FRIENDS CAFE: Kind Servers and Craw-fishy

I will use the overarching title “Friends Café” for my trip to Louisiana, both because it’s the translation of an actual place we visited, and because it applies to pretty much everything I experienced on this journey. Never have I seen truer examples of “Southern hospitality” than I have in this fine state. So, let’s begin the journey shall we?

Friday, December 26

3:20 AM, I make my halting way out to the curb, absorbing the absolute quiet and clear cold that are present on this post-Christmas night. As the duffel bag’s strap digs into my shoulder, I hope that my prearranged taxi does show up at 3:30, for I have no other viable options that I can think of. 3:22, 3:24, and finally it pulls up at 3:27; actually three minutes early. Well done!

I hop in and nearly doze, warming my digits in the heat stream as the driver, from a Middle Eastern country I think, chatters about perceived differences between Christianity and Islam.

“Do you know why you’re here?” he asks.

I think his take-home message is that death exists to keep us from doing things that are too far out there, and that it also focuses us on finding our purpose. We should also strive to live the best we can while in this body. I can agree with those conclusions. I think more than anything though, he’s just talking to keep himself awake long enough to reach Raleigh-Durham International Airport, an 18-minute ride along Durham Freeway and Highway 40 according to Google Maps.

We do reach the building, and I am disgorged at the Delta Terminal. A woman who says she is on her way to Detroit helps me to the check-in counter, but I do not get anymore time to speak to her. Really, I suppose that few people feel like speaking at 4 AM, as even the worker who is guiding me says the bare minimum.

At the ever-so-fun security checkpoint, I am pulled aside and wanded, even having the palms of my hands scanned. Fun times. Then down to my gate, where I sit for about 15 minutes before being silently ushered aboard.

The first flight to Atlanta departs promptly at 5:10. I am annoyed for most of it, because the Braille display absolutely refuses to cooperate. Airplane mode has shut down Bluetooth, and when I attempt to re-enable it I still can’t regenerate the connection. I have since come to the conclusion that it is better to turn on Bluetooth immediately after going into airplane mode, and not once I plan to actually use the display.

I have brought two books onboard with me: Louis Armstrong’s New Orleans, an exhaustive piece about that city’s musical, Jim Crow, and other history as it relates to that jazz great; and Buccaneer by Maycay Beeler, a true crime story about a drug dealer who has all sorts of adventures transporting product and eventually lands in prison. I find the latter to be a better airplane read, as the chapters are generally short and action-packed enough to hold my interest.

After having guzzled a cup of coffee to also give me juice for the day, we touch down in Atlanta where I am to wait another hour and a half for my final flight to New Orleans. No one talks to me at this point, so I finally fight the display and get it working, and chat with people online.

The next flight is relatively uneventful and on time, so I just sit and enjoy this one. On both of these trips, well really all four, I have been placed in right-side aisle seats. This means I have difficulty engaging seatmates in discussion, since I can’t hear particularly well in my right ear. In the small talk I do manage on the way to the Big Easy, I ascertain that the person beside me is from Massachusetts and is visiting family.

“It may be kind of cold out there,” she says: “but I’ll still enjoy it!”

As we disembark, the flight attendant insists that I must try beignets and of course that other Louisiana thing: crawfish. An agent then shows up, whisks me into the airport, and since I’ve managed not to check a bag, straight out to where my party awaits.

I have come to see two individuals with whom I serve on the board of the Norrie Disease Association, mostly for the vacation and fun chatter that would ensue. They are both due to make the long trek to Australia, another place I would very much like to visit, at about the time that I return to the shop for work. The woman who is hosting me at her place actually resides in Lafayette, which is about as far from New Orleans as Charlotte is from Durham. I suppose I should have known this, but still end up feeling a bit bad for not flying straight into Lafayette. That choice does save me $100 at least, though.

Before beginning that drive, we stop at IHOP for a quick bite. I opt for a sausage, egg, and cheese sandwich and fries. They really give me two, and I can barely eat even one of them! This is only the beginning of my food consumption in that great state. I also have fun talking to the server in there who asks “what are you doing with that phone!” I think she was surprised at how I could even operate an iPhone. She is fun, funny, and cool, and keeps watching me for most of the time I am there.

On the road again, the guy and I in back start conversing about topics as wide-ranging as independence for blind folks, the pending big changes in the Norrie Disease Association, and what we want out of life in general. Eventually we start to drift off, and she turns on the radio probably to stave off the silence and keep going. After nearly 3 hours, we arrive at her place.

It is a comfortable little house with a 1-car garage. I am given a quick tour: shown where the two bathrooms, stairs, and the guestroom where I will sleep are located. I am then ushered to the little rocker where I immediately get comfortable, wrapping in an LSU blanket and enjoying the warmth of a fire. I quickly adopt this chair as “mine” during my stay there.

Not much happens until dinner, where I get to try crawfish for the first time. It is in a pie that they get from a place down the street called Pouparts French Bakery, kind of like a chicken pot pie type thing. There seems to be some other filling inside of it too: consisting primarily of the “trinity”: onions, bell pepper, and celery, and I enjoy it. I don’t notice much taste in the fish itself, but it might be hard to distinguish within that context. Accompanying that, we have a delicious salad. She accidentally gives me the one with Caesar (sp?) and he the ranch dressing, but I certainly don’t mind. It is delicious and full of flavor. There is also a potato covered in flecks of bacon and cheese. MMM.

And that just about wraps up Friday. As the weather turns gloomier, we opt to just stay inside and call it a night early. I am pretty tired, so take a bottle of water upstairs, crawl under the covers to catch some football on the phone, and soon enough give in to dreamland.

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