New Orleans, Texas, 2000

Photographs coming soon.
This is an excerpt from our ezine Degeneration Excerpt, a semi-weekly and semi-weakly ezine on Atlanta's music scene, random travel tales, blasphemy and prophesy. If you want to subscribe to that broadcast just contact us!

DEGENERATES ABROAD
We arrived at the Radisson in downtown New Orleans in the worst weather - a hard rain, blown nearly horizontal in a hard wind, and goddamn 40 degrees. So, since it was nearly 11 by the time we unpacked, instead of bothering to leave the hotel we decided to check out what Exoticon had to offer, http://www.exoticon.net/
Very little.
We found some of the old con whores, as the regulars on the circuit are known, in the hotel bar and chatted over drinks until sometime after 2. Degenerate SW and I hit the sack but apparently the rest of the crew decided icy rain was tolerable weather, if you had enough antifreeze in you, and headed to Bourbon Street. If you want the full report, or as full as she is willing to divulge, check out degenerate DM's site at http://www.dawnmarie.org/exoticon3/
We caught breakfast in the hotel, too grumpy to brave the continuing downpour outside. The cost and quality of the Radisson Hotel's food encouraged us to leave the building later for dinner and we headed to my favorite, Mother's ( http://www.mothersrestaurant.com ) It's pricey, and there's often a wait, but two people can split a Ferdi Special and a cup of one of their other specialties and come away full and not too broke. The Ferdi is one of the seven wonders of the sandwich world - French bread dripping in roast beef debris, a slab of ham, a bed of slaw, pickles and condiments. No, it didn't sound good to us either but it's fantastic. I got a cup of crawfish ettoufee that reminded me of what our local Cajun food in Atlanta is SUPPOSED to taste like, but never does. Delicious.
Back at the hotel, we picked up the Fantasm 2001 Calendar. It's beautifully done and a lot of fun, and proceeds go to a worthy cause - the best gathering of degenerates not organized by Degenerate Press! There's even a couple of subscribers in the pages. I think you can order your own off their web site.
Later SW wasn't feeling too hot so I wandered the con alone, occasionally peeking outside to see if the weather had lightened up enough to hit Bourbon Street. After I while I didn't have to look any more, the leaks in the stairwell, escalator, and doorways told the tale. Eventually I found the rest of the con whores, Dawn Marie, The Reverend, and others. The Rev always packs a full bar so we hit his room for some fine drinks. He's the best non-pro bartender I know, a true gourmet alcoholic. I hit the ballroom to catch the end of a bad local metal band. Fortunately for them I can't recall the name and didn't stick around so I can't give them a scathing review. In the hall I ran into the Fantasm crew, http://www.fantasm.org and got word that the hotel had shut down all attempts at room parties. The place was just too big and there were non-con attendees all over ("mundanes" in con-speak.) The mundanes weren't too pleased at being kept up all hours by drunken half-dressed Klingons, or even stranger things, so there was only a limited amount of noise and fun allowed. Bonnie, fantastic Fantasm organizer, organized a secret party in an unused conference room away from the guest rooms, set up a decent bar, some quite music, and random live bondage performances. I told tales of past cons with private bondage parties that had gotten out of hand to shock anyone foolish enough to sit too close to me and sucked down booze.
Eventually I wandered down to the ballroom again to find COG, a three piece band in odd costumes with a monitor sitting on the stool behind the drum kit. On the monitor was an animated drummer that seem to be computer controlled - he kept rhythm with the drum machine and it was actually kinda fun. They had a slide show overhead that contrasted nicely with the purposefully inane lyrics. If the music hadn't sucked I might have been able to enjoy it but the racket wasn't tolerable enough to stick around after the novelty of the stage show wore off.
Back at the secret party, rapidly becoming not-so-secret, the organizers are worried about the hotel getting wise and shutting it down, so they're keeping it quiet and trying to limit attendance. But the only other thing happening is the band downstairs so there's dozens of folks wandering the halls in search of entertainment. At one point the New Orleans police stopped by the conference room hallway and tried all the doors. When they got to the door for the party they tried it and found it locked. But the guy could hear music and party chatter, and possibly the sound of a whip, so he stood there confused a while. I stood watching, not offering any hints, and eventually he just shrugged and moved on.
Back at the ballroom the band has given way to a DJ spinning up some cool funky flashbacks and the younger kids are shakin' booty. There was some serious Dale-bait scattered amongst the normally... eclectic con crowd. It's unusual to find a half dozen very pretty stylishly dressed teen girls at a sci-fi/fantasy/comic/gaming/horror/fetish /b-movie/cam girl convention, but there they were gettin' their groove on. Had I been brave enough I'd have tried to sneak one or two of 'em into the party upstairs, just to see the look on their faces when the whip came down on a half naked participant, but I didn't want to get the Fantasm crew in hot water for degenerating a minor.
