Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Channeling My Inner Hemingway

I was up bright and early this morning and decided to take a nice long walk along the beach. Jaco, pronounced Ha-co, is in a bay that I am guessing point to point is about 3 miles as the crow flies. There are about six streams That run down to the ocean from the rainforest above town. Because it has been raining so much this past week, the streams were rather full.  I know this, as I was wearing my running shoes, and my attempt to cross one of the streams was far from successful. 

Whenever I travel, I always like to do a long walk first thing in order to get my bearings.  Oftentimes it’s to find coffee, but there’s usually a lot to see on a mission to find the good stuff, so it’s not uncommon for

me to become a tour guide for those who aren’t quite as ambitious in the morning!  Where’s the bank?  Where’s the pharmacy?  Did you see a supermarket?  

I walked through the main part of town on my way back to the condo in my soaked, squishy running shoes. And of course, in my attempt to pay respect to the cowboys in Baton Rouge, I did leave my running shoes outside the door of the condo. Well, the back door that is.

I find the town of Jaco reminiscent of Rosarito beach in Baja California. It’s not unlike many other Latin American countries I have been to, such as Mexico, Peru and Bolivia, where the sidewalks are of varying heights, with cement ramps and an occasional pot hole.  My buddy Phill can tell you all about what can happen when not looking down while navigating a sidewalk in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. In short, he got the cast off his foot just before he left for this trip…  

We spent much of the day exploring Jaco.  Mike was not feeling well, so my internal Thomas Guide came in handy when we needed to find the pharmacia!  Sidenote:  If you don’t know what a Thomas Guide is, I’m guessing you have also never driven a stick shift!  Surprisingly, many vehicles in Costa Rica are stick shifts.  Even the new cars.  It’s no longer common in the U.S., unless like me, you have a classic car.  I am the proud owner of a 1968 VW Bug convertible that runs most of the time…

We had a deep-sea fishing charter lined up for the next day, and with a departure time at the crack of dawn, it would be an early night for us. We enjoyed our meal so much the night before, we decided to keep it simple, and ate at Cantina La Alegría again tonight!  

We were out the door and into our Uber by 6:30 AM. By the way, the minimum fare on an Uber in Costa Rica is significantly less than in the United States. The minimum fare is about ¢1,280 Costa Rican Colón, which is about $1.92 US. The equivalent fare in the United States is about $6.92.  And to put this in perspective, gas prices in Costa Rica, at least here in Jaco, are the same as they currently are in Los

Angeles.  Right around $5.65 per gallon.  OUCH!  I’m not sure how the Uber drivers can pull this off.  Needless to say, I made sure to tip each of our drivers well.

It was a short drive to the next bay to the north of us, Herradura Bay.  All of the small fishing boats are moored just off of the beach.  Since there is no dock, we needed to take a water taxi to get to our boat. Which of course meant that we were going to get soaked getting in the water taxi as it pulled up onto the beach. Even though I took my shoes off before getting into the small taxi boat, something told me that I would have two pairs of wet shoes sitting outside our condo door by day’s end…

Mike’s phone service, T-Mobile, does not have international service in Costa Rica, so he was not able to access the email with info about our boat until he used my AT&T hotspot...  The taxi boat captain cruised around to a few different boats until we found one that was ours, right around the same time Mike was able to find the name of our boat.

Now on our chartered fishing boat, the Barracuda IV, we were set to head to open waters around 7:30 am.  It was calm as we pulled out of the bay, but once we hit real stuff, the swells were huge, rolling masses

of mother nature!  And then it started raining. Really raining! As I mentioned earlier, Mike had not been feeling well since midday yesterday, so this did not help his already compromised condition. Our captain, Christian, had the chunky Honda outboard motor running full throttle, in what seemed like a race to get to the best fishing spot. I say race, because another fishing charter that had been running with us, aggressively changed course, crossing our clear path quite aggressively.  El Capitan Christian, didn’t even flinch.

