Sunday, October 11, 2009

Living large in NOLA

Heading to New Orleans.

This was my fourth trip to the Big Easy. Two of the previous ones were work-related and the third was for a friend's wedding. The wedding trip was a blast (what's more fun than being part of a police escort that is screwing up traffic across an entire city?), but the business trips have generally sucked. The first trip shouldn't really even count as my plane arrived just as the mayor called for a complete evacuation of the city. Funny thing about that trip is I wouldn't have made it out of the city again if it hadn't been for the bride in the aforementioned wedding (not to mention a pilot who considers FAA rules more of just guidelines, really...). It's a fascinating story involving grad school friends, little old ladies with guns, and the threat of death. I really should tell it to y'all sometime, but not tonight. Tonight's tale is about how Merriwether went to New Orleans and had a great time without involving police, rifles, or unlicensed flying.

I had actually not been looking forward to the trip. The conference was for the Society of Petroleum Engineers which, being a chemist, usually holds few presentations of interest for me. Add to this that I was giving a presentation on the last day claiming that I could make good engineers into amazingly great engineers by teaching them chemistry, but that this involved using very small, simple words seemed to put me on the black list of a lot of bad, mediocre, and average engineers. Oh well, at least such professionals are a whimpy, nonthreatening group of WoW-players and the such.

But I digress.

Luckily, there were also some chemical vendors there which means only one thing: FREE FOOD!!!
And oh my what food! Pecan crusted fish and $400 bottles of wine at the Commander's Palace, pan-fried buster crabs on a bed of sauteed spinach at Mr. B's Bistro, shrimp po'boys at The Creole Skillet, Hamburger Steak Lafayette at Mulates, etc... Of course, not every meal was with a vendor (though most days I squeezed in two lunches). Two blocks west of the Convention Center is a small place called Pie Pizza and Pasta. I highly recommend their carnivore pizza with shots of ouzo. Ask if the artist/actress waitress is there. We ended up talking for almost two hours...I really should have asked her name/told her mine. Oh well. Just say the really tall guy with white patches in his hair says "Hi".

Leaving Commander's Palace.

Hey, if we stand here long enough a streetcar will come by!

This is what they look like on the inside but you need $1.25 in exact change to get on.
It's worth it though because you get to see all sorts of freaky people...

Merriwether in a jacket and tie? Freaky!!!

Of course being relics of an earlier age, the streetcars go where people used to want to go which isn't always the same place as they want to go now. This meant we had to walk 5-6 blocks from the streetcar stop back to our hotel, which was a good thing because we went past the WWII Museum. It was closed but we were able to peer in through a window.

The hardware of war.

There was only one talk on Tuesday afternoon that I had to attend, so after it finished a co-worker (previously referred to as Dr. Zyme on this blog) and I headed off into the French Quarter for a few hours. He wanted to see the sights, I wanted to find a vintage safety razor.

Some random street.

Some random garden (of historical importance).

Some random building.

Some random river.

Jackson Square and the St. Louis Cathedral.

And not a single damn vintage safety razor in any of the antique shops or junk shops in the entire French Quarter!

As fun as New Orleans is during the day, the real action doesn't start until well after sundown. Watching the night flow over Bourbon St. is a heck of a trip, especially when you are loaded up on Southern Comfort and Ouzo.

One of only two family-friendly pictures from the night on Bourbon St. The other one is of me leaning against the wall of the pirate Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop & Bar seen in the previous post. It was a heck of a night...chatting about chemistry with a shaven-headed/multi-tattooed/randomly pierced lady in some hippy shop...discussing possible uses of inflatable dragons with a goth store clerk in a witchcraft shop...guarding the back of an Italian tourist as a very large, drunk bum tried to start a fight with him...teaching Dr. Zyme about the benefits (and dangers!) green Chartreuse...listening to incredible live music pouring from every bar...people watching the freaks, geeks, strippers, business men, hippies, bikers, preachers, and apparent space aliens that inhabit a night on Bourbon St.

Sidenote: as you head north on Bourbon St. eventually you'll run out of bars, strip clubs, and tacky tourist shops. Keep walking north even though the streets are now dark. After a few blocks you'll find Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop Bar. Go in and hang out for a while. It is the best damn bar on the planet!!!

So anyway, the next morning I dragged myself out of bed at 6:00am to pack everything up, have breakfast, then give my talk about making uber-engineers...only to discover my talk had been shifted from 8:30am to 1:30pm. This meant I was going to have to check out of the hotel before my talk, not after which meant I had to drive back to Houston in my fancy clothes. Grrr...
Of course, things didn't happen exactly that way. Due to lack of moderation of the speakers I didn't get on stage until almost 2:30pm and had only five minutes to give my 20-minute presentation.

I talked really, really fast. Considering there were only five people in the audience, of which two were riding back to Houston with me, one was the co-author of my presentation, one was the co-author's wife, and the last was a student hoping to hit me up for a job, this method of speaking was not a career-impacting display. Surviving mostly on sugar, caffeine, and aspirin I've mastered the art of speaking really, really fast yet clearly.

Well, no one has told me differently anyway.

Once the applause was done my two co-riders grabbed me and dragged me off to our vehicle (my wife's Honda Pilot for those who care) to make the long drive home.

They at least let me remove my jacket.
As I drove Dr. Zyme snapped pictures of interesting stuff.

The Louisiana Superdome.

One of several above-ground cemeteries.

Power lines crossing Lake Pontchartrain.

I rolled into our driveway around 10:30pm in the evening and unloaded my gear in a silent house. Misseswether and the Wethergirls were already asleep. My body felt like it was still in motion so I sat at the kitchen table and had a glass of milk, then went upstairs and laid down in bed. Misseswether shifted over in her sleep and wrapped herself around me without waking up.

Adventure! Excitement! Wild Times!


KrysTros said...

I am from about 45 minutes west of N.O. and now I am all homesick! I miss the food and all those "random" streets! Glad that you enjoyed it though!

Izzy G. said...

You're channeling your inner Izzy by rockin' the beard.

PS: What bag is that with the green strap?

J-Ro said...

I had totally forgotten about you and N'Awlins and Georges... you definitely need to tell that story sometime.

And yeah, I did have the absolute best wedding party on the planet...

You look very handsome in your tie and jacket - I'll bet you did some damage to some vendors and their entertainment budget though...

And I still love the goatee.


Merriwether said...

Izzy, that's the official bag of male members of Zombie Squad, a Maxpedition Jumbo Versipack. Being a lefty, I got the S-Type version.

It's sweet!

Christina E. Rodriguez said...

Blast, I'm sure there is an artist/actress waitress for you in EVERY city you visit for business...

Looks like it was a nice trip, lots of good food and drink. I'm jealous!

Merriwether said...


Nah, just New Orleans, Guangzhou, and Stillwater... ;-)