyful celebration of Music. Culture. Community. They form the common bond which attracts the crowds and encourages friends to be made of strangers amid the highlighted music, ice cold sweet tea and hot catfish po’boys.

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Mardi Gras Indians on the Congo Square stage.

By its very nature JazzFest is resistant to the current prejudice, political ugliness and world anger festering just beyond the horizon. Enter and the outside world fades away…giving way to the harmony of thousands digging the only thing important here this day: The Music.

We bought passes for one day. A heads up to those who’ve never been… it’s not enough time. By a long shot. Several large outdoor stages provide constant entertainment every day. Lots of folks haul themselves down to these venues early in the morning and camp out for hours to catch some of the big acts which perform throughout each day. This year headliners included Rod Stewart, Sting, Sheryl Crow, Jack White, Beck, Aerosmith, Steve Miller and Bonnie Raitt.

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Somewhere on stage w-a-y out there is Marcia Ball. We chose to nix the big outdoor crowds and head to the Blues Tent.

Not really into the mega-entertainers nor the crowds which park themselves for hours in the sweltering Louisiana sun…(it was HOT) Gustav and Sonja chose to plant ourselves in the Blues Tent for most of our day…one of the several large tents arranged around the grounds…each uniquely showcasing artists who swing everything from gospel to jazz to big band.

Each of these tents hold a couple thousand folks….happy, bouncing souls eager to grab the beats of musicians known and unknown.

Inside the Blues Tent.

Our faves that day among many were Little Freddie King Blues Band and C.J. Chenier and the Red Hot Louisiana Band.

C.J. was hot. He’s the son of Clifton Chenier…otherwise known as the legendary “King of Zydeco”. The apple didn’t fall far from Dad’s tree…because C.J. put on an absolutely blistering revue of  swamp blues, R&B and soul infused zydeco that rocked the tent from it’s top to it’s posts.

We had a full, fun, hot day at JazzFest. It flew by. Next year we will do more than one day.

And then it was dinner time.

Because, you know…Gustav and Sonja Eat.

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Created in the midst of swamps and marshes…The Bayou is home to one of America’s most enduring, beloved cities.

It’s The Crescent City. NOLA. New Orleans.

From it’s earliest days in the early 1700’s when founded as a trading post at a sharp bend at the mouth of the Mississippi River by French trappers…through the devastation and destructive lashing unleashed by Cat 5 Hurricane Katrina in 2005, New Orleans has been in survival mode.

NOLA is located within a perpetually vulnerable geographic location. There’s a constant umbrella of fear that during any hurricane season moment, New Orleans could be forever washed deep into the Gulf of Mexico by a Mother Nature driven by powerful, impulsive self-indulgence. This is an ugly, undeniable, negative reality.

Yet there has been a parallel, powerful, positive reality nurtured over decades which has encouraged this relatively small populated area to embrace an instinctive challenge to survive. To enjoy life, maximizing each day to it’s fullest. And to have a great time while doing it.

This attitude born of fear has fostered a spirit of community. Musical and artistic creativity has thrived. Architectural history from the 18th and 19th survives, is preserved and cherished. And food born from generations of rich immigrant and native traditions warms and nourishes hearts, minds and souls.

I’ve been fortunate to visit the city several times. Sonja had never been to New Orleans before this road trip. Remembering my enthusiastic stories of music, food and fun…Sonja was primed to relish it all.

Her foodie segment of the New Orleans experience was to begin with deep fried shrimp, at the ACME Oyster House. A New Orleans tradition since 1910 it’s located in the French Quarter just a short walk from our hotel near Canal Street.

There’s a long line…at all hours…on the sidewalk out front of ACME. Is the place touristy? Sure. It’s New Orleans, for gawdsakes. It’s a magnet because ACME serves up all kinds of simple yet hearty, fun food for hungry ones anxious to dive into the spirit of NOLA…meals you can’t always find back home. (One of the important foodie things I’ve learned on my trips there? You don’t have to spend Paul Prudhomme-or-Emeril Lagasse-wallet-emptying-loot to enjoy great food in New Orleans.)

Oysters, of course, is the ACME house specialty…plates of oysters smothered in butter, deep fried…or raw, on the half-shell. But Sonja craved shrimp. She’d been dreaming of the crispy, battered, juicy hot deep fried goodies from the Gulf of Mexico since we began planning this visit last fall.

When it was our turn to grab a seat…we found two at the oyster bar…where three guys in rubber aprons crack and shuck bags of raw oysters full time, smack dab in front of your seat. Once in awhile you might get a salty little splash of oyster goo on a shirt or blouse…but, hey! Atmosphere!

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Newly shucked oysters sat within reach at our ACME bar seats.

Soon we placed our orders…and in no time…our plates arrived!

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Sonja’s much anticipated deep fried shrimp, plate left. Gustav’s deep fried crab legs, plate right. Shucking action at the rear!