The first mate, Fabian, who looks more like a surfer than he does a fisherman, set up the rigging on the boat as our captain piloted onward.  Of the four of us, Martin is the only one who has ever gone deep-sea fishing before, so he filled us in on what to expect during our all day fishing trip. 

As we continued our forward bearing, the heavy rain began to fall again, while the swells got bigger and bigger.  I gazed out into the gray sea ahead, and little by little my cold discomfort began to turn.  At that moment I realized my journey was beginning to feel a lot like the pages of an Ernest Hemingway novel.  My novice fear of not knowing what to expect

when a big fish bites, now turned to, albeit slight, an escalating excitement where man battles the unknown sea beast that lies below the surface.  And then in a flash, I snapped out of my fantasy, as Fabian asked me in Spanish if I wanted pineapple or watermelon.  Sidenote:  Ernest Hemingway is my favorite author, and “The Sun Also Rises,” is my favorite book.

While the boat motored at an even pace, climbing over each big swell and dropping down the back side, Fabian cast out the first fishing lines that would troll behind us. There were two big outriggers on each side of the boat that I believe only had lures. And then there were three fishing poles set in mounting holes at the back of the boat that had hooks and live bait.

Our first bite happened almost within five minutes! Because Martin had the most experience, he would take on the first fish. He did it with great ease, and pulled in a Dorado, which is mahi-mahi, in about two minutes. Because the first bite happened so quickly, one might think that it was going to be like that all day.  But that would not be the case.  Martin’s Dorado would be our last bite for what felt like about two hours.

Because we had been waiting so long, and because it had been raining and was cold, all of us were a little bit sluggish. But when the first mate called out “fish, fish,” we all jumped up and moved to the back of the boat. This time Phill was up and he began working the pole, in an attempt to reel in our next catch of the day. Phill was really struggling, so it was obvious that this was going to be a really big fish. He continued to reel and pull, but was getting increasingly exhausted with each tug. Finally Phill had to

tap out and Mike grabbed the pole.  We are brothers in life, and now we are brothers at sea. Mike picked up where Phill left off, and continued to work the fish for about another five minutes.  And then
finally this massive Sailfish flew high out of the water, glistening and twisting as it dove back in, trying to pull harder and get away. But Mike held his ground and with every ounce of strength he had left, finally pulled this great fish to the edge of the boat, where Christian was waiting with a gaffer pole and hook.

With gloves on, Christian then grabbed the long spiked sword of this gorgeous fish and held it up for us all to see. You cannot keep a Sailfish, so after taking a couple of pictures, he pulled the hook out and let this beautiful creature of the sea go.  Both Phill and Mike were exhausted. And after seeing this massife fish up close, it’s easy to understand why.

With all the commotion, we didn’t even realize that the rain had stopped and the sun had come out. Things were looking bright, and I mean really bright. The water went from gray to a gorgeous blue, and almost looked more like metallic blue Jello than it did water. We continued to troll

around this area for another 40 minutes, but nothing was biting. Then Capitan Christian got a radio call from another boat saying that there was a lot of action in an area that was about 20 minutes from where we were. The captain motioned for the first mate to pull in the lines and we headed due north.

Off in the distance we could see that there were about five or six other boats all trolling in one small
area. As we pulled closer, a massive pod of dolphins swam up on us, some jumping out of the water, twisting and turning. It was absolutely incredible! The last time I saw this many dolphins was when I was on an expedition off the coast of the big Island of Hawaii for an ocean conservation documentary I was shooting with the incredibly talented underwater

model, Hannah Fraser, and cinematographer, Shawn Heinrichs. On that occasion, we all dove in and swam with the dolphins.  It was transformational.  Few words can describe the feeling of so closely connecting with such beautiful creatures.  But today we were on a different mission, so no one jumped in.  In fact, as all the fishing charters jockeyed for position, it could have been deadly.

And then, our trusty first mate called out, “fish, fish!”  It was now my turn, so I assumed my position in the port side stern of the boat. I tucked the end of the pole in my waist area, and began working the fish as my brothers had done earlier. Both the captain and first mate coached me along, as it took all of my strength to keep reeling this fish in. It was obvious that this was a big fish, as it worked me hard.

