As we walk past several bars I remember that in New Orleans you are allowed to walk around with beer in an open container. On the backside of large wooden doors are rows of plastic "to go" cups. I ask a nearby bouncer just to be sure. "Are you restricted to Bourbon Street or?" he cuts me off as he says with a smile, "Nope the whole city!" Perfect. Now I can just buy Mark a beer at a bar, pour it into a cup and walk it back to the hotel. I ask the bouncer which bar he thinks might welcome Fahrenheit.
He points to a frozen margarita joint down the street. "They have turtles so I am assuming they are pretty pet friendly." Inside are three bartenders with large grins and a lot of empty chairs. I'm the only person in the place. Reggaeton is blasting on the speakers. I order my beer and chat about dogs. One bartender tells me that he has three Pit Bulls who think they are lap dogs. The conversation quickly changes to Hurricane Katrina. He was in Baton Rouge at the time, which didn't suffer as much damage as New Orleans. He says the crime rate has dropped since the storm and people just seem friendlier to one another.
As I am about to wrap up, a crew of Canadians walk in to meet Fahrenheit. As they shower him with high-pitched greetings they explain how Fahrenheit reminds them of their dog.
Their pup is a Shepherd-Pit mix, scandalous in Toronto where Pit Bulls are banned. If you decide to get one you have to pay a fine and buy dog insurance. I looked it up when I got back to my hotel. According to Ontario's Ministry of the Attorney General's website the ban took effect in August of 2005. "The legislation bans pit bulls in Ontario, places restrictions on existing pit bulls, and toughens the penalties for the owners of any dog that poses a danger to the public." If you already owned a Pit Bull at the time of the law you were allowed to keep it as long as you muffle the Pit in public and sterilize it. To make life easy, they just tell people their pup is half-Boxer. This shocks the bartender who leans across the bar to show us cellphone pictures of his Pit Bulls.
Turns out Sarah, Scott, Robin and Jason were all in town to visit their buddy Chris. Chris is also from Toronto but explains how shortly after Hurricane Katrina he decided to move to the Crescent City on a whim! The place was a mess. He arrived as the city was barely emerging out of chaos. He found a job at a local restaurant and that's where he met his future wife Brandi. Notice that her name is spelled with an "I" at the end. "That i is very important," he tells me. "She'll be sure you let you know if you forget the i."
Brandi is from the Ninth Ward, an area hit hard by Hurricane Katrina. Chris says luckily she evacuated before the storm hit, but it took a long time for her to ever come back. Like so many others there wasn't much to go back to. She first traveled up the Gulf to Mississippi and then over to Houston, Texas, looking for work and shelter. After more than a year Chris tells me Brandi knew it was time to go home. She missed the feel of the place, the culture, the food and her family. When she got back Chris was already there. They now have a 3½-year-old son. He shows me a picture on his cellphone. A super cute kid draped in Mardi Gras beads.
This is the fourth time his friends have come down to visit. I ask the group for restaurant recommendations. If there is one thing you should know before visiting New Orleans it is to bring your appetite! The food here is amazing and so just about everyone has a favorite place to eat. Take Local10.com Managing Editor Barb Besteni, who wrote in an email this morning, "If you're in New Orleans for a couple of days, venture on over to Mandina's. It's off the beaten path from the Quarter, but definitely worth going. My mouth waters just thinking of that place."
As for the Canadians, it takes them less than a second before they rattle off these places:
Mahony's Po-Boy Shop on Magazine Street. Robin's eyes sparkle as she talks about Mahony's Louisiana Po-Boys.
Up next, Port of Call in the French Quarter. Sarah tells me their hamburgers are the best in the world.
And if you are looking for authentic New Orleans jazz, Chris says Fritzels on Bourbon Street is THE place to go. You have to check out their website: www.fritzelsjazz.net . It offers a sneak peek at the sound you'll hear walking into the place. Mina loved this site! The music being the only thing keeping her calm enough to write this post. Good to know; I may be picking up a jazz CD today!
Fritzels bills itself as the "Oldest Operated Jazz Club in New Orleans." The Canadians tell me they are also the first bar in America to ever serve Jagermeister. Sarah believes that alone is worth a visit! My brother Jonathan would probably agree. I called them this morning and sure enough, the man on the other end of the phone confirms the fun fact, although he doesn't know what year the first shot of Jager was poured. Chris says their manager Kate is a doll who I should meet. I hope to swing by tonight.
Today we plan ride a street car and appreciate the Garden District before meeting a group from Plaquemines Parish for dinner. That was the area I covered during Hurricane Katrina when I was a reporter for KVIA-ABC7 in El Paso. We've stayed in contact ever since, even visiting them last year. We happened to be here just as the BP Oil Rig explosion happened. Today the crew is dealing with flooding at the mouth of the Mississippi River due to Tropical Storm Lee.
Mark thinks about that and says, "So you met then during Katrina, last time you saw them the BP Oil Spill happened and now they are flooded. They might just ask you not to visit anymore."
I'm happy we won't be meeting Lee. He's been raising hell in the Southeastern states, fueling fires and promising floods. The tropical storm is inching so slowly across land that some area rivers and urban draining systems have been struggling to absorb all his rain. As he drowns certain parts of Louisiana in up to 13 inches of rain the wind he has generated is helping whip a wildfire in Texas.
On the eastern edges of San Antonio the horizon view along I-10 was filtered by a grey hue of smoke. About 90 miles North a massive wildfire was burning near Austin. Local news reports said the blaze had already destroyed 500 homes and evacuations were underway. A National Public Radio report stated that on Monday winds from Tropical Storm Lee had been clocking-in at 20-to-45 miles per hour.
Highway advisory signs remind drivers that Texas is in "Extreme Wildfire Danger." On its website the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) says that the state is experiencing a record-breaking severe drought: "The 10 months from October 2010 through July 2011 have been the driest for that 10-month period in Texas since 1895, when the state began keeping rainfall records."
You wouldn't know any of that standing along the River Walk in Downtown San Antonio. It was a stunning morning. The air felt clean, crisp and cool. Then again, pretty much anything compared to Phoenix's 117-degree heat feels cool. If you have been reading this blog than I am sure you won't be surprised to learn that we had another late departure. After enjoying a free hotel continental breakfast we swung by the Alamo and took the dog for a walk along the river before heading back on the road.
Next stop is New Orleans. I wondered about Tropical Storm Lee's impact on the city and decided to call Gavin Phillips, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in New Orleans. Phillips explained that due to rain over the weekend some small rivers in Louisiana's Northshore such as Bogue Chitto are on flood watch. "We currently have 19 different points where the water in the rivers is above flood stage," explained Phillips. But he added that it is nothing new for the folks who live in those parts. "It's a part of life." In fact those areas will sometimes see worse damage from a routine isolated thunderstorm than what they experienced from Tropical Storm Lee.
So how's New Orleans looking tonight and all day tomorrow when we are in town? Dry and gorgeous according to Phillips, "79 and sunny and low humidity," he tells me. "It's two months ahead of schedule, unheard of weather for this time in September."