I love New Orleans on the installment plan. A week is plenty; more than that, and I would no doubt find myself permanently seduced by the city’s many temptations, ending up bivouacked in a fly-blown room in a no-name hotel along the Chef Menteur Highway, a shotgun across my knees and an army of urchins by my side while I stared at the door and whispered “the horror…the horror…” Then of course, the culinary temptations of the city are such that, should I stay much longer, I will be involuntarily assigned my own area code, 504.1, or some such.
I am presently in New Orleans for a legal seminar and a couple of film role auditions, but as always I come away from New Orleans with extraneous stories. I have two I will share. The first took place on Tuesday, when I introduced two friends of mine who had never previously met, despite living with five miles or so of each other in Baton Rouge for most of their lives. Doug Wolfolk is a former deputy secretary of state of Louisiana; Carl Causey is a builder, contractor, inventor, and the husband of author extraordinaire Toni McGee Causey. Carl is proof that a “ten” marries a “ten.” It is impossible to spend more than five minutes in Carl’s presence without 1) making a friend for life and 2) coming to the realization that he is one of the most brilliant minds on the planet. Carl’s company has been busy with a huge project in New Orleans at Southern Scrap. Southern Scrap is tucked into a far corner of the lower ninth ward. To call Southern Scrap a junkyard would be an over-simplification, erroneous, and all sorts of words to that effect. With Carl expertly behind the wheel, Doug and I bounced around in Carl’s jeep for well over an hour between and around mountains of cars, buses, and objects unknown, as they were crunched and bunched and then separated by metal class to be recycled and reused. I am not a tree hugger by any stretch of the imagination but I have hated to see things wasted since I was five years old; it was amazing to watch that which was old take the first steps to becoming new again. Any heavy duty product that you purchase in the next six to eight months made out of recycled materials will almost certainly contain something from Southern Scrap and have been in close proximity to Carl or his crew. While all of the reclamation was impressive, the author in me was also busy imagining climactic gun battles taking place as a protagonist and antagonist chased each other and dodged bullets until one or the other was fed into a grinder some fifty feet over the facility.
That wasn’t the end of the day, however. After lunch at a treasure of a diner named “Sammy’s” on Elysian Fields Avenue, where we tucked into shrimp po’boys (a po’boy is a sub sandwich big enough for three people) and gumbo, Carl drove us to Wilkinson Street in the French Quarter. Wilkinson is a short, two block stretch just above Jackson Square, an all-but-forgotten part of the Quarter which at this point is the wallflower to its more famous and attractive sisters with names like Bourbon and Royal. That state of affairs may change. Carl and Toni are in the process of transforming a long-vacant warehouse into their new home. Where Doug and I saw an abandoned building, Carl several months ago had seen a stunning three story residence which is on its way to becoming a masterpiece. I hope to give you an updated report next time I was there.
The other high point of the week took place on Wednesday when I had the privilege of meeting and having dinner with author Victoria Allman, a loyal Kill Zone reader and frequent commenter to this blog. Victoria very graciously drove from Biloxi to New Orleans to join me at my favorite establishment in New Orleans, a proud dive named The Saint Charles Tavern. Victoria, who is yacht chef renowned throughout the world has published two books — Sea Fare: A Chef’s Journey Across the Ocean and SEAsoned: A Chef’s Journey with Her Captain, detailing her exploits of a life as a chef and a captain’s wife at sea, as well as dozens of her recipes — has not let her culinary talents transform her into food snob. She gamely ate the house specialty — a boudin ball po’boy — as a sat amazed at her ability to do so without spilling a drop. I cannot eat a meal in New Orleans without wearing some portion of it; Victoria finished hers without the trace of a mishap, all the while brightening the dim and dingy bar with her smile and presence while she listened to my interminable stories while actually convincing me that she was interested. Her tales are much more fascinating than mine, but you will have to buy and read her books (a third will be published next year) to discover that for yourself. The evening ended all too quickly but we will hopefully meet again soon, next time with Captain and husband Patrick present as well.
I have another thirty-six or so hours to go in town (assuming I don’t go all Colonel Kurtz, and my wife sends John Miller down here after me) at which point I will return home for a few days before leaving for Bouchercon! More later. In the meantime: would you each and all please share a travel story?