It was now about 10 minutes into this fight, and there was no way I was going to give up. I continued to work the pole up, and as I let it back down, I would crank the reel a couple turns.  Sometimes only one turn. And then finally, I heard someone shout, “I see colors!”  I assume that meant that they could see the fish, so I pulled even harder!

12 minutes had now passed, and as I struggled, I hopped this battle was come to en end. As I pulled this magnificent Yellowfin Tuna up out of the water, Fabian was there with the gaffer pole to pull it in. Exhausted, I had to sit down and admire this amazing fish. Our captain shouted in Spanish that the fish was at least 45 pounds!

After catching my breath, I actually began to feel sad for my fish.  I told Mike my thoughts, and he was supportive and understanding.  After some self-reflection, I decided that this bounty was a gift from God and the universe, and that this fish was intended to be shared. From that moment, I would make it my mission to get this bounty all the way back home to Los Angeles. My God Daughter, Kaiya, is a pescatarian, and more than anyone, I wanted to share this with her.  Fabian filled my fish on the boat, and prepared it for travel in six large ziplock bags.  This said, I would later discover that getting this fish back home would be no easy task.

My fish would be the last bite of the day, so we began to make the long journey back to Herradura Bay.

It was just before sunset when we gathered our things on the beach where we were dropped by the water taxi. There’s a small beachside restaurant near where we landed.  I tried to get an Uber, but there were none to be found.  We asked at the restaurant if there were any taxis around.  There were not.  But then the host at the restaurant said, un momento, as he motioned across the street.  A young man then pulled his car over to where we were standing and said, I’m not an official taxi, but I can give you a ride.  Because there was no other transportation available, we obliged.

Our driver said that his friend had mentioned that there was a police car up ahead, and that if he got pulled over, that we had to tell the police that we were related!  We all had a good laugh, each elaborating on the story that we would tell, should we get pulled over.

Luckily we never got pulled over, and arrived safely at our condo in about 20 minutes.  We paid our new friend, who then gave us his card and said to call him if we needed anything.  He then repeated, “Anything.”  We all took that with a grain of salt, paid him $20 US, and made our way back to our casa de Jaco.

Friday, August 12, 2022

The Ultimate High School Buddy Trip To Costa Rica

I am a morning person by default, rather than by nature. Because of my career in media production, and then later having kids, I have always had to get up early. So when I’m on vacation, I at least like to try to sleep in. However, the only flight from Houston Texas to Costa Rica was at 6 AM.  I was not jumping for joy when I booked this flight, and I certainly was not doing it whenI got up at 3:50 AM.  But, because I wanted to give myself ample time to return my rental car, and I wanted to get to the airport a little early for my international flight, the early wakeup was a must.

When I hit the ignition button on my Kia K5, the Houston radio station I had found the day before was at a rather high volume.  The radio blared, “Oh Sheila” by Ready For The World! Considering who I am going to meet in Costa Rica, my high school buddies, Mike Carmichael and Phill Minotti, It was the perfect song to start my thirty five minute drive to
the airport. Sidenote: “Oh Sheila” was one of our jams back in the day when we went to teenage dance clubs, Hot Trax, in Van Nuys, and Phases in Canoga Park California. I sang along as I drove up the freeway onramp, “Oh, oh, Sheila let me love you till the morning comes.  Oh, oh, Sheila you know I want to be the only one…” LOL

Because Atlanta is Delta's main hub, many of their flights to destinations that don’t have a direct flight seem to connect at this massive airport first. Knowing that I only had 45 minutes to make my connecting flight, I was slightly relieved to hear the captain say that we were arriving in Atlanta early. But wait, he then came on again after we landed and said that because we were early our gate wasn’t ready. So on the tarmac we sat.

By the time they opened our airplane door, I literally had 38 minutes to get from terminal B to terminal E, by way of the in-airport sky train.  When I asked the Delta representative at the exit gate if she could radio my connecting flight to let them know I was on my way, she looked at me as if she was staring into the eyes of a guy who had just asked her the stupidest question anyone had asked her all day.  It was 8am.  Shaking her head, she looked down at her watch, and said, “You had better scurry,” waving her hand as if to say, off you go!  And that I did!

