NEW ORLEANS -- After checking the NL fish traps at the Beau Rivage and the Imperial Palace in Biloxi, I pointed the rental in the direction of New Orleans and headed back, because I had a mission to complete.
I threw on my running shoes and shorts, clipped on my fanny pack with my cash bankroll and, with my back to the shiny casino lights of Harrah's New Orleans, headed into the French Quarter.
According to the Internet, my mission would be nearly impossible to accomplish -- River Road Barbecue Shrimp Seasoning was a hard commodity to find because the company that makes it was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.
Last night, Kelley and I wandered through the most shallow of waters of the Quarter, clinging to Bourbon and Canal streets and not veering a block or two from either, darting into souvenir stores and rummaging past cheap beads and Mardi Gras masks to try to find this spice that her boss wanted.
I promised her I'd have some time today to find some. But after I left her, I drove to the next state. I wanted to check out the Island View Casino, which in part used to be the old Grand Casino-Gulfport. The old Grand Casino Hotel still is across the street, still looking ravaged by the elements. A walkway over the highway connects the old and new properties.
There's not much to say for the new building, which looks like a cross between a modern express hotel and a retirement home. The casino's innards were packed with slots, some table games and no poker. It doesn't look too much different from the Palace Casino on the other side of the Strip in Biloxi.
Disgusted, I drove the dozen or so miles to the Beau Rivage in Biloxi. The remants of the old Treasure Bay ship is gone, although an electronic sign still was offering late night diner specials. Where? Across the street, on dry land? Even still it wasn't apparent to me where I'd dine. Maybe Treasure Bay is a ghost ship and offers ghost deals.
At the Beau, I was back in my comfort zone, eating a pretty decent linguine in the casino's cafe. I waddled over to the poker room, which was full and full of grey hairs. So I drove over to the Imperial Palace, which had a few NL tables open but there was a decent sized list. So I decided to put up with the rush hour traffic out of Biloxi and just return back to the Big Easy.
In the French Quarter, I wandered in and out of several shops, inquiring each time about this mythic spice but each time coming up empty-handed. The architecture and bright colors reminded me of strolling through Nassau. The peacefulness of the interior streets reminded me of Paris but without the dog poop on the sidewalks.
As the sun went down, many tourists seemed to melt into the woodwork, in an anti-vampire kind of way. So I was pretty much by myself on some stretches, with plenty of time to admire the architecture.
The French Quarter is a strange place to me. It's one of the few cities where I can find myself hallucinating -- in one instance, I gazed up ahead into a store to see this sort of pudgy middle aged guy sitting on a stool behind a register. When I passed the store, I turned and looked and saw a rather skinny young woman sitting there in the pudgy man's clothes.
Another time I walked out of a tourist shop across the street to look at a po'boy shop, then turned around, saw an interesting tourist shop and ambled all the way to the middle of the store before I realized it was the shop I had just been in.
So as to not look more like a tourist, I left my laminated folding map in the hotel room and instead scrawled out a primitive map of a place my map said was the "Gumbo Shop" at the corner of St. Peter and Royal. Of course that same map lists the Old Bank of Louisiana at Royal and Conti; at that very spot, Kelley bought me a Diet Coke this morning from a Walgreens.
So of course the "Gumbo Shop" was not around. But across the street was an A&P grocery store. When's the last time you've been in one of these? I pulled open the door and scampered inside.
Inside it reminded me of grocery stores in London -- very small and cramped places. The A&P's back aisle actually dead ends in a cul de sac of bread, luncheon meats and prepackaged cakes. It was like being in a hedge maze. I traced back my steps, running my hand along one wall, which was the store's entire freezer section, pulling out a few Diet Cokes from a refrigerated case.
I had already scouted out the grocery store -- with no success. Almost immediately when you walk in the first aisle is a row of hot sauce. Nothing there. In one of the middle aisles is an entire section of Cajun seasoning -- they had Louisiana brand and others but not River Road.
After this search, I was consigned to getting things for myself. What would I need? A few Diet Cokes would be nice for the hotel room. I eyed some bananas in the corner of the produce section. As I went over there to compare some green bananas, this really hot woman reached over my left to grab a plastic produce bag. As I moved out of her way, I saw a few boxes of riper bananas behind me.
When I moved to tear a few off, I set my two Diet Cokes on this ledge, which was an entire section of River Road seasonings.
No lie. It was like a Zen moment. Find the thing you are looking for only when you're not looking for it. I found "River Road Barbecue Shrimp Seasoning," removed the store's entire stock (seven bags) and immediately text messaged Kelley with my important find.