grandson mason

grandson mason

grandson jaxson

grandson jaxson

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

11-13APR08 - New Orleans, LA (more french quarter festival photos)

See preceeding BLOG entry for details:

04-13APR08 - Houma & New Orleans, LA (french quarter festival)

We made it back to Houma on 04APR after an uneventful drive from Kinder, LA. After sitting around in the Civic Center parking lot waiting for the closing on Rebecca’s and Raymond’s first house on the 15th, we decided to find an RV park close to New Orleans and do some sightseeing. Turns out the closet RV park just outside NOLA is located on the Naval Support Activity (NSA) in an area known by the locals as the West Bank (aka Algiers) across the mighty Mississippi from NOLA. NSA is a military facility that is unique in that one half the base is on the West Bank in Algiers, and the other half is on the East Bank in NOLA. Getting to the French Quarter of NOLA from this location is very easy since there is a free ferry service for pedestrians from Algiers to the foot of Canal Street on the other side; you can even drive your car on board for one dollar.

So on Thursday, 10APR, we drove to the small RV park at NSA New Orleans. Turns out we were in town for two unique events – record high water on the Mississippi, and the French Quarter Festival. The record rains in the central part of the USA and the floods it has caused up north has to go somewhere? And that somewhere is south via the Mississippi! As a result, the river is only a couple of feet from the top of the levees protecting Baton Rouge and all points south (ie New Orleans). In fact the Army Corps of Engineers has taken the unusual step of opening the Bonnet Carre Spillway to divert Mississippi River water into Lake Pontchartrain. The Spillway was built as a result of the floods of 1927 and has only been used seven times since 1937.

The other unique event is that Friday, Saturday and Sunday is the French Quarter Festival! The FQF is a free musical festival started 25 years ago to promote native NOLA music, primarily Jazz and Blues. This year there are 150 acts, on 17 stages, over 3 days!!! The Festival is a non-profit event that covers operating costs by the sale of souvenirs, and food and drink. And we’re not talking philly cheese steaks, corn dogs, Belgian waffles, hot dogs, etc; we’re talking grilled salmon w/jasmine rice, crawfish bread, smoked alligator sausage w/bone suckin’ sauce, jambalaya, etouffee, bread pudding w/bourbon sauce, oysters bonne femme, oyster & artichoke florentine, slow roasted duck poboy, etc, not to mention Who’s to Blame margaritas, Incommunicado iced teas, and Mango Mama Punch on the rocks.

After parking the RV, we drove the Toad over to the ferry terminal in Algiers, parked, and boarded the ferry to the French Quarter. We did a short walkabout in the Quarter to get an idea of where the stages were for the upcoming FQF. We did stop by the HQ for the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park & Preserve. Not only does this facility cover the history of the Native Americans in the area and the settlement by the French and Spanish, but also has a special focus on the music history of New Orleans; as well as having branch sites in Lafayette, Eunice, Thibodaux, Marrero and Chalmette, Louisiana. On certain mornings they have a walking tour of the French Quarter covering the history and the architecture of the Quarter. Dan got up bright and early Friday for the tour, but the Algiers Ferry was broken. He tried again on Saturday morning, only to be told the tour was cancelled because of the Festival! He’ll just have to try again next year?

Also on Friday Rebecca’s husband, Raymond, who is a member of the Louisiana National Guard returned from six weeks of training at Fort Sill in Oklahoma. So we (Corrie, Dan & Rebecca) headed to the New Orleans Airport to welcome him home. While waiting at the luggage claim area a small jazz band entertained everyone with traditional second line music, only in New Orleans!

After welcoming Raymond home, Corrie and Dan headed to the FQF to check out the music and the food. We have lived in some of the great cities of the USA (DC, San Fran and NYC), even living in Rotterdam and visiting Amsterdam, Antwerp, Paris, London, etc; but where else could you have an authentic steam river boat playing music on a steam calliope in the background on the mighty Mississippi, while listening to some of the best music for free, and definitely eating the best food in the world? A lot of negative things were said about New Orleans post Katrina, but in our opinion the USA can not afford to lose this fantastic city!

