Monday, February 27, 2012

Wine Traveler’s Travels vol. 20 (from the archives)

Originally published 07 January 2002

Well it was a holiday to remember, the boys all got new bicycles for Christmas and I got the Kitchenaid mixer I had been dropping hints about since Gail and I were dating.  I got Gail the Swiss Army watch she had been asking for and a pair of hooped earrings with diamonds, so we all made out very well.  Thanks to the great sales to boost the economy it was one of the least expensive Christmases in a long time.  Well just before New Years my father called to inform me that he had been diagnosed with throat cancer.  One of the really scary parts of this was that on our last meeting in Winter Haven, we had been comparing notes on our treatment for sinus troubles which was causing both of us to have chronic coughs.  It seems he had been on many different medications, over the past year, that would help for a bit then his cough would return, it wasn’t until he was unable to move his tongue in one direction that they took a more serious look.  He will start Chemo and Radiation therapy in the near future and has a very positive outlook on his prospects.  I haven’t told my boys yet, but I have made plans to go to Florida during spring break in April with the family to visit.

Now I would like to share with you a good word about American Airlines, I was looking online to use my airline points to make this trip, and I could not find any flights that had seats on the dates I needed so I was looking into purchasing them and still had trouble finding 5 seats.  I called the Aadvantage reservation desk and explained my situation and she booked us through to Fort Meyers, I was a few miles short of all five tickets but knew I’d have it soon, she reserved the fifth ticket and told me as soon as I had the miles it would be booked, she even went so far as to put us into the same row on all legs of our flights.  This is what I call service.   This will also prompt a letter to Mr. Carty, as it would not be ethical or effective if I only wrote him to complain.  I have spoken to my father almost daily since receiving the news and he is being a real trooper, worrying about me spending too much on the frequent calls, but my cell phone plan covers it. 

This trip was planned at the last minute on Friday the 4th so it was a full fare ticket outbound from Seattle, which awarded me an automatic upgrade to first class because of the agreement the travel agency has.  This was a pleasant surprise.  Today I am headed to New Orleans but because someone else was originally scheduled to go I will not be able to book my usual guest house room and will be staying at a Holiday Inn Express.  The rate is $74.00 per night.  This trip is to help with an upgrade of the software for Pendleton Hospital in East New Orleans. 

Leaving Seattle the first class didn’t seem to benefit from the new “more room” enhancements they made in coach, in fact because of the greater pitch of the seats it seems more crowded here than in coach, but then everything seems crowded on these dreaded MD-80s.  There should be a law against using them for flights over two hours; no onboard entertainment, no room, and that incessant wind noise that is inherent to the narrow bodied aircraft like the MD-80 and the Boeing 717.  The choice of breakfast was total cereal and a fruit plate or French toast.  The French toast was the wrong choice, it was that tasteless frozen stuff that had been left in the convection oven too long and was dried out.  The small plate of fresh fruit that came with it had a few slices of Kiwi, Strawberry, Orange and Grapefruit, it all tasted like the Grapefruit. But the staff was pleasant and attentive. The flight from Dallas to New Orleans was another story all together, after boarding first, we in first class sat there and listened to the flight attendants talk about one of their mothers who had had her eyebrows tattooed, and about some of the “stupid” things they’ve heard passengers say.  All the while we were wondering where our customary preflight beverage was.  There was no food on this flight, even in first class, and you had to ask for everything, I’ve had better service in coach. 

I finally made it to New Orleans and had brought a bag of Seattle Mountain coffee from Costco, we find it better than Starbucks or Seattle’s Best and they roast it right there in the store, for my friends at the guest house.  I stopped by and surprised them with it; we made plans to get together later that week for dinner. 

Tuesday morning I went into the hospital and worked with Tom Taylor to upgrade the system we finished around 5 pm.  I then went to the French Quarter to find another great meal.  I went to a place called the Alpine and the meal started with fresh French bread and butter then a nice fresh greens salad, then a cup of Gumbo that the server handed me the hot sauce saying three drops makes it good, five perfects it; I did a healthy five and it was awesome.  My entrée was a shrimp and crawfish fettuccini.  There is never room for desert in this town.

Wednesday Tom and I finished early, went to the French Market, and ate at the Voo Carre Café.  I had a Shrimp Po Boy, and Tom had the “Taste of New Orleans”, which was a bowl of gumbo, one of red beans and rice and one of shrimp Creole, there was also a live jazz band.  Then we walked around the market and bought some pralines, for the folks at home, from a candy shop there that has the best tasting pralines anywhere.  This is the same candy shop I went to when Betty met me here last summer.  Then we returned to the hospital to check on the software and how the nurses were doing with it.  That night I went to dinner another of my favorite places called the Gumbo Shop.  I had a smoked duck and oyster Gumbo that was out of this world.  I really enjoyed walking through the Quarter at night and watching all the tourists making fools of their selves, there was some large convention in town and the bead stores were doing a brisk business.  I walked along Bourbon St. and stopped in to listen to some of the live bands, everything from Jazz to Blues, to Rock and Roll.  I must say that New Orleans is by far my favorite city to visit. 

Thursday night I met up with my friends from the guesthouse and we went to Jack Dempsey’s, you may recall this is the place where they have the awesome seafood platter for two.  The three of us shared this with an extra order of the side dishes; no one wanted to miss the baked macaroni and cheese.  The macaroni is actually like ziti noodles and I’d swear they use cream cheese along with cheddar.  It also came with a bowl of gumbo and a salad.  The platter had heaping helpings of fried shrimp, red fish, catfish, oysters, stuffed crabs, and crawfish pies (kind of like a fried ravioli).  And as always there was plenty left over.  The dinner for two is $21.95 and it was only a little more for the extra sides to make it for three the actual platter was the same.  I think I could feed my whole family from this dinner for two. 

Alas it is Friday and I must go home, I wish I could find a job that would relocate us here.  But I know Gail would not like the summers as it is very similar to Florida and she hated the heat there.  But like Florida visiting there is probably much better than actually living there.  Well the flight home is in coach and it also is on an MD-80.  I am even more convinced now that there is more room in coach on other planes than in first class on these atrocious planes.  The flight from New Orleans to Dallas had no food, since it was the same plane I would take to Seattle I did not get off, the meal from Dallas to Seattle was one of those bag lunches (hey guys it’s dinner time) it was a turkey and cheese sandwich on a whole grain miniature hoagie roll, which I am sure tasted much better last week when it was fresh, the only reason I knew it was turkey was because the label on the outside said so, it was such a small amount of turkey all I could taste was the dry bread.  There was an 8 oz. Bottle of water, a small bag of lays potato chips and a pack of Oreos with two cookies.  Looking at Mr. Carty in the in-flight magazine it is easy to understand why he would think this is adequate, he could be the anorexia nervosa poster child.  He makes Ally McBeal look like Mama Cass. 

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