New Orleans, November 2016

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Travelogue: New Orleans, November 2016

By Roger W. Reini

This is the story of a brief trip to New Orleans during Election Week of 2016. Why then? There were only three days of work this week at the office, as Election Day and Veterans Day were holidays. I wanted to go somewhere, and I'd never rally been to New Orleans before. I'd driven near it several times, and I'd driven through it once or twice, but I'd never really visited. Now I had just been on a vacation to Houston a month earlier, so why didn't I go then? There wasn't that much time then; also, if I'd gone then, I would have missed out on some enjoyable events. And this was also an excuse for me to take the train out of Dearborn for the first time from the new station.

November 4

The day started much like an ordinary workday, except that I worked from home this morning instead of going into the office. That way, my work laptop and phone would remain safe at home rather than in the trunk of my car. I suppose I could have left them at the office, but I didn't, I’d started early, so by10:30, my workday was done, and I finished my last-minute packing. I had to put out a bag of garbage that wasn't full but was giving off an odor. I turned the temperature on the thermostat down to 65, and then I got into my car and left.

It took the usual amount of time to get to Dearborn, a half-hour or so, and then I was at the new train station, a much nicer facility than the old one. I retrieved my luggage from the trunk, locked the car, and went inside. I visited the restroom and then found a seat. I made sure that my e-ticket was on my iPhone (it was). Soon, the boarding call came, and those of us taking the train went out to the platform. At the old station, one had to go up to the platform by steps or by ramp, but here, the track was at station level. It was 11:45 when the train pulled in and we boarded. I was holding onto my suitcase with one hand and my iPhone with the other; I should have put the phone in its holster, for I stumbled on the steps; I didn’t fall, fortunately. I found a seat in the next car from where I had boarded; it was a rear-facing seat, so I would be seeing where we had been but not where we were going. But the route was familiar to me, even if I hadn't been n the train for 6 years.

I noticed that it took around 20 minutes to reach I-275. 25 minutes after that, we were nearing Ann Arbor, which still had its 70's-vintage train station, similar to the old Dearborn one. Later on, I went to the Cafe Car for my lunch: a cheeseburger, a bag of chips and a bottle of water. The cheeseburger was very hot after being microwaved; it was edible. At times, I plugged a charger into one of the plugs at the seat and charged my iPad. Not knowing these plugs were there, I had bought a large-capacity external battery.

We passed through Battle Creek; I did not eat any cereal in honor of the occasion. We went through Kalamazoo and Niles and New Buffalo. When we crossed into Indiana, I reset my watch to Central time. My iPhone reset automatically, and once I'd connected my iPad to the iPhone, it reset too.

An hour or so later, we were in Chicago. Union Station was a madhouse filled with people trying to return home from the victory parade for the Cubs, who had won the World Series two days prior. There was no way to get from the train concourses into the Great Hall. I had to leave the building in order to cross the street and enter the Great Hall. The place was packed! I went to the Amtrak kiosk in the middle of the hall looking for a boarding pass for the train to New Orleans, but I was told that due to the crush, passes were not required today. That was fine by me.

I knew there was a food court on the second level. It took some time, but I made it up there. All of the escalators had been turned off, so I had to walk up one. I took off my coat (the jacket I had worn on my Alaska trip) and put it in the suitcase because I was getting warm. I wasn't sure what I wanted, other than a diet, caffeine free drink. I found one at one of the newsstands, and then I found my dinner at Asian Cajun. That meant lo mein, lemon chicken and an egg roll. Honestly, it was more Asian than Cajun,  But it was good enough, and it enabled me to sit down and enjoy my supper. I took my time eating, for I wanted the crowds to thin out. I saw several people pass by in their Cubs gear; they were happy.

After I finished, I went back outside for a while and walked around. It wasn’t easy, not with rolling a suitcase behind me, but I managed. I eventually went back inside, found my way to the Great Hall, and had a seat. The crowds were gone by then, but there were still some vendors of Cubs memorabilia inside. Several “W” flags were hanging on the walls. For the next hour or so, I waited to board the train on the benches that became harder and harder as the minutes passed. Eventually, at 7:35, we got the call to board. We lined up behind a clerk carrying a sign with the track number for our train, and we paraded through the station. Soon, we reached track 22, and I walked down to my coach car: coach 20, seat 22.

