Becky says things about … an American road trip – PART 6: New Orleans

Our Airbnb in New Orleans was a two-bedroom apartment in a Victorian doll’s house, in a quiet leafy street ten minutes from the madness of the French Quarter.

It had an enormous balcony. It is important that you understand some crucial facts about this balcony, the significance of which will become clear later on:

  • The balcony overhung the pavement, which ran underneath it, 10 feet below
  • The only access to the balcony was either through the French doors in Sarah’s bedroom, or the French doors in my bedroom
  • If you wanted to access the balcony from the pavement, you would either have to climb the nearby tree, or scale the side of the building. Neither option was possible to someone who wasn’t Spiderman.

We managed to resist the urge to buy eight cases of wine and spend the rest of our lives drinking them on the balcony, and delved into the tangled criss-cross of streets in the French Quarter.

It was like any picture you’ve ever seen of New Orleans: the wooden Victorian houses were slapped in every colour of the rainbow; hanging baskets dripped from balconies that were held up by spindly, cast iron supports; strains of jazz wafted on the hot, humid air.

But it was when we came across a jazz band in the middle of a street who were playing a jazzed-up version of The Flintstones, watched serenely by a dude in a red tailcoat and a top hat relaxing on a kerb, that I really felt we had arrived in New Orleans.

We then came to the joyful realisation that, as we were no longer in Tennessee, we didn’t have to eat BBQ ribs anymore. Prior to this trip I didn’t think it was possible to not want to eat BBQ ribs every day, but it turns out it is eminently possible, and even vital to your physical and psychological health. Happily, New Orleans offered something else on which we could endlessly binge: shrimp.

So we went to Johnny’s Po Boys and shared one of these bad boys.

Shortly after this we found ourselves at the mad end of Bourbon Street.

Bourbon Street is the street that comes up in Google Images if you search for ‘New Orleans’. It runs right across the middle of the French Quarter. At one end – the end nearest our apartment – it is quiet, lined mainly with residential doll’s houses; there’s a cluster of gay bars as you get to the centre, then jazz bars, and gradually the jazz bars outweigh the apartments, then as you get nearer to the skyscrapers of the city centre, the jazz bars become full-on clubs with names like ‘Jubbly’s’ and ‘Smokin Tits House of Fun’ and ‘Sloppy Cocks’, and then suddenly you’ve unwittingly joined a bachelorette party and you have downed 37 shots of unidentified alcohol for $10 and you’re lying face-down on the putrid floor of a pulsing club and a bare-chested man is simultaneously dry humping you and trying to get you to come to the club next door where they have live bear-baiting and everyone is naked.

So I exaggerate. But it’s not far off that. The mad end of Bourbon Street was a cross between Blackpool, Brighton and Croydon on a Saturday night, with lashings of Las Vegas spewed over it for good measure.

It was hideous.

We decided we would avoid it at all costs and stick to the jazz and wine bars. This decision doesn’t make us old, just civilised.

Due to road trip fatigue, we decided to make fajitas in the apartment and get an early night. So by 11pm we were both in bed, looking forward to a long, refreshing sleep.

This long, refreshing sleep was, however, not to be.

I was awoken at 2am by what I first thought was thunder.

Upon fully regaining consciousness a few seconds later, I realised it wasn’t thunder. Thunder doesn’t go BANGBANGBANGBANGBANGBANGBANGBANG.

I realised with horror that it was the sound of someone trying to get into the front door of our apartment.

Not half a second later, I realised, with considerably more horror, that it was actually the sound of someone trying to get into our apartment through the French doors of Sarah’s bedroom – which, if you recall, led directly onto the balcony.

No sooner had I realised this appalling fact, the BANGBANGBANGBANGBANGBANGBANGBANGBANG suddenly stopped.

I briefly wondered if I was dreaming and had made up the whole mad banging thing.

This brief wonder was unfortunately very quickly smashed to pieces as the BANGBANGBANGBANGBANGBANGBANGBANGBANG started again, and this time 100 times louder on my French doors, three feet in front of me.

Here are my French doors, at a more peaceful, less terrifying point in our stay:

The only way I can describe to you the urgency and violence with which my French doors were being shaken is that it sounded like Godzilla desperately trying to escape a nuclear apocalypse. The measly door knob immediately flew off and the door was being held only by the tiny single bolt at the top, and the rest of the door flapped and shook like a sail in a hurricane.

