Sunday, August 31, 2008

Day 30: Eye of the Storm

Don't believe the lies.
Fast Food Report: Whataburger
This name is very much a misnomer. I'd suggest a more appropriate label such as Whatadisappointment, or Whatacrappyburger. Really, with a name like Whataburger, I was expecting a reaction along the lines of "Wow! What a burger!" after taking a bite. Instead, my initial thought was "Wow...what is this, a burger?". Come on people, either bring your A game or change the name.

Thanks for all of the concerned words and comments about avoiding New Orleans until after the hurricane or all together and what have you; unfortunately I received most of them either when I was already there, or after I left. Go figure.

After my last post, I hadn't made up my mind yet whether or not to attempt New Orleans. In order to put off the decision even longer, on a whim I walked into a movie theater that happened to be next to the Starbucks I had breakfast in and watched Babylon AD. My general rule of thumb is that anything with Vin Diesel in it can't be bad. I was mostly right (it was at least a fun couple hours).

In the end I decided that I couldn't skip New Orleans, I had come far too close to just go around it. My argument was that Gustav wasn't predicted to make landfall until late Monday or early Tuesday, and it being Friday I had plenty of time to stay one night, then continue on my way west. With this in mind, I booked a motel (all the hostels were unfortunately full) and started the journey south.

As I approached the city, I began to notice an marked increase in the number of cars traveling in the opposite direction. I figured they were just being overly safe. Then I saw a couple of nursing home buses, then a couple prison buses, followed by thousands of cars. This made me slightly concerned, a feeling that intensified as the northbound traffic became a traffic jam while my southbound side contained only a handful of cars.

In the end, this concern really wasn't necessary. I found my motel easy enough, checked in and checked out what to do while in town. Since it was getting on in the afternoon, most of the outdoor activities and places to see were falling off my list of possibilities; which really just left Bourbon Street.

I was keeping a careful eye on the news the entire time I was in my room. I learned that I was situated in Jefferson parish, which hadn't evacuated yet (luckily), but was planned for the next day at 4 pm. The cars I had seen on the freeway were most likely from one of the neighboring parishes that had already ordered a voluntary evacuation, to be followed soon by mandatory evacuations. Nothing I need to worry about until tomorrow, I thought.

Something for everyone.
Armed with my camera and an appetite for decadence, I parked downtown and walked towards the French Quarter. Of the places hit by Katrina, the French Quarter actually came out alright, being set on slightly higher ground (read: not below sea level); and of course, was quickly restored afterwards as it is a large tourist attraction. For those who haven't been, the French Quarter is really only a handful of city blocks, about seven blocks from the river back and ten blocks or so long. But packed in that small area is an amazing variety of activities, restaurants, galleries, cheap shops, expensive shops, and much more.

Not pictured: the old guy dancing.
Unfortunately it seems the threat of hurricane scared off some of the possible patrons, although there was still a fair amount of people roaming the streets. I walked up and down taking it all in before I settled on a place to get some food, the Cajun Cabin (I suspect most of the places on Bourbon Street aren't particularly "authentic", but they had live music and decent prices). I ordered a Catfish Po-boy, which is really just a fried piece of catfish (which was interesting in itself as I had never had catfish) on a type of french bread common in New Orleans. It was decent, although not in anyway amazing, and the "local" beer I had was also pretty average. It wasn't all mediocre, though; the music was pretty fun and the atmosphere fairly friendly.

I finished up and headed out, camera in hand, ready to begin capturing the nightlife. By this time it was after 9 pm, so things were beginning to get slightly more enlivened, although I imagine no where near a typical Friday night. Many bars and restaurants had live bands playing and every now and then I would stop and listen for a while. As I headed down river, I entered the section of the street that hosts most of the gay bars and clubs. In addition, the street began to become more crowded and lively. It was a really fun atmosphere, and I can imagine that if I was gay and if I could dance, I would have been in heaven.

Pure Decadence.
Here's the thing I've learned about myself on this trip: I have an uncanny ability to arrive in places during scheduled events that I had no previous knowledge about. Sturgis in South Dakota, Bike night on Beale Street, and now Southern Decadence in New Orleans. For those who are unfamiliar with Southern Decadence, as I was, it is a week long gay event held annually in New Orleans culminating in a parade the Sunday before Labor Day. It seconds only Mardi Gras in size and economic impact on the area, and causes much less damage and litter.

I found out this little fact when I stopped into a jazz bar along Bourbon Street. The seating hostess sat me at the bar, and I ordered an Abita. When I received my drink, the man next to me glanced over and raised his glass; "To decadence," he said. I cheered him and took a drink, thinking we were drinking to the general philosophy of being degenerate. On the TV in the corner was a news channel with constant Gustav updates. I exchanged some words with my friend next to me about the coming hurricane, and the planned evacuations and such.

