Wednesday, September 05, 2007

And now for the worlds longest recap...

Thunderclouds look lovely from above. And thoroughly piss me off.

Our flight from Los Angeles to New Orleans had a connection through Dallas. Our flight was delayed by half an hour leaving LA due to mechanical issues. My brother’s flight to Dallas landed on time at about the same time ours would have. But then came the thunderstorm. That kept my brothers connecting flight (and ours had we been able to get there) on the ground an extra few hours. Us? We circled for half an hour then we got low on gas and we were sent to Austin to refuel and wait. And wait. And wait. We were the second plane to pull up out in the far field at Austin. Then came three more. Five in total. As all this is taking place, we are officially missing our connection. So Lyle calls American and the tell him to not worry. We have been automatically rolled over onto the next flight. We are platinum members of American Airlines and since we have given them all our flying loyalty, they claim they will take care of us. So far, they just did that.

In the end, we were the last plane to leave Austin to head back towards Dallas. Having flown a fair bit and anxious to make any connecting flight, I was quite tuned into the plane. I turned to Lyle and said, “we’ve slowed down quite a bit. I think we just up here killing time in a circle.” A minute later the pilot announced we had slowed down and started to circle to wait for a spot to be added to the landing line-up. Then we circled some more. When we finally landed there wasn’t a gate available. So we sat in view of the terminal but could not get into the terminal.

The first flight that would have been our connection did take off 3 hours late (as we were sitting on the tarmac in Austin). My brother was on that flight and sent me text messages of his movement as well.

As we are sitting on the ground at Dallas viewing the terminal, we realize that we are no longer making our new connection either. So Lyle calls to remind the airline to roll us to the next flight. “That flight just has one seat left,” he is told. Okay, I’ll take that and can you put the other person on a standby list. “I’m sorry, the standby list already has over 30 people on it. Oops, that last seat was taken before I could put your name on it.”

WHAT THE HELL? Apparently our connection that we were sitting and missing was no longer going. They cancelled the flight altogether. Now everyone from that flight was rolling onto the LAST flight to New Orleans. But no one had done that for us. This is what loyalty will get you. One person on the phone talking to Lyle hung up when Lyle asked him for a supervisor and what his name was (it was Ron, he’d made the mistake of telling us early in the conversation). When Lyle called back to tell someone that Ron had hung up on him and he wanted to fill a complaint, they told him there were four call centers and just no way to know who exactly he had been speaking to. EXCELLENT CUSTOMER SERVICE (he said sarcastically).

So here is what was about to happen to us. We were going to be stuck in Dallas with no hotel, no compensation for food or hotel (the airline would claim “weather” delays) and we would be paying full price for our hotel room in New Orleans. The one we wouldn’t be sleeping in. All American Airlines offered to do was guarantee us a seat on a flight for Friday Morning. We also took that.

Then Lyle came up with a plan. Bribery.

American Airlines sent us a bunch of coupons to carry with us when we travel. If you receive excellent service, you are to give that employee a coupon they can turn in for some sort of reward. We don’t often carry them because it’s hard to remember one more item when you’re packing at the last minute. We don’t often get the kind of service that goes above and beyond your expectations. For some reason I had thrown four of these coupons in my bag this trip.

We got off our or plane at last at 8 p.m. we headed directly to the gate of our next flight that we were not supposed to get on. We found a gate agent who offered us help. Lyle began our tale of woe. He finished up with, “I’ve got four of these coupons for excellent service in my pocket. You get us both seats on that plane and you can have them all.”

When seats 23D and 23E were handed to us I nearly cried. And yes, he did get all the coupons. I hope he gets a huge bonus.

The boarding area for our flight was a mess. A flight from Brazil had just left, our flight was next, then a flight to Phoenix. As they announced pre-boarding for our flight, the reader board at the counter rolled over to the Phoenix flight and all the people flying to Phoenix began to push forward. There were now 42 people on the standby list for the flight to New Orleans and they were pushing forward as well. At one point the gate crew made the announcement, “Ladies & Gentlemen this is the flight to NEW ORLEANS. We have not begun regular boarding. We will begin regular boarding in a moment and we will board by the group number on your boarding pass. If your group has not been called would you please BACK OFF away from the gate. Once again, BACK OFF FROM THE GATE.” Emphasis theirs, not mine.

We boarded and the flight attendant greeted me. I told her it looked like the last flight out of Saigon behind me and she should brace herself.