The illogical part of my brain was going:

The logical part of my brain decided that if this was a burglar or an axe murderer, it was the worst burglar or axe murder in the history of time. The logical part of my brain also realised that if I didn’t do something pretty quickly, the door would fly off its hinges and whoever or whatever was trying to get in would burst through into my bedroom, the prospect of which was undesirable.

So I leapt towards the door, yanked aside the shutter, and came face to face with a guy in his mid-twenties.

In a tone and pitch I had never heard come out of my mouth – which I now know to be the ‘terror’ setting – I yelled ‘What the FUCK are you doing??? I DON’T KNOW YOU!!’

To which the guy replied ‘Holy shit – am I at the wrong place?’

And disappeared.

Silence.

With my heart having some sort of awful 90’s rave, I crept into Sarah’s room where I found her in bed clutching her sheets to her face.

After both agreeing we were shaken up like marbles in a cup but essentially okay, we heard voices from outside. I listened at Sarah’s French doors (she forbade me to go out onto the balcony) and heard the unmistakable sound of drunken arseholes from the pavement below. These drunken arseholes remained laughing and talking loudly for the next hour.

Using our combined training from years of watching True Crime documentaries, we came to the conclusion that our intruder was part of the group of guys staying in the apartment downstairs, who had clearly got absolutely wasted and locked himself out, and had mistakenly thought in his drunken stupor that our balcony was part of his apartment. Whilst this was fucking irritating, it was a relief to decide our intruder had not been a mad drooling axe murderer running amok on our street.

After a few fitful hours’ sleep, we awoke in the morning to the unmistakable sounds of drunken arseholes yelling and laughing in the hallway downstairs as they left for the day, presumably to go and get utterly bollocksed and drink each other’s piss out of pint glasses.

We called our Airbnb host, who turned up an hour later with two handymen. As we surveyed the scene on the balcony, I proudly showed them the exterior handle of Sarah’s French door that the drunken arsehole had yanked off the night before, and which I had spotted in next door’s gutter.

As we speculated how the hell the drunken arsehole had scaled our balcony, and one of the handymen exclaimed in awe that ‘Motherfucker’s got some upper body strength’, they repaired my broken French doors and assured us that, as they also owned the apartment downstairs, they would contact the drunken arseholes to give them a serious warning and to let them know that they had nearly caused the two women upstairs to give birth to their entire digestive systems.

We discovered from our host that the drunken arseholes were in the US Army, and were from out of town. This was ironic, considering that everyone we’d met on our road trip had warned us to ‘be careful’ in New Orleans as it could be ‘dodgy’ – where in fact we experienced nothing but friendliness and kindness from everyone in New Orleans, including the people on the street you might consider ‘dodgy’ – and here we were, having drunken out-of-town arseholes from the US Army getting smashed off their faces and trying to break into our apartment.

Our host left us with an assurance that we were perfectly safe, and that we would get some money back on our stay to make up for nearly dying of shock and terror.

We then did what any normal human being would do when recovering from a heinous shock: we had shrimp in a hollowed-out baguette, and got horrendously drunk.

We hit the gay bars in Bourbon Street with a mathematically impossible 1,000% enthusiasm.

A brief summary of our night, in useful bullet points:

  • Drank beer, not like it was going out of fashion, but like it was coming back into fashion after a lengthy period of absence
  • Watched jazz and drank beer in a Wizard of Oz-themed bar
  • Sat on the balcony of a gay bar and drank beer and listened to a man inexplicably playing bagpipes in the street below
  • Got an emergency hot dog from a street stall
  • Drank double Southern Comforts and lemonade on the balcony of another gay bar, and got chatting to a young girl who was in town for a work convention; when she went to the toilet and said ‘You’ll be here when I get back, right?’ we nodded, after which Sarah immediately went man-down and said ‘God I am so drunk we need to leave’. So we left.
  • I was so overcome with guilt about abandoning the lovely girl, that I propped Sarah up outside and went back up to the bar to say goodbye, and found the girl wandering around looking bemused and holding three huge shots. I did a shot out of politeness, apologised, wished her a long and happy life, and left.