At 8:05, the train left the station. It was going backwards, for it had to align itself correctly for the trip down south. That didn’t take very long, and soon, we were heading out of town. This train did not have a proper dining car; it just had a cafe car. I went to that cafe car for a can of Diet Pepsi. At times, I conversed with my seat mate, a Polish-American woman heading to Memphis to return to her family after the death of her mother. We mainly talked about smartphones. The train went through Homewood and Kankakee; by that time, most everyone was settling in to sleep.

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November 5

The seats were harder than I remembered them -- or was it that my rear end was less padded than in the past? Either way, it led for some uncomfortable sleeping. I couldn't really stretch out. I did sleep some, that I know,  no thanks to the nearby snorers

When we arrived in Memphis, my seatmate left me and got off the train to return to her family. I got off the train briefly to get a stretch and some fresh air; I did have to stay away from the smokers to get that fresh air, though. Back on the train, I had a 2-part breakfast: an Atkins bar first, and then a cinnamon bun and a Diet Pepsi. At one of the points where I had good phone service, I was able to learn that Clear Creek ended its football season on a winning note, beating Clear Falls. When I didn't have good service, I continued reading the book Islam at the Crossroads.

At 9:45, the conductor said we would be 45 minutes late into Jackson, MS, but when we arrived at 11:35, we were only 15 minutes behind schedule. We must have made up some time en route. Later on while the train was near Hazelhurst, I had a slight mishap in the bathroom. It wasn’t anything serious; it had to do with one of the problems inherent to using the bathroom on a train where you don’t know if/when the car will lurch on you while you’re going. It’s more of a problem for men than for women.

Lunchtime approached; I decided to have another cheeseburger. Our train passed Middendorf's Restaurant, where the cuisine is much better than the cafe car (spoken from experience, as I had eaten there a few years earlier), but we didn't stop. We continued onward along the shores of Lake Pontchartrain and occasionally beside some freeways. Finally, around 3:15, or some 15 minutes ahead of schedule, we pulled into the New Orleans train station. It was within walking distance of both the Superdome and the Smoothie King Arena, as well as my hotel (more on that later).

The inside of the train station reminded me of an airport terminal of the 50's or 60's. The building was probably of that vintage, I figured. After making a bathroom stop, I took a glance around. The vending machines carried Sprite Zero; good! There was a Subway restaurant there; that might be where I have lunch on Tuesday, I thought. Then I walked the 3 blocks or so to the hotel, the Hyatt House on Poydras west of Loyola. I should have put my jacket in the bag, for I was rather warm and sweaty after walking there with temperatures in the 70's. The hotel lobby was on the 11th floor, wth guest rooms on the 11th though 17th floors. My room was 1670, which had a good view of the Superdome and the arena. And far below, I could see the swimming pool of the Hyatt Regency. It was available to us in the Hyatt House, but I wasn't going to take advantage of it ( no swimsuit, for one thing).

As evening approached, one decision loomed in front f me: what would I do for supper?  The hotel guide mentioned one of the restaurants over in the Hyatt Regency, so I decided to go there. Unfortunately, that restaurant was closed; I would later learn it was never open for dinner. Many people were walking around in black tie; there was definitely one or more fancy events taking place there. I would not be eating supper there, that’s for sure. After checking on my phone, I found a Mexican restaurant, Las Margaritas, not far from the hotel on Rampart Street. As I ate my three-enchilada meal, I was listening to the music playing in the restaurant. I swear that one song was played by a group that sounded like the Police except that they sang in Spanish.

Back at the hotel, I turned on some college football. Michigan State’s game was long since over, and in a few weeks, so would be their season; they lost their seventh game today, meaning no bowl game. The only bowl they would see this year would be the toilet bowl. Oregon and USC were playing, and I started to watch them, but I fell asleep before the game ended. When I awoke, another game was on, one involving Washington. I didn’t stay up for that one, for I was sleepy. I turned it off and called it a night.

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November 6

Tonight was the night the country returned to Standard Time. I had changed my watch but had left the hotel clock alone, wondering if it would change on its own; it didn’t. But the extra hour of sleep or rest was helpful, though. When I got up, I took a shower; unfortunately, the bottom of the tub was rather slippery, so I had to really be careful in there. I’d already experienced a slip in my bathtub at home (I caught myself) and didn’t want a repeat. I turned on the TV for a news report and saw a campaign ad for John Kennedy for Senate. This John Kennedy was more of a conservative than any of the other Senators Kennedy.

