After a quick Continental breakfast at the hotel, it was time to keep moving. I took a quick trip through Pensacola, which looked like a nice-enough town to live in. I took a quick drive down to Palafox Pier, which was only a few blocks away from my motel.
After a quick drive around Pensacola, it was time to head to New Orleans and then on to Texas. The drive would be over 550 miles and take 9+ hours. Sorry Pensacola, gotta run.
On my way to Louisiana, I drove through Alabama and Mississippi. I’m sure there was a lot to see and do in these fine states, though nothing that would compel me to stop on that particular day. I also made it a habit to take a picture of each state’s highway welcome sign.
After a few hours of non-stop driving, I pulled over for a quick restroom break at Louisiana’s Welcome Center. Pretty busy at the time, the folks running the place were quite friendly. Each state has Welcome Centers located off major highways, near borders with other states.
As I approached New Orleans, heavy rain started to fall. I’d visited New Orleans before, but not since Hurricane Katrina happened. Crossing Lake Pontchartrain into New Orleans is usually a pretty drive. Not on this particular day.
On the way, I spotted a glance of the Louisiana Superdome, a prominent landmark and at the center of the events surrounding Hurricane Katrina. A much happier place since the Saints won the Super Bowl that previous year.
For lunch, I picked Guy’s Po Boys, a sandwich shop. Guy’s reportedly serves one of the best po’ boy (short for “poor boy”) sandwiches in the city, and I was about to test that claim. Po’ boy sandwiches are traditional Louisiana sandwiches consisting of roast beef or fried seafood.
I found the place easily enough. The small corner shop was in a semi-residential street.
I arrived starving, well past lunchtime, which was a blessing in disguise because I found a place to sit inside. I placed my order, and sat down to wait while they brought the order to my table. Not a root beer fan, but Barg’s was amazing.
I scoffed at Yelp.com reviewers who said they sandwiches were so massive it was hard to finish one. I’d show ‘em. Soon, I was ordering not one, but TWO po’boy sandwiches, since I wanted to try one of each (roast beef and fried shrimp).
Well, the reviewers weren’t kidding. These things were big. I mean, REALLY BIG. And tasty too…
I was only able to down one po’ boy and had to save the other one for later, which I ended up eating for dinner at a gas station somewhere near the Texas border.
I miraculously managed to stay awake after that HUGE lunch, but I had one more thing to do before I left New Orleans for good. I had to taste my first beignet.
What’s a beignet? It’s a deep-fried pastry served hot and with powdered sugar on top. That’s the textbook, clinical definition and one I would’ve given you before actually tasting the thing.
So I read that the best place to have a beignet was Cafe du Monde, a New Orleans landmark. Unfortunately, my GPS failed me and I spent about 45 minutes, in pouring rain, trying to find the place.
After giving up, I got back on the road, disappointed. On my way out of the city (Eden Isle), I decided to stop for coffee. I struck up a conversation with the young man behind the counter, who suggested that the farther I got away from New Orleans, the harder it would be to find a decent beignet.
There was no way I could turn back towards New Orleans without losing a significant amount of time. I made the decision to press forward.
As I got on the highway that led away from New Orleans, I kept scanning restaurant listings with my smartphone in case another place that sold beignets popped up. And lo and behold, one did in Slidell, the last big city before hitting the highway that went West.
I pulled up to the parking lot of the place, a strange gift-shop/restaurant and ordered a beignet to go.
A few minutes later (made to order is the only way to have them) I was handed three hot beignets, with about a pound of powdered sugar dumped on top. I wasn’t particularly hungry, and frankly, all that sugar intake would likely shave a couple years of my life.
But hey, I’d come too far for these stupid things, so I had to eat at least half of one.
Take a good look at my picture above. That picture above is “pre-beignet Rich”. You’ll never see a clearer snapshot at a crucial point in someone’s life. Maybe a pic of a mother, as she holds her first-born child for the first time.
What are beignets? Beignets are “HEAVEN IN YOUR MOUTH” deliciousness. Before I even knew what happened, I not only had destroyed all three beignets, I was sifting my now-empty bag of powdered sugar for crumbs. They were amazing and totally worth the trouble.
And just like that, I knew this trip was going to be good.
Riding the beignet sugar-high, I finally arrived in Texas. Their welcome sign was totally underwhelming, given the “Everything is bigger in Texas” motto one hears so often.”
I put my camera away and about a minute later, I came across the biggest display I had ever seen for any Welcome Center of any state I’d ever been in. Huge star sculpture, probably three stories high. And I missed the picture. Serves me right for underestimating Texas.
I sleepily made it to Houston, where I spent a good half hour looking for a non-seedy, yet inexpensive motel.
I finally found one and was given a room that had the brightest paint job I’ve ever see in any hotel (or any room) I’ve ever been in my entire life.
And that’s how an action-packed day came to a close. I set out to reach Texas, which I did.
At this point, I was already farthest West I’d ever been in while inside continental US. The landscape hadn’t changed much and apart from tasty food, it still felt like I was inside the same United Sates I’d known since I was a kid.
But little by little, things would start getting more interesting. Much more.