Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Bear's Bayou Bash - Part 1: Baton Rouge

Before I start my tale, let me say that this weekend has been one of the most fun, the most fulfilling, and the most exhausting weekends of my life.

I think I'll take this day by day - there's a lot to recall.

Thursday, Feb. 11th - The plane was an hour and a half late leaving LAX, which meant that I was an hour and a half late arriving in Houston, which put my arrival at 9:30 p.m. Didn't get to the rental car facility until 10:00 p.m. My original plan was drive through the night to Baton Rouge - this clearly wasn't going to happen.

Fatal mistake #1: I gave the rental car guy my debit card, rather than my credit card. Somewhere along the way, my traveler's handbook is missing the page where it says, "NEVER pay for a rental car with your debit card!" I'll explain this more in-depth later.

I get in my little Hyundai Accent rental, and drive to Baytown, Texas, a hamlet just on the Western outskirts of Houston. I paid $40.00 for a room at the Baytown Motel 6, purchased a chicken mcnugget meal across the street, tried to access the internet in my room, but to no avail. I went to sleep, dreaming of the next day's road trip to Louisiana.

Friday, Feb. 12th - I awake to my phone, not my alarm. Megan is calling, asking if I can go back to Houston and pick up the officiant and a wedding guest from the airport. The cause? Snow in Baton Rouge - planes from Houston to Baton Rouge have been canceled. I drive back to Houston, pick up Stephen LeBouf (a real-live Cajun!) and Kelly, a friend of Megan's, and former LSU grad school student. It was a pleasant trip, with Stephen graciously narrating facts and stories about his home state of Louisiana. If you can imagine one of the more interesting documentaries you've seen, and think of that narrator - that's Stephen. Well, no, not literally. But his manner of conversation is much like a documentary - informative, factual, charming. He also told us Boudreaux and Thibodeaux jokes:

Discovery #1: Boudreaux and Thibodeaux jokes are a huge part of Cajun humor. There are restaurants, bars, and businesses named after these two family names, which are apparently as popular in Cajun names as Jones is to the Welsh or Andersson is in Sweden. It also should be noted that the respective wives of either Boudreaux or Thibodeaux are always named Clotile or Marie.

Example: When Boudreaux got home yesterday, Clotile ran out to him saying, "The car got water in the carburetor!" "How you know that, you?" "Cause it's parked in the Bayou!"

We stopped for gas somewhere in Western Louisiana. It was some non-name brand of gasoline. Inside the convenience store, they sold something called Boudin Balls. For those who don't know, Boudin is pig sausage. Boudin Balls are a Cajun delicacy - it's the sausage rolled into balls with rice and seasonings, the sausage is braised or simmered. It's interesting - I'm not used to eating pig sausage, so the texture took a bit of getting used to, but the flavor was quite amazing. This gas station also had Cracklins. I'm not going to take the time to explain Cracklins here, but you can look them up for yourselves. QUEEN FEE: DO NOT READ.  DANGER! DANGER! It should be noted that the Cracklins were not purchased, and thereby not consumed.

About 4.5 hours after we left Houston (the second time), we arrived in Baton Rouge, and I have to say, Baton Rouge has some amazing trees! I dropped Kelly and Stephen off at their respective hotels, then went to see Megan, who had just returned from her pre-wedding spa day, complete with pink nails. I then went to the Hilton, aka wedding central, and found Erin and Megan's grandmother Gloria, who's room I was to sleep in. Having been previously unsuccessful with finding that ever illusive internet connection, I found solace at the Hilton. I checked my e-mail, where I discovered an alert from Wells Fargo, telling me that I had over-drawn my account. Say what?! I hadn't been gone for 24 hrs., how was that possible? I logged into my account to find that enterprise was charging me $350.00. The Debit Card Fiasco. I would like it known that no where on the Enterprise counter, or as a warning by the fellow who had been assisting me, did anything warn me about this Debit Card rule; and I said as much to the woman from Enterprise who took my angry call. Ice was creeping into my veins. Why does this shit happen to me? Why are there unwritten and unexplained small-print rules like this, that I should just inherently know? The tragic irony is that I usually would have paid with my credit card. I just wasn't paying attention. And I didn't know. Oh. And when I called to see if I could switch cards, the answer I received was, "No."