Knowing that parking would be impossible to find close to the French Quarter, we had parked the Toad at the Harrah’s Casino garage. Parking in the casino garage is “free” if you gamble for one half hour in the casino. We played the games of chance for the required half hour, losing ten dollars. Since the parking lots in the Quarter were charging thirty dollars for all day, we did pretty good. And Corrie got so many points on here Comp Card, that we were given a “free” camp chair with the Harrah’s logo. Dan loves the chair because it has an insulated pouch below the seat that holds six of your favorite beverages! When we returned to the garage to find our Toad, it wasn’t there! We were just getting ready to call the police, when one us remembered that there were two casino garage buildings side by side, and we were in the wrong one!

Saturday and Sunday was spent visiting the Festival, always during the day and sometimes at night. After sampling much of the food, our favorite turned out to be BBQ grilled chicken livers at the Praline Connection Restaurant booth. Saturday night we even hooked up with our good friends Sister Joy Manthey; CG CAPT (ret) Frank Paskewich and wife Leah; and CG CAPT (ret) Ron Branch and fiancé Sarah Hufford. Riding the free ferry back Saturday night was interesting to say the least. Dan likens it to riding the NYC subway after dark, lots of characters!

Lastly the music, it was great!!! Although the Festival was started to preserve and promote Jazz and Blues, it now encompasses everything from classical to rock and roll. Although there are very few “nationally known” acts, the performers are still exceptional and often have performed with national and international artists. And it is not unheard of for national known New Orleanians, like members of the Neville family, Dr John, Harry Connick Jr, etc, to drop by and jam. There was even performers from Europe, in fact one German group paid homage to Ray Charles. Dan said that if you closed your eyes, you would swear Ray himself was on the stage singing “What’d I Say”. The most original band name went to “Old Wine in New Bottles”.

Of all the performers we heard, the ones we felt that truly stood out were Susan Cowsill, and John Boutte’. For those that remember 60s/70s rock groups, Susan was a family member of The Cowsills. Susan joined her mother and four brothers as an eight year old. The Cowsills had many hits, “Hair”, “The Rain, The Park & Other Things”, “Indian Lake”, etc. In fact, the Cowsills were the model for the TV show The Partridge Family. Anyway, after the Cowsills Susan continued as a musical artist in other groups, as a soloist, and most recently as a song writer/performer. She has lived in NOLA for fifteen years and lost everything, including her brother Barry, to Katrina. But like many others, she refuses to leave and works endlessly to revive the New Orlean’s music scene. Susan wrote a beautiful song about a very rare Xmas snowfall in NOLA back in 2004, entitled “Crescent City Snow”. The song became the unofficial anthem for New Orleans post Katrina.

John Boutte is the quintessential New Orleans musician/vocalist. He comes from a seventh generation Creole family, born and raised in the Treme district. He also lost everything to Katrina, but also refuses to abandon New Orleans. Dan highly recommends the song “The Eternal Now”.

All in all, it was a fantastic three days; and we will return (maybe Dan will get that Park Service tour?)! 

Saturday, April 5, 2008

03APR08 - Kinder, LA

This morning, 03APR, we departed the Escapees’ Rainbow Park in Livingston, TX, after a very relaxing week. As we described in our blog of 26OCT07 about the Rainbow Park in Deming, NM, Corrie was offered a farewell hug when she went to the office to pay the bill. Turns out hugs are another Escapee tradition, one Dan is trying to avoid. We decided to take two days to get back to Houma. So we decided to check out the Coushatta Casino in Kinder, LA (Corrie says kind-er, Dan says kin-der). The wild flowers were with us well into Louisiana.

Turns out the Coushatta Casino has a very nice RV Park, almost of resort status. You have full hook-ups including cable; but also have tennis courts, walking paths, and what looks like a heated pool (we didn’t check it out). And it has a very reasonable rate below market prices. Dan noted that over 75% of the RV were from Quebec and Ontario? His guess is that they might be in Louisiana because of the Cajun connection to the French Canadian Acadians.

We wandered over to the casino in the early evening. Corrie immediately signed up for a player’s card, which Dan refuses to do because he feels we never hit the same casino enough to build up “comps”. For once Corrie did very well on the penny slots and she won enough to cover Dan’s small loss on video poker and even pay for our RV spot.