The breakfast bar was similar to that at the Hyatt Place hotels, perhaps slightly fancier. One thing that was different: I was asked to show my room key to prove I was a guest and thus entitled to the bar. What did I have to get ready for the day ahead? I dined on scrambled eggs, sausage links, home fries, Special K and a small danish, along with glasses of orange and apple juices.

Back at the room, I used my iPhone to figure out the best way to get to the Audubon Aquarium. It ended up being more or less a straight shot down Poydras Street from the hotel, about a mile away. The weather was nice, so I decided to walk there, taking my iPhone and my DSLR camera with me. As I walked to the riverfront, what I saw reminded me of Galveston. I couldn’t say exactly how it did, but it did. One thing that didn’t remind me of Galveston was Harrah’s, the casino/hotel complex at the end of Poydras Street. Now I was very close to the aquarium, but I didn’t want to go in right away. No, I walked along the riverfront for a while, seeing what there was to see there. I saw seagulls, some boats heading down the river, the Crescent City Bridge, and other people enjoying the warm weather. By this time, it was 10:30, so I made my way to the aquarium and went inside. I went to the bathroom, got a guide, and started my tour.

The aquarium was pretty busy that morning. I didn’t know if that was usually the case, but there was a reason for it to be extra busy today. What was that reason? Mermaids from Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs would be performing for two weekends, and today was the last day of the first weekend.  I made my way through most of the exhibits fairly quickly (I would come back to them later) and reached the Gulf of Mexico exhibit, which was jam-packed with people waiting to see a mermaid. Suddenly, there she was! She swam around the tank, taking occasional breaths from her air hose, waving to the children at the base of the glass, blowing kisses and making bubble hearts. There were sharks in the tank with her, but safety divers with large sticks were always on the watch, keeping them away from her. I moved around from one location to another as best I could to get better perspectives for pictures. I wasn’t sure how well the pictures would turn out, for the tank appeared rather dark. After a half-hour or so, there was shift change, and another mermaid swam in the tank.

By this time, I was hungry, so I moved on and went back through the exhibits, taking a little more time to review them, and then visiting the food court on the second level. I got a grilled chicken sandwich that wasn’t very good, but there wasn’t much alternative. Afterwards, I continued my tour. The Gulf of Mexico tank was empty, meaning that the maids were no longer there and neither was the crowd. They’d moved to the Maya Reef tank elsewhere in the aquarium, and so did I. Here, visitors could get right next to the glass for closer encounters with the sea life, or in this case, the mermaids. They were here for two hours, which enabled me to see three of the four mermaids in attendance; I’d go around and visit the other exhibits for a time, then come back after the shift change.

When I left the aquarium, I walked downstream along the riverfront for a ways, passing by the steamboat Natchez as it pulled out for an afternoon cruise. I walked up to Jackson Square in the French Quarter. The Washington Artillery Park across the street made a good platform to observe the activities in and near the square, and there were a lot of activities. Horse-drawn carriages lined the street, and sellers of art lined the sidewalk. In the distance, I could hear Dixieland jazz. I went inside the fenced-in square and took some pictures, but I wasn’t in the mood for exploring more of the French Quarter (that might sound sacrilegious to come), so I started walking back towards Poydras Street and the hotel. It felt like a long walk back to the hotel than going to the aquarium. Once I got there, I went to the Hyatt Regency to get a bottle of water and a bottle of caffeine-free Diet Coke. When I returned to the Hyatt Place lobby, I happened to see some coverage of the Lions game: they had beat the Vikings in overtime and were heading into their bye week with a 5-4 record (hurray!).

Back in my room, I saw that Housekeeping had not come. I’d been out of my room for over 6 hours, and that should have been plenty of time for my room to be cleaned, but it wasn’t, not today. I put out a Do Not Disturb site and turned on the Saints-49ers game while I downloaded pictures onto my  iPad. I had taken a LOT of pictures today, and it took a while to download them. Some of them were out of focus, but many of them turned out quite well; I was happy I’d visited the aquarium today.  Later on, I stayed in the hotel for supper, taking advantage of their Bar Bites. That meant some tomato bisque and some boneless chicken wings, along with a Diet Pepsi. They were all right. I just wished there had been more dining options nearby. Then it was back to the room for some Sunday Night Football.