So, did I mention how big the Atlanta airport is? Yikes. Nonetheless, I arrived at my departing gate slightly out of breath and sweating, with about 20 minutes to spare!  All that running I have been doing on the elliptical at L.A. Fitness has paid off after all! Hallelujah. Costa Rica here I come!

When I was a teenager, Mike Carmichael became one of my very best friends.  I would say that he was my partner in crime, but we never got caught breaking any rules!  We have been bros since we were 15 and 16, respectfully, and later were roommates before he joined the Marines. Mike has lived in the Washington DC area ever since, so we only see each other once or twice every few years. The last time we saw each other was at his mom's funeral last year.  His mom, Mary, was one of the sweetest humans I have ever met.  Our other high school buddy who is joining us on this trip, Phill Minotti, was also at the
funeral. That was the first time I had seen him in about 20 years. I’m quite certain Mary Carmichael is smiling, in her
always pleasant way, knowing that the three of us are going to spend some quality time catching up and bonding in Costa Rica.  

I made my way to the international customs line and saw that Mike was just ahead of me.  Although our flights originated in different cities, they arrived just a few minutes apart.  As the line snaked around, I snuck under the rope to join him.  Seeing my dear friend always puts a smile on my face.  Big hugs were in order.  As we both stepped up to the Costa Rican customs agent, we got our passports out, had them stamped, and officially entered Costa Rica!

Our buddy Phil was due to arrive about two hours later than us, so we decided to escape the

bombardment from taxi drivers just outside baggage claim, and headed upstairs so we could order an Uber. Yes, Uber is in Costa Rica, and all ride sharing is accessible at San Jose International Airport at the arrivals drop off.

I found an outdoor restaurant/sports bar that looked cool via Google maps, and off we went for our first Costa Rican meal in a Toyota Yaris with Bryan Jose, from San Jose!  San Jose, Costa Rica that is, not to be confused with San Jose, California.

It was nice catching up after our long flights, while relaxing in the indoor/outdoor patio dining area. As we ordered our food and drinks, it began to rain. And when I

say rain, I mean it was pouring! Phil arrived just after we finished our second round of drinks. Last time I saw him, he had long hair. Now he has awesome, long dreadlocks! After selling his house in California, he has spent the last year traveling to various international destinations, and has recently settled on a potential new home base in Playa del Carman, Mexico, which is just south of Cancun.

Phill and I went to LA Lutheran High School in Burbank, CA together. I won’t say which one of us snuck on campus late at night before the last day of school and tagged the main school wall with a huge mural that said, “Goodby LuHigh,” but I will say it wasn’t me!  This would be the last day ever at this campus, and if you have followed my blog from the beginning, I have written all about how they sold our beloved campus right before our senior year.  It ultimately sent most of us juniors to different high schools, and separated the class of 1987. 

I landed at Van Nuys High School in the center of the San Fernando Valley.  In fact, Mike and I were supposed to go there together. But the principal had other plans for him on his first, and last day at Van Nuys High in 1986. Mike later graduated from Birmingham High School.  Sidenote #1: Fast Times At Ridgemont High was mostly filmed at Van Nuys High.  My homeroom classroom was the classroom used for Mr. Hand’s class in the 1982 film starring Sean Penn.  While Mr. Penn did not receive an Oscar for his supporting role as the bumbling stoner/surfer, Jeff Spicoli, he definitely deserves much praise for the success of this coming of age film.  Without Spicoli, this film would have been a bust.  Sidenote #2: In 1996 I named my action sports production company Fast Times Films, paying homage to the movie.  Clearly the film made an impact on me when I saw it for the first time as an impressionable young teenager...

Our shuttle van arrived and we were off to our condo in Jaco (pronounced ha-co) Costa Rica. It was still raining.  But I was not surprised, as I had looked at the weather before I arrived, and rain was forecasted pretty much every day we would be there.  It’s a tropical thing, so I was not worried!  Now, what would probably be an hour and a half drive, with our slow driver, felt more like three hours.  All three of us fell asleep on our way to Jaco.

