Goodbye 2011

Trimming the tree with Gabriel (left) and Jacy (right).

As the middle of February arrives, it seems time I get around to putting 2011 to bed.

In December I started a new job with the Legislative Research Commission in Frankfort, KY, working in bill tracking for the upcoming General Assembly session.

Becoming familiar with this position, while continuing to look for more permanent work and moving into a new place with my girlfriend and her two boys has kept me beyond occupied.

I never did catch up in real-time to 2011. The year began with me married and living in New Orleans. By the end, I was divorced and residing in Kentucky.

With all the turmoil, heartbreak and reflection, I spent more of 2011 in a ditch than on the road.

I eventually got some traction and steadied myself. The clean-up continues, but I’m persevering. The bright spot is I’m re-establishing some old relationships and building new ones.

Jacy soaking up the Christmas cheer at Wakefield Scearce in Shelbyville.

I am truly blessed to have such a loving family, and great friends, who’ve all taken the time to listen to what I’ve been going through, offered advice and stood by me as I regrouped.

I’m particularly thankful to Maia Langley, who has been kind enough to allow me into her life and that of her two inspiring boys, Bryn Gabriel Langley-Boaventura., 8, and Jacy Rodrigo Langley-Boaventura, 7.

We remain in a prolonged feeling out period. My life before was not particularly kid-oriented, so this is certainly a change for me, but a welcomed one.

The boys are exploring their boundaries, kind of like a T-Rex and a Velociraptor, and I’m the electrified fence. We’re learning a lot from each other as our worlds intersect.

The Leap Pad rules!

When the Christmas season arrived we hadn’t nearly settled into our new house, nor did I have much festive spirit in reserve, but we all picked out a tree and got the place decorated. It was refreshing to see Christmas through such innocent eyes, and share in the boys’ excitement.

It would have been therapeutic to stay put for the remainder of the holidays, but quickly on the heels of Christmas came a long-planned trip back to New Orleans to keep a promise I made.

I had considerable belongings in a storage facility there and needed them out before year’s end.

I was under a tight deadline due to Kentucky’s legislature coming into session on Jan. 3rd, at which point there would be no time to get away for such a trip with all the late nights and possible weekend work.

The street car on St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans.

Originally Maia and I planned to head down and stay for New Year’s, but money, schedule and the possibility of karmic retribution made me decide to get in and out of the Crescent City expeditiously.

We left Wednesday, December 28th, after work. Two of Maia’s friends, Kelly and Amy, offered us a place to crash at the University of Montevallo, which is located 35 miles south of Birmingham, on the way down and back.

We arrived in Montevallo around 1:30 a.m., stayed up chatting till 4:00, slept in some, had brunch and were back on the road by noon on Thursday, December 29th.

Considering the road yet to travel we were in no hurry. There had been a 40-car pile up on I-10 west at 4:00 a.m. that morning, which claimed two lives. We ran into the residual traffic from that accident coming across the Twin Spans at 5:30 p.m., delaying our arrival into New Orleans until 7:00 p.m.

Daiquiris in the hood, located at 1401 St. Charles Avenue. Photo courtesy of Defend New Orleans.com

After a drive like that it was great to feel the energy coming off New Orleans. It doesn’t matter the day of the week, there’s always people coming here looking to get loose and New Orleans is all too happy to comply.

I figured a daiquiri would be a good way to get this visit started and help wash away the road miles. The Daiquiri Place Cafe is my preferred frozen beverage stop, or as I refer to it “Daiquiris in the Hood.”

These drinks are strong. Most have multiple 100 proof liquors involved and they come economically priced.

With names like the Brain Buster, Ass Kicker and Son of a Peach, these drinks are toxic - use caution when consuming. Photo courtesy of Defend New Orleans.com.

I especially like their White Russian – smooth and creamy with a pronounced burn. Float a shot of Bacardi 151 on top if you’re feeling dangerous. Ask for the house special and they will pour a little from each of the 12 flavors into a 32 ounce styrofoam cup. Stay away from heavy machinery if you consume this one.

We drove around town a bit to take in the cityscape, then went over to lay eyes on the storage unit so we knew the work we had ahead of us.