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November 7

As I was waking up, I noticed that it was fairly light outside. I looked at the clock radio: it said 5:15.  That didn’t seem right, not for early November. I looked at my watch: it said 6:15. I looked at my iPad: it also said 6:15. It looked like that the clock radio DID change by itself to standard time after all; I shouldn’t have reset it manually yesterday. So I reset it to the correct time. Later, I went down to the lobby for breakfast and ate about the same as I had eaten yesterday. Today, though, I discovered that grits were on the menu, so I had some of those.

My plans for today were simple: visit the National World War II Museum. I thought I would walk there again today, as it was less than a mile away from the hotel. Now rain was in the forecast, but I didn’t bring an umbrella with me. I’d considered bringing one from home, but I didn’t. I was monitoring the weather reports, which suggested that it would arrive later in the day. And so, I set off for the museum without an umbrella. I could have borrowed one from the hotel front desk, but I didn’t. It was fairly warm that morning, and I was a bit sweaty when I reached the museum before 10. I tried cooling off as best as I could while I waited in line to buy my ticket. Actually, I bought two tickets, one for the main museum and one for the introductory film Beyond All Boundaries. The next showing of the film was 10 AM, so I took the skywalk across the street to the theater, making sure to visit the restroom beforehand.

There was a short pre-show before the main attraction, which summarized world events leading up the the attack on Pearl Harbor. At its conclusion, we went inside the theater and took our seats. The film was actually more of a multimedia attraction, for various artifacts were integrated into the production (an old-time radio, the nose of a bomber, etc.). It provided a good overview of the main events of the war. When it was over, I crossed back over to visit the Dog Tag Experience, which consisted of boarding a troop train and registering the electronic “Dog Tag” I was given when I bought my tickets. by registering, my dog tag would be associated with the story of one particular soldier. I would learn about his experiences during and after the war. My soldier was Joseph Diamond from New Jersey, a combat medic in the European Theater. Then I ended up crossing that skywalk again to the main exhibit halls.

The two main exhibits focused on the road to Tokyo and the road to Berlin. A mix of informative displays, artifacts from the period and film displays showed the course of the war in both theaters. Electronic displays allowed one to track the story of the soldier associated with one’s dog tag. I did so in the Road to berlin display and learned that Diamond had originally been in the Signal Corps, tried to become a pilot in the Army Air Corps but couldn’t pass muster, then finally became a medic. He served with distinction, and after the war, he sold insurance.

At some point during my tour, I noticed that it was raining outside. I had no umbrella, and I didn’t relish the thought of a long walk in the rain. Fortunately, the gift shop sold umbrellas. I got a small umbrella with a flag design (small for packing in my suitcase), along with a shirt with the message “Than You Veterans For My Freedom,” a very appropriate message in light of Veterans Day being near; heck, it’s a very appropriate message at any time. I tried to eat lunch at the American Cafe, but there was a 20-minute wait, so I passed.  By this time, I was a bit tired and wanted to go back to the hotel. I’m not sure, but I might have missed viewing one of the exhibit halls; if I did, I’ll have to make a return visit.

My walk back to the hotel was a wet one. The umbrella did keep me dry, somewhat; it was a bit small for someone of my size, and my back would get wet. Of course, my shoes and the bottom of my pants were getting soaked. I returned to my room only to discover that Housekeeping had still not been by (this was 2 PM). But before I could get too angry about it, there was a knock at the door: it was Housekeeping. At last! I waited in the elevator lobby while the maid cleaned my room; that took 5 to 10 minutes. When she was finished, I went inside and then changed out of my wet clothes, hanging them up to dry in the bathroom. I couldn’t watch TV because the hotel used DirecTV, which doesn’t work well during rainstorms, so I used my iPad.

A couple of hours later, it was suppertime. It was still raining outside, and my shoes were still soaking wet. I did have bedroom slippers that could pass for regular shoes, so I went over to the Hyatt Regency in my slippers. I checked the Lagniappe Exchange for sandwiches, but they were out, so I went to the Vitascope Hall and had a burger. That burger (including bun and toppings) was so thick and messy that I eventually had to resort to using a knife and fork to eat it. My table was facing a bank of TVs tuned to ESPN, so while I ate, I was treated to an up-close-and-personal view of Monday Night Countdown. Back in the room, I turned on the Monday Night Football game between Buffalo and Seattle. My clothes from earlier today were still wet; I would not be doing any packing tonight.