Mike’s cousin, Martin, was waiting for us when we arrived. It was dark, so we couldn’t really see the beach, but you could definitely hear the waves breaking on the beach just outside of our condo!  We were all hungry, so we wandered down to the local village next to our condo to get something to eat, and to pick up a few items at the little market next door to the restaurant.

I would say that the food in Costa Rica, at least my first impression, is a mixture of Cuban/Caribbean and Mexican cuisine.  Plantains. Yum! Imperial Beer is a local favorite, and can be found everywhere. Tonight we all opted for turf instead of surf, but considering our proximity to the Pacific, I have a feeling the rest of this trip will be about surf for me!  The food was great, the conversation was epic and a lot of laughs were enjoyed.

Monday, August 8, 2022

A Lily Pad In Houston Is Where The Heart Is

Sometimes when traveling “unconventionally” and have been on the go since day one, you need to take what I call “laundry days.”  I remember this from my travels in New Zealand when I was in my 20s.  These down days when backpacking your way through foreign lands were a must.  I can’t remember exactly, but I think I probably had about seven days of clothes crammed in my rucksack, as my British travel mates would call it.  I traveled through both the North and South Island for about six weeks, so it’s not hard to do the math.  After about 10 days, everything was starting to get a little funky…!  And to be clear.  backpacking doesn’t mean that I was on foot, carrying a heavy backpack out in the wilderness camping.  Backpacking in this case was traveling with a backpack, and staying in youth hostels.  

An added bonus in New Zealand was the Kiwi Experience.  This was a hop on, hop off bus service in big green busses, that was a go to for travelers of all ages.  I even later found that one of my favorite people, Bridget Rohmer, also did the Kiwi Experience back in the day! You could stay on the same bus for a 20-day tour of the South Island, for instance, or you could hop on and hop off for a two-month tour.  Each day we would travel about two hours or so, see some sights along the way, and then stay in a different youth hostel each night.  I quickly became friends with many of the travelers who were on similar journeys as me, which made the trip even better!

A little more backstory:  Usually I would not use a service like this when I traveled back then, but because I broke my collar bone while “navigating a waterfall” during a hike on my last day in Australia, I decided it would be a much easier way to travel with my heavy backpack, and only the use of my left shoulder to carry it…  I believe I have told the waterfall story in a past blog post, so I’ll give you the short version.  I was hiking with a friend I had met while in Sydney, Australia a few weeks prior.  

She lived in Brisbane,
so when I found myself up that way later in my trip, she offered to take me on a hike in the mountains above the city.  Everything was going well until she suggested I go stand under the cascading water that poured over the massive rocks of the river.  I saw some kids doing it, so I of course followed her suggestions.  After she took the picture, I started to make my way back to where she was standing.  But then, my feet slipped out from under me on a slippery rock, and down I went.  And I mean down the waterfall I went.  When I finally landed in the river below, I went to raise my hands as if to say, “I meant to do that,” but one arm went up, and the other did not.  After we hiked out of the forest, and drove about an hour on an agonizing dirt road to the nearest hospital, I spent the rest of my time in Australia in the ER.  Sigh.

Laundry days were good for spending some quality time at your youth hostel with new friends, or catching up with friends you had made on your journey.  Now, electronic communication at this time was nothing like it is today.  Cell phones existed, but US phones didn’t work outside of the US.  And I don’t remember other backpackers having phones either.  I just wasn’t a thing yet, so the only way we communicated with the people we met along the way, or with friends and family back home, was via email.  Some youth hostels had a computer you could jump on to log into your email account, but most of us backpackers went to internet cafes to communicate.  Internet cafes were everywhere.  Each cafe had anywhere from two, to a dozen desktop computers available for rent by the minute, or by the hour.  Many also sold coffee, so this became a thing for me. 

