Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Departure for New Orleans--Day 1

Tuesday, 18 January 2005, Durham, North Carolina to New Orleans, Louisiana

I finished packing for my trip to New Orleans to meet Jody and Ken Kuchar and the crew of 1 Giant Leap and 2sides2everything. At 9:30 a.m. local time, I put food and water into my dog’s cages and coaxed Goose, Greta and Zelda into their places with cheese so that I could leave the house. I was traveling with a large suitcase and a Target bag loaded down with about 25 pounds of pound cakes….one for India Rose (milk chocolate and toffee) and one for Jess (lemon) and one very heavy pumpkin flavored one that was for general consumption. As I looked at the Target bag, I noticed their red circle logo with the red dot in the center and thought that it would make a great international symbol for Pound Cake. All freaking 25 pounds of them….

Once on the road, I drove to Chapel Hill to pick up my friend Ben Kudler who had agreed to house- and dog-sit for me in my absence. He is working for the University of North Carolina (Go Heels!) AIDS Clinical Trials Unit, so I was to pick him up there for my escort to the RDU airport. On arriving at the UNC ACTU, I went inside to find Ben and immediately noticed red ribbons everywhere. Oh man! I realized that I had left home without my red ribbon! How can an AIDS activist travel without his red ribbon??? As it turned out, Ben was able to obtain a package of embroidered stick-on red ribbons from a good man named Melvin. I put one on my jacket, and put the rest in my bag. Finally with ribbons, Ben and I went to the airport. When we arrived, Ben dropped me off and drove back to a week of hell where Greta tried to prove to him quite successfully that SHE is the alpha dog in my home, dammit! (Thank you so much Ben for putting up with my bossy girl!)

My flight through to Charlotte, NC, was uneventful, but there was a delay on the next leg of the flight to New Orleans. Unable to find a pay phone, I could not call Jody and Ken to tell them that I would be delayed. The Luddite that I have become refuses to own a cell phone, so I, of course, learned their usefulness the hard way. Despite that, our flight eventually arrived at the airport in New Orleans and I then found the shuttle into town. This was about the time that my life and world went surreal…

The shuttle was late…very late, in arriving. Eventually, about 9 of us were crammed together into a van. As it happened, I was seated in the most inaccessible corner of the back seat of the van. I had turned my suitcase over to the van driver, but I still had the 25 pounds of cake which at this point were beginning to cause the circulation in my fingers to cease! I clumsily tried to navigate into the seat with a tower of 3 cakes preceding me and finally got settled in. I shared the back seat with a male nurse who was in town for rest-and-recreation from working on an offshore oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico and also with a nephrologist-to-be from Missouri who had come to NOLA for a conference. I heard them discussing medical technology, and with my background in pharmaceuticals, I joined in the conversation. Both of the men were wearing yellow plastic bracelets, and I thought that they were some kind of signal to the shuttle driver that they had tickets. I had no idea that these bracelets might come up again later in a way that is quite significant. Remember this theme: synchronicity….it will come into play quite frequently over the next week.

So just as I start to feel a vibe that maybe the male nurse is a fellow traveler (he said something about a place on our route that looked like it might be a good "cruising" spot), we arrive at the Renaissance Père Marquette. Everyone in the van had pretty much to bail out of the van to let me out with those cakes and when my foot hit the ground, I saw Ken and Jody standing there to greet me. I got my bag hoping that maybe I would run into the nurse later in a bar somewhere. In fact, at that point, he said to me, with a bit of a wink, that maybe we would see each other again.

Jody and Ken had been waiting for a couple of hours and had begun to worry that there had been a mishap, so I had to explain that I couldn’t find a phone to call them. As I was checking in, I asked if they had heard from Jamie or Duncan. Jody said that Jamie had called to say that we were to meet them at their hotel for dinner that night. As it was around 6:30 local time, we decided that I should go to my room and freshen up a bit, then meet them in their room where we would make contact with Jamie.

A quick side note: I met Jody and Ken through the 1 Giant Leap bulletin board. They live in Wisconsin. For some reason, there has been a disproportionate number of people from Wisconsin coming into my life lately. I dated a guy from there for a while. Then I met Jody and Ken. I sold a puppy to a civil rights lawyer from Wisconsin. So, it has become a bit of a joke that when I meet someone new, that they will be from Wisconsin.

Upon getting to Jody and Ken’s room, we called the Ramada Hotel on Gravier Street to find out if Jamie and the crew had yet checked in. The receptionist said that they had not yet arrived. At that point, Jody and Ken said that Jamie had called earlier in the day from the airport as they were arriving and that they were about to rent a car as soon as they cleared Customs. Figuring that getting through Customs would be an ordeal with all the equipment, we began to wonder if there had been some kind of glitch. Finally, we decided to go to the Ramada to see if they had yet arrived and, if not, to go find a place for dinner. Meanwhile, I was still lugging around those pound cakes. It had become a joke by now how heavy they were. I looked into the bag and remembered the red ribbons, so I took out a couple and gave them to Jody and Ken. They put them on immediately, and from that point forward, every time we greeted, I was honored to see them sporting the red ribbons.

When we arrived at the Ramada, we asked for Jamie Catto or Duncan Bridgeman, and learned that someone had just called to cancel their reservations at the Ramada. Fearing that we had missed a connection somewhere, we decided that perhaps we should return to our hotel to make sure that there had not been a message of some kind left by the crew to tell us where they were. Off to the Renaissance we returned to find that there were no messages. By this time, it was going on 8pm locally which was for me 9pm EST. I needed to eat and take my meds, so we opted to eat in the Bistro downstairs in the hotel. It turned out to be a fairly traditional Bistro, although when Jody ordered Steak Frites, they offered her mayonnaise for her French Fries….hmmm, was this a Belgian bistro? I had to ask. The Mâitresse d’Hôtel looked at me a bit like I had snubbed her and then said that it was an Bistro d’Alsace…close enough…..Ketchup for the US, mustard for France and mayonnaise for Belgium, if you ever wonder. Unless you are in an Alsatian Bistro in New Orleans, Louisiana, or course…but you can ask and they will provide all three and you can mix it up if you want.

After dinner, we decided to call Jamie on his UK cell number and find out where everyone else was staying. I dialed the number and found him right away…asleep! I felt terrible to have awakened him and probably sounded a bit like my mother when I said "WHERE ARE YOU???!!!!!!!" "I am just crashing a little bit," Jamie replied….OK, so I ruined his nap…great!! I hate it when that happens to me, so I felt awful and decided to keep it short and sweet for the moment. . He told me where they were staying and we made arrangements to meet for breakfast the next morning at the Trolley Stop Café on St. Charles Avenue in the Garden District.

Worries over, Jody, Ken and I were able to relax a bit and catch up with each other, not having seen each other since November when they passed through Durham and stayed at my home. After an hour or so, I went back to my room and did a little crashing of my own until the next morning.



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