Well, so Rice didn't win the New Orleans Bowl. We really did not play up to the level I've seen us play this season, and you just can't win in the post-season without being at the top of your game. But I have absolute faith that this is just the beginning of our bowl experience with Todd Graham as head coach. We'll be back, and next time, with a win!
Win or lose, New Orleans was a BLAST. Morale for me was a little at ebb just because of all the travel and worry and nudging aside of Christmas traditions. But I got to see some friends I hadn't seen in years, and hang out with some of the most fun people I know in a city I'm quickly becoming entranced with.
I flew in Thursday night, and actually managed an earlier flight. I was waiting in my gate, and the flight before mine was a bit delayed, and apparently had 13 empty seats. One of the gate attendants approached me and asked if I'd like to just fly out now, and I said sure.
When I got on the plane, there were of course no window seats left, but some rather... ahem... nice-looking young men sitting in a row towards the back kept glancing at me as I walked down the aisle, so, in a what-the-hell sort of move, I made my way to them and asked if the seat between them was taken. They said I could certainly sit there, and the one on the aisle even got up and moved to the middle. Very gentlemanly, I think, since all the men I know would decidedly rather NOT sit in a middle seat.
I had apparently attracted their notice with my MOB jacket, because as I sat down, I noticed the rings. Rice rings. They were 2004 and 2005 grads, and former members of the football team! One of them had even been on the panel that had selected coach Graham. I never did get names, but I really enjoyed talking with them during the flight. Especially since it helped us keep ourselves distracted from the turbulence. The flight was a little rough, but at least the rain had stopped. New Orleans neighborhoods had apparently seen some flooding earlier in the day, but I was able to land just fine.
They apparently work in investment banking up in Dallas, and are just so excited about the changes to the football program. They also planned to get a cab the next day and drive around the city to see how places other than the French Quarter were fairing in the aftermath of Katrina. New Orleans is definitely pushing its way back up, but there's a lot to be done. And as Katy said, it really makes you want to spend your money on the street performers and the food and just being a tourist, because it's an industry that you can contribute to so easily, to help them get back on their feet. I hope we helped!
Speaking of my roomie for the trip, Katy, I called her when I got in, and she and a bunch of others were out at Pat O'Brian's tackling hurricanes of a different sort. I collected my room key from Joanna and Mark, who picked me up at the airport, and my uniform from Mike and Will's room, got everything situated in my own room, and set out with Mike for Bourbon Street and Pat O's. Which I keep wanting to call Brian O'Neill's. Bear with me.
Mike and I found a crowd out on the Pat O patio, and Katy was a little, um, tipsy. :-P I'm not sure how long they'd been there, but we didn't all stay much longer after that. Maybe an hour, and I had a Sprite. It rained a bit, so we got a little damp. In the end, the group split, and Mike took his group of very happy MOBsters back to the hotel while I agreed to get four of them over to Cafe du Monde.
Mind you, before the beginning of this week, I hadn't been to New Orleans since my junior year in college. I definitely need to learn the city a bit better. Right now I'm pretty well landmark oriented, but not at all directionally oriented, and I prefer to be both. My goal for my next visit is to pin down which way, exactly, is north. My next visit will likely be early in 2007, since work will be picking up. As it was, I got us to Cafe du Monde after only five extra blocks of walking or so, for which I felt kinda bad, because some of our party really needed the facilities. But we got there without losing anyone, and grabbed a dozen beignets for the five of us. Katy probably ate five of them herself. :-P Fortunately I had absolutely no problem finding Canal Street and our Mariott from Cafe du Monde.
The next morning Katy and I headed back to Cafe du Monde to meet my friend Ellen, who sang in Philharmonics with me. Hadn't seen her in a few years! On the way we stopped in the Jax Brewery shopping center for me to do some Christmas shopping. I was planning on having to grab a half hour somewhere to get to the Rice Village so I could buy my grandmother a gift card at Chico's, but I had noticed a Chico's there on the walk the night before. Score! We took care of that, and wandered around the shopping center checking out tourist junk for sale. It started drizzling, so we contemplated buying an umbrella, but in the end we were able to just wait it out, and when it cleared up we walked down to Cafe du Monde for our second visit.
