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Sunday, November 28, 2010

If it's lunchtime, it's Louisiana

I didn't think I would mention the late, great Alfred Hitchcock again, either sooner or later, but I believe we stumbled across the hotel which was the inspiration for the set of the thriller, 'Psycho'. 

We decided on Friday morning that we would take a last minute weekend break and take in another state.  Louisiana.  We decided against New Orleans as Baton Rouge was nearer and, as we planned to go for lunch and return back to the Texan border, the extra two and a half to three hours of travelling would have made our day considerably longer so our time in New Orleans wouldn't have been as leisurely as in the Capital city.

After walking the dog (Samantha was shopping all night....and morning  - black Friday, the day after thanksgiving, shops open from midnight onward), and enjoying a cup of coffee with some french toast made with homemade bread of course, (Dana had jalapeno and I had Cinnamon raisin), I called my mum and Dana checked online for somewhere to stay.  There were a few choices, each one with breakfast included, and he chose the one closest to the border.  I then packed the essentials, which included all the battery chargers for phones, cameras, toothbrushes etc, and we were on the road by 1pm.
An hour down the road we decided to stop at a Chinese buffet for lunch, which was more than we intended to eat, but we were unsure of when or what would be available to eat In Orange, Texas, where we planned to spend Friday night.  With a stop just prior to Houston at a McDonalds for a smoothie and soda, we arrived at our destination at about six o'clock.

We drove to the main reception area of the Motel 6 (yes, you know what is coming), which looked very bright, clean and rather plush.  It had a spa and a swimming pool and hot breakfast was promised.  I stayed in the car while Dana checked in.  It seemed that the process was taking longer than usual, and I was just about to get out of the car to check he had not been abducted (who said I am paranoid?), when Dana appeared with a very large smile on his face.  There had been some confusion with names, addresses and credit cards.  Our booking had been put to another name and address but they were going to give us the better room at the lower rate. 

We entered the room and my first duty was to remove the wetwipes from the case. Not really taking much notice of the surrounds, I went into auto pilot and started to wipe the sink and toilet.  I went back into the main room to get some more wipes.  It was at this point that, for the second time in two days, I heard that sound again.  The one where Anthony Hopkins enters the bathroom!  I have no idea what the 'other' resident walked into if we had taken the 'better room'.  The floor had not been vaccuumed and there was a dead bug on the floor.  The fact it was not a cockroach but a beetle really had very little consolation impact.  Deciding to keep my socks on and glad that I had brought my sandals, I went back into the bathroom to continue cleaning.  We decided against moving rooms as the sheets were clean and we were, to be perfectly honest, concerned that two packs of wet wipes may not be enough for another room, and I would just have to keep my shoes on!  The bathroom took slightly longer to clean as housekeeping obviously never shut the door to see what is behind and the cobwebs were not too thick.  The bath was clean as were the towels and counter tops, so it was assumed that the chambermaid was either very tall, had a back problem, or just had an aversion to looking down.

The air conditioning was on despite the overnight low being predicted as below freezing, so we turned it off.  It seemed a pretty simple heating device.  The options were 'high', 'low' and 'off'.  I pushed the 'off' button and after a minute, it went 'off'.
After checking online for a restaurant, we opted for Gary's Cafe which was just across the car park on the frontage road.  We walked from our point zero zero star hotel to the cafe which was reported to have the best burgers in town.  Hitchcock appeared in cameo this time, but not because of the scare factor.  We had stepped back in time approximately sixty years.  The cafe had red leather bar stools, wooden tables  and waitresses that would not have looked out of place wearing bobby socks.  Our waitress's nails were painted in what would, I am sure, have been called nothing but, 'black', in the 50's. Two men got up to leave as we arrived, which left only 'Miss Soinya', who was waiting in a corner booth. with her daughters. for her husband to pay the bill, and attempt to grab a very badly made stuffed animal from the machine in the corner.  Once the bill was paid Miss Soinya and her two teenage daughters, all of whom were already dressed for bed, left the cafe with a promise to return soon, and swapped places with a couple who were also, like us, not known in town.  Lisa, who had already asked if I wanted some more 'carfee, baby', took the couples order which she repeated back to them with great enthusiasm.  It would appear that the 'paddy may'elt' was an excellent choice.  Dana's vegetable soup, which had more beef than veggie, arrived and was very good, as was his burger, my eggs, hashbrowns and toast.  More coffee was poured by Lisa, as our waitress had either run away, retired or simply faded away into the time void, perhaps to reappear in the future and have her nails repainted in a colour now called licorice! 