As you can see, Sonja’s dish was piled high with shrimp. Crispy, hot, moist and delicious…Sonja netted this catch immediately. My deep fried crab legs were tender and hot…with a batter that was crunchy, delicious…and just a little spicy to remind me where I was…Cajun Country…for good measure.

Our fun first meal and evening in the city was followed by a walk through the always bustling, brightly lit French Quarter. Cheesy, tacky fun.

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Bourbon Street. Dilly, Dilly anyone?

There is always music somewhere, at any hour in New Orleans. Later that evening we found an intimate small bar with music…coincidentally right across the street from ACME on Iberville…called the 21st Amendment. We would find ourselves back at the 21st Amendment several times during our stay. The musical menu kind of ran the spectrum of cool vibes…from traditional New Orleans jazz to southern Delta blues. It was a great find and a comfortable place to wind down at the end of the evening.

The next day…beignets…Gustav’s lost wallet…and Crescent City Steaks, tender beyond compare.

 

 

Taking a break today from our Road Trip postings because you gotta see this…

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The sugar rush at Scottsdale’s Local Donuts.

This photo is NOT a shot of folks standing in line at the Arizona DMV, nor a line at the unemployment office.

It’s a line of at least 30 plus people of all ages waiting to get inside the Local Donuts shop on Hayden in Scottsdale, Arizona…because today, June 1, 2018 is friggin’ NATIONAL DONUT DAY.

Sonja wanted a donut this morning. I said, “Fine, you go get ’em.” She also needed her second in a series of new shingles preventive injections.

What would you guess, you know…just off the top of your head…is better for you? Hmmm. Donut? Shot? Donut? Shot?

Let’s just say, there was no line for the shingles shots. And that the donuts at Local Donuts are damn good.

But what the hell are all these people doing off work on a Friday? In a donut line?

Donut you know.

By the way, here’s what’s left of our donuts.

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For. Lunch.

 

The hunger for new experiences on our trip east to New Orleans and into the Deep South included food, music, history and food. Did I mention food?

As delicious and filling as they were while in the car barreling down I-10, Sonja’s home made ham sandwiches had long ago seen their better days. The back seat cooler was almost empty. And the couple of Taco Bell bean and cheese burritos we were forced to consume in a pinch when out in the middle of nowhere the past couple of days had run out of gas.

We were ready for real southern grub!

Back story: In prep for this trip Gustav and Sonja became addicted to travel, food and Netflix TV stuff…(as if we weren’t already) that contained any tidbits about the areas we were about to explore.

We sat and watched all of the “Delicious Destinations”, “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives”, Anthony Bourdain, Phil Rosenthal…any of the foodie travel shows with even a tiny morsel of relevant info. We took notes. We learned a lot. When we saw something that sounded intriguing…we searched websites for locations, menus, price points, directions…anything that would help us decide if our measly Social Security income could be well spent at any of them.

With Houston thankfully a couple of hours behind us…and with our homework notes in Sonja’s capable navigating hands…we decided this place would be our first stop…

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It’s big. It’s red. It’s a barn.  You can’t miss Crawfish Town, USA

Crawfish Town, USA is located in Henderson, Louisiana…just a short gator crawl north of I-10 and about 125 miles west of New Orleans.

We were hungry for lunch and ready to dive into a healthy portion of whatever sounded terrific. The restaurant is a big barn shaped dining hall…with a combination of comfortable picnic table style communal seating and some deuces for smaller parties.

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A Crawfish platter at Crawfish Town, USA.

The draw there is obviously crawfish…and they serve a ton of them at Crawfish Town, USA…literally. Tons. I love crawfish…but dang, it’s a lot of work to pick through each little critter hoping to fill up on the slim nuggets of tail meat uncovered. Besides…we were hungry!

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My crispy fried catfish on a roll.

Fortunately, Crawfish Town, USA has a multitude of other ever-lovin’ southern menu offerings…from oysters to shrimp, crab to frog legs. But I love catfish. I became a big fan of this white, tender, funky looking southern menu staple during my past trips to Louisiana. And guess what? They had catfish galore on the menu. Ordered and promptly served…the fish was presented with a tasty coating; a crispy blanket of batter and flour… stove top fried to perfection. Lots of thick cut fries filled out the rest of the dish. This lunch was my first palate treat on our roadie.

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Sonja’s bowl of hot gumbo. Beans, chicken and sausage with rice and a couple of hush puppies on the side.

Since this trip was Sonja’s first visit to this part of the south…she had her sights set on some real honest-to-goodness Louisiana gumbo. Not disappointed, a hot, hearty bowl of it was served with chunks of mildly seasoned yet tasty sausage and chicken over a rich roux based soup. Sonja was full on this fast…and I got to finish off the remaining portion. Loosen belt time.

Satisfied that our first adventure was fun and filling…we climbed back into the car and headed to New Orleans.

In less than 48 hours, we’d be at Jazz Fest.

Before we head to New Orleans…some moaning and groaning follows.