So where am I going with all of this?  Well, I needed a couple days to relax and catch up with family and friends, and definitely needed to do some laundry! And where better to do this then Houston Texas! I say that, because it’s just too damn hot outside to do anything else… And I now have my own Internet cafe in my hotel room!

The truth is, I have so much to say about my days in Houston, but I am going to have to save that for a future blog.  For now I will keep it short but sweet, because as mentioned above, my time here is precious...

If you have been following this blog from the beginning of my journey this summer, you know that I have been slightly winging it on this trip. Yes, I have made plans in advance for sure, but since I found myself in this unusual situation, where both kids are off in different states, one at camp and the other with family on Long Island, I have taken full advantage of my “me” time!

Just prior to setting off on this journey, my dear friend since we were teenagers, Mike Carmichael, contacted me and said that he was planning on going to Costa Rica for a week at the beginning of August. He would be joined by his cousin, Martin, and another dear friend from high school, Phill Minotti.

At this point, I had still been on the fence about meeting the guys, but since my dear “niece,” Lexie, is taking good care of our family pet, Jasper, and because work is slow this time of year anyway, I jumped at this once in a lifetime opportunity to go meet my friends!  Not only that, Costa Rica has been on my bucket list for years!

So my plan was to fly from Houston to San Jose, Costa Rica, and then at the end of the trip I would fly back home, closing out my midlife crisis summer of 2022…

I always fly Delta, so I started looking into flights. It literally took me three hours (mostly on hold) to work with a Delta agent to help me find my most recent flight credit.  I had a credit for my son’s flight to Minneapolis, which ended up being cheaper when we had to change his flight!  Winner!  What I didn’t realize is that I had even more credits on Delta from a flight I had to cancel during the pandemic, and a couple of other credits from other past flights. Awesome! This trip would be totally covered with flight credits, so I would be able to fly “for free!”  Well, sort of.  Friends, if you fly Delta, be sure to check to see if you have flight credits, called “eCredits,” as they do expire, and neither the Delta app or website make the link to your credits blatantly obvious. 

The next couple days in Houston were exactly what I needed. A little personal time to catch up with loved ones. Yes, I did get out and have some Texas barbecue, of course! I also went to an awesome farmers market, checked in with Mother Nature and did the tourist thing at the Houston Space Center.  As in “Houston, we have a problem…“ A trip to this city would not be complete without seeing the Space Shuttle on top of a 747. It’s pretty impressive!  A birthday, and gazing out into Galveston Bay from the Kemah Boardwalk on a hot summer day was particularly special.

I did have a few loose ends to tighten up on my last day before leaving the country for the first time since Barbados in 2019.  Knowing it would be difficult to send a care package to my son at camp from Costa Rica, I put together a few
things that I thought he would like.  This task required going to one of the biggest malls I have ever been to, Target and Barnes and Noble.  Sidenote #1: The biggest Mall I have ever been to was the Mall of America in Minneapolis about six years ago. Sidenote #2:  I don’t like malls.  I much prefer the farmers market I mentioned above!  Most everything I got for my young camper was Los Angeles Dodgers or Los Angeles Lakers related, as you are not allowed to send candy or snacks.  I’m guessing they don’t want bears or other critters sneaking into the cabins to feast on Sour Ropes or Australian Licorice.  Wait.  Do they even have bears in Northern Minnesota?  Hmmm.

With the care package on its way to Camp Mishawaka, a box of souvenirs and extra stuff I didn’t need to take to Costa Rica on its way to my house, and a postcard home to my mom and dad, it was time to wrap up Houston.  I had to get up at 3:45 AM to make my 6 AM flight from Houston Hobby International Airport, so this would be an early night.

Good night my loves. You know who you are.  Thank you for your kind hospitality.  And peace out Houston!

Sunday, August 7, 2022

A Road Less Traveled To Donaldsonville

The hardest thing for me when it comes to New Orleans is leaving. It’s not like Las Vegas where I can’t wait to leave…  I actually truly love this city.  In particular the French Quarter, Garden District and Algiers Point, which is just over the river.  But it was time, and I will be back!