It was amazing how many people we saw there and on the streets wearing Rice shirts! The owls were definitely out in force, and everyone was PUMPED. The trumpet player who was out on the sidewalk playing to us started up "Deep in the Heart of Texas" and a full two-thirds of the cafe patrons began to clap along. My friend Ellen showed up, and introducing her to Katy was really fun! They're both living in Michigan right now, so they had a lot of common ground to chat about. And of course there was all the gossip about ourselves and our mutual friends.
Ellen's family lives in Metairie, and their house was definitely affected by Katrina. It's been really hard on her mother, especially, and her father had to temporarily relocate to Philadelphia for work during this last year. It looks like things are starting to come back together, but it's still really hard. It reminds you that even when the tangible damage is dealt with, the scars that are left can run so much deeper. Life will never be what it would have been. It can only be... what it can be. It can only be what a person, a family, a city, and a nation can make of it. They still need our thoughts and our prayers, to say nothing of whatever tangible help we can give, to make it *good*.
Some of Ellen's other friends who were in town came to meet her, and a large group of MOBsters turned up, swelling the ranks of Rice folk, and the trumpet player cranked up Louie Louie, probably by MOB request. Katy and I were hungry, so we decided we would find Fiorella's and sample their world famous fried chicken for lunch. We grabbed Tera out of the big MOB group, and I called up Tim to see what he was up to. He and three other guys agreed to start heading down Decatur Street towards Cafe du Monde, and I agreed to call them once I'd found the place, since I'd received information that it was on Decatur.
Tera, Katy, and I wandered down towards the French Market, and caught a glimpse of our goal just past the big yellow cinderblock building that held Jimmie Buffet's Margaritaville. We went in to stake out a table, and got sent to the back of the restaurant. So I went out to wait for the boys, since there was no way they'd find us on their own at that point.
While I was standing on the sidewalk outside, a guy in a Rice sweatshirt came out of the gift shop next-door. I grinned and said, "Go Rice!" and he came over to chat. He said he had actually gone to Indiana, but his father had played football at Rice, and was a member of the 1961 team! The last Rice team to go to a bowl game! At that point, and older gentleman came out of the shop and walked over to us and said hi. I asked if he'd really played in the last Rice bowl game, and he said, yes! I told him it was an honor and a pleasure to meet him, and we talked a bit about all the program had been through over the years, and how terribly exciting it was to be in New Orleans for a bowl. They went on their way, and soon the boys showed up.
Okay, if you're ever in New Orleans, and if you like fried chicken, then Fiorella's is a place you do NOT want to miss. Ask me for directions. Oh my. Now, I've grown up in Texas, and my mom makes some pretty darn good fried chicken. Her's is different from this, but this stuff was PHENOMENAL. Crispy, piping hot, deliciously seasoned without being too spicy for me, but still with a tang that let you know this was definitely Nawlins chicken. We decided that between the seven of us, we probably ate four fried chickens and a Coke. Jake Blues would be proud.
By the time we were done eating, it was getting to be time to head back to the hotel. We wanted to stop at House of Blues for souvenir shopping, but they were unfortunately closed. So we just went on to get ready. While I was changing, Joanna called to make sure I was in and that she new my right room number, because she had something for me. She and Mark came down, and gave me a holiday gift!!! It was a GREAT tie that has a trumpet on it and says "New Orleans Jazz." Now I have *two* ties to wear for MOB that come from New Orleans and have cool stories (my other tie I bought 45 minutes before I had to be dressed and on the bus for my first ever game with the MOB, in a dollar store off Bourbon Street). Very nice present. I love it! Thanks again, you guys. :-D
For news of the game and the show, you can check out various forums. I just don't have the energy, and honestly, I wasn't at full strength for the game. Though I did do a good job of busting my chops and torching my vocal chords. Go Owls!
