DAY 2 – 21 MARCH 2011
This has had to be one of the longest days of my life – and I’m not just talking jetlag and time zones here, but they certainly come into the picture. It starts at 6am with a quick shower and an even quicker continental breakfast at the Heathrow Arora, before a trip by bus and tube to Terminal 4. Sadly there are no buskers this morning.
Naturally airline security has increased in recent years, but even I was surprised by the number of different checks being operated by Continental. First was the queue to check tickets and passports once – before a second queue to do exactly the same thing, and that’s before you actually check in for the flight. Then there were the standard security checks for hand baggage – I was impressed that for the first time ever my jeans didn’t set off the metal detector alarm. Clearly fashion terrorists are allowed through. Then at the gate, one final – and slightly sinister question : “Your bag HAS been with who else?” asks the man in a tone that’s designed to catch you out even though you’ve done nothing wrong.
After all of that it was quite reassuring for the guy from cabin crew to dismiss the boarding pass I presented to him : “Yeah, we don’t need that.”
So then comes the ten hour flight to Houston. I know – long haul, yada yada yada – but the fact is that I don’t do these kinds of trips all that often. So at first the in flight entertainment system is quite impressive with its touch screens and so on. But between naps and fairly goon on board service, it’s just another long flight.
The queue at Houston Intercontinental (George Bush) Airport is also worryingly long. My itinerary has allowed two hours to get a connecting flight, but after waiting almost 45 minutes to get to the immigration booth I’m starting to watch the clock. Not least because the US authorities have decided that all baggage travelling onwards within the States has to be reclaimed and then checked back in. Then there’s the 15 minute transfer to the other terminal. Efficient as it all it, I only just make the boarding call onto New Orleans.
The short 45 minute hop is filled with advice from Liz – an oil worker from Houston who’s on a business trip. Firstly she loves my English accent (don’t all Americans?). Then she tells me that she was born in Scotland, even though her dad is from the Cayman Islands, that I must meet her daughters, and that my trip is “totally awesome”. We also share a common love of diverse musical genres – in Liz’s case everything from Bon Jovi to Lady Gaga, both of whom have recently appeared in Houston itself. I also gain some useful tips of where to visit whilst in New Orleans, not least the Cat’s Meow karaoke bar. This instantly connects with me, as I’ve been casing the joint online for several weeks.
We land on time at New Orleans airport. Unfortunately our baggage doesn’t, as it’s all been put on the next flight coming in. On the plus side this is only 45 minutes later, and I’m given a food and drink voucher that buys me a tasty burger and fries, which negates the need for dinner once I hit town.
That said, hitting might have been the operative word in my hire car. I was told I could choose any vehicle I liked from the “compact” section of the pound. Compact in America means something the size of a Mondeo –or in my case a Corrolla. Given that I usually drive a Corsa, that I’ve been travelling for about 15 hours and it’s getting dark, it’s a miracle I make it only the main road.
The Sat Nav is efficient and takes me along Interstate 10 to downtown New Orleans, though most of the journey is done at about 20 miles an hour. Surprisingly, the other road users are tolerant, and barely sound their horns as I work out which side of the road I’m supposed to be on. Once in downtown, the Sat Nav guides me to Bourbon Street, where I’m staying at the Ramada. Unfortunately, nobody told me that after 5pm, parts of Bourbon are blocked off by the police to allow the hoards of tourists to peruse the hundreds of live music venues and restaurants. Burbon is also surprisingly narrow, and although I’m just yards from the hotel I simply can’t get to it – doing various circuits of the block about five times. I try to stop for directions from two police officers, who helpfully tell me they’re dealing with a drunk on the pavement and instruct me to “move right on” as my car is distracting their police horse.
Eventually, I pull up outside a hotel. Any hotel. The concierge is a man called Axel, who tells me I can park at his premises for 30 dollars a night – the going rate for all hotels in downtown. I immediately accept his offer and walk the two short blocks to the Ramada. It may have cost me almost a hundred dollars, but I’m just pleased to be out of the car.
The Inn on Bourbon is a hotel full of character, and in a good way too. No two rooms are the same, and are appointed with huge comfy beds and a good strong shower. I quickly freshen up and head out onto the street itself. Of course, the first bar I see is Cat’s Meow – Liz’s recommendation. And it’s full of an eclectic mix of customers, all waiting to sing their song. Anyone who knows me will know that I love a good song – so optimistically I chose Cee Lo Green’s “Forget You”, where the word “forget” is substituted for something a little more risqué on the album version. Amazingly, I nail it and the crowd loves it. They’re clearly drunk.
And after just two beers, so am I. Well, perhaps more delirious. Also, I need a power adapter soon, or this blog is going nowhere.