Eventually the DJ fled the funk territory and headed into head banging land, scaring off everyone but a few angry teenage boys. The next time I stopped by it was all slow dance music, scaring off the remainders and the place was all but empty. Outside the wind is still howling and the rain coming down. Even standing near the doors turns anyone into a block of ice instantly so I give up hope of leaving the hotel. I was saying my good-byes at the party upstairs when degenerate DM comes into the room in a huff. It seems she was in a pickle...
"Torn between two lovers Feelin' like a fool"
Mary MacGregor
I laughed at her dilemma, fondly recalling The Adventures of Captain Stickman and the Camgirl Catfight comic degenerate DN and I created a few cons back, based on a true story. I giggled and headed to bed.
In the morning we swung by Mother's for breakfast and discovered they do a fine morning meal, with the BEST biscuits I've ever had. They couldn't possibly make them any better. They're perfect. I couldn't believe how good they were. Damn anything would have been good on them. I had one with eggs, another with jelly. They also serve them with roast beef debris, something I'll try next trip. But if you're ever in New Orleans in the morning you must hit Mother's for biscuits. Almost worth the trip by themselves. Almost. Instead, I can't help but feel defeated. The sun came out just in time to show us the way out of town. Shelly hadn't felt well enough to leave the room. The weather was too lousy for me to leave the hotel. Exoticon didn't provide enough entertainment to make being trapped in the hotel worth the expense. Ah well. On to Austin.
On the long drives we're listening to books on tape. "Me Talk Pretty One Day", by David Sideris, is highly recommended. It's a series of autobiographical short stories about the skewed and strange world around the skewed and strange author. "Notes From A Small Island", by Bill Bryson, is a dry, funny travel journal about his seven week walking tour of Britain. He'd lived there for two decades before decided to come back to the U.S. so he has some insightful background about the Brits. "Left For Dead", by Beck Weathers, a Georgian, is the story of a man who was caught in a blizzard on Mount Everest, a storm that was the cause of the deadliest day on the mountain in history. It's gripping, but for some reason there's three tapes AFTER he's been rescued. So we were mildly confused. Then we found he starts going on and on about how this made him realize he should stay home and pay attention to the wife and kids and stop running around climbing mountains. We didn't even make it through half of one of the tapes after the rescue, so I can't say if they suck as bad as they sound, but the first several tapes were fantastic.
We stopped for a Whataburger, a burger chain in Texas celebrating their 50th year. Mediocre, even for fast food, but their cups have an almost zen-like label on the back: WHEN I AM EMPTY PLEASE DISPOSE OF ME PROPERLY. I thought it would make a great t-shirt.
In Austin we stayed at friends of SW's in the 'burbs. We arrive late, 10ish, and basically dropped our bags and hit the sack. The next day we shopped in Austin all day. Places to see: Tesoro's, Half Price Books, Hog Wild, and the gathering of shops on South Congress (around The Continental Club.) We covered Austin in a past Degenerates Abroad so check out our travel site: http://www.degeneratepress.com/travel
Some friends whipped us up a big steak dinner, complete with delicious veggies. They were fine slabs of beef, marinated and grilled just right. The corn on the cob was perfect, and a fine bowl of mashed taters glued the whole deal together in my gut. We hit a local bar we'd been to last trip, Deep Eddie's Cabaret. There's no cabaret, but the place does feel deep when you get a seat toward the back of the long, narrow room. All of the Texans complained when a pitcher of Long Star showed up, and assigned all sorts of ailments and illnesses as a result of past nights of drinking the local brew instead of forking over the extra 40 cents for a pitcher of Bud (brewed in Houston.) Raised on whatever beer was cheapest, I didn't complain.
If you're in Austin you have to have breakfast, or lunch if you're not a morning person, at The Tamale House on Airport Ave. 85 cent tacos with eggs and/or beans and/or taters and/or cheese and/or my favorite chorizo. It's damn good. Last trip we ate there three times at least. For a change of pace, we opted for Cisco's, another Mex-Tex joint known for their eggs and frijoles. Good, but I thought the Tamale House better, and far cheaper. We cruised by the media circus outside the governor's mansion. News cameras and tents and satellite trucks ringed the block. There were even cameras on the roofs of buildings several blocks away, using powerful zoom lenses focused on the building awaiting the inevitable thrill of victory for George II. Nothing was happening at the time. A few days later Bush would declare victory, thought the courts would hardly have started the debate, but we couldn't wait around to bring you that story. We were on the road again.