"We ended up changing our flight from Monday to Sunday," he told me, as he put his arm around the man next to him.
"Yeah that's a good idea," I replied, "since this thing is supposed to really hit around Monday."
"Really unfortunate timing, with Decadence and all."
I gave him my patented slightly confused look, the one where I raise my right eyebrow just a little bit and cock my head to the side.
"Southern Decadence?"
I shrug my shoulders.
"Are you gay or straight?" he asks me.
"Straight." I reply.

He went on to explain to me about Decadence and why I probably saw a lot of men walking around shirtless on the street. I just figured it had been because it was so hot and humid.

It turns out that he and his partner were from San Jose and had just flown out for the festival. They had planned to come in 2005, but Katrina kind of put an end to that. Three years later they decided to come back, and here was Gustav barreling down on the city. Go figure, he says.

And people bring their kids here...
I stayed for a while, had a good conversation with Jim from San Jose, drank some alright beer, and listened to some seriously decent jazz. Eventually they left; I finished my own beer and hit the streets again. I walked around a little longer, snapping some more pictures, before deciding to call it a night. New Orleans is fun and has a really great atmosphere, but it really seems like the kind of place you come with a group of friends. Next bachelor party guys, forget Vegas.

In the morning I pack up and check out. Planning for the next few days, I decided it would probably be best not to head to Corpus Christi (which was next on my initial route) since it was also on the gulf coast. Instead, I booked myself a motel in Houston for the night, Houston being about five hours from New Orleans, and on the way to Austin.

I was beginning to see the effects of the imminent evacuation. I went to Wal-Mart to grab some fruit for breakfast; the place was mobbed. Businesses had begun covering their windows with ply-wood, many already closed. I finally got what I needed, filled up with gas, and promptly joined the parking lot that was I-10. Thankfully, most people were heading north, so when the intersection for I-55 came, I-10 mostly cleared up.

Here is a summary of the rest of my day: a drive that should have taken, at worst six hours, took me in excess of eleven. Eleven hours of driving (if you can call going an average of 2 mph for 20 miles driving). The worst came only 70 miles outside of Houston.

A few things of note that came from this drive:
  • I have decided to hold a press conference when I return to Oregon. The topic will be ocean temperatures, and will go something like this:
    "Hello and thank you for coming to this press conference. I have called you all here to inform you that yes, it is possible for ocean waters to NOT be frigid year round. In fact, the water at a beach can be quite pleasant, almost enjoyable. That is all, thank you for your time."
    At one point along I-10, I was only 12 miles from a gulf coast beach (thank you road signs). I had to test it out. It was awesome, definitely worth the bug bites I sustained enjoying the retreating sun while standing ankle deep in murky warm water.
  • I seem to always make the wrong decision when it comes to traffic. Change lanes at the wrong times, decide against taking this or that exit, decide in favor of taking this alternate route. Nearly without fail, every tactic I tried to employ to fight the jam just made my situation worse.
  • A sample of activities I engaged in while trying to pass the time stuck 50 miles from Houston: listening to my radio scan the AM stations...twice (I thought maybe I had missed something interesting the first time around; for those curious, I didn't), finishing off my collection of Science Friday podcasts, listening to American Idiot in its entirety, looking in the windows of cars that passed trying to make eye contact, dusting my car interior, attempting to drink a half gallon of water without messing myself, writing this blog entry in my head.
I finally arrived at my motel around 12:45 am. Thankfully they hadn't rented it out to someone else. Today I plan on heading over to Austin and staying for two nights. I have encountered a slight problem, however. My inability to plan more than one day in advance has caused me to have no where to stay tonight yet (tomorrow I'm covered). Yet again, this hurricane is foiling my plans to have an enjoyable time. I suspect this won't be my last confrontation with Gustav.

I close with an email from concerning the nomination of Sarah Palin as John McCain's running mate. It says what I'd like to say, and with references to boot. Please read it and pass it on.

Dear MoveOn member,

Yesterday was John McCain's 72nd birthday. If elected, he'd be the oldest president ever inaugurated. And after months of slamming Barack Obama for "inexperience," here's who John McCain has chosen to be one heartbeat away from the presidency: a right-wing religious conservative with no foreign policy experience, who until recently was mayor of a town of 9,000 people.


Who is Sarah Palin? Here's some basic background:

  • She was elected Alaska's governor a little over a year and a half ago. Her previous office was mayor of Wasilla, a small town outside Anchorage. She has no foreign policy experience.1
  • Palin is strongly anti-choice, opposing abortion even in the case of rape or incest.2
  • She supported right-wing extremist Pat Buchanan for president in 2000. 3
  • Palin thinks creationism should be taught in public schools.4
  • She's doesn't think humans are the cause of climate change.5
  • She's solidly in line with John McCain's "Big Oil first" energy policy. She's pushed hard for more oil drilling and says renewables won't be ready for years. She also sued the Bush administration for listing polar bears as an endangered species—she was worried it would interfere with more oil drilling in Alaska.6
  • How closely did John McCain vet this choice? He met Sarah Palin once at a meeting. They spoke a second time, last Sunday, when he called her about being vice-president. Then he offered her the position.7

This is information the American people need to see. Please take a moment to forward this email to your friends and family.

