Saturday, March 27, 2010

Uncertain Love

So my last post left off with us checking into our lavish honeymoon upgrade and feeling like there were about 1200 restaurants and things we wanted to do in New Orleans. To be totally honest, I was feeling a tad annoyed that I had let Michael talk me into leaving after only 36 hours to go to the middle of nowhere.

We started out with morning beverages delivered to our room, so we lingered a bit on Wednesday morning and went in search of breakfast at Brennan's around 11:30. We were delighted to find it right around the corner from our hotel. What luck!

We sat down at a nice table looking into a beautiful, lush courtyard and opened our menus. Michael coughed. "Did you look at the prices online?"

"I don't think they were listed," I replied. And for good reason. An omelette for $19 and a breakfast special for $36. Wow. That better be a good fucking omelette. And you know what? It was. Michael got the special, which came with a baked apple appetizer (delicious) and bananas foster for dessert. For an additional $5. haha. Do they not understand the definition of prix fixe? But Brennan's started bananas foster, so even though we're not sure we like it, we have to have it. He ordered an entree I knew he wouldn't love (and he didn't) and I ordered an omelette with spicy, cajun ham. Which was REALLY good. Maybe not $19 good, but hey, we're on vacation. Monopoly money, you know? More accurately, American Express money.

I embarrassed Michael by taking pictures of everything (see facebook for proof) but it got us a front row seat for watching our waiter make the bananas foster, and he wasn't complaining about that! It was good, but it hasn't replaced creme brulee as my favorite dessert or anything. As if.

We left Brennan's and decided to walk towards Jackson Square, where there are supposed to be artisans everywhere, but we found only a few. I guess they only come out on weekends. I was sort of disappointed, since I also wouldn't get to see the art market that's on weekends. Damn Michael and his fishing trip that had to be on the weekend. sigh.

We passed Emeril's first restaurant, but they weren't open for lunch on weekdays. (grrr. fishing. I love my husband, but seriously?) We wound up walking for about 4 hours and my feet were KILLING me. Michael was a good sport about going into every store I found slightly intriguing. For a husband. (you know, in the way that men say things like "you drive pretty well. for a girl.)

We found a few souvenirs for my dad (weird, since he's not the souvenir type. But we found a harley store and a cool sign that said "An old crab lives here." It had a crab on it. That's cute, right? And befitting someone who is missing his "grumpy old men" club.) We got back to the hotel and I sampled the jacuzzi while Michael napped and then we went for dinner at Commander's Palace, which came highly recommended as one of the best restaurants in the country.

It had a beautiful ambiance (though it was oddly placed in a residential neighborhood) and we were marched through 6 dining rooms before being seated--and past approximately 64 waiters and waitresses, all of whom greeted us. Hmmm. Odd, but welcoming. The menu wasn't thrilling, but we each found something worth ordering, and I got kind of excited about the prospect of turtle soup, which I could get alongside gumbo and shrimp bisque. We were excited to dive in, since this was the restaurant where Emeril and several other chefs got their start.

But you know what? It was sort of disappointing. Michael had pecan crusted fish with crab which was pretty good, and a crawfish gnocci app which was decent. But all three of my soups were muddy and salty. And my (3!) scallops were good, but the sides were salty as well. Dinner was $$$$ too. And we don't mind spending good money on good food (see the entry about Oya sushi in Boston!) but this was good money on eh food. Oh well. We had a nice night anyway.

We caught a cab with some other diners back to our hotel and considered calling it a day. We were zonked after all that walking. But I was wearing a dress! And we were in New Orleans, for christ's sake. So we asked the concierege to recommend a nice bar for drinks and live music and headed out. (after I embarrassed Michael yet again by asking him to take a picture of us. I was wearing a dress after all!)

We wound up at the Irving Mayfield Jazz Lounge, and it turned out Irving Mayfield himself was playing. (Is this possible? Does anyone know him? Is he alive? The brochure said it was him but we had our doubts.) In any case, it was good music and the drinks were good and there was no cover and we sat there letting the music wash over us like grown ups do in New Orleans. Except with a little less intrinsic rhythm. You know how it is with me.

We headed down sketchy Bourbon street (which was also a little disappointing) to get back to the hotel. It was a Wednesday night. Where do all these drunk-ass people come from?? And did you know you can have open containers of alcohol in New Orleans? I think it's a major part of the attraction, actually. Bars have plastic "to-go" cups by the doors and bars have specials on "takeout only" drinks. We were kind of too tired to partake in this novelty, sadly. It made me feel old. I kind of regret it now. Michael had this experience--he grew up in Denmark, after all. sigh. Oh well.

The next morning we had to check out of our hotel, and we found our way to lunch at the Bourbon House, where I got to try new flavors of baked oysters (beyond the typical Rockerfeller preparation) and ALLIGATOR. That's right. I ate alligator, y'all. See ya later, Alligator! It was fun for the adventurous experience, but the food wasn't amazing.