When we returned home at 2am it was all silence from downstairs, but we had not only forgotten about the drunken arseholes, it was entirely possible that we made so much noise clattering about and drunkenly laughing and dropping things that we woke them up. Whilst this would have been a satisfying payback, waking up and thinking ‘I wish those idiots upstairs wouldn’t tread so heavily’ is not quite on the same level as waking up and thinking ‘OH MOTHER OF GOD SOMEONE IS TRYING TO BREAK IN AND GUT ME LIKE A FISH.’


The next morning, Sarah was woken, not by someone trying to break into her bedroom, but by the sound of me retching into the toilet.

I did not feel well, my friends. Not well at all.

And so our road trip ended with us dragging our feet round the streets of the French Quarter, stopping briefly in a rainstorm to chat to a homeless guy (‘I don’t like Hilary Clinton, but you know, bitch was right all along about global warming’), and collapsing in front of the TV on our last night with some pasta and, bizarrely, the Downton Abbey Christmas special.

Conclusion: New Orleans is beautiful, generous, and super friendly. New Orleans is completely bonkers. If you go, go at the end of your trip, not the beginning. You will need all your strength to do it justice. And to kick the shit out of the drunken out-of-town arsehole that tries to break into your bedroom at 2am.

 

 

Becky says things about … an American road trip – Part 2: Savannah, Georgia

Happily, the 230 mile journey from Daytona Beach to Savannah can be considered a success, because I only ended up on the wrong side of the road once, and nobody died.

Around 2pm, we crested a wave on the freewayhighway and sank into the plush green garden of Savannah.

Savannah is a small city near the east coast of Georgia, across the Savannah River from South Carolina. At its centre is a lush green canopy of live oak trees which hides a serene underworld of dolls’ houses and secrets. The grid of streets is puckered with 22 grassy squares, gently breathing under the tangle of branches. The pavements are tickled by the braids of Spanish moss that trail from the trees.

It was immediately the most beautiful place I had ever been in my life.

Our Airbnb was a wooden Victorian treasure trove just off Forsythe Park, complete with an actual porch and an actual wooden swing seat suspended from the porch ceiling. This caused perhaps over-zealous excitement.

 

After a lazy stroll through the squares, gulping in the green-sweet air, we emerged on the cobbled riverfront where an old steamboat hissed at the bank. There, we experienced a clear sign from God: it began to drizzle just as we spotted a chalkboard offering $5 margaritas. So we ‘popped in’ to a restaurant bar called The Shrimp Factory.

Four hours later, we popped out again.

Allow me to introduce you to our new Shrimp Factory friends (who will assume the names we prescribed them the following morning when our memory of exact details was quite sketchy):

Boston Sue and Donald Sutherland, a middle-aged couple from Boston. Sue’s initial reserved seriousness was magically transformed by the shots I was palming off on her, and suddenly she was whooping and hollering and trying to set Sarah up with the bartender; Pissed Ruth, a 45-ish woman travelling alone from New York, who sank margaritas and told us she’d had a terrible day, and who ended up getting absolutely smashed and hanging off our shoulders telling us we ‘motherfucking ruled’ for doing our road trip; and finally Mr and Mrs Jim, a charming couple from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. (We did know Jim’s wife’s Christian name at some point during the evening, but it is forever lost to Drunk Lost Property.) Married 45 years; ‘he still makes me laugh, and I still make him cry’. Jim happily supped beer and looked on while Mrs Jim downed cocktails at superhuman speed and clamoured over us, wanting to know our life stories.

By 7pm, we were all best friends and they all watched eagerly as the bartender gave Sarah and I two shots of Moonshine. This Moonshine was 100% proof. This could have set a dangerous precedent for when we returned to the UK.

When deep in such boozy conviviality, it is astounding how many topics you can cover. In this case: Trump (“the most retarded president we’ve ever had” according to wise old Boston Sue); the Catholic Church; youth vs age; the moral debate about legalising cannabis; the US penitentiary system, and death. All light, fluffy stuff.

By 9pm, we were all steaming drunk: Boston Sue and Pissed Ruth were dancing, Mr Jim and Donald Sutherland were swayingly discussing golf, and Mrs Jim was tearily confiding in Sarah about their gay son and about how Mr Jim was absolutely            fine          with it.