Because the next stop on my journey is Houston TX, I looked on Google maps to see exactly how far Houston is from New Orleans.  It’s actually not that far.  A little over five hours to be exact, so instead of flying, I thought it would be a good opportunity to do a little sidetripping through the bayou!  As I examined the route, I just happened to notice that there is a town called Donaldsonville almost halfway in between New Orleans and Houston!  Not joking!  This is a must stop!

I rented a car on Canal Street, which was just a few blocks away from my hotel. It was an easy walk, so I brought my good camera to take some pictures of the French Quarter along the way.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, it is hurricane season in New Orleans. And of course about halfway to pick up my rental car a torrential downpour decided to make my trip that much more fun! And when I say fun, I am not being sarcastic. Growing up in Los Angeles, rain is a novelty, so a torrential downpour in the French Quarter for me is like riding Grizzly River at Disneyland…!

With a little shucking and jiving underneath the balconies and awnings above the sidewalks that are common throughout the French Quarter, I made my way through the downpour, stopping quickly to grab a trash bag from a kind security guard in order to protect my camera. Thank you kind security guard!

I picked up my car, a bag of beignets from Cafe du Monde, and headed east on the 10 (Interstate 10)! I think it’s pretty awesome that this is the same freeway that ends about 2 miles from my house in Santa Monica California!  It’s the fourth longest interstate in the United States.

Even though it was slightly off course, I have always wanted to drive over Lake Pontchartrain.  Yes, I have driven over similar causeways while visiting some very special folk in Florida, but this long, low bridge is the longest in the U.S.!   Sidenote: A chunk of this causeway was taken out by hurricane Katrina so it was closed for repairs for about five months.

OK, I didn’t honk my horn for fun as I do for the kids when we drive through a tunnel, but I do admit that it was pretty cool driving over this 24 mile stretch of engineering awesomeness!

As I continued on my journey, bursts of rain would continue throughout the day.  And we’re talking about massive rain storms, where traffic would slow to about 15 miles per hour on the highway. And then, just like that, it would stop and get hot again.  As a SoCal boy, I’m definitely not used to this!

Since my only experiences in Louisiana have been in New Orleans, I thought I would take some time off the beaten path and discover an actual bayou.  The Conway Bayou is lush with vegetation and meanders through the countryside, connecting to other waterways. There are houses and docks on stilts, some higher than others.  I presume this precautionary measure is based on how high the water levels can rise. There are shanties, as well as amazing estates along these Louisiana waterways.  I even found a cute little three-bedroom house along the bayou for
$275,000. As I sat in my air-conditioned car looking at this cute place, I had a momentary thought of a vacation getaway that would be fun for the whole family. That was until I opened the door of my car and got a read on the actual temperature outside…

I arrived in Donaldsonville around 4:30 PM. As you drive down Main Street, it’s not hard to see that this was once the center of this small town. But, it was apparent that times have changed and now many of the shops have closed. I’m not sure why, but based on the corporate eateries and chain stores that are along the highway as you come into town, my guess is that, just like many other small towns in America, the mom and pop shops on Main Streets around the country, have fallen victim to these more modern corporate giants.  

Some shops look as if they have closed in the last year or so, possibly due to Covid. But some of these places look like they have been closed for some time. I was hoping to find a souvenir shop or a place where I could get a Donaldsonville T-shirt, but this place was a ghost town. But wait.  As I drove slowly down the main drag, I spotted what I was looking for!  One lonely T-shirt hanging in the window of a clothing store. A Donaldsonville T-shirt! I had to have it.  But the shop is closed. As I walked up to the door to inspect it further, I saw the light turn out. There was actually someone in the shop! I caught the owner as she was trying to leave for the day. I introduced myself as Eric Donaldson and said, "I know you are already closed, but what are the chances of me buying a Donaldsonville T-shirt?" She said, "I’m
not sure we have a Donaldsonville T-shirt." I explained that I had seen one in the window, and she said, "I didn’t even know we had that!  We must have made it up for a special event."  She then led me through the shop to the window where I saw the T-shirt. She pulled it out of the window and said, "this is definitely the only one we have.  I hope this size will work," as she looked me up and down…  It was a medium.  I said it will be perfect for one of my kids! I will take it!