At last we were on the ground in New Orleans, I can’t say the same for our luggage. We filled out the paperwork and just got the hell out of that airport. We had left our house at 8 am and we got to our hotel at midnight. For that kind of time investment we could have been in Paris.

We checked in, I splashed my face with water and went out for the first time ever in open toed shoes. What else could I do? I had no luggage. But as angry as that made me, I was most disappointed about the fact that I had missed a meal in New Orleans! I managed to drown my disappointment in numerous cocktails, getting home around 4 in the morning.

The next morning I was up at 8 am and went straight away to Walgreens for toiletries. $116 so I could smell like a person again. But after my shower I still had to put my old sticky stinky clothes on from the flight. The airline is only required to reimburse you for costs incurred due to missing luggage if your luggage is gone for 24 hours or more. So I was supposed to live in these clothes for 36 hours with no toiletries. (Of course I used to carry all my toiletries with me on the plane, but that is no longer an option. Clever people these travel folks.)

Like these outfits? We've been in them for almost 24 hours by now...

By 10 am I was showered, fed and at the mall for opening. By 11 am Lyle and I both had on brand new... EVERYTHING. Shoes, shirts, pants, underwear, socks... EVERYTHING. It was most important we be clean and smell free as we had reservations for lunch at Herbsaint.

Before leaving LA, Lyle did a little research and came up with 8 restaurants he wanted to go to while in New Orleans. I looked over the travel calender and told him he could have 3. The limited number due to restrictions on who was open for lunch, who was not open on Sunday, etc. (Thursday night was to have been Acme Oyster House but the airlines screwed that one up for us.)

Lunch at Herbsaint was amazing. I started with tomato and shrimp bisque then had olive oil seared gnocchi with lemon, Parmesan and local tomatoes. Lyle had the crisp lettuces with crumbled bacon and buttermilk blue cheese dressing and then a grilled pork sandwich that came with fries. Scott also had the bisque and then a hangar steak that came with onion rings. We had seen those onion rings while we were waiting. They looked delicious and tasted as good as they looked. We finished it off by sharing a plate of house made chocolates and coconut cream pie with macadamia nut crust. If you go (and you should, you really should) I’d recommend the bisque and the grilled pork sandwich with the fries. Definitely have the coconut cream pie to finish.

After calling American and being told they had “absolutely no idea” where our bags were, we continued to shop. Now if I’m not mistaken there is a whole system in place to make certain the bags travel with a person. Your bag can not go on a flight you are not on. They pull luggage off of planes if the person doesn’t get on. So why do they have NO IDEA where my luggage is? Los Angeles, Dallas or New Orleans. It can’t be that hard.

As we shop and explain that we have no luggage, we hear repeatedly from every single store (yes, EVERY one) that this happens all the time. There is even a joke that this is how they plan to re-build the economy of New Orleans by delaying luggage so everyone has to spend more money. Hmmm.... not really amusing me.

Our new outfits, and my old hair.
Funny, we both bought silver shoes...

While Lyle was buying a T-shirt at Saks, his salesperson, Wes, had super cute hair and I asked him where he would recommend me getting my hair cut within walking distance and he suggested Tommy at the Aveda salon one floor down in the mall. I made an appointment for 4:15 that afternoon. Tommy is a jewel and if you need your hair cut go see him. He also gave me some local insight into what’s going on in New Orleans. I mentioned a restaurant we’d be going to on Saturday night, “Oh, that’s on Dauphine one past Bourbon. Be careful on that street. The further past Bourbon, the more you need to be careful.” I told him we’d been there the year before and had no worries. He said that the police would be out extra heavy this weekend but, that crime had gotten worse since last year. To be always aware. Well, I am always aware no matter what city I’m in. Even Bellingham.

Tommy also shared with me the local topic of “the Katrina 15.” Much like the Freshman 15 is the weight you gain when you go away to college, Tommy claimed much of New Orleans had gained 15 pounds since Katrina. We spoke about the thirst for living in the moment that I know many New Yorkers experienced after the attacks on the World Trade Centers.

When I got back to the hotel at around 5:30. Our bags had just arrived. Of course they did! In 6 hours it would have required the airline to start paying for stuff. On the bright side, I had so many cute outfits planned and now they were all here! On the downside they’d torn the handle off one piece of luggage. Trust me, it can’t have been easy to do.
Who in their right mind wears a necktie out in New Orleans?
Who said I was in my right mind?

I went to the gym (I now had gym clothes, and I had a charger for my ipod). I knew I would probably not go again after Friday. I also really wanted to go to work off some of the anger I had towards the airline. By the way I was right, I did not go to the gym for the remainder of the trip.