By 9.30pm we were back at our lovely Airbnb and I fell up the porch steps.

Despite a hangover the next day that was in the ‘top three worst of my life’, Sarah gallantly made it through a trolley bus tour of the city, and survived a surprisingly chirpy me dragging her round the muggy squares while I took millions of photos of millions of trees from millions of different angles.

At 4pm, an ice cream still hadn’t sorted her out, so the only thing for it was to have a drink.

It didn’t go down well.

We had an early night.


Fact: if you google ‘Savannah, Georgia’ the following picture will appear:

It’s not a mythical land, it’s not a scene from a Disney film, it is the Wormsloe Plantation, and I took the above photo the following morning whilst hanging out of the car window as we trundled slowly beneath the silent mesh of trees. Not bad for a woman in charge of a moving vehicle, eh?

We had a sweaty walk through what was essentially a tropical rainforest that screeched with peculiar insects, including forest crabs that scuttled willy-nilly across our path. This was unsettling, but I suppose it was preferable to the plethora of entirely possible alternatives.

The plantation ruins were a little underwhelming. I mean, they were only from the 1700s, and when we Brits have got castles and churches that date back to 120AD, it takes quite a lot to astonish us.

On our way back to the city, we broke a world record: the Longest Time Two Humans have Spent Trying to Fill Up a Car at a Gas Station.

28 minutes to be precise.

In our humble land, we fill up our vehicle with petrol, and we then pay for the precise amount of petrol we have used.

America likes to turn this simple process into a perverted game, whereby you have to guess how much petrol your car needs and guess how much it is going to cost. Before you so much as lift the pump from its clasp.

To make things even more fun, the little screen at the pump inexplicably needed to know our postcode, presumably so it could send us a Christmas card, and after the 17th time of being asked for this information and there was still no sign of petrol appearing from the pump, we were becoming desperate.

After what felt like three days of hopeless fannying around, an assistant finally coaxed Sarah inside, where Sarah guessed how much it would cost to fill up our little Hyundi with three quarters of a tank. Sarah’s guess was $60 off the mark.

Whilst we were delighted that it had only cost $20 to fill up the car, it meant another embarrassed trip to the assistant to get $60 put back on Sarah’s card.

Dear America:

After a fat Ruben sandwich at Clary’s Diner, and a cultured tour round the beautiful Mercer-Williams House, the muggy heat of the day got to us, so we sought refreshment in Pinkie Master’s.

Pinkie Master’s had been suggested by our Airbnb host in response to my question ‘where do the locals drink in Savannah?’, and it very quickly became the second most beautiful thing I had seen next to Savannah itself.

At 4pm on a Monday afternoon, it was just us, the bartender and the locals, and as we sipped jars of tequila and grapefruit slushies (which are gifts from the Heavens), we sank deeper into the wonderfully eccentric world of a local dive bar in an eccentric city.

As one local left, another took their place. We met Big George and Tiny George, Gregory ‘The Legend’, Irish Ian, and when the door opened and a big guy walked in to greetings of ‘Hey, Coach!’, I lost my shit.

We were told about the guy who used to come in to the bar with a tortoise on a lead (‘Fuck that tortoise’, grumbled the barman); we discovered that it was here that Jimmy Carter first announced he would run for President (apparently); we watched a good-natured argument across the bar between two locals, which ended with one happily saying to the other ‘I wish you were dead’.

When Carol and Ian from Bradford – yes, Bradford, England – came in, and we learnt that they had fallen in love with Savannah ten years ago and had actually moved here when they retired, I may have reacted strangely.

As the day darkened outside, and as the neon signs around the bar glowed ever brighter, I decided I wanted to move to this peculiar, beautiful town, and hole myself up in this dim neon-glowing room and become an eccentric local, and drink tequila and grapefruit slushies. Forever.

BEHOLD ITS BEAUTY.

Unfortunately, we had to drive to Tennessee the next day, so we dragged ourself off the bar stools, bid farewell to our 5-hour friends, stumbled home and assassinated a pizza.

Conclusion: If you go anywhere in the States, go to Savannah. It is impossible not to fall in love. And I don’t just mean with tequila and grapefruit slushies.

UP NEXT: Mountains, Dolly Parton and bears in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.