Houston, Texas describes itself as a Metroplex. I prefer to call it a Metro Nightmare. It’s truly a city on steroids…a ghastly testament to the gluttony that the fossil fuel based Texas economy created.

Accordingly, the freeway system in and around Houston had to have been designed by Exxon/Shell/Mobil-admiring sadists. Their sole intent most certainly had to have been to inflict as much pain and suffering as possible on anyone brave enough (or stupid enough) to get behind the steering wheel of a modern moving vehicle, while simultaneously burning through as much 89 octane as possible over the hundreds of asphalt miles criss-crossing and surrounding the city.

Understandably, with a population approaching 2.5 million, it’s no easy task to get people moved from one end of the city to the other. But if there ever is a good case to be made for self-driving vehicles, Houston should be the template.

Entering the Houston freeway system is like free falling into a giant labyrinth…and becoming an immediate, hopeless victim to a tortuous arrangement of poorly designed on and off ramps, frontage roads bearing numbered highway markings confusingly identical to parallel main arterial loops and a series of inner-city toll roads with insufficient descriptions of length, toll or destination. We spent an hour trying to escape the city.

Finally, with the Metro Nightmare gratefully fading in our rear view mirror, Gustav and Sonja set our sights east on I-10…and the 350 miles to New Orleans.

To say that west Texas is a whole lot of nuthin’ is being kind. It’s mile after mile of dust, scrub brush and greasy oil pumps dotting the barren landscape like preying mantis. As desolate, barren and expansive as this stretch of earth is, it does make one wonder, “Why?” when we’re told by xenophobic government types in power that there’s absolutely no more room in America for one more refugee immigrant. Did any of those bigoted mouthpieces ever study US geography?

In any event the best thing that can be said about getting through west Texas on the way to Houston is that the speed limit is officially 80 mph on I-10. Which of course means you can set cruise control at 85…crank up the SiriusXM blues channel in prep for JazzFest…then hope you make it through that god forsaken stretch of 18 wheeler flattened armadillos, circling vultures and plethora of exit ramp Waffle Houses without blowing out a Michelin.

Frankly, Sonja and Gustav weren’t the only ones on the road eager to make those long, ugly longhorn miles shrink at high speed. There were plenty of pickups, Caddy’s and Harleys with Texas plates passing us at 90-100 mph as they attempted to giddy up the miles away. Evidently Texans want to beat feet as fast as possible through there as well.

To help us pass the time…Sonja downloaded an iPhone app…‘ The Plate Game’…the goal being to identify as many state license plates on the journey as possible…then name the capitals, populations and year of statehood for each. We identified 29 or so and was a fun way to help us pass some of our miles without getting too much into the crackers, chips and vodka stowed within arms reach on the back seat.

After spending a night in thunderstorm drenched Fort Stockton (wondering why on earth there was ever any reason for 19th century Army defenses there…I know, I know…”the natives”) we arrived at the concrete jungle masquerading as Houston for a fun reunion with a friend we hadn’t seen in almost 40 years, a good nights sleep and dreams of shrimp, gumbo and the Jazz Fest Blues Tent.

Pile back into the car with us. Soon on the horizon…New Orleans.

Sonja and Gustav have wanted to make a long USA road trip for many years…we’d talked about a journey that would get us up and out of our comfortable West Coast bubble and off into parts of the country we’ve never experienced first hand, by land.

So last fall, we decided we’d do just that. We chose hitting the 2018 New Orleans Jazz Fest the first week of May as the inspiration to get our butts off the living room couch, into the front seats of my car…and down the road to see a country we hadn’t visited up close in a long time. America.

In planning, we decided early on that we really wanted to drive through the Deep South, but only after gorging ourselves on three days of music, drink, fried shrimp and sugar coated beignets in New Orleans. We planned to see Savannah, Hilton Head and Charleston for sure…and if we had the time, energy and our clothes still fit after that… Nashville, Memphis, Clarksdale, Natchez and Austin.

We were excited!

Of course, much of a ‘let’s go for it!’ decision to travel further by that point in time would depend on whether Gustav and Sonja were actually still speaking with each other after piling up so many miles, hours and days in the car together. (Fingers crossed)

On Monday April 30th…brimming with anticipation and a full tank of diesel…Gustav and Sonja piled into our car. We had packed light. Well, sort of. We each had a small suitcase. So far so good, right?

Hmmmm, maybe not.

Also loaded on board was a cooler stocked with a half dozen Sonja made ham sandwiches, a back seat groaning under the weight of enough bottled water to stave off dehydration in the Gobi Desert, assorted large quantities of crackers, chips, vodka, wine and peanut butter…because you just never know when you might not see a fast food joint in time for dinner.

So, positive that we wouldn’t die of thirst or hunger within the next ten hours, Gustav and Sonja waved bye-bye to Sophie the Doodle, Mimi The Neighbor Daughter, Zack The Neighbor Son and to the semi-rational regional sensibilities of politics, religion and diet…

…and set off for our first stop: Fort Stockton, Texas.

I told you we were excited.