Weeds in the garden district

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In my last column, I shared some experiences I had on a business trip and my first-ever visit to New Orleans, LA, particularly the French Quarter, where I took in historical sites like the Blacksmith Shop of Jean Lafitte, a legendary pirate famous for being the arch nemesis of Cap’n Crunch. While inside the Blacksmith shop, which–by city ordinance–is also a bar, our tour guide insisted that we sample its signature drink, the Voodoo Daiquiri. She described it as a refreshing, purple, slushy drink. What she failed to mention is that it tastes like a grape popsicle dipped in Vicks VapoRub. Not wanting to disappoint her, I excused myself to the men’s room and saved the owners the cost of a bottle of Liquid Plumber.

On our second afternoon in NOLA, my colleagues and I left behind the fermented charms of the French Quarter and took a streetcar ride to the celebrated Garden District. Never having ridden a New Orleans streetcar, I was unfamiliar with the exact procedure, and asking the driver was useless since he didn’t bother to look up at me as he took my fare and mumbled like he might be on the Low Carb/High Voodoo Daiquiri diet. By the time we figured out what to do, we had missed our stop and were eventually dumped out in a grassy median between the streetcar tracks, much to the entertainment of our fellow passengers.

Once we found our bearings and managed to avoid being splattered into gumbo (see what I did there?) by oncoming streetcars, we began our self-guided walking tour of the oak-shaded lanes and vintage southern manors in the Garden District. Since I had downloaded the tour app, I appointed myself guide–and only charged my colleagues $25 each.

Our first stop was to the historic Lafayette cemetery with its eerie above-ground tombs. I read that the graves are raised because of the high water table, but I suspect it’s done just to make them extra-creepy. Unfortunately, the cemetery closed at 3:00 PM, presumably to keep those guys selling steaks out of a van from knocking on the doors of the vaults, so we weren’t able to go inside. (I gently reminded my colleagues that their tour fee was non-refundable.)

The tour next led us to some of the more notable homes in the neighborhood, built in a variety of architectural styles. One impressive house we saw was the Briggs-Staub House, said to be a fine example of Gothic Revival. (I honestly expected more black lipstick and eye-liner.) Another historical home, Colonel Short’s Villa, is surrounded by an elaborate wrought iron fence, festooned with ears of corn. The fence was said to have been purchased by Colonel Short in an attempt to console his new wife, who longed for her beloved Iowa. Then again, if the colonel’s wife was anything like my daughters, the corn fence may have simply been the most expensive one she could find on Amazon.com.

We also found the current and former homes of several celebrities, including John Goodman, Sandra Bullock, the Manning family of NFL fame, and that author who writes about vampires who turn into Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt when they’re paid enough. We hoped that if we lingered outside their gates, one of these famous residents might come out to sign an autograph. Based on the opulence of this neighborhood, though, we were more likely to be mistaken for sanitation workers and handed a sack of soiled designer cat litter.

Speaking of pets, I was surprised at the number of Garden District residents out walking or jogging with their dogs, most of which were fierce-looking breeds, eager to have my scalp for an appetizer. Without exception, each of the dog owners was gripping a small plastic baggie for collecting canine droppings that would, otherwise, litter their pristine neighborhood. I have to admit that I was a little jealous of these folks and their fastidious habits, considering that every dog in my subdivision seems intent on using my front lawn as a community latrine, usually just before I go out to get the mail­­–barefoot.

As shadows from the sprawling oak branches and Spanish moss grew longer, our tour of the Garden District came to an end, and we caught a streetcar back to the French Quarter to send ourselves into a beignet coma. It had been a truly enjoyable experience, and I look forward to leading my wife on a walking tour of the romantic Garden District someday–for the small fee of $25.

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