Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Laundromat Angel | Morgan City, Louisiana

I love a good industrial port city and Morgan City definitely fits the bill. I do some banking and tour around a bit but laundry is critical. The crowded laundromat parking lot is full of homeboys, large families and other rough looking folk loitering outside which has me going into reverse. A lap around town, demonstrates that this is the only option and I return to the same intimidating scene. 

On The Road
I enter and fill two front loaders noticing that it seems cleaner than it appeared from the outside. Thinking that if these folks see my computer they might try to rob me when I’m in doing my laundry, I return to the van to work. Best to get in and out of here. Well, I go back in and find one of my loads sitting in two inches of water. The attendant is nice and helps me get them into another washer but this means I’ll be here another two hours. Annoyed and a bit pissy, I return to the van and work on my now camouflaged with newspaper computer. When finally packed and ready to go, I can’t find my wallet. I search and search and begin to unload the van. A woman, who looks like she has emptied all her polyester bedding from her trailer into her barely running beater, yells “Honey, you lookin fer your wallet?” Stunned, I nod and she says she saw it atop of the washer and turned it in to the attendant. I thank her profusely, feeling the shame of my preemptive judgment of her, this place and its patrons. I’m such a cracker from the north.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

On Food & The Art of the Up Sell | Morgan City, Louisiana

April  2012
We spend the night at a truck stop with an adjoining hamburger joint. It is a cavernous space bathed in pink neon lighting illuminating black & white booths. It has the prerequisite 1950’s nostalgia hanging from the walls and an enormous soda fountain counter wrapped around the kitchen like a fist. I have to remind myself I’m in Cajun country and not in California. My server is a robust African American woman with tenacious training in the art of the up-sell. She walks me through the menu of burger choices with such enthusiasm and detail that I am led to upgrading my burger’s ounces, mushrooms, bacon, upscaling my cheese, my fries are curled and made from sweet potatoes to bring the meal to San Francisco prices. I don’t mind a bit, that’s how good she is. The burger comes and it isn’t overdone and of reasonable size. This is the mainstream American measure of a burger outside of San Francisco. It isn’t some amazing Frisco-foraged-find like a kobe beef slider with fried dandelion leaves and French tarragon goat cheese. (I just made that up, call it the Asian Frogman.)
The food scene in San Francisco believes in the basic gospel of the trinity: Organic, Local, and Sustainable. But like any religion it’s the fundamentalists that get the attention. These folks specialize in urban grown, raw, slow cooked, vibrational, foraged, small batch, entrepreneur bred, and a host of other micro attentive endeavors.  Restaurants race to invent the new mashup of ethnic cuisines with reinvented foraged delectables that have been infused with something of pedigree. Here there are no refugees from the Dinner Wars with San Francisco becoming the Vatican of Food and Alice Waters as Pope.  I’m a former foodie practitioner who would rather be served than serve these days. I enjoy documenting how far the SF food fever has flung across the country and am amazed even more to land somewhere it hasn’t yet grazed.
Before I’m even halfway through my burger, I meet my server’s questioning but optimistic smile with an approving nod and she laughs and says “Well we ain’t world famous, fer nothing!  You should try our chocolate milkshake, its outta of this world, you want M&M’s on that?”

Friday, April 5, 2013

Casino Royal Swim | Lake Charles, Louisiana

April 19-20, 2012
Southern heat is unrelenting and we are wilting as we try to make good time. We get as far as Lake Charles, near Lafayette, Louisiana and the casinos are shouting out their existence via billboards along the highway. Feeling lucky, I pull off to one that looks promising called L’Auberge Du Lac. I put a call in to my friend Frannie, who knows casinos inside and out. She landed Diesel and me a free week’s stay in Vegas last year. But this isn’t Vegas; there are no deals on rooms; and I am in desperate need of a shower. 
I pull into the parking lot that has arrows to the RV side, of course every casino’s parking lot would be open to RVs. So I clean up as best I can and hit the seafood buffet, give myself a tour of the beautiful air conditioned casino, lose a little money and stop for a night cap before heading back to the van. In the AM, I cruise out to the pool area and see that it requires checking in. When the pool opens I figure I'll give it a shot and tell the attendant Room 417 and see if I can’t just bluff my way in.
 I have time to kill so I decide I should actually make sure there is a room 417 and head to the elevator. Walking down the deep-carpeted hallway, I see room 417’s door open, and surprisingly this 40 something blond woman comes out who looks lot like me. I join her in the elevator and making small talk, ask if she is going to the pool. She shakes her head and says she is joining her husband for brunch. Spy quality feelings fill me as I smile over my good sleuthing and we depart on the first floor as I head to the pool. “Christine Hendrick room 417 please” I say with such authority, that the attendant replies “of course” and hands me a towel, a key to a locker and a wrist band so I can come and go from the pool area. Now, I don’t know where that name came from but it has such an “above suspicion” air that it works.
I enter a landscape architect’s dream. The pool is a river that snakes its way around sculptural islands, under bridges, fed by waterfalls and with a strong current to it. I find myself floating by a swim-up bar sunken into the side of the river with a thatched roof. I think, “Would Ms. Hendrick charge a drink to Ms. 417’s hotel bill?” Debating this moral dilemma proved too long for the current, which had moved me past my temptation and was happily distracted by a surprise waterfall under a bridge. I finish my slumming in the Jacuzzi and washed my hair in the bathhouse. This takes the miles I have traveled right out of my bones. I’m soft and relaxed returning to the van. Feeling lucky? yep, like I just won the jackpot.
From the 4th Floor...would you call this a Pool Complex?

