Friday, November 19, 2004

Pittsburg, Pennsylvania—New Orleans, Louisiana—Monroe, Louisiana—Day 293

This morning I woke up bright and early to catch my shuttle to the airport from the hotel. Since it was so early (6:15) there was hardly any traffic and we made it to the airport at 6:45, giving me plenty of time for me to check in and get my 9:20 flight to New Orleans.

The flight to New Orleans was just under three hours and I passed my time reading and trying to master the Portuguese language. We landed in New Orleans and I went to the baggage claim where I collected my bags and headed straight to the car rental desk where I picked up my compact car that would take me five hours north to Monroe.

The man renting me the car was quite a character—big and bushy with those thick plastic glasses straight out of 1985. Because I am just one year shy of 25, they slap on a $25 “under-age” surcharge for renting a car. The woman whom I spoke with on the phone when I made the reservation warned me that I must “have a clean driving record” and I will admit that my record isn’t spot on clean. I was hoping that he wouldn’t discover this and turn me away.

He just typed in my info and after charging my credit card, handed over a rental agreement and sent me on my way to the shuttle bus that would take me to the rental lot, where I could pick “any compact car that I wanted.”

So I went out to the “second curb on the left” and waited for the shuttle to come. It pulled up and I hopped in (ok, hopping is not the right word, I dragged my stuff up the steps into the van and collapsed with heat exhaustion) and we pulled away to the rental lot.

We were soon there and I waited for my compact car to be cleaned, disappointed that I wasn’t able to pick just any car that I wanted. They seemed to be out of cars! So I waited and finally a guy pulled up in a silver Chevy cavalier and handed me the keys.

I was off. I pulled out of the lot and made my way to Interstate 10, which would take me as far north as Lafayette, then I would head north to Monroe.

Heading over the swamp land that makes up the area around New Orleans, through Baton Rouge and on to Lafayette, I was really impressed with the scenery. The fact that these freeways were just built right over the swamps was really something I hadn’t seen before.

I coasted onwards to Lafayette, stopping for a bite to eat at a Subway off of the freeway around noon. I drove on and on, and ended up taking a smaller highway up to Monroe where the speed limit wavered between 30 and 60 miles per hour. It was nice though—stopping at traffic lights and being able to look around. So THIS is Louisiana.

I made it to Monroe around 4:30pm where I actually passed the signs for the zoo. I knew it would be the best thing for me to get a hotel near the zoo and luckily I had quite the selection just down the road. I checked into a Hampton Inn and collapsed on the bed exhausted from my long drive.

I asked the girl when I checked in, who seemed to be just one of those ambiguous people who look like they are just out of high school but on the other hand might be thirty something—you just couldn’t tell. I asked her how I could get to the downtown area of Monroe. She just looked at me.

“Well,” she says, “what part do you want to go to cause there ain’t much there.”


“Well,” I said, “how about a movie theater? Any nearby?”

She nodded and proceeded to give me directions to the nearest theater, which was just off of highway 20.

“You can’t get lost” she told me.

I thanked her and headed to my room where I lied down for a while stretching out my tired feet. Still feeling slightly jet lagged, I could most definitely have gone to bed then but I forced myself to get up. Who knows what god-awful time I would have woken up if I went to bed at 5pm!

So I headed out around 6:30pm to see just what Monroe was made of. I drove on the freeway and exited where the receptionist told me to go—but didn’t find this “easy to find” theater. In fact, I drove all around and all I could see were Wal-Marts and McDonalds. No theaters to be found. I gave up my search and ended up at “Martha’s Catfish Buffet”—this all-you-can-eat buffet place.

I walked in and told the girl standing at the entrance “One please.”

The waiters around her all just kind of smiled and told me to head right in, pay first, find a seat and then the server will help you. So I did this—I went and paid $13 bucks for my dinner and my drink and sat down at a table. I waited for a bit until the server came up to me.

“Honey, are you waitin’ for anyone?”

“Nope.” I smiled.

“Well, shoot, did ya pay? Cause all you gots to do is get your tray over there, get your dinner and then I will bring ya a drink.”

Ohhh, right. I went and got my tray and started helping myself to all sorts of fried fish, fried cheese, fried shrimp, fried potatoes. Everything was fried.

“You aint from here are you?”

I turned around and looked at the man questioning me, who was obviously an employee (I could tell by his bright blue “Martha’s Catfish Buffet” t-shirt). He introduced himself as the owner and I smiled. He asked me where I was from and replied with arched eyebrows when I said Arizona. “Well, how did you end up HERE?” He asked. Rather than explaining, I just told him that I was “passing through.” Satisfied with this answer, he proceeded to show me all the food that I should eat. “Did you get a bit of the fried catfish? How about this baked bit?” I assured him that I was trying the house specialties and thanked him for his help.

Once my plate was full I went and sat down. My waitress brought me my drink and I ate my dinner. Several employees came over to “check on me” while I was eating, just to see if I needed anything else. It was obvious that I was the only non-local there! I finished my dinner and headed out feeling stuffed full of Louisiana food and hospitality. I drove back to the hotel where I ended up falling asleep at 9pm, exhausted from my day.