Friday night we had reservations at Stella! Having just watched the “Oprah: Katrina Two Years Later” episode before leaving for New Orleans, imagine my excitement when Anderson Cooper mentions that one way to support New Orleans is to go there and eat (I’m doing just that!). Specifically he mentioned one of his best meals was served up at Stella! (I’m going there too!). Just so you know I understand punctuation, Stella!’s name includes the exclamation point.
Earlier in the day. Not what we wore that night.

We went in and immediately decided on the tasting menu of 7 courses.
It began with a complimentary “amuse bouche” of watermelon granite and a tuna tartar.
Course 1) Heirloom tomatoes with jumbo lump crab and gulf shrimp remoulade, cucumber salad and three heirloom tomato gazpachos, green, yellow and red.
Course 2) Can’t remember this course. It wasn’t the one listed on the menu on-line (what? You thought I knew everything I ate and could spell all this stuff?)
Course 3) “Lobster, Eggs and Truffles” Canadian lobster, Clyde’s farm aracona egg and Italian summer truffles
Course 4)“Fish & Chips” tempura beer battered Hawaiian sunfish with local sweet potato purée, curried taro root chips and spicy red chili caramel
Course 5)“Surf & Turf” seared prime filet of beef tenderloin and grilled gulf shrimp yakitori with sake glazed sweet potato and wilted lacinato kaleont
Course 6)Persillé du Beaujolais cheese with Granny Smith apple and toasted pinenuts
Course 7) a selection of fig inspired desserts. But I got Lemon-Rosemary Creme Cannoli with Blueberries and Lemon Sorbet because I have a fig tree in my backyard and am over them.

Add on two bottles of some very nice wine for three of us and we were feeling VERY good indeed. The restaurant has the potential to be rather full of itself. On the door it says there is a dress code. I had on white jeans, Lyle had on jeans and Scott had on shorts. We also saw some biker dude with a hat on. The service was spot on. Each course arrived with 4 or more staff to present it. One person for each of us bringing the plate in from the left (and removing from the right, thank you) and another staff member to tell us what we are about to enjoy. The owner and executive chef of Stella! Scott Boswell came by and we met his niece who is working as his personal assistant. You may get the idea that it was all very stuffy but I can assure you that it was not. If you know me, you know I was there to have a good time and the staff was eager to enjoy our enjoyment. I even traded hair tips with the niece who was working hard to get a bump in the back of her hair with all that humidity.

After dinner our friend Dean joined us during coffee. Lyle and Dean headed out, I went home to change into shorts (but kept my necktie) and met up with Lyle and Dean. After one drink out, Lyle headed in. As Dean and I walked to another bar I was taunted by the catcall of “Britney!” obviously due to my delightfully impish schoolgirl attire. Dean bailed after a round of drinks, but by now I had caught up to my brother. Since the bars in New Orleans never close, I always have a difficult time knowing when to go home. I’ve usually gone with the same system I have for driving speed at home “keeping up with traffic”. Keeping up with traffic in a bar in New Orleans during Southern Decadence takes a lot of fuel in your tank. I got home about 7 am.
Lyle got up and had breakfast with other friends and let me sleep in until a blissful 10. Then it was rise and shine and off to Cafe Du Monde. They have the best beignets. Smothered in powdered sugar, they are the perfect way to jump start your day.
Still drunk at 10 am...
From our panic shopping the day before, we were, understandably tired of shopping (yes, you read that right). Luckily our hotel was having a party that afternoon. We invited over a few friends and hung out in the pool, drank free champagne (okay, that was Paul. The rest of us have much more expensive taste in champagne). Me, I drank water. They were also serving barbecued tuna and shrimp which they cooked right there on the patio. The whole hotel seemed so gay, gay, gay. Finally a heterosexual couple came and hung out at the pool. Oops, not correct. It was a gay guy and his best girlfriend who were in town to celebrate his birthday. The pool was officially Gay.
The view from our balcony.

Look closely at my sunglasses and you can see my friends...

Paul enjoys two glasses of complimentary champagne.

Who's got the bigger balls?

