Waffle House, Chick-Fil-A, and $2.99 Gasoline

Today is a travel day, the last long one of the trip. We’re making the journey all the way from Mobile Alabama to Charlestown North Carolina, a 10 to 12 hour journey. It feels good to cross so many states in a day.

To balance out our expenses, we chose to stay in a Days Inn. At about 50 bucks a night, we felt it was a slight upgrade from Motel 6, yet not as lavish as the Holiday Inn, which averages around 100 a night. I’m not sure whether this particular Days Inn was a bad egg, or whether we were just spoiled by the last few hotels, but I felt a “creep factor” that made staying there uncomfortable. I could go into the details, but suffice it to say it wasn’t pretty. Key words: old bubble-tron tv, no bath towels, really old bed spread, paint-speckled florescent bath lighting, and door propped open upon arrival.

We tried to sleep in, but were awoken by the sound of gas powered leaf blowers and weed wackers. Ahh. Just like home, only this crew was definitely not mexican in ethnicity like the LA crew was.

Our eating schedule is way off at this point, in part due to the slowly shifting timezone changes. So we’re trying to eat when we’re hungry, not when we “should” eat based on the time of day. It was one of those eatin’ times, and so we stopped at our first “Waffle House” — the greasy spoon dinner of the south. Waffle Houses are e v e r y w h e r e you go; If you close your eyes and walk in any particular direction, you’re bound to hit one eventually.

TheRose and I both got the waffle and egg combo: scrambled and with blueberries mixed in. $5.95 a person — what a deal! And I must say, it was one of the better waffles I’ve had. While not a Belgian, it was a very close second. We also throughly enjoyed the lesson we received in southern speaking. Our waitress spoke with a thick Alabama accent, as did the rest of the crew. And they were going on and on about some bar that “Jess” (our waitress) was going to, and whether she should wear a skirt when she went to that “mixed race bar”, and how she didn’t want to be abducted (!). It was all in good fun — a very casual silly conversation — and we found ourselves using the phrases we heard to practice our southern accent for the next several hours of the drive.

There was little fanfare when we crossed from AL to GA. No big sign or welcome center like what Texas and California has. That might be because it all looks the same: wide open highways lined with thick, lush forest on each side. Occasionally there will be a bridge that spans over a vast river. But for the most part it’s all tall trees and blue skies.

Our little Nissan Versa is doing well; we’re averaging around 28 MPG. We would get more, but we’ve been having some very strong winds that push the car back and forth in the lane quite fiercely! We’re also averaging about 80MPH, a speed that forces this little car to downshift when going up even the smallest hill. (TheRose adds: “It’s only when you’re driving…”)

Ever since New Mexico, we’ve been watching the gas prices go down. First it was 3.60, then 3.40, then 3.25 in Texas! When we saw 3.05, we took a picture, because we figured it couldn’t get any lower. But then… it happened. In a town just outside of New Orleans, we filled up our car at the amazing price of 2.99!!! It’s hard to believe that gas prices are going down, especially with all of the world turmoil and trouble with the European economy….. not to mention the fact that it’s an election year. But, we’re happy about it nonetheless.

At about 3pm we decided we should eat something, even though we weren’t really that hungry. We stopped in a Chick-Fil-A to see what all the buzz was about. We ordered 2 original sandwiches, and I must say, it was very very good. I proclaim that Chick-Fil-A is the “In-N-Out” of the South! We’ll certainly be having it again before we get too far north.

As I type, we’re driving near Atlanta right now, heading east on I285 which goes around the city just like route 128 does around Boston. Next stop: Augusta GA, followed by Charlestown NC!



“Huge Ass Beers”

Went to Bourbon Street after we unloaded all our luggage in our room. We found a deal on Hotwire that listed a “4-star hotel” for less then $100. Since most of the budget hotels in the area were booked, we’re like, “Sure, why not?” The view was fantastic, and we got a king bed out of it. The bed was better than our last bed. No backaches in the morning!

Onto Bourbon Street. It was Saturday night. It’s the best time to get a feel and find out all the hype–and let me tell you, it definitely was crazy. Wow, I can’t imagine surviving here during Mardi Gras. I will get trampled, or strangled by falling beads. Death by beads. The husband was all about the mixed drink called Hurricane. But, we couldn’t find a bar that seemed like a good spot for a Hurricane. Instead, we went to a bar where they were advertising a drink called Grenades. I forgot what the slogan was, but it was something along the lines of, “These will fuck you up.” [Excuse the French.]