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November 8

Today at breakfast, I did something I’d never done before: I ate oatmeal from a plate, not a bowl or dish. That was very strange, but I and no choice. The breakfast bar had three sizes of plates, but there were no dishes or bowls. They did have cereal, but it came in individual serving packs, so no dishes were necessary there.

I wore my shoes for breakfast. I’d had to use the hair dryer on them to speed up the drying process, and I never got them completely dry, but I got them dry enough. My other clothes had dried off overnight, which enabled me to pack. And now I had a long wait. The train would not leave until 1:45 PM, but I didn’t have to check out until noon. While I waited, I watched the WeatherNation channel for a time, then turned on CNN with early Election Day coverage. I wouldn’t be able to watch the election returns come in on TV, for I would be on the train (more on that later).

Around 11:30, I decided to leave the room and check out. It was still too early to head to the train station, so I sat in the lobby for an hour or so before leaving through the Hyatt Regency. I made it to the train station around 12:50 or 12:55. There was time for lunch, so I went to the Subway and got a 6-inch carved turkey sub and a bottle of Sprite Zero. I had just enough time to finish the sandwich before I heard the call to board the train. I was on the rearmost coach car, and I didn’t have a seatmate There weren’t that many people on board, period; whether that was normal for a Tuesday or whether it was due to Election Day, I didn’t know. The train pulled out of the station on time, and we were heading northward — well, once we got past Lake Pontchartrain, we were heading northbound. The skies were cloudy, and it looked like it might rain again. In fact, it did rain, for I got dripped on as I traveled to the cafe car some three cars away.

As the train continued northbound, I once again encountered several areas where I could get no signal on my iPhone. That meant that I couldn’t get continuous updates on the election returns; I’d have to get my news in bursts, mainly near the cities and towns. And when I could get news, I was somewhat surprised. Based on news coverage and polls, I was expecting Hillary  Clinton to prevail, but the returns showed Donald Trump holding his own, then pulling ahead. It looked to be a long night  ahead.

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November 9

The coach seats that were uncomfortable Friday night/Saturday morning were still uncomfortable, and I could not get a good night’s sleep. That proved to be an advantage when monitoring the election returns — when I COULD monitor the election returns, at least. After one period of sleep, I woke up and used the bathroom on the lower level (all of the bathrooms were on the lower level), and I checked the news again: Donald Trump had reached the 270-electoral-vote level. He was going to be the next president.

When I gave up trying to sleep, I monitored the news again. Reaction to the Trump victory was coming in, and there was a lot of surprise. How could the conventional wisdom have been so wrong? The pundits would speculate and postulate for days. As the train rolled toward Chicago, I read many stories about the reaction to the election. And when we arrived at Union Station, I went to the food court and saw what the local papers were saying. The Sun-Times had a picture of Trump on its front page with the headline “You’re Hired!”. I missed out on getting any breakfast on the train, so I got a 2-burrito meal at McDonald’s.

After breakfast, I went to the Great Hall. I didn’t feel like going anywhere or doing anything. I read the copy of the Sun-Times I had bought, and I charged my phone. The W banners that were up on Friday had come down, and Christmas decorations were starting to go up. One Christmas tree was being constructed I got my boarding pass for the train to Dearborn. Occasionally, I’d get up to use the restroom and then find a seat somewhere else.

When 12:20 came around, those of us taking the train to Detroit lined up and were led to the platform. At 12:50, we set out. It was sunny as we rolled through Chicago and northwest Indiana (and Michigan, too, at least until the sun set, and then you could say it was “moony”). I got another cheeseburger and chip combo for lunch in the cafe car; after that, I swore off cheeseburgers for the next several days.  I read some more about the aftermath of the election.  Later on, I listened to two podcasts of the 1776 Club (for supporters of the Thomas Jefferson Hour) and then listened to SiriusXM Radio via their app; first, it was the Cousin Brucie show, and then it was The World At Six on CBC Radio for a Canadian perspective on the election. I couldn’t listen to the whole show due to signal dropouts, though.

When the train reached Ann Arbor, we were delayed there for several minutes. Apparently, someone got on the train without a ticket and had to be found and thrown off. Once that was done, we set off for Dearborn, getting there around 7:30. That’s where I got off, got into my car, and headed home, reaching there shortly after 8.

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2016 R. W. Reini.    All rights reserved.

Written by Roger Reini
RevisedDecember  11, 2016