Lisa, who was now running the entire cafe, exited into the kitchen and re-entered with the other couples' dinner.  Her patty melt apparently looked very good, although I thought it was hard to tell as it was topped with a rather large portion of onion rings.  His dinner appeared to be something smothered in white gravy.  It would appear that all was well as they tucked in and finished in two swishes of Lisa's pony tail, and were gone before our next cup of 'carfee' was poured.  Having put off the inevitable return to Bates Motel for long enough, we went to pay our bill.  Lisa smiled and then giggled, 'where y'all fru'um' she asked.  (Lisa could turn any one syllable word into a twosy, or is that t'oo'see.)  Dana replied that he was from Austin, and I was, originally, from North West London.  Lisa's smile got wider as she squealed, 'Your accent is gorgeous!  And you are, inside an' out, baybee!'  Delighted at what I assumed was a compliment, I said that I worked hard at keeping it.  'Don't you be goin' all Texan on us', she added.  It was at this point that Dana said that I had, on a couple of occasions, caught myself, with horror, saying, 'Y'all'.  'PRESHUS!' Lisa screamed and as we walked out of the cafe she made us promise we would 'all' take care!

Walking back across the car park, we heard what sounded like a very large dog, who was, it would appear, kept in a twenty foot square shed.  It seemed a strange place to keep a dog, but perhaps he was there to take care of complaining guests, so we hurried past and into the motel.  We watched Oregon beat Arizona in College football and decided to call it a night.  I turned out the light and laid down.  Suddenly, a red light started to flash.  It was the hairdryer appliance.  On, off, on, off it went.  Then stayed on, then flashed again.  Jumping out of bed, into my flip flops, I pulled the plug on the hairdryer.  Surely now I could go to sleep and dream of something other than this house of horrors.  Not so.  We both jumped up when the air conditioning fan started up at full throttle.  Into my flip flops again, I sped to the unit, and saw the light was on the 'off' button.  Obviously, in this part of the world, 'off' means, 'intermittent' or 'maybe'.  Finally, around 1.30, I dozed off, being woken by various noises throughout the night, all of which were presumably left from the 'fun fest at halloween' theme that this motel obviously conducted.

Fortunately, we did manage to get some rest and after a quick shower, headed for the reception to partake of our promised 'hot' breakfast.  The 'hot' part was a bowl of bubbling white-'ish' gravy, ready to go on the doughy biscuits which were with the bread and bagels, next to the toaster.  We both had a bowl of Cheerios, a cup of coffee and orange juice (not mixed) and a bagel with cream cheese.  Having thrown away our paper plates and coffee cups, we headed for the car and I drove us across the Sabine River into the State of Louisiana.  Out of the car I hopped at the sign and Dana, ready with the camera, waited for me to pose.  We were still on the bridge and the traffic was rather heavy.  Each truck that hurtled across made the bridge shake.  Phobia check.  I don't like bridges.  I don't like any structure that goes across water that could give way at anytime, thus plunging me into the deep cold depths of rivers, seas or any other expanse of ocean like substance.  Of course, every bridge I cross is naturally going to suddenly develop a weak spot and my painful death is imminent.  Paranoid? Me? Heck yes!  As Dana attempted to take pictures, I started to walk very slowly back to the car so that I could prevent a disaster by driving to dry land. 

We visited the 'Welcome Center', and the staff, who asked, 'Where y'all from', were given the same reply as was given to Lisa.  They were reasonably enamoured but not as excited.  We were on our way to have lunch in Baton Rouge on the Mississippi River.  I explained that when I was a young girl at school, I heard about places in my geography lessons, a lot of which I thought would be wonderful to visit, but thought the possibility only to be a dream.  The Mississippi River was something I longed to see, but at the age of 10, resigned myself to the fact it would never happen, just as when I was eight years old and saw the news about a new theme park called Disney World, in Florida, did I sadly believe I would never get the opportunity to walk down Main Street.  The ladies behind the desk drunk in every word and when Dana told them I was in a competition with Samantha to gain States, and I told them that she had decided it was no longer a competition...since I was winning...I was handed a Louisiana 'pin' to prove I had, indeed, collected my 14th state.  They told us to visit the 'Love's gas station', at Junction 7, as they had lots of fridge magnets (we are collecting the magnets in the shape of the states, of the states we visit, to make up the whole map of the USA...we hope) and other things of interest.

The gas station did, indeed, have a magnet in the shape of the state, but very little else.  It didn't have a battery for my camera, which I had noticed was empty.  Despite packing every type of charger that man requires for the electronic devices needed for a road trip, I had failed to use them.  I am usually all charged and raring to go but my mind had been preoccupied with avoiding contracting tetanus in the hammer house of horror, and rabies from the hound from the Baskevilles.  The man at the counter suggested we try a Walmart.  Oh the joy of hearing the word Walmart.  No matter where you go, or how authentic you wish your trip to be, there is a certain comfort in knowing you are never far from a Walmart store. 