We bought one for each of us. Then, kept walking down the busy street, sipping our neon green concoction. I was overwhelmed by the scene. Really. It’s like going to the Gaslamp District in San Diego, times 100. There was even a couple of things there where I was like, “THAT’S LEGAL?!” Anyway, the husband sipped his drink faster than I did, so he felt the alcohol before I did. It wasn’t a good feeling. It was not a buzz, it was a “oh, I feel sick.” Bourbon Street was also smelly. It smelled of puke and horse poop, among other things. So, that didn’t help. On our way back to our hotel, we saw the horses.

The next morning, the “grenade” effect was launched in our hotel room. Specifically, in the bathroom. Need I say more?

So, a warning to anybody who goes to Bourbon Street: don’t get the grenades, it’s not the grenade you’re looking for.


Gators Love Marshmallows!

TheRose and I decided to spend a full day in New Orleans. While super hot and humid, it’s  the most beauiful place we’ve seen in a while — there’s only so much desert one can admire. (Ohhh look! More mountains! … )

Today we ate lunch at the semi-famous ACME Oyster House in the French Quarter.  While neither one of us got the Oysters, we did very much enjoy our food.  TheRose got E-Two-Fey (or however it’s spelled) and I got a good ol’ fashion shrimp poboy.  And man – it was actually good!   Good bread, fresh shrimp, and just the right amount of lettuce, tomato, and mayo to make it work.

After, we drove out to the Bayou for a Cajun swamp tour, which ended up being fantastic.  We managed to get the best tour guide in the group: a grossly overweight 60 year old man of true Cajun blood.  Effortlessly he drove our little boat around the Bayou looking for wildlife…and especially alligators… all while telling entertaining stories like an old grampa.

We ran into about 10 different gators on the 2 hour trip, all of different sizes and personalities. The biggest one was about 10 feet. And the smallest? Well, he surprised us with a baby gator that he was keeping in a cooler right by April’s feet.  He just reached down and pulled out a 2 foot long baby and began to pass it around the boat, allowing people to take pictures with it.  SWEET.  Unfortunately, I was using my “big camera” for this trip, and so we don’t have any photos on our phones to post.  But needless to say, I think I have a few 2013 Calendar candidates…

When we encountered a larger gator, our guide threw it marshmallows.  They float, can be seen clearly over the dark green water, and for whatever reason, the gators love em’!  They also love hot dogs.  Our guide would put one on a stick and then get the gators to jump out of the water to grab it — right beside the boat!  Scary cool….and great picture material!

Interesting tid-bit:  you can now hunt Alligators in controlled quantities… AND you can eat them.  The place we’re going to tonight has Alligator on the menu and we’re itching to try it (per the recommendation of our guide).

Anyway – highly recommend this tour. It was only 25 bucks a person … 35 with tip. And we learned quite a lot about the bayou, gators, and… our guide.

For the google web crawler…   GO CAJUN SWAMP TOURS!


Held It In the AM, Ate It In the PM

Went on a Louisiana swamp tour. Our Cajun tour guide said if we wanted to try alligator, we should go to Huck Finn’s Cafe in New Orleans, and order their Alligator Sauce Piquante dish. So, I made a mental note of that while I caressed his pet baby alligator.

Later, after the tour, I convinced Montego to try alligator. So, off we go to Huck Finn’s. Montego ordered a shrimp po’ boy, he was on a shrimp fix. I scanned their menu, searching for one keyword: alligator. Surprisingly, there were several alligator offerings on the menu. My indecision (and, admittedly, slight fear) drove me to order the Gator Platter: alligator served as a sausage, in sauce piquante, and blackened. If I didn’t like one preparation, then I at least had others to fill me. I ignored the odds that I might not like all three preparations. I ended up wishing I had just listened to our Cajun tour guide and ordered the Alligator Sauce Piquante. The blackened preparation was chewy. And, eating sausage can only stay so appetizing. So, what I did was dump all the blackened pieces into the small bowl of sauce piquante to make it more enjoyable. People are right, alligator does taste like chicken. Based on the blackened preparation, alligator has the meat consistency of pork and flavor of chicken. Montego helped me finish the sausage. I couldn’t finish all that. The sausage was like eating a turkey sausage. No flavor revelations. The alligator was satisfying, but I don’t see myself craving after it.