We also asked Alaska MoveOn members what the rest of us should know about their governor. The response was striking. Here's a sample:

She is really just a mayor from a small town outside Anchorage who has been a governor for only 1.5 years, and has ZERO national and international experience. I shudder to think that she could be the person taking that 3AM call on the White House hotline, and the one who could potentially be charged with leading the US in the volatile international scene that exists today. —Rose M., Fairbanks, AK

She is VERY, VERY conservative, and far from perfect. She's a hunter and fisherwoman, but votes against the environment again and again. She ran on ethics reform, but is currently under investigation for several charges involving hiring and firing of state officials. She has NO experience beyond Alaska. —Christine B., Denali Park, AK

As an Alaskan and a feminist, I am beyond words at this announcement. Palin is not a feminist, and she is not the reformer she claims to be. —Karen L., Anchorage, AK

Alaskans, collectively, are just as stunned as the rest of the nation. She is doing well running our State, but is totally inexperienced on the national level, and very much unequipped to run the nation, if it came to that. She is as far right as one can get, which has already been communicated on the news. In our office of thirty employees (dems, republicans, and nonpartisans), not one person feels she is ready for the V.P. position.—Sherry C., Anchorage, AK

She's vehemently anti-choice and doesn't care about protecting our natural resources, even though she has worked as a fisherman. McCain chose her to pick up the Hillary voters, but Palin is no Hillary. —Marina L., Juneau, AK

I think she's far too inexperienced to be in this position. I'm all for a woman in the White House, but not one who hasn't done anything to deserve it. There are far many other women who have worked their way up and have much more experience that would have been better choices. This is a patronizing decision on John McCain's part- and insulting to females everywhere that he would assume he'll get our vote by putting "A Woman" in that position.—Jennifer M., Anchorage, AK

So Governor Palin is a staunch anti-choice religious conservative. She's a global warming denier who shares John McCain's commitment to Big Oil. And she's dramatically inexperienced.

In picking Sarah Palin, John McCain has made the religious right very happy. And he's made a very dangerous decision for our country.

In the next few days, many Americans will be wondering what McCain's vice-presidential choice means. Please pass this information along to your friends and family.

Thanks for all you do.

–Ilyse, Noah, Justin, Karin and the rest of the team


1. "Sarah Palin," Wikipedia, Accessed August 29, 2008

2. "McCain Selects Anti-Choice Sarah Palin as Running Mate," NARAL Pro-Choice America, August 29, 2008

3. "Sarah Palin, Buchananite," The Nation, August 29, 2008

4. "'Creation science' enters the race," Anchorage Daily News, October 27, 2006

5. "Palin buys climate denial PR spin—ignores science," Huffington Post, August 29, 2008

6. "McCain VP Pick Completes Shift to Bush Energy Policy," Sierra Club, August 29, 2008

"Choice of Palin Promises Failed Energy Policies of the Past," League of Conservation Voters, August 29, 2008

"Protecting polar bears gets in way of drilling for oil, says governor," The Times of London, May 23, 2008

7 "McCain met Palin once before yesterday," MSNBC, August 29, 2008

Want to support our work? We're entirely funded by our 3.2 million members—no corporate contributions, no big checks from CEOs. And our tiny staff ensures that small contributions go a long way. Chip in here.

Gustav annoyance level: orange.
Miles: >8000 (I was mistaken in the last post, it should have read closer to 7500).
The Decemberists - Her Majesty and Picaresque
Green Day - American Idiot
Finch - What It Is To Burn


Lynsey said...

i've been spreading that email around too. it just me, or is it wrong that i am absolutely terrified of our democratic system this time around? even more so than when bush was running for re-election.
(i've decided that if McCain and the bitch get elected i'm out of here after graduation.)


Stuart said...

McCain is pandering to the right wing evangelicals with his choice, this is the group that is passionate, hard working and were clearly successful in getting Bush re-elected. I hope that Hillary will be the attack dog on Palin!

g said...

holy crap dude! Southern Decadence! Hahahaha. That is so totally awesome. At least you didn't get hit on too much... hahaha.

You see, Gustav is timed to arrive now to punish all the unholy homosexuals. Haha.

Glad you made it out well in time. You crazy man.

Rory said...

I live for your latest updates on what fast food places are delicious or not. No gumbo, crawfish, other southern delights 'cept for the catfish?

matt said...

In you photo ttitled "Pure Decadence" the guy on the right with his mouth open. I can't tell if he is tired or really disgusted by something. I can tell that it is hilarious.