Friday, March 15, 2013

Austin, Houston to Galveston

April 2012
Note: I have resumed the blog, people! I will be posting my transcribed voice memos I made during the trip last year over the next couple of months.
Another day in Austin…it’s hot and we head to Barton Springs for a dip in the cool spring waters. A local gives us a tip to hike past the pay area and take a path in the woods to a private spring. We hike in, trying to look for an area that isn’t full of algae, when we spot a mailman walking across an old cement jetty that has long ago crumbled. Mailmen are the best scouts; they know the area. He tells me to get over to the other side and hike up to a beautiful stone walled spring.  I walk over the cement while Diesel decides to walk across the creek.  He jumps in and disappears under the algae and is gone for what feels like minutes. I wonder, is this how it ends? I prepare myself to go after him. As if on cue, the water breaks with a flying greyhound that lands on the beach and shakes his skinny body ‘til all fours are off the ground.  He must have been surprised when he hit the bottom and used his steroid induced thigh muscles to launch himself straight up and out. Indignant over this experience he follows me shuddering, sputtering and sneezing along the cement jetty to the other side.  We find our spring and I soak but Diesel doesn’t trust the water anymore and stays in the shade.
That night, I found myself going with Ian to the Red River District to a bar, I think, named the White Swan. Its interior is all white and fashioned after a French apothecary.  Ian is a tall bearded redhead with a hint of granola lifestyle. He is now a computer programmer but his first career was that of a musician. He had played all the venues in Austin and sold a composition to Beyonce’s sister, Solange, who I had just met in Marfa. Given the size of Texas, it’s a bit telling that the creative class has so much overlap.

Street Graffiti in the Red River District

 Ian walks me around the Red River District and tells me about Austin’s South by-Southwest music event. I had heard of it but thought it was a big coliseum music concert and I’ve never been interested in mega concerts. But learning that it’s more like San Francisco’s Litquake crawl, where all different kinds of venues that host bands even at gas stations, it sounds like an amazing event not to miss. I will try sometime to get back to Austin for it. At the White Swan…The band comes on and it’s a speed core band. We exit to another club that is a turn of the century steam punk feel with a funky jazz trio. Here we can talk and discuss the peculiarities of Austin, what bands are in town and more dirt on Solange’s career.  As a parting tip, He tells me to stop in Houston on my way to Galveston if only for the art.  


Texas Business
Went to the Menil collection and as you enter, music in the bushes is set off by the pedestrians. It was so faint; I would have missed if it were not for the enthusiastic guard who told me about it. Coming from San Francisco, this “environmental-based interactive art has become commonplace in the coastal creative world. From Palo Alto to NYU’s Tisch School, to the playa at Burning Man, participatory art is a mainstay. I pretend amazement and feel guilty about my jadedness. If it doesn’t shoot fire, I have been known, along with my burner friends, to yell “Booor-ring”.
We enter the museum and take in the Menil collection of some amazing contemporary art. This neighborhood houses many of Houston’s best art treasures so we hit them all. Crossing the green lawns, Diesel is dogged by the heat, and is showing signs of a wilting spirit. We approach Rothko’s chapel and the dog picks up his pace, heading directly to the reflective pond.  Barnett Newman's “Broken Obelisk” elegantly pierces the water, its form reflected on the ripples emanating from the panting ribcage of a greyhound. His form and stillness, aside from his rhythmic panting, fits into the scene, at least in my head it does. I let him lie there for a while to cool off. Some tourists take his picture and then I leave him to plop down in the grass, groaning his appreciation. 

Diesel Reflecting in a Rothko Reflective pond

Entering the Rothko Chapel …a vast carpeted room with octagon walls, modern chairs, and a preacher podium.  There is something municipal to it rather than spiritual. A meeting room for atheists to worship in, perhaps. There were only three people in the chapel and they are all sitting and staring down at their hands. I walk the perimeter of the room to get a close-up of Rothko’s paintings. Huge panels that are monochromatic, or at least they seem so at first glance. Upon closer inspection the blacks are not all uniform and there is a topography that forms on the canvas surface. You can feel the labor under the simplicity of the work. 
Rothko Chapel, Houston, TX

After checking out Cy Twombly’s museum and another walk for Diesel to stretch his legs, we head for Galveston. It’s been three months since I have seen the sunset on the ocean. The gulf awaits us!