For dinner I had designs on eating somewhere Uptown, but our time was so limited, too valuable to be spent riding in a car or waiting for a table. We opted instead to check into our French Quarter hotel and park the car for the evening.

The view from the Canal Place Shops into the French Quarter.

This area doesn’t generally have the best food and certainly not much decent music, but the French Quarter provides exquisite atmosphere and enough quality spots within walking distance of each other, like Antoine’s, Galatoire’s, Mr. B’s, K-Paul’s and Bayona, that a great meal can be found.

More importantly we could wander, decompress and relax for a minute.

Now that my feet were on the ground in the Quarter it seemed wrong not to have a to-go drink in hand. Across Canal Street in the Central Business District is the Bon Ton Cafe (http://www.thebontoncafe.com).

With its gas-lit torches and black and white striped awnings, the Bon Ton is a classic, and offers expertly crafted Cajun food with upscale ambiance.

Like a beacon on lower Magazine Street, the Bon Ton Cafe glows in the evening dusk.

I was only seeking a cocktail this evening. The specialty drink of the house is a Rum Ramsey.

The recipe is a secret and dates to the early 1900s. It’s a smooth, flavorful concoction and packs a deceptive wallop.

Approaching the front entrance I was eagerly anticipating my first sip of this elixir of ills.

But wait the door was locked!

The lights were on.

I peered inside to see a full restaurant.

You gotta be joking?!?

Somebody was standing to give a speech.

This had all the earmarks of a corporate shindig.

The whole restaurant was rented out, preventing public access.

This aggression would not stand.

Andrew Jackson and the St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square.

Here now is an anecdote for why New Orleans and its culture has a special place in my heart.

I know the Bon Ton pretty well. It barely has a bar. There’s a flat counter space in the rear of the dining room where waitstaff linger to pick up drink orders.

There just so happens to be an interior door by the bar that opens out onto the street.

We went around the side and I banged on the door. The restaurant manager opened it up and stepped outside.

I said, “sorry for disturbing your event. I see you have a corporate thing going on, but I used to live in New Orleans, I’m only in town for tonight – I was wondering if there was any way I could buy a couple Rum Ramseys off you?”

The guy stands up straight, shifts his weight from one foot to the other, and says, “sure no problem, I’ll be right back.”

That boys and girls is hospitality.

He comes back in five minutes with two double Rum Ramseys. I was planning to give him $25 as a thank you, and he tells me, “I can’t take that, don’t worry about it. They’re on me, welcome back to New Orleans, you have yourselves a good evening.”

Yeah ya right! I about hugged the guy. I love this town!

The view from Muriel's balcony overlooking the French Quarter.

Now we needed food. A few blocks down on Jackson Square is Muriel’s (http://muriels.com). It’s a picturesque contemporary Creole bistro, where candle-lit chandeliers, exposed brick and bright colors collide for a opulent dining sensation.

If you have the time, the Seance area upstairs is a fabulous place to have a cocktail. The Outer Seance was a bordello and looks as such with its couches, tapestries and pillows bathed in red light. The Inner Seance is where Muriel’s resident ghost, Pierre Antoine Lepardi Jourdan can often be found.

I highly recommend downloading the Ghost Radar app for your phone before going to Muriel’s. After a couple dirty martinis tracking the supernatural becomes endless fun.

Inside the Seance Room at Muriel's.

The Courtyard Bar is also of note, located around the corner from the main dining room. It’s over a century old and is a great location to meet a friend.

For dinner I had the Turtle Soup au Sherry, which was rich, decadent and delicious. Then the Pecan Crusted Puppy Drum, topped with Louisiana crabmeat relish and laced with a lemon butter sauce. It was exactly what I was hoping for, not the lightest meal, but it dissipates quickly so I never felt stuffed.

We finished dinner just before 11:00 p.m. After such a meal a walk is in order, so we cruised lower Decatur Street, past the vampire bars that were only beginning to creep, crossed Esplanade Avenue and into my former playground that is Frenchmen Street.

Here is where the real music can be found.