I drove on to Lake Charles and held the car very steady as we started to climb the bridge which has a vertical clearance of 135 feet, and climbs as steep as any roller coaster and then declines at the same angle.  I didn't scream, nor hyperventilate, too much, and the views were amazing. Well worth the ride! A few miles down the road and we saw the familiar sign.  Walmart did not have the battery for my camera, nor did they have a charger for the car, but they did have some nail clippers for Dana and, attempting to avert me suffering a nervous breakdown, a suggestion.  Radio Shack had a universal car charger which put me out of my misery and into joy once again.  After all, how could I have lunch on the Mississippi River without taking pictures.  How could I let the event pass without sending pictures to EVERYONE on my blackberry messenger list and let them know where I was, whether they were interested or not!

Our journey continued, with Dana taking the wheel as we headed for the Atchafalaya Bridge.  It's correct name is the Atchafalaya Swamp Freeway, or as I like to call it, the Anaphylactic Freeway, as I was bound to go into shock!  Eighteen miles of road, on stilts, over the Atchafalaya Swamp.  Eighteen miles of holding my breath, trying to take pictures without swaying from self induced vertigo, and in the middle, there is a Visitors Center!  Of course we stopped!  Where else could you see models of Alligator snapping turtles!

Back on safe land, we drove on and tackled one more bridge which took us into Baton Rouge.  Having heard there was a wharf with a variety of wonderful restaurants, we were rather surprised not to find anywhere open.  It was like a ghost town.  We drove passed the Capital Building, and Bobby's House, (that would be 'Bobby' Jindal, Governor of Louisiana, who's face was constantly on our telly during the BP crisis)  and managed to find a number of non locals who had no idea where any open restaurants could be found.  Eventually, a couple from Lafayette recommended the Hollywood Casino.  It had the best buffet.  Of course, if we didn't want a buffet, there were many other Casinos that had great food.  Well, when in Rome as the saying goes!!!

The meal was great.  We didn't see a single slot machine, as the Casino was 'out back' but the food variety was amazing and there was international as well as local cuisine available.  And desserts....heaven!!

I filled my camera with scenes from the sides of the Mississippi River and sent my friends snaps of the sun glistening on the water.  We left the Casino and walked along the 'front' and took more snaps and finally left to negotiate the bridges.  We arrived back in Texas at around 7pm and at the unvaccuumed, uncleaned room a few minutes later.  At least the bed had been made.  

Having driven a few hundred miles, we opted to have a snack at Gary's.  Lisa was still working, and as bright and chirpy as the night before.  Our waitress this time was not.  A different woman, with the troubles of the world on her shoulders, reluctantly took our order as a young blond girl took a seat over the other side of the room, soon to be accompanied by a man who looked like a stereotypical villain in a gangster film.  Looking as if he had just escaped from prison, he smiled a toothless grin as he walked past our table and Lisa took their order.  Being a creature of observation, (or just incredibly nosey) I deduced, from not too quiet conversations at the other end of the cafe, the man was in fact the ex-boyfriend of our waitress and he had brought his new fancy woman into the cafe for dinner.  The cliche, 'if looks could kill' was never more apt!  We left before the showdown and walked past the wolfhound to the entrance to our, thankfully, temporary residence.
We managed to sleep through the night with a minimum of disturbance and went to enjoy our breakfast, with the gray-vy being exchanged for waffles. (Don't get exited...they were thin waffley bits of cardboard that needed toasting)  Cereal, bagel and coffee consumed, we headed back to the room, gathered out belongings and checked out, heading back towards Louisiana so I could have my picture taken by the Texas sign, which I had not yet achieved.  We went into the Texas Center and bravely I walked along the deck which had been constructed over yet another swamp. 

I drove back from Orange, Texas, negotiated the Houston Spaghetti Junction with no problem and with just a short pause for lunch at a truck stop for steak and eggs, in Sealy, we arrived home, in Austin, at about three thirty.  It was truly a wonderful trip.  One to equal that of our trip to South Dakota (on which subject I will write) and another wish on the list ticked.  Dana went to the office to check the post so that we wouldn't have any major surprises in the morning, and I went with Samantha and Holly to the Iron Bridge, about three or four miles from our house, to take some pictures of the river.  The trip up the rocky path to a height that is higher than the tower of babel and with no 'sides' to stop me falling off, is.....another story.

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