So after some quick finagling with the assistance of my dad and Lara, I cleared the negative balance in my account, and had some money. By the time this was all sorted out, it was time for me to go downstairs for the rehearsal dinner.

The "rehearsal" was actually only about 15 minutes in the lobby of the Hilton, which was crowded to the brim with pre-Mardi Gras-ers, guests for another wedding, and some sort of Saints gathering that I never did figure out. Megan matched her girls with John's boys, told us what order we were going in, and what time we had to be in the lobby for pictures that morning. Then, we loaded up into some yellow school buses which took us to  LSU's Museum of Natural History. Yep - our rehearsal dinner was among taxidermied animals, both foreign and domestic. There were showcases of insect varieties, lizards, mammals, reptiles - it was actually really cool. They even had the first LSU tiger stuffed and on display. That's right - I said first. LSU is currently on their 6th Tiger. Apparently he (or she) lives in the lap of revered luxury on the LSU campus. There were two taxidermied polar bears - but apparently, I didn't think I would need my camera for the dinner, so I have absolutely no photos. None. Lame? Definitely. For dinner we had Gumbo, white beans and rice, and salad.

Discovery #2: Abita Beer. Abita is a Louisiana local beer that is really quite good. Between the beer and the amazing cuisine, it's a good thing I don't live in Louisiana. I'd be spherical - like a globe.

We arrived back at the hotel in time to catch the tail end of the Olympic Opening Ceremonies. We then went to sleep, our alarms set for 5:30 a.m. Erin was out pretty quickly, as was Grandma Gloria. But I? I lay awake.  Remember that other wedding I mentioned? They had a party tent set up on the street below our window, and they had a live band playing into the wee hours of the morning. This normally wouldn't have bothered me, except my brain thought it would be an awesome idea to play "Name that tune!" until about 2:00 a.m., when I think I finally fell asleep. Which means I clocked about 3.5 hours before Megan's wedding. *Sigh*

Saturday, Feb. 13th - 5:30 a.m. that alarm came ridiculously early. Erin had actually set her alarm for 4:15 to go work out and shower, because she's a masochist. And then she woke me up 4 minutes before my alarm went off, because she thought I would over sleep - sadomasochist, even. I took my shower, and did my best to wake up ... except that I started feeling nauseous. Not because of anything my body was doing, but because, as I realized, there was no ventilation fan in the bathroom, and it was sauna hot. And with such little sleep, and no food yet in my system, it was not a great start to my day. I pulled my pajamas back on, and lay down again, until I realized there was banana bread and orange juice, courtesy of the gift baskets that Megan's dad and step-mom had given anyone staying at the Hilton for Megan's wedding. Good people, those Appersons. Food made me feel like a new bear, and then I took to blow-drying my hair - yep, I pulled out the big guns.

Megan came over around 6:00 a.m., and started to curl her hair. Amanda, Megan's oldest friend came over shortly after, and we had one of those girly hair parties that I've always heard about, but rarely ever partake in. Because my hair is so short, and because I'm so low-maintenance about such things, I actually served as documenter, photographing the morning's events with not one, not two, but three cameras. Yeah. I'm that cool. Megan asked me to turn on the radio to a Baton Rouge station that played Mardi Gras music. We got ready for the wedding listening to Cajun bands and Mardi Gras Jazz and Dixieland. It was sort of perfect.

(By the way, the smaller bottle reads: Bayou Love Potion #9 ... it's a hot sauce!)

