Not knowing where we wanted to go, having any map or directions of any kind and no plan other than to find some southern cooked supper and a bed, we drove along the interstate until we reached the Canal Street exit. For some reason, Canal Street stuck in my head as being important and near the French Quarter so I listened to my mind. My guts on the other hand were singing a different tune with the cramping which had got progressively worse as the day wore on.
It wasn't what I had expected. All along Canal Street, there were lots of restaurants and bars but always surrounded by gangs of sour looking individuals that appeared to be looking for a fight or some 'easy money'. People were sleeping on the streets, others urinating in not so darkened corners and I guessed that if I were to exit the van, I might last a block before my wallet became lighter or my heart stopped pumping. We kept going. We drove to the end of Canal Street hoping it would get better but it never did. We were disappointed and hungry. I figured I had a half hour before I needed my next stop.
So we drove back the way we came and found a nice Motel 6 in the sane looking suburbs and holed up for the night. We did drive down the road until we found a little hole in the wall that served Cajun food and Chinese food, mostly because the two cooks were Cajun and Chinese descent. I ordered up a catfish and shrimp po'boy that was excellent.
The next day, we retraced our steps to Canal Street that had completely changed with daylight. All the bums and street fighters were gone and the only traffic was the occasional business person or tourist. We drove down the length of Bourbon Street looking for a place to stop but the French Quarter appears to only open up in the afternoons for the evening crowd. We ended up parking near the French Market area and taking a stroll around, starting by walking along the dike holding back the Mississippi river.
It was a beautiful day and I was fascinated watching the big ships make their way around the bend heading toward the ocean. The architecture down below us in the French Market was beautiful and the city seemed impossibly clean. I was in love with the city. Only when we headed towards the French Quarter did my tune change. My wife took the steps leading down the dike to the street and I pushing Little Abbey in a stroller took the wheel chair ramp. As soon as the ramp got away from the steps, it started reeking so bad of urine that my eyes began to water and I started coughing the smell out of my lungs. I literally ran down the ramp and back into the street where the air was cleaner.
The entire morning would be characterized by things of beauty and then near any little alcove or even just a planting on the street, this incredibly strong smell of piss as if millions who had passed by before me had used it as a urinal. It was disgusting and we definitely tried to avoid touching anything.
We eventually found a couple shops open that we looked into and even a park at the Square Cathedral that smelled clean if you stayed towards the open center where we sat to soak up the city while Little Abbey ran around. We probably could have spent the rest of the day, especially since my intestinal problems had cleared up during the evening, but we wanted to get back up to my brothers place. We walked back to our van, steering wide berths around the many piss smelling alcoves and sidewalk plantings and left New Orleans.
Our plan had been to find an authentic Cajun place for breakfast but nothing was open and once on the interstate, it looked like a crapshoot at the exits. So we drove into the state of Mississippi a ways and pulled off at a nice sized town and drove several miles away from the road and the fast food joints. We eventually found this little dive looking place which if it weren't for my wife's insistence, I would have passed by. Inside, it was immaculately clean and the service was outstanding, the best of the trip. I had a southern breakfast complete with grits that was outstanding.
After we left, we debated on whether or not to buy some fresh shrimp from a nearby roadside stand but since the menu for the night was planned already, we were cooking, we opted against it. Besides, we had it on pretty good authority that we would get our fill of fresh shrimp in two days. We drove back through the millions of acres of tree plantations, nary a cotton field to be seen and called it a day. We had finally seen the Crescent City, smelled it and will probably never go back.