The pool party ended around 3 and dinner was planned for 8. But I was hungry! We decided to try Acme Oyster House since we had missed it our first night. Let me tell you the service there is legendary - for being rude. We started to wait in line, but after trying to get some answers from the staff and being rebuffed, we gave up. We went one block further up the road to Deanie’s. This, I am told, is the local’s preferred haunt over Acme. We’d been there before and to be fair, it was my first choice. Not the same ambience, much brighter and cafeteria looking, but oh the food! I got what I always get, Crabmeat Au Gratin - Jumbo Lump Crabmeat baked in a creamy blend of four cheeses. Of course I pronounced it very French and nasally, “o gratn” and they couldn’t understand me until I pointed and they said, “Oh Grattan?” But really everything on the menu looks good, and usually we do that, we eat everything. I limited myself to just one dish. Then Scott and Lyle ordered a double serving of shrimp and a seafood pizza which I wound up eating as well.

As we finished up the platters of food, a thunderstorm broke out and the heavens poured down. The streets filled quickly and soon the water was over the curbs. Oh well, silly people outside, you should be safe and warm in here in our gracious restaurant. Soon it will blow through and in the meantime we will stay dry and have dessert. Yummy coconut custard bread pudding. That finished (best with whipping cream) and I really wanted to have a nap. But my hotel was 5 blocks away with no end in sight to the rain. After another 5 minutes of waiting, we decided we were probably not going to melt and we’d just walk back. With no jackets. No umbrellas. In flip flops. Lyle was smart enough to ask for two plastic bags from the restaurant and we placed our cell phones, wallets, money and glasses all inside then tied it off. Truly a stroke of genius.
About to enter the wet T-shirt contest...

We dashed home in under 5 minutes. The storm had to have been directly above us. You’d see the flash at the same time as the thunder physically shook you where you stood. By the time we got home we were soaked through our underwear. It also took two days for my shirt to dry in all that humidity. Lyle told me he kept thinking how fun it was to run in the rain. I told him I just kept muttering under my breath, “Thirty years of being stuck in the rain. This is every day of my childhood on the way to school. I hate being wet.” Oh, and I had brilliantly placed all the swimsuits out on the deck of our hotel room to dry faster in the sun. Now they were wetter than when they came out of the pool.
We have a winner (or is it loser?) in our wet T-shirt contest!

When I woke up from my nap, the world was quiet and already dry. Tonight we dined at Louisiana Bistro. We had been there before (I think this would be my 4th time eating there). They have a “feed me” option where you just say you want 3 or 4 courses and then let the chef decide what you will get. Once I got frog legs (not too thrilled with that) but ate them anyway. I’d have never ordered that on my own. My favorite course that night was the crawfish beignets.
I guess I got a little sun that day.
Crawfish Beignets. Amazing!

After dinner, Lyle went home, Scott and I went out. We met up with friends from Florida and their friends from Denver. Then I drug us all to One-Eyed Jack’s where Playgirl was throwing a party and I was on the list. My friends were impressed that I had also placed them on the list. The few whose names I didn’t know, I made up and then just pointed at each of them and motioned them in past the bouncer. One guy told me he felt like he was travelling with Madonna. I think I’ve lived in LA too long, I just expected it.; Besides Madonna would never have to stop and say, “I’m on the list” she just is. As it was already past midnight it seemed the venue had emptied out a bit and I thought we’d missed the entertainment. How wrong was I? The entertainment didn’t even begin until 1 am. We hung out and then there was some sort of stripper competition hosted by drag queen Bianca Del Oro “The Mouth Of The South”. She was NASTY and very funny. After the show, the group split up. Some went home, some went out, some went out to a different bar. I went with Dean and we did a minor pub crawl. Until I lost him in the 2nd or 3rd bar.; It was then I headed to where my brother would be, found him and stayed out until 6 am. Oops.
Uh, there may have been some other photos taken, but this was the cleanest one I could find.

Sunday is the big parade day. Knowing how late people stay out, they hold the start time to a reasonable 2 p.m. Lyle and I went for breakfast then a little tourist shopping. For lunch we headed to a local bar with great food, Coop’s. Friends from Lyle’s work were in Baton Rouge for the weekend and told us they’d drive down on Sunday. Stormy and Mike met up with Scott, Lyle and I and we had lunch. The fried chicken is good, but I had the burger. I can also recommend the jambalaya. Then it was time to show Stormy and Mike what we had been seeing all weekend.

Stormy grew up in Baton Rouge which is about an hour away from New Orleans. She’d even worked for a while in New Orleans. Stormy also works in the adult industry. You’d think she’d seen it all. But there we were walking down Bourbon Street down by the gay bars and she literally had her mouth hanging open at what she could see. Since my parents read this blog, you can forget about me describing anything here. Halfway through our tour I looked down to see Scott’s bleeding toe. He had tripped in his sandals over a pipe that had not been cut off very well a few blocks before. He had also leaned up against something filthy with the back of his shirt. That was it for me, “You.” I pointed at him, “will walk straight to your hotel. Wash your foot. Decide if it needs a bandage or stitches. You will then put on real footwear with a closed toe, change your shirt to one that doesn’t look like someone took a crap on your backside and only then can you come back out. Do you understand me?” He gave the only correct response a brother can give, “yes mother.” Then off he went.
Looking down Bourbon Street, awash in humanity...

