“hey man, are you alive in there?” 

[Warning: My travelogue continues, as the Weber clan finally reaches Spring Hill, Florida to deal with the leftovers of my in-laws’ passing. Washington seems very far away at this point.

Excuse me, I just screamed like a girly-man after a three-inch-long black gecko crawled out from under my shoes and darted into the living room of my late in-laws’ house. 

To think, I’m gonna have to sleep on the floor of the master bedroom a few more feet away starting tomorrow (Saturday) and ending Wednesday morning… this place still stinking of second-hand smoke, me stuck here again without any recourse despite my husband’s solemn vow – uttered annually – never again. 

For the next four days, Eddie will sort his parents’ belongings into three piles: dump, donate and store for later. He already rented a dumpster, booked a painter, carpet and air-conditioning professionals to clean up this faded nicotine-stained house for selling… Goodwill and furniture people to follow to pick up the stereo cabinet, his mother’s dilapidated bed, and any other secondhand stuff littering the living room (with gecko droppings all over it). Then, we drive over to the East Coast of Florida, Barefoot Bay – site of the back to back hurricanes months ago, they’re still rebuilding – to stay with Eddie’s cousins at their manufactured home until we drive back across the country to Long Beach, California, to board a Princess Cruise ship for a week-long adventure to and from Mexico, to fulfill, in large part, Eddie’s commitment as a jazz musician in the ship-board band’s three-hour gig. 

Here I am again, the fourth trip to yet another gas station for truckers. I had
no idea there were showers in here too. Good to know for those, ahem, accidents.

We already endured 11 whole days of cross-country travel getting here, just so Eddie can fix up his parents’ house as best as he can and lay to rest their life’s work (saving up for the inevitability of their deaths, to pass on to their only begotten son), and I can breathe in their second-hand smoke in the after-life. I’m sure somewhere in purgatory mom and dad, part 2 are laughing their heads off at my suffering. 

“Go hotel, mom. No lizards on me there,” James tells me, clamoring to sit in my lap, while I’m typing this in a hurry, as I’ve been doing everything lately. 

“Honey, can you help daddy with the sorting so I can write the columns?” 

“No!” he yells, grabbing at me. “I not big boy now. I baby. Your baby. Lizard scare me too.” 

(Why did I scream? Groan.) 

James needed to run through a field, so this
rest stop was as good as any.

I just got through making up our air mattress and tomorrow morning, I’ll do James’ little boy mattress. But I doubt any of us will do much sleeping. The second that little gecko goes sprinting over my arm, I’ll scream – of course – then I’ll pack. Who cares if there are only three hotels in the area (because the Hernando County politicians passed laws against hotel development, so as to preserve the retirement community, keeping riff-raff out… newsflash, bozos, they’re already here and revving their motorcycle engines where old people should be napping), two of ‘em dives?! 

The squalor of this dead, nicotine-stained house reminds me of our passing through New Orleans the night of January 3rd. Oh Lord was that a waste of time. 

Eddie and I nearly lost our collective mind trying to find a) a restroom after holding pee in for two hours, b) a splurge on a ritzy hotel in the heart of downtown in the middle of the Sugar Bowl, c) Café Du Monde, home of the world-famous beignets and café au laits, d) any decent joint serving jambalaya, shrimp etouffee and red beans and rice – without running into a vagrant, a crack dealer, a hooker, or every third sleazy-looking passer-by off the street. We parked in an alley between two ritzy hotels, hoping to find a hole-in-the-wall safely, but were immediately accosted by two questionable gentlemen wanting more than two quarters to scrape together. The second we hurried by a strip joint, I said, “Nice,” and Eddie said, “That’s it. Let’s go back in the car.” 

Every other street had been blocked by the cops who appeared to just be standing around, as belligerent and apathetic as every third sleazy-looking passer-by… just like every other ritzy area sandwiched by decay. Ninety percent of the New Orleans population looked either dirt poor broke or stoned out of their minds. (New Orleans, in fact, resembled a macrocosm of every dirty, ugly metro city from L.A. to Manhattan; it made L.A. look like Club Med.) 

The best Cajun we had was not even in the French Quarter, but
the entrance to
Louisiana (from the Texas end), at Cajun
Charlie’s, around gas stations and motels. Pictured here: crawfish

So trying to find Café Du Monde – without an address or a clue (we finally dialed 411 for Decatur Street, for all the good that did us) – when every other street access was blocked was like trying to find a restroom in Bombay. We did eventually see it up in the distance, more squalor (which you don’t see on the TV Food Network’s various homages)… a bunch of bums in waitstaff gear, sitting or standing around smoking up the joint, waiting around for the Sugar Bowl pack to converge… parked easily, then I went into the one stall per gender Café Du Monde bathroom to relieve myself, next, Eddie’s turn. 

OMG. The bathrooms gave new meaning to pig sty. People must’ve gone in there to screw, do crack and eat each other’s fecal matters all at once. I passed a guy – who looked like he belonged at home playing sax onstage – standing in front of the men’s room (for 20 minutes, btw), at first thinking he was taking a piss right there, and said, “Sorry dude,” going by, to which he raised his hands to heaven, shaking his head. 

As I gingerly sat my sweaty butt on the half-broken, cancer-stick burned toilet seat with barely any room for my purse, which sat on my lap (the stall was about the size of one on a small airplane), I heard the guy outside waiting speak up, “Hey man, are you alive in there?” 

For the first time in nine days, I cracked a smile. 

For the second time, as I put a piece of the beignet in my mouth, I giggled, the achievement of a lifetime, a cross between a Portuguese malasada and a homemade cake donut, but better. The café au lait just happened to be the most perfectly smooth cup of coffee, my dream cup, sweet, milky, just a hint of coffee and chicory, the polar opposite of the burnt Starbucks. 

Beignets, for the uneducated, are the French equivalent
of a heavenly donut. Pieces of dough deep fried and
showered in powdered sugar, to be enjoyed only with a café
au lait swimming in lots of sugar.

Still, I doubt the experience merited a three-hour emotional meltdown. 

Right about now, I only have to worry about what to eat for dinner, probably back to Luigi’s (since 1970) in Brooksville, the only decent Italian food around in this gum the Applebee town, for some spaghetti with meatballs. 

I’ll worry about that infernal gecko tomorrow. At least, I hope it’s gecko, singular. “Eddie…!” 




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