We picked up our rental car and wanted to have one last meal in town. Ironically, Michael had picked an Asian restaurant in the Harrah's casino. Since we had just eaten lunch, we decided to waste some time at the casino. There didn't seem to be much else to do in town, since we had walked every street and gone to Jackson Square twice. Clearly we missed something. I think N'awlins is a weekend sort of town, really. Or maybe mostly a drinking experience. Or good if you like ghost tours.

We love casinos. I once won $1000 playing table texas hold 'em, and I've been trying to relive the experience ever since. We took out some money and split up: Michael headed for the real-player poker tables, and I found the table game. My first hand was pocket kings and I won. I was off to a great start! Look at me go!

Some guys who were in town for a dunkin donuts convention (did they work there? love DD? I didn't ask) sat down and starting chatting me up. I ordered a drink. This was fun.

I proceeded to lose every single hand after that, before my drink even got there. I'm ashamed to say my $160 of fun money lasted roughly 20 minutes. Don't tell my mom. I'm also ashamed to say that I nearly took out more money.

However, Bank of America was alarmed at the sudden casino spending in Louisiana and froze my card. Supremely annoying (what? their customers don't travel?!) but effective. I could have used another card, but the hesitation had set in and I realized how dumb that would be so I checked in with Michael. He was still going strong at the poker table (of course he was) so I took my book and went outside, to find some fresh air and a place to stretch out.

An hour or so later, Michael was ready for dinner, so we found Bambu, this fancy looking Asian restaurant...that turned out not to be fancy, and not to have walls. It was just sort of a section of the casino. Well, it wasn't turning out like we had hoped (this was our last meal in town?!) but we were game. The food turned out okay, actually. But the experience overall was depressing. We had both lost money and it was smoky and dark in there, and there were a lot of old people with walkers looking lonely. Why were we here?!

So off we went, in the direction of Shreveport, 5.5 hours away. We planned to stop for the night before heading on to Uncertain, TX for our fishing charter. I have to say this: I mentioned more than a few times how I had pretty much planned everything for our vacation (sometimes I can't help but nudge Michael to appreciate my type-A skills). But Michael, god bless him, drove the entire way to Shreveport, without complaining. While I yelled into the phone to Alexis for over 2 hours. (I didn't realize I was yelling, obviously, but I was having a hard time hearing her. When I hung up, Michael mentioned the yelling thing. And, seeing how my throat was kind of raw, I could see he might be right.) We got there around midnight and checked into our hotel. We slept in the next morning and found a Target to buy "supplies" (by which I mean snacks for Uncertain, TX...where we were certain they'd be low on snacks and drinks.) We wanted something good for lunch, but the best we came up with was Ruby Tuesdays.

And I swear Michael said this after ordering: "This makes me feel like home."

hahaha. He might be the only person in the world who understands my affection for chains.

I sheepishly admit that it was one of our better meals in LA, actually. We overheard that some military men who had gotten a discount hadn't tipped our waitress. So Michael tipped her 30%. Don't you just love him?!

We got back on the road, and it turned out Uncertain was only 45 minutes from there. If we had known that, we would have just driven through the night before. Oh well. And, OMG: We found a sign for Uncertian, TX pop 150. HAHAHA. How awesome is that? And then--are you ready?--we found this sign "Uncertain Church" with an arrow. OMG. Michael was amused at my amsuement. We continued on (after taking 32 pictures). We got to our hotel around 3:30 and when we pulled in, we looked around.

I said to Michael, "I kind of want to call my dad and tell him we've found his people."

One of the men stopped to ask if he could help us and when we said we were checking into Lakeside Cabin #2, he told us we weren't even close to the office, but he was pretty sure the door was unlocked. He walked up to our cabin, opened the door, and turned around triumphantly, "you're checked in!"

I asked if we should let anyone know we were here...or pay someone or something of that sort.

He shrugged. "They run the cafe, too. You'll probably eat breakfast there, so you can just let them know then."

Seriously? I asked if we needed a key or if people just left things unlocked in this here town. He walked inside and came out again with a key in his hand.

We were impressed, but we went in search of the owner anyway. The office was apparently in a house. Michael was nervous to go up to the door. It was kind of awkward. But as I approached, a young boy came out and pointed us toward a group of men, "he's over there."

Okay, we went over to the men and one seemed to be in charge, giving advice, and we told him we were checking in and he said, "yeah, we're a little understaffed just now, but the key's in the room and it's unlocked."

Now we felt a little embarrassed. "Yeah, we found it. We just thought we should tell you we were here or something." He was kind enough to welcome us. Again. It was clearly superfluous.

So we asked where we could rent a canoe and where we could get dinner, and off we went. We found the canoe place and went inside, where two men asked if they could help us. It turned out they couldn't, since they were just customers chilling in the store, but they entertained us for a bit until the owner came back and rented us a canoe for $20. The customers asked if we knew where we were going and we admited we didn't.

They exchanged a glance, but kindly gave us some suggestions. As an afterthought, they asked if we had cell phones. We assured them we did and they told us if we got lost, to note the closest marker sign and they'd come get us. It must have been Michael's button down shirt that sold us out. Surely they could smell the redneck in me, couldn't they??!