I also checked in on Foursquare, so we scored free beignets and had them boxed up. We passed by a homeless dude on the way to the car, so Montego gave him our beignets.

Honey Island Gator Platter

Shrimp Po’ Boy


Giggling Like A Schoolgirl

Had a late check-out at the [almost] 2-month old Holiday Inn, located at Truth or Consequences, NM. First of all, what the heck kind of town name is that? Truth or Consequences? I imagine this town used to be some rebel settlement where you had gunslingers duking it out on Date Street (one of the main streets in the tiny town). I suppose, with a name like this, you can let your imagination run wild.

The Holiday Inn Express itself was super new. I bet our room had been previously occupied only once–if at all! Everything was excellent. One criticism I do have is their decision to stick the coffee maker on the bathroom counter, directly next to the toilet. Gross. This new hotel is also the tallest hotel in the entire town, with three floors. That’s how tiny this place was.

After taking advantage of the late check-out, we headed out to Hatch, New Mexico. The chile capital of the country. Can’t cite reputable sources where this claim is made, but I believe Anthony Bourdain has said this. If you watch his show “No Reservations,” he visits this restaurant called Peppy’s Pot (now renamed to Pepper Pot). In the show, he orders the enchiladas, half green chile and half red chile. I did the same thing, except I added chicken in the mix. It was damn good. Bourdain concluded that he liked the red chile more, while I ended falling for the green chile. But, to put it in perspective, liking one chile over another is all about preference. Both chile sauces are excellent. Very rich and distinct flavors, with a lot of depth in it. I have a bias towards green chiles anyway (hence, my inclination to cook chicken chile verde for leftover chicken), so my preference did not come as a surprise.

The reason for the title of this post has to do with the fact that I was starstruck as soon as we pulled over in front of the restaurant. I don’t get starstruck easily. Not sure if it’s my Los Angeles upbringing, but that’s how I roll. Anyway, I had been anticipating this visit since I was able to take my mind off school. As soon as we walked in, I could instantly point out where Tony Bourdain and his crew sat. And, to my excitement, I saw one of the two sisters (the owners) out on the floor talking to customers. Holy shit. I figuratively peed in my pants.

We ate, we now understood the hype. Robin also preferred the green chile sauce, and jointly concluded that it was worth the stop. I had anxiety about talking to one of the owners, but Robin ultimately convinced me to go for it. So, I pestered the waitress (who I surmised was one of the daughters of the owners, and future heir of the secret recipes) to talk to one of them. Mensa, I believe her name was, came out looking confused and I sputtered out, “Hi, we came out here from LA–we saw you on TV–we are such big fans–can I take a picture?” I don’t think I said one complete sentence to the lady. So, Robin took a picture, we shook hands some more, promised to come back again, and we were off. On the way to door, my knees buckled, and I started giggling. I looked like someone who was high on marijuana.

Good times.


New Mexico is not “Shady”

I realized something this morning as I walked outside the climate controlled Holiday Inn into the dry 95 degree heat at 10am:  There isn’t any natural shade in Truth or Consequences, or in most of the Southwest.   Sure, this seems like an obvious observation, but I’m slow sometimes, ok?

When you do find shade under a building entrance way or under the infrastructure of a gas station the heat isn’t bad at all. There’s usually a strong desert breeze going through and the dry air just makes you want to grab an Arnold Palmer and sit in a lounge chair, watching the spectacular clouds roll by.

But other than that, the short desert shrubs and cacti really don’t reach high enough to provide any protection from the strong sun.

I also realized as I walked downstairs this morning that the “Free Breakfast” ends at 9:30 AM.


Truth or Consequence, NM

Yes, the town name is “Truth or Consequence,” and we’re staying in the Truth or Consequence Holiday Inn Express, a brand-spankin’-new hotel in a very small and run down town.

The hotel is beautiful, and a good value at 99/night.

On our way down to ToC from Santa Fe, we drove through a spectacular thunder storm, with lightning flashing all around us, constantly. Quite impressive — lightning as far as the eye can see.  We also caught a beautiful New Mexico sunset along the way.  Both are natural wonders that are really hard to capture with a camera, although we certainly tried and tried! (Long drive…what else were we to do?)

Tomorrow we head south about 1 hour to a restaurant that’s on April’s list (for lunch), and then we start a 10 hour trek to Austin, TX.  Good bye, New Mexico!