However, when we went to check out the next morning, we were not charged at all! Turns out we were “comp’d” because Corrie had signed up for a player’s card. From there we went to the Casino’s gas station where diesel was a dime cheaper per gallon then anywhere in Texas or Louisiana. When we went on our first RV trip in 2004 we prided ourselves in always finding gas for less than $2/gallon. On our next big trip in 2007 we prided ourselves in finding diesel for less than $3/gallon. Now we count ourselves lucky when it is lower than $4/gallon! Definitely makes it challenging to be full time RV’ers.

27MAR-02APR08 - Livingston, TX (we weren't born texans)

Thursday, 27MAR, we drove straight from Houma, LA, to Livingston, TX, to check out the world headquarters of the Escapees RV Club. As members we call ourselves SKPs (which is pronounced “skips” or “escapees”; you say potaTOE, I say potaTA) and stands for Special Kinda People! There are many RV clubs in the USA (we belong to three others), and many are bigger than Escapees. But Escapees has three services that they feel set them apart:

1) They offer a mail forwarding service (as do others), and this is the reason that we originally joined them. But we feel no other service offers the personal and friendly service they offer. They will actually search for one piece of mail, open it, and read it to you over the phone; if you ask them to. End result is the largest mail forwarding operation in the USA employing 50 people, and their own zip code.

2) They have a small number of their own parks (called Rainbow Parks), which are extremely cheap, and where you are always guaranteed a space without reservations. See our Deming, NM, blog entry for 26OCT07, for our first experience at an Escapee Rainbow Park.

3) They have the only assisted living facility (called CARE) based on the RV lifestyle in the USA. This is very affordable facility where you are allowed to stay in your RV (in fact there are no beds in the facility) if you can make it from your RV the short distance to the CARE facility on your own, or you have a primary care giver to assist. Hopefully we will never need it!

Lastly, as we noted in our Deming, NM, blog, Rainbow Parks try to have many activities throughout the week. For example – one or two meals a week produced by volunteers (usually $4 or $6), ice cream social ($.75), cards, bingo, bonfire, movies, tai chi, line dancing lessons, etc.

We also came to Livingston, TX, to see about becoming residents of Texas. Corrie has a license from Louisiana, Dan from Washington; one vehicle has Louisiana plates, and the other Florida; while our insurance papers say we are residents of Texas. About a year ago Dan got pulled over in Texas. You could tell the poor police officer was getting a headache looking at all the different paperwork. He finally shrugged his shoulders, gave Dan a warning, and pointed out that the law required we choose one state. So Friday we got the RV and the Toad inspected and then registered at the County Tax Office, no problems. Monday it was off to DMV for our licenses, again no problems. At both facilities they had big signs saying NO OUT OF COUNTY CHECKS; but once they found out we were SKPs, they took our out of state checks. So as the bumper sticker says – We weren’t born in Texas, but got here as fast as possible! (or something to that effect).

We had a very relaxing time at the Rainbow Park. We participated in some of the activities, Dan took tours of the CARE facility and the HQ, while Corrie helped finish off a couple of jigsaw puzzles. We took one day to drive to Huntsville, TX, for a little sightseeing. Huntsville is famous for being the last home and burial place for Sam Houston (the father of Texas); and the Texas HQ for the Texas State Prison System. In fact, there is even a driving tour so you can visit the six prison “units” in the Huntsville vicinity. We’ll save that for another day.

The real reason we came to Huntsville was to check out the New Zion Missionary Baptist Church BBQ. Apparently GQ magazine listed this small (and we mean small) establishment as worthy of flying to just for a meal? We had the ribs and the chopped beef; not sure about being worth flying to, but definitely worth driving to. Then it was off to King’s for some ice cream from a 1920’s soda fountain. And to top it off the Texas wild flowers are starting to bloom along the roadways, including the state flower, Blue Bonnets. The best viewing is supposed to be in the Hill Country and the high desert of the Big Bend, but this area has its fair share.

Trivia – 1) Sam Houston is only person to be Governor of two different states (Tennessee and Texas). Why was he removed from office in Texas in 1863?

2) Huntsville is County Seat of Walker County. Walker County has always been called Walker County, but was “re-named” for a different Walker in 1863. Why?