Once hair was done, the make-up portion of the program ensued. Erin did my make-up, and did a damn fine job, if I do say so myself. I do know how to do my own make-up - to a degree. I've been under the belief, however, that other girls just inherently know how to do it better - as though it's a chapter in the Handbook for Straight Girls, that somehow didn't transfer into the Handbook for Gay Girls. Our secret chapter has to do with power tools, which I always thought was a fair trade off ... except for instances like this. Erin then convinced me that I should curl my hair, which I did. I find my current lack of a hair cut entirely too Jackson Browne-esque for such a momentous event like my best friend's wedding. So, I braved the way with the hot implement of death, and didn't fare too badly, if I do say so myself.

After the completion of hair/make-up, we dressed, and I once again felt like the country dyke. The only pink top I could find was a men's dress shirt. I had wanted to find a nice hot pink v-neck sweater, but apparently no such thing exists (I looked! At malls even!). So there I am, in my pinstripe slacks, men's metro-sexual black shoes, and my men's dress shirt. Amanda, Erin, and Jessica (Megan's sister), all found hot pink variations of a cocktail dress, and all looked fabulous. Megan gave us our bride's maids gifts ... Fabulous pink flamingo sunglasses, a plastic pink flamingo cup, and a coffee thermos with a flur-de-lis ... although I was actually the only "maid" - Erin, Amanda, and Jessica are all married. Erin and Jessica both have two children each. It was kind of weird to think about. Let's not mince words - I was the odd dyke out. I like to think that I just added some more flare to an already fabulous wedding.

[I know, I'm using "fabulous" a lot ... but it truly was]

Anyway, we went downstairs for photos. Which were outside. In 35 degree weather. I was freezing, and I was wearing more clothes than any of the ladies. We took silly pictures with our new (and fabulous!) glasses, and a photo with a guy dressed up as a jailbird. Megan took a photo with a trio of police motorcycles, and also attempted to take photos in a Mardi Gras port-a-potty. The groomsmen all had hot pink ties and cummerbunds made from fabric with different bugs or lizards. Why? Three out of the four of them are biologists, as is Megan's husband John. Yeah - this has been the most fabulously nerdy wedding I've ever heard of, let alone been too. Brian was my groomsman partner. He had dragonflies as his theme. He was super nice, and I noticed that had my hair not been curled, we would have had the same haircut. Coincidence?

Megan and John took their family photos inside at the Hilton's swanky bar. After photos, we walked over to the reception hall (De La Ronde Hall) a few blocks up the street. There was a room for us to wait in, and we puttered around taking pictures of things and admiring the hall while we waited. Megan was anxious and excited. There was a lovely tray of muffins, and champagne and orange juice for us. I couldn't help but marvel at the fact that my best friend of 14 years was about to get married. She wanted to practice reading her vows to us, and started to get teary, and asked us for advice on how not to cry. I told her to breathe. Her grandmother told her to bite the inside of her cheek. She handed me her vows to hang on to - I was the only one with pockets.

We waited while everyone sat down, and finally it was time. Megan had both her mom and dad walk her down the aisle. I was the third bridesmaid down the aisle, after Amanda and Erin. I smiled to Brian and gave him a huge thumbs up before I started walking. He winked at me. He was a little nervous, but we both smiled as we walked. Now, because Stephen's flight had been canceled, there was a baggage issue, as in - no one could find it. So poor Stephen was dressed in his clothes from the day before: blue jeans, a blue and white baseball shirt, and a weathered brown leather jacket. Megan thought the concept of being married by a man wearing jeans and a leather jacket was awesome.

Stephen told a Boudreaux/Thibodeaux joke, and was quite charming and personable. Megan read her vows, and got through them beautifully. John read his vows, and had to stop at one point as he choked back tears. I think that's when everyone of us lost it a little. They exchanged rings, and we there was much rejoicing. Megan and John left the hall, came back, and were announced at "Mr. & Mrs. McVay."

Then there was drinking; an open bar with mimosas, Abita, bloody mary's ... there were some other things, but I stuck to those three. Mind you, it was only 9:30 a.m. at this point. The band at the wedding was the Lost Bayou Ramblers, a Cajun band complete with accordion, upright base, and fiddle. And they rocked! There were dancing lessons for both the two-step and the waltz. The reception had a full country breakfast with grits, eggs, bacon, eggs benedict, and more boudin balls. The centerpieces were pink flamingos and hot pink Mardi Gras beads. It was a rockin' good time.