If you're ever forced to stop in Lampasas, Texas, I pity you. But there is a bright side - head to Martin's Restaurant and dig the groovy furniture. They had a flood in '57 and had to replace everything and they haven't replaced anything since, "even the cash register" said our waitress. Very cool 50's diner furniture you'll want to take home. However, eat the chicken fried steak for which they're famous. I braved the Mexican platter and I'm convinced they only offer it as a slap in the face of the former owners of Texas. SW got the fried steak and it was tasty. But in a small Texas town you'd better eat EARLY. We arrive at Martin's at 7:15 and the joint was empty. "This can't be any good - there's nobody here." I said.
"Oh, the dinner rush is over" said SW, a Texas native.
"What??"
"Yeah, it's 7 - prime time TV. Everyone's home by now."
I was, frankly, appalled - A) You'd find restaurants in Atlanta dead at 7 - because folks have yet to ARRIVE. B) Has TV really taken over our lives to such an extent that we adjust the entire culture to suit it's schedule? Well... yes.
We hit Brownwood at 9 and they town was shut down. Even the famous Underwood's Restaurant is long closed. In the morning I got the drive around the block that is the grand tour of Brownwood. You can tell the town once had charm but time has not been kind. In the 40's there was an Army training camp that put the town on the map. But you won't find the town on any post-WWII era maps. The camp closed down. The interstates all passed the town by, so there's not even the usual sprawl of convenience fast food, nor is there a major industry that would require such an infrastructure. There's 1 bar, The Crazy Lemon, for the locals. There's a college down the block but it's Baptist so they don't give the Lemon a lot of business. The tallest building in the town, a pretty 10 story brick building, stands empty, towering over the 1 and 2 story buildings that make up the rest of the town. The skyscraper was used as a dorm for the college but has been empty for decades, like much of the town. Easily 1/4 of the buildings are for rent, or simply boarded up. You can find the usual reasons for this - oh sure, the army base closed and there's only two factories in town, but far worse there's a Super Wal-Mart on the edge of town. They've done the same thing here that they've done in countless small towns across the country - bring in an incredible array of merchandise, lower prices, and reasonable hours. Which means none of the local merchants can compete, even in specialty items Wal-Mart won't carry, even if they had some degree of tradition, style, taste or class - there's just no going back once you've achieved a Wal-Mart level of "advancement."
There's a bowling alley but that seems pointless, as they don't serve beer. Speaking of, you can only buy alcohol on the "wrong side of the tracks," literally. There's a railroad track that cuts off the edge of town and you have to go under the bridge to the other side to buy booze. There's a liquor store on each road that crosses the tracks, just on the other side. About half the roads are torn up. Rumor is it's for an overpass, but nobody, not even the natives, no what it's passing over. There seems to be no need or point to it. (I suspect the mayor's brother in law is in the construction business.) So you have to detour just about every where you go, through run down neighborhoods over roads that need the construction far more than the phantom overpass. SW guesses 1/2 the houses have a senior citizen in them. 1/4 are for sale or empty but there's not a lot of demand for real estate. There's nothing to keep the youth here so only their parents and grandparents stay behind. There have been problems with drought for years (though it rains the entire time we're there. Perhaps we should rent ourselves out to drought-stricken communities, or blackmail tourist towns to keep us away such as is discussed in one of the Hitchiker's Guides to the Galaxy books?) So agriculture is slowly fading. There's two factories on the outskirts of town but that's about it.
We caught a movie at the amazingly new movie theater at the small mall in the suburb of Early. We saw The Grinch, a film I enjoyed watching despite serious trepidation. But the more I thought about it the more it bugged me. Yes, there's enough humor for adults, nice effects, and Jim Carey does a fine job. But the anti-materialist message is drowned in the associated merchandising campaign. Then I read a review in the Austin paper that made me realize something else - in order to fill time to a full length movie feature, we've been given the Grinch's *motive.* No, he couldn't possibly dislike Christmas because it's a tacky, loud, ugly, awkward social obligation that requires to you show those you love how much you love them with your credit limits, or beyond. No, the Grinch can't possibly hate Christmas for no good reason either. Instead, there has to be some romantic trauma at the root of his evil. It's not that he has good taste, it's that the other kids made fun of him. Bah humbug. I had fantastic Christmases as a child and I'm a perfectly content adult Grinch. So I'll continue calling it Consumass and minimizing my shopping efforts, at least for others...