With t-shirt in hand, I decided to take a little self-guided driving tour of the rest of Donaldsonville.  I drove past the fire station, middle school and high school.  I then had a wonderful dinner (I know, I know. I did said wonderful...) at a great locals restaurant called the Grapevine Cafe. I had also seen a cool, old 1950s style drive up, where I’m sure food was once served by waitresses on roller skates, but tonight the little, quirky Cajun cafe was calling me!  I had their house special, crawfish cornbread.  This was the very best cornbread I have

ever had.  It was absolutely delicious!  Next up was the pecan encrusted redfish.  Friends, this dinner was a win, win, so if you are ever in Donaldsonville, make sure to stop in for dinner!  You can even tell them that a Donaldson sent you! Oh, and as I was on my way out, I asked the host if they had any Grapevine Cafe t-shirts that say Donaldsonville on them? She said, "no, but if you head back out to the interstate, you can get a Donaldsonville T-shirt at Walmart or CVS." So much for "Shop Local," and as I suspected, bye bye Main Street Anywhere USA...

My goal was to stay in Baton Rouge, and see the city at night. But, because I got in so late, and to save a few bucks, I decided to stay in a small motel just across the Mississippi River, rather than stay in downtown. I figured I would be fine since it was just me… So, you know the saying, you get what you pay for, right? I should have known that this was not the place for me when the attendant at the front desk asked if I wanted a smoking room or a non-smoking room… "Uh, non-smoking, please."

The nice young woman looked at her computer screen, and then explained to me that she did not have any non-smoking rooms left, as the last two non-smoking rooms had door locks that were not operational.  She said, in other words, I would not be able to leave and come back without getting assistance from the front desk.  I said, no problem, I’m in for the night!  As I made my way up the stairs to my motel room, I noticed that there were two other rooms along the way where cowboy boots were sitting just outside the doors. I have no idea what that means, so I can only guess that the boots, unlike the cowboy who wore them, we’re not allowed to enter the motel room…

In the morning, I closed the door to my highway side motel room and looked down at the green pool below. Yikes!  Luckily I got out of there unscathed, so figured I would do a little sightseeing of Baton Rouge!

I did a driving tour of Louisiana State University, and a little walk along, wait for it… Yes, the Mississippi River!  You really get to see how high the levees are along the river in Baton Rouge. It’s crazy to think that the during a storm the water level could actually breach these levees. Don't mess with Mother Nature!

Before I left town, I wanted to stop by the Magnolia Mound Plantation which was a tobacco, indigo,

cotton, and sugarcane plantation first built in 1791.  They say it is one of the best renovated and preserved plantations in this region. The buildings truly are in great condition after much care has been put into saving this plantation. I enjoyed walking the grounds until I came upon the outbuilding where slaves had lived.  As I looked in the open doors of this shanti, I felt great sadness.  And as I write this now, the one word in the information pamphlet that stood out to me more than anything is "ownership."

Ownership of humans.  This should not be.  Not now, or in 1791.  But it still exists. As a white male in my 50s, even though I have no relatives who owned slaves, I feel ashamed.  As an American, I take "ownership" in this horrible part of our history. I left the plantation feeling great sadness for what my human brothers and sisters had to endure at this place.

I jumped back on the 10, and now had my sights set on Houston Texas. I am not joking when I say that

without seeing a sign that says "Welcome To Texas," you know you have arrived in Texas because the trucks begin to get much bigger. This is 100% confirmed true. 

I checked into my hotel and was very happy to see that the pool was not green, the the door was operational and no one had their cowboy boots sitting outside their front door.   

As I opened the plastic bag which had my running shoes and shirt that got soaked in the New Orleans downpour, I gagged, laughed at myself and thought, if only I was at that motel in Baton Rouge, I'd leave these stinky shoes outside my door too! Heck, I bet those cowboys would have given me an understanding nod the next morning as we all made our way to Starbucks...