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This weekend lead me on a last minute trip to Houston, and ultimately to New Orleans. The drive surprisingly wasn’t bad, roughly 500 miles and takes about an hour longer than it does to get to my parent’s. I-10 going east is certainly much nicer scenery than it is going west, more green and actual trees. An overnight stay at a Beaumont rest stop, and I made it to NOLA about noon. I had no idea Lake Pontchartrain was so huge!

The first thing I did was wind up in the Lower 9th Ward (“L9W”) which was completely under several feet of water back during Katrina. I have no idea what this neighborhood actually looked like before, but there’s not much to it anymore. Street after street of lots that have empty foundations, overgrown weeds, or a house with some sort of major damage. Everything is either brand new or completely busted up, and it’s all for rent. On the west side of the ward, there were some designer houses that went in. These were on high stilts, came in floral colors and had many solar panels installed.

"Commercial license since 73, No job BP"

Next, I went down to Venice to see what was going on with the Gulf oil spill. I didn’t really know what would be a hotbed of activity (apparently I wanted Port Fourchon), I just picked the southernmost road I could find. Along the way I saw the Naval Air Station, with a F/A-18 perched out front. Next was Empire Marina with several fishing boats, several with yellow oil boom on-board. One boat had a large sign that said “Commercial license since 73; No job BP“. Lots of BP hate around here, many signs calling for prayer for fishermen.

Venice had quite a bit of activity, and it looks like it’d be busy without the oil spill. Several oil and fishing companies are represented here. There was at least one large parking area for response workers and dozens of temporary trailer homes. Several heliports are here, and they all appeared to be launching flights to take workers out. Deep into the bayou were several private company work yards and harbors. Each company had people in tents manning the gates, the occasional sheriff’s deputy, and shuttles to carry people to/from heliports and town. BP’s lot had a flurry of bus activity and even had state patrol parked out front. From here, it was a mere 68 miles to the MC252 well out in the gulf.

Also parked out in the Mississippi River is the TMT A Whale, a giant oil skimmer. This has been in the news a lot lately as it’s been going through trials. Last I heard it was decided to be too big, so I guess now it’s idling away its time here. I also saw the white observation airship floating around. I never saw any oil here, much less any coastline. One needs a boat to get out in the water to see things.

The parish sheriff’s office is hardcore here. Highway 23 is well patrolled by deputies, and they have a large presence in Venice harbor. They were escorting several wide loads down the road. Near the company yards, they have an intense little tactical compound of office trailers. It even features a shipping container turned into a jail (called “Jail-to-Go”). I found out later that apparently BP was using inmate labor in the cleanup, so this portable jail was to help assist if there were any problems. I wish I had taken a photo, but I was afraid winding up inside it.

Back to New Orleans, I sat out to find a nice quiet dinner and found myself fighting with the French Quarter at 5 PM on a Saturday evening. I had no idea where to go or park, and some of the parking was quite expensive at $25/day. Cars and people everywhere. Eventually I gave up and parked at the aquarium.

It was crazy hot this weekend and I didn’t really think ahead enough to bring shorts or linens. I was thoroughly drenched in sweat as I walked down Bourbon Street, ducking in wherever I could that was air conditioned. I spent about six hours wandering up and down and across the quarter. Overall it was a great experience taking photos, eating and drinking, and people watching. There’s certainly a large number of attractive blondes here!  I think the bead throwers have really lowered their standards since there was virtually no nudity. On the food side of things, I tried an alligator po-boy (which was huge) and cannoli at some Italian place.

By midnight I was thoroughly filthy and tired from walking around and sweating so much. Being what it is, there’s not many places to sit down and people watch without being in the middle of a bar, so I decided to leave. The iPad told me if I wanted a cheap motel room, I needed to look by the airport. $55 later and I was down for the night. In retrospect, a wise tourist would have planned ahead to get a motel room first (in FQ or near the streetcar line) in order to clean up and have a convenient place to crash later without thinking about it.

Sunday morning I had planned to go back to the French Quarter to see a giant cemetery. By 11 AM it was already 95 F so I quickly ruled this out and decided that was a trip. After breakfast I drove across the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway. I didn’t know how large the lake was exactly, so I was impressed when I saw that this was a 21 mile long bridge. It was neat to be in the middle and not being able to see the west/east shore and just barely able to see the north/south shores. From here I drove back to Austin and arrived at 8:30 PM.

More pics on Flickr.

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