Anyway, there's not much to see or do in Brownwood so we end up eating, and eating, and eating. It's that time of year, so it was expected. Bacon and eggs for breakfast, roast beef and veggies for lunch, beef brisket for dinner - that's just the first day. We still had Thanksgiving to come! Turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, black eyed peas, ranch beans, beans, beans, more beans, just about any non-green vegetable you can smother with butter, followed by cheesecake, pecan pie, spice cake (with or without icing), chocolate cake, fudge (chocolate, and peanut butter), various jello/mayo/fruit combos, pumpkin pie - if it grew, flew, walked, squawked, or even talked we ate it. It was all delicious, but even I was gorged to beyond my limit. I won't need to eat again for a month.
On the TV and in every paper and magazine they continue to talk about "the most incredible election in history." Well, it's not. It's not even the most incredible in U.S. history. They fail to mention one in the late 1800's that was so close and convoluted it took 10 weeks to sort out. Instead, the media all say how ironic it is that in this electronic age that we still don't have the results. Every network broadcast mentioned this at least once. What has amazed me is how much time and effort is being wasted by every media organization on every minute detail. I want just one journalist to say "Well, there's no use going on and on about it. We'll get back to you in a couple of weeks when something actually happens." It's O.J. all over again, except the outcome is less meaningful. Regardless, we're still imprisoned for 4 years with a candidate nobody wanted.
A brief (for Texas) hour drive through nothing later, we swung through Dublin, the site of the oldest Dr. Pepper bottling plant. For over 100 years they've bottled the brew here, invented down the road in Waco. They still use pure cane sugar at this plant, which gives it an even sweeter taste. SW picked up a case at the gas station up the road to bring home.
Then on to Stephenville, another tiny town in the middle of nowhere. They've somehow maintained a charming town square, despite having a Wal-Mart. On and on, through vast, darkening nothingness. Suddenly a factory would appear in the foggy night, like the Emerald City of Oz, spindly towers covered in yellow lights. Then we flash by and it's back to the void. Almost as suddenly, Dallas appears.
There are some outskirts around Dallas that don't contain the suburban sprawl most big U.S. cities have. So you can, in some place, stand next to a cow in a pasture and admire the downtown skyline together. It's kind of strange NOT to pass an hour's worth of strip malls, fast food and gas stations before you hit downtown. We arrived at SW's father's place and filled up on beef. If it don't moo it ain't food in Texas.
In the morning we loaded up on fatty breakfast foods and headed out in search of car parts for the Degenerate Press Mopar Armada. It was a perfect day for it, for the first time in a week, bright and clear. No luck at a couple of local yards, so we got a quick tour of downtown. Dallas has some impressive skyscrapers, including one glass pointy thing that looks like the tip of a drill bit, all twisted and angular. We cruised through Dealey Plaza, crowded on the anniversary weekend of the event that made the intersection famous. I've seen the short strip of road from every angle in countless pictures, maps, diagrams and Zapruder images. It's smaller in person than I'd imagined. I resisted the urge to slink down into the floorboards and cover my head. I also resisted the urge to reenact a head snap for the tourists clustered on the grassy knoll. An instant later we're under the bridge and gone. We passed the hospital where they took Kennedy that day, then looped back around downtown and headed for lunch.
Bill Clinton recently lunched at Ojeta's, a Mex Tex joint the locals rave about. I opted for a taco, enchilada and cheese chile relleno and wasn't impressed. El Potro here in Atlanta is better. That evening we returned to downtown for dinner at Campisi's Egyptian Restaurant, which serves nothing but traditional Italian fare. I searched the menu for anything even vaguely middle eastern, looked over the decor, checked out the staff but there wasn't even a hint of Egypt in the room. We had an excellent pizza, done thin and rectangular like our favorite pizzeria in Roma. Afterward we pestered the waitress about the Egyptian moniker. "I wondered too, so I asked my manager and he said he didn't know" she replied. So we got her to ask the bartender. She came back and said "The place was bought 50 years ago but the old owners wouldn't allow them to change the name." So it's Campisi's Egyptian Pizza and Pasta ever since.
We cruised through the bar and entertainment districts of Dallas. There's an amazing variety of stuff along Greenville Ave., and a huge area of bars and clubs in "Deep Ellum," the area around Ellum Street. It's less segregated than the Atlanta scene. On the same street, even same block, you'll find goths and yuppies, seedy blues bars and places with strictly enforced dress codes. Unfortunately our guide wasn't up for a late night of debauchery and we had to get up before the sun to get home so hit the sack.
We got up in time to watch the sun rise as we pulled out of the drive. We steered the truck toward the light and headed east. A dense fog filled every valley and dip. Occasionally two points would poke through the top where a long horn stood, almost completely obscured by the fog. The trees flashed by, yellows and reds in the autumn sun. 850 miles and five states later we're home.

 


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