After the game the adventures around town began again. We were unfortunately too late to hit the Red Fish Grill, so I was disappointed in my hopes of trying the double chocolate bread pudding. A group of ten or so of us ended up in a pizza/daquiri shop down Bourbon, that was playing some really fun Latin dance mix sounding music. Paul and Chip (who moved to Chicago a while back, and we haven't seen since then) got their grooves on and were dancing to the beat. It sounds incredibly goofy, put like that. Only, the thing is, they're both *amazing* dancers. And I have to say there are few things I find more attractive/enjoyable to watch than a guy who can really dance. Those two were a blast. I even got to swing dance a little with Chip later on, which I enjoyed emmensely. Swing dancing is definitely something I need to pick up again.
From the daquiri shop we made our way back to Pat O'Brian's for another night. Roy offered to buy a round, so I agreed to have a Kir Royale, since that seems to be about the only cocktail I know of that I can actually enjoy drinking. Let me tell you. Pat O's makes a *very* nice Kir Royale. And Roy didn't even end up getting to buy. A gentleman in a Rice polo shirt saw our gear and came over to say hi. Turns out his son is a Rice player, and he just could *not* say enough about how much the support of the students and especially of the MOB means to the team and their families. He thanked us all profusely, bought our whole table two rounds, and chatted for a while about Rice football.
We also ran into some of the team. They *also* thanked us profusely. One of them in particular hung out at our table for while, toasted us, yelled "GO MOB!" a fair number of times, danced along with Chip and Paul, and after being away for a bit, started carrying over six more hurricanes for our table. There was a *lot* of liquid enjoyment running around our group. But it was *just* a blast to meet these guys, and to know that what we do really means a lot to them. That is, after all, a lot of why we do it.
I was good, and didn't even try to start the second Kir Royale that had appeared on the table. One is my limit for now. I don't think I managed to get drunk, and I didn't feel sick, so I think my tolerance is improving with very minimal effort on my part. I still prefer soft drinks. :-P After some portion of about, what, 25 hurricanes? had been consumed, along with several daquiries, some beer, and my girly drink in a champagne glass, it was closing time. We all headed out to the street, and getting Katy back to the hotel took some doing. She was *quite* sloshed. We stopped a couple of times for glasses of water to pour into her, and managed to hang together as a group pretty well, considering I was probably the only person who qualified as sober.
We decided that Katy probably wasn't going to be good for the 6:30am bus loading time, and that I as her roommate was not up to the task of getting us both down there after that much booze and only about 2 hours sleep (it was 3:30am when we left Pat O's, and it did end up taking a fair amount of time to get back to the room). So Will graciously agreed to take me, Katy, and Tera back to Houston with him. We agreed to meet downstairs at 10:30am, we all got back to our rooms, Tera helped me get Katy to bed, and we all slept happily and deeply for a few hours, at least. Which explains why I'm incredibly sleepy right now, and ready to turn in as soon as I finish telling you all my stories.
We got all checked out of the hotel on time the next day, and decided to make one last run to Cafe du Monde. We parked by the steamboat landing and got to look at the Mississippi under a gorgeous blue sky, and listen to the steam calliope play some *beautiful* Christmas carols. Hee. We grabbed our beignets to go, and ate them sitting on a bench in Jackson Square, after looking over the street artists' works on display. I bought an old slate painted with a night scene and a trumpet player. I love it!
Some time after noon we got on the road, and headed back to Houston, with some stops along the way. We hit a Burger King, and when I went across the street to the Chevron for a soda with a resealable top, I saw something pretty appalling. They had angel figurines about a foot tall with fiber-optic light up wings in shades of pastel pink and blue. Ew.
The drive back was uneventful, and now I'm home, so the adventures are over. Time to slow down a bit, and enjoy Christmas. Cruise stuff when I'm done doing that. :-)