We had planned our February Royal Caribbean Cruise several months in advance and looking down the barrel of flu season, I got a flu shot in early December – my first ever. A week before the voyage, I began using hand sanitizer like I was avoiding the plague wherever I went around Annapolis – especially at work. Naturally, I caught some nasty bug – maybe the flu – two days before our departure. Such is life. Next time I’ll …
The day of our departure was unusually hectic. Inna and I both went to work. I tied up a million loose ends, left the required out of office replies on my phone and computer, and bugged out by noon. Then I ran over to my 92 year old Mother's house to make sure she was lashed firmly to the mast before heading home to finish packing, water the plants, and batten down the hatches.
My old friend Jimmy Martin picked us up after Inna got off work and we were on the road by 4:45. We hopped on Route 50 and immediately found ourselves stuck in I-97 traffic on the outskirts of town. It was the Friday "get out of Dodge" log jam on a Presidents holiday long weekend. Not a good start.
Our flight wasn't for another two hours so we turned up the radio, turned on the gallows humor, and focused our attention on the ominous line of black storm clouds looming on the western horizon. Snow was in the air and we were leaving town with little time to spare.
BWI Airport is the epitomy of efficiency and Southwest makes check-in as easy one, two, buckle my shoe. And after we put our shoes back on and the TSA folks were satisfied that my new hip that was repeatedly banging their metal detector gong was not a hidden bomb, we were happily downing Pacificos with some salsa chips and a salad at the Zona bar.
The Southwest flight to New Orleans was fully booked and I ended up crammed together with two other big men. And the two hour flight that I had anticipated turned out to be three when I realized that New Orleans is on Central Savings Time. Where does a lost hour go?
We landed in Nawlins by 9:15, trudged through the surprisingly tiny airport and happily discovered that our luggage was already waiting for us on the spinning carousel in the baggage area. We had heard that the Carnival Cruise to Hell had routed many of their passengers from Mobile to New Orleans, so we thought we might be dealing with the walking wounded, but they were nowhere in sight. Mardis Gras had ended the previous Fat Tuesday. The Baltimore Ravens had won the Super Bowl the week before and New Orleans airport was pretty much a dead zone, like the calm after a big storm.
We caught a cab/van for $16 with a big, friendly buck-toothed Cajun who talked endlessly about his dream of hauling big rigs to Baton Rouge and Plaquemines. My multi-tongued Russian wife Inna asked me later what language he was speaking. I had forgotten how sweet the halting inflection of the Bayou Patois lingo can be. But to Inna, it sounded vaguely retarded.
Our driver dropped us at the Travel Best Motel along the busy motel strip on Veterans Boulevard in Kenner, LA. It was snuggled next to the I-10 bridge on the edge of one of the airport runways. As he unloaded our bags, our driver said that the water line was 3-feet-high on our motel after Hurricane Katrina.
The Travel Best had seen its best days long before the big storm had pummeled the Crescent City. It was a sprawling, rundown motel complex with a leaf filled pool, battered palms, and tentative azaleas adorned with tiny purple and red flowers. The state high school wrestling turnament was in town and the place was filled with no neck youth running through the courtyard like big dogs. We were the only adults in the place and mischievous mayhem was in the air. But my blue Obama '08 baseball cap that I had picked up at the Inaugural festivities in D.C. a few weeks back was a big hit, so everything was cool.
Well, more like cold. See, it may have looked tropical, but it felt more like winter in Maryland. The temperature was hovering in the mid-40's and the wind was howling. Definitely not what we had expected. But then, the whole journey south had been filled with surprises.
In retrospect, it would have made more sense to fly to New Oreleans on Saturday morning and just catch a cab directly to the Royal Caribbean dock, thus saving money on a motel and rushing around after work.
But at least the Obama hat worked …