I thought they were being dramatic, but once we got out onto the lake, I realized they weren't. The lake was 10 miles across, and dotted with Cypress trees that formed an intricate maze. It was like tree skiing. You'd follow an obvious path through the trees and come out into an open area and then turn around and have no idea where you had come from and how to get back. oops.

We backtracked and decided to stay close to shore, since we only had two hours before we had to return the canoe. We had a blast, and found a house for sale that we decided to check out. (we looked it up online: $350k for 3 beds, 3 baths and 2200 sq ft.)

We returned the canoe and asked if there was someplace to buy some hats for our fishing trip the next day. The customers, still there, were wearing trucker hats embroidered with Uncertain, TX) and said that "Kay" had them for sale next door. We went next door to the Uncertain Inn/general store/gift shop/restaurant and found it to be the same place the hotel guy had suggested for dinner. What luck. Or what a small town. Shrugging, we went in. After taking a few pictures of the signs.

Oh it was perfect in there. A table for two was open on the back porch overlooking the lake, and there were tables scattered among the goods for sale inside. We took the table on the porch and both started talking about how much my parents might like it here. The folks at the next table recommended the mud bugs (fried crawfish bits), so we had that. I asked what beer they had, and the waitress answered: bud light, coors light, budweiser with lime.

ummm. Where to go from here? No backtracking. Going back to my roots, I chose the coors light. Good times.

We entertained ourselves by eavesdropping, and then went shopping. We found two hats (sadly, Michael woldn't buy the trucker hat and wouldn't let me buy the green fuzzy on fb, though!) and headed back to the hotel, stopping briefly to check out the local UNCERTAIN grocery store. I laughed giddily. Michael asked if the whole Uncertain thing would ever get old.

"No." I answered firmly. How could it?!?

Back at the hotel, we hung out on the porch with our beer and watched the people take their boats out of the water. We were like marina townies. It was awesome.

We LOVED our Lakeside Cabin #2 until about 5 am. Turns out the walls are thin as paper and we're right next to the boat launch. And there's a tournament today with 160 entrants. Yeah, guess it's time to wake up then.

We met our guide at first light by the "marina" (12 boat slips) and set out. He suggested we start by fishing for some crappies, though we had only signed on for bass fishing (Michael is kind of obsessed with catching bass). But he's a good husband and agreed to the crappie fishing for my sake. It was a good decision, and I outfished him, bringing in 9 crappies and 2 yellow striped bass. None were really keeper size, but we weren't going to keep them anyway, so who cares? He brought in 8 fish.

I was smug, but generous. "Don't worry, honey, you'll beat me at bass fishing."

I'm getting tired of typing, so I'll just summarize our 9.5 hours on the lake: they were awesome. I really mean it. I stopped fishing at that point, because I clearly wasn't going to catch any bass and if I kept trying, neither was Michael or the guide. (I can't cast without making a lot of noise when my bait drops in the water, effectively scaring away every fish within 3 miles.) The point is, I wasn't even fishing for 6 or so hours and it was still awesome. I laid out on the back of the boat and read my book. I took pictures. I reveled in Michael's joy. I saw a FREAKING alligator. That was 16 feet LONG! I leaned my head back and SOAKED up the freaking sun and zen peacefullness and felt whole.

Cheesy? Maybe. But also true. And feeling whole is no small thing. I felt whole in a way I haven't in far too long. I felt at home out here on the lake in the middle of nowhere with grumpy old men circling their boats around common fishing holes, shouting to each other about lures and jigs and wives and worms.

I know some of you reading this can understand, right? I grew up where you could smell the onion fields and where you had to watch out for deer (rather than other cars) on the twisty roads. My best friend and I would disappear into the woods for days at a time. Her mother would only ask us to wear a whistle, so we could call for help if needed. We'd camp and pretend we could survive off of onion grass. We went adventuring in an inflatable (duct-taped) pool raft down the mighty (polluted) Pochuk River. Until we bottomed out in a field of cows, who noticed us and started a stampede. (Who knew cows could run?!) My dad woke me at first light to go search for frogs (For frog legs) and fish. We'd stalk deer in the woods, my dad "shhhhh"-ing my clumsy footsteps. I'd run into the woods with a jounral and a pen and write angsty poetry. We made a clubhouse in the old chick coop, and a luging trail down the side of the driveway.

You get my point. I spent most of my childhood happily outdoors, and although I couldn't wait to get out of my small town, it turns out I kind of loved it. In retrospect.

And that's why today brought my more peace and sense of self than I've felt in a long time. And why I am so grateful to have a husband who loves this too, who isn't too worldly to enjoy it, who doesn't look down on it in the slightest.

And right about now I am wishing we had skipped New Orleans all together and stayed here longer. I want to linger on the front porch with our pulled pork sandwiches and beer, reliving each catch of the day.

And to think I was exasperated that Michael wanted to drive 6 hours and spend our time fishing instead of eating our way through New Orleans.

So yeah. Needless to say we're already planning our next "fishing" trip.

And I'm reminding myself to spend more time outside. Fresh air is good for me.

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