Bordering one side of the French Quarter is our old friend the Mississippi River, which we last saw in Minneapolis on our 2014 road trip. We’ve effectively now seen both ends of it. After dinner at the Royal House, we ended our day of too much walking with even more walking, checking out the art, the businesses, and the life teeming and scheming along its banks.
Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
This year’s trip began as a simple idea: visit ostensibly scenic New Orleans. Indianapolis to New Orleans is a fourteen-hour drive. Between our workplace demands and other assorted personal needs, we negotiated a narrow seven-day time frame to travel there and back again. We researched numerous possible routes, cities, and towns to visit along the way in Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi. We came up with a long, deep list of potential stops, but tried to leave room for improvisation…
The most important thing here: that river.
Most of that Ole Miss/Quarter juxtaposition is taken up by Woldenberg Park, a thin strip of grass with walking and biking paths, benches, rails for leaning in, and sculptures to perk up the ambiance.
It’s quaint from a distance, but loses some of its charisma when you keep going and the panhandlers begin to outnumber the tourists. During our vacation research phase, Anne ran across more than one source that cautioned readers of a popular begging scam that allegedly goes something like this:
SITTING HOBO [shouting at rube]: Hey, I like your shoes!
HAPLESS RUBE: Uh…thanks?
HOBO: I bet I know where ya got ’em!
RUBE: Really? Um…okay.
HOBO: Ya got ’em on your feet! [grizzled prospector laugh] I won the bet. Now you owe me all your money.
This sounded like the dumbest trick of all time, but it’s apparently a real thing. I have no idea why any sane tourist would feel contractually obligated to hand over cash after such an exchange, unless it’s common knowledge that New Orleans beggars are armed and get really twitchy when someone welshes on an imaginary non-consensual bet.
I scoffed at this notion until a guy actually tried it on me:
HOBO: Hey, I like your shoes!
…so that was disillusioning. I mean, at least they weren’t as terrible as the killer boogeymen that we’d heard take over New Orleans after dark, but still.
North of Woldenberg Park is a raised patch called Washington Artillery Park, across the street from Jackson Square as seen in the lead photo. Its namesake, the Washington Artillery Battalion, dates at least as far back as 1838, served briefly under future President Zachary Taylor during the Mexican War, and joined up with the Confederacy’s Army of Tennessee during the Civil War.
Next in our path was the French Market, whose first storefront is the world-famous Cafe du Monde. Every time we told friends or family we were going to New Orleans, one of their first recommendations was unanimously, “CAFE DU MONDE! YOU HAVE TO DO CAFE DU MONDE!”
It’s a cafe whose only real menu items are beignets and cafe au lait with chicory in it. The whole chicory thing is a 1700s French tradition borne of an era when coffee wasn’t as ubiquitous as it is today, so they needed every additive they could find to enrich the coffee-drinking experience. I’m not sure whether its unpleasant bitterness comes from the chicory or the coffee itself, but I liked it just fine once I drowned it in cream and lots of sweetener, then chugged it in a few gulps while we walked on.
As for their celebrated beignets: all the tables were full and I couldn’t drink, eat messy snacks, and take photos at the same time, so the beignets stayed untouched in my bag until we got back to the hotel, by which time they’d cooled down and somehow tripled in density. Perhaps that’s not as their maker had intended, but it’s not my fault they couldn’t bother to leave us any open seats to relax and enjoy them in a timely manner. Their overflowing dining area reminded me of an unruly school cafeteria and I wasn’t having it. Not my thing.
We were also under strict orders to stop by Cafe du Monde’s wishing fountains, where you’re supposed to toss in a penny, make a wish, and wait patiently for magic. We tried, but my whims failed to alter reality.
Also importantly, we ran across real New Orleans souvenir shops. We’d see many more the next day, but the first one we entered was called Gumbo File and its cutesy statues merit honorary mention here.
We began to walk around Jackson Square, but then we noticed sundown was coming and we scurried for our lives back to the hotel before New Orleans shadow demons could overtake us with their razor-sharp teeth and three-card Monte tables.
To be continued!
[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for previous and future chapters, and for our complete road trip history to date. Thanks for reading!]