This was one of those odd nights in New Orleans. Plenty of people were out, but the town wasn’t popping. It was in that “calm before the storm” mode. With the Sugar Bowl only five days away, all the Virginia Tech and Michigan fans would begin arriving the following day, so locals were out to have New Orleans to themselves for a casual moment.

Maia and I took in the sounds of Frenchmen, met a friend of mine, then called it a night. We had a big day tomorrow.

While it was good to get a brief taste of New Orleans, I wasn’t emotionally prepared to be back here yet. It’s a beautifully broken town. They call it the Big Easy, but there is nothing easy about the place. It has so many wonderful things going for it, but the damage and dysfunction are rampant.

I was full of sadness and remembrances because of how my marriage went down – and then there’s how hard people play at night in New Orleans, every night.

I wasn’t ready to see it all again. Maybe time will heal this, maybe not. Regardless, it was time to go.

Maia is up and ready to get her "move" on.

We were up by 9:00 a.m. on Friday, December 30th, to get the moving van.

Car rental agencies are good places to get a sense of whether a city is hopping or not. The Budget location on Canal Street is always drama-filled. That Budget and Avis were temporarily sharing this office only complicated matters. Add in a healthy dose of clueless Sugar Bowl fans and this location was ripe for chaos.

We checked out a 16′ truck and decided to leave it on the lot, then rode in the car to get po-boys from Mahony’s, (http://mahonyspoboys.com), before heading to the storage unit.

Maia takes down her first po-boy at Mahony's, 3454 Magazine Street.

This is a newer po-boy shop. It’s set up like one of the old corner joints, which sadly are disappearing. The chef, Ben Wicks, is a former white tablecloth guy, who has taken the classic po-boys, re-thought them, and given most a twist for the better.

Maia went with a fried shrimp po-boy, dressed (lettuce, tomatoes, mayo and pickles).  A very strong selection for her first every po-boy.

I on the other hand needed the Peacemaker.

This bad boy took home the prize for best classic fried po-boy at the 2008 Preservation Po-boy Festival, (www.poboyfest.com). It features succulent fried oysters, layered with bacon and cheddar cheese, and comes dressed to please.

Oysters remain limited in size and availability since BP’s oil spill, so the Peacemaker is a “market price” sandwich, not exactly inexpensive, but you can’t find such a sandwich much anywhere else. The only place with the right bread is New Orleans and oyster prices make it prohibitively expensive outside the Gulf region.

I took the whole thing down and then was ready to move some furniture to work it off.

The wagontrain all loaded for the trip north to Kentucky.

With the temperature hovering around a swampy 85 degrees and the storage unit located on the third floor, this was going to be a sweaty operation.

It wasn’t like we were going to remotely fill this truck, but some items were bulky, and could easily eat up all the floor space, so to maximize capacity everything had to be packed precisely.

It took a couple of hours, then we had to secure Maia’s car on the trailer. Once done, my only thought was to get this rig out on the open road quickly. I wanted to clear the metro area before the Friday rush-hour took hold.

Passing the Superdome on I-10 east.

We rolled up on I-10 east without incident and made Montevallo by 10:00 p.m. I was cashed. All the hours driving took a toll.

Come Saturday, New Year’s Eve, we were strung out on fast food and putrid gas station coffee. Around 10:00 p.m., we reached Elizabethtown, KY. There we offloaded Maia’s car from the trailer and went our separate ways.

Maia drove north to Louisville to grab the boys from her sister’s house, and I took the truck the last 80 miles home to Frankfort.

We all made it under one roof just before midnight.

The entire trip ended up being a little over 1,500 miles in 77 hours.

I can’t thank my ex-wife enough for everything. I’m not going to go into that here. Suffice to say I miss her and my previous life every day, and think about both often. That’s not going to change.

On the other hand, I’m excited by the potential of the relationship between Maia, Gabriel, Jacy and myself. We still have a couple significant subplots that continue throwing us curve balls but we’re dealing with them appropriately.

Part of 2011 will haunt me forever, and that’s ok, it should, but I’m ready to take on new challenges. There’s no doubt 2012 will be momentous. I remain undaunted in my quest for discovery and understanding.

Like Don Quixote, the Llama will be out there charging at windmills, imaginary or otherwise.

Bye 2011, hello 2012!

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