Discovery #3: King Cake. King Cake is a dessert associated with Mardi Gras. It's actually more of a bread in the shape of a giant donut, with homemade frosting and a variety of different fillings, from praline to cream cheese to raspberry. The best part about a King Cake, is that there's a little Baby Jesus in each one. Yep, you read that right - a little Baby Jesus. Why? Who cares why. THERE'S A LITTLE BABY JESUS IN THE CAKE! Now, if you are fortunate enough to get the little Baby Jesus in your piece of King Cake, not only are you blessed with luck for the rest of the year, you also have to buy next year's cake - balance, you know. You get the luck, you give the luck. According to Stephen the Cajun, there's a lot of ying/yang in the Cajun culture too.

Anyway, the wedding cake was a King Cake - more like 7 King Cakes. No, I didn't get a Little Baby Jesus. I tried, and I tried. Well, I only tried once. A little King Cake goes a long way! There were also beignets - I had to pace my self.

After some more dancing, the reception ended, and then transformed into the after party, which consisted of most of the wedding guests making our way with John and Megan down the crowded and float-filled streets of Baton Rouge for the Spanish Town parade; Baton Rouge's biggest Mardi Gras affair. In case you were wondering why Megan chose hot pink and flamingos to emblemize her wedding, it's because both the color and the bird are the standards of the Spanish Town parade - it was all linked, you see. That Megan is a smart cookie. As we were walking up the street to the parade route, people were congratulating Megan and John, and one man looked at John and said, "Hey! Don't forget to put the toilet seat down, man!" Best wedding advice ever? Possibly.

One of Megan and John's friends, a photographer for the Baton Rouge paper, threw the after party for them, complete with kegs of Abita and Bud Light, and some of the most delicious smelling food I might have ever smelled. Unfortunately, between the length of the parade, and events that happened later, I didn't actually get to eat any of it. This is, perhaps, my only regret of the weekend.

We watched the parade, which consisted of different floats and different people of all kinds ... like:


and lesbians!

and the gay KKK!

(some of the original Mardi Gras costumes look strangely like the get-ups of the KKK...people on the floats often have covered faces ... it's kind of unsettling.)

Different people throwing beads of all kinds. I snagged a LOT of beads. Like, a lot-a lot. The people in front of us were terribly nice, and came up from New Orleans just for this parade. According to them, the Spanish Town parade was one of the best of Mardi Gras, and one of the most generous in terms of bead throwing.

Discovery #4: Bead etiquette. For those who have never been to Mardi Gras, there are some rules to the acquirement of the ever-sacred bead.

1) You can shove, push, elbow your way toward a necklace in the air - but you NEVER, EVER pick it up from the ground.

2) Not all beads are equal. There are the beads that the rest of the world associates with Mardi Gras, which are little beads on a string. In reality, there are many different colors, sizes and rarities of necklaces. The more colorful, large-in-size, and unique the bead, the better.

3) You do NOT need to take off your shirt for beads - only tourists and drunken college girls do that. From what I can glean, people on floats will throw beads based on the factors of attractiveness, loudness, enthusiasm, costume pieces, or familiarity. For example - Erin received a lot of beads from older men who clearly appreciated her gorgeous hair and her hot pink cocktail dress. I received lots of beads from older women, either because they felt sorry for me, or because I was being loud and wore my pink flamingo sunglasses. See? Anyone can get beads!

I'm not sure how long we were out there, but it was a long time. I waited in line upstairs for the bathroom, and when I was done, that lovely smelling bar-b-q was all gone. And I was hungry!

I was going to go to New Orleans that night with my friend Dan and his friend Alina, but once I told Megan, she was sad. So I changed my mind - I was there for her, after all. I wasn't about to make the bride unhappy. In my indecision, however, I made Dan and Alina miss their bus. So I drove them down to NOLA, which is about 70 miles away