The view from above the scene...

I think you're getting the idea...

They are the "aging divas tour" really old Charo, Dolly and Bette.

I love my outfit the most.

Hard to believe, but it was getting boring. Shirtless man after shirtless man, so we headed up Bourbon to where every gay man goes during Southern Decadence, The Penthouse Gentleman’s Club aka a stripper bar. Stormy had worked there in the past and we were delighted to see her February cover image hanging at the top of the stairs on your way to the V.I.P. lounges. Scott had changed and caught up with us by then. I forced him to take a book of matches home. “Why?” he asked. I told him, “It’s a great conversation starter... ‘what are these Penthouse matches from?’ your guests may ask, and you get to launch in to ‘did I ever tell you about the time I went to the biggest gay weekend in New Orleans and wound up at straight stripper bar with a top adult actress?’”
Please note the clever hair placement I'm working on blocking anything on the photo behind.

He took the matches. Then he headed back out to Gayland. Lyle, stormy, Mike and I went to cafe Du Monde instead. This time for beignets and hot chocolate. We sat and talked and I kept trying to steer the conversation away from any work topics. Very difficult. After hot chocolate I was ready for bed. But I truly feared that I may be missing something on our last night in New Orleans. So I texted all my friends who could have still been out and was reassured to find that they were all back at their hotels. Mission Accomplished, I was in bed by midnight (shocking!).

On our final day in New Orleans we had breakfast quiche at Croissant d’Or. Just like a mini-French bakery in the middle of town. With nothing left to do, we went back to the hotel, packed, then went out and did touristy strolling.

We had been booked on a flight from Dallas to New Orleans for Friday morning as a precaution in case we didn’t get on the last flight Thursday night. Since we did get out Thursday night, we did not get on the flight Friday morning. Since we did not get on the “first part of our journey” according to the airline, they cancelled the rest of our reservation. Luckily Lyle had been vigilant about checking up on our reservations and the mistake was caught before we got to the airport. But our good seats were gone. Our upgrade requests were gone and the entire point of booking in May seems to have been a waste. We were thrilled to get on ANY plane to get home and surprisingly we made our connection with 10 minutes to spare after RUNNING from one terminal to another due to our first flight being delayed out of New Orleans.

Finally back in LA we phoned home to see what our niece wanted for dinner. “There’s no food here,” she told us. That was because while we were away our power had been off. After waiting for about 12 hours, a good friend had come over and taken EVERYTHING out of our refrigerator over to his house with power. Apparently a transformer had blown in our bloc and it was just our block, but still... no power. It was no back on, but all the food was still at our friend’s house. So we called our favorite Barbecue joint, Zeke’s and placed an order to pick up.

Lyle asked if I wanted to drive. I told him, “over my dead body.” So Lyle was the driver. I told him I would hop out and go in to pick up the food. As we pulled into a parking garage entrance I told Lyle he could turn around and park on the street and I would find him back there. Making a point to walk in front of the car so he could see me I headed into the restaurant. Lyle meanwhile was making a point to watch for traffic behind him as he turned the car around... and INTO ME! “Hey, HEY, HEY!!!” I shouted louder and louder and started to bang on the hood with my cell phone in my hand. Finally he noticed me and stopped pushing me with the grill, a look of shock on his face. I went on and got our food then returned to the car. “You know when I said, ‘over my dead body’ I didn’t really mean it.” Killer.

Which reminds me of a T-shirt I saw in New Orleans...


Rachel said...

Oh my. THat was a weekend.

Lewis said...

My god, when you said LONG, you meant it! Plus, it sounds like you had far too much fun to let a little adventure in the air/ground in Texas bother you. (In addition to that, nothing about the airline trip sounded out of the ordinary...all completely normal in this day and age....I didn't even bat an eye.) You boys look just sexy and adorable in those spite of the 24 don't look it. Thank god for silver shoes!

Carolyn said...

Isn't it ironic that you made it through an epic trip, only to return and almost get killed by a loved one?

Rachel said...

And you wonder why you have a cold!?!?!

Christopher said...

I'd need another vacation just to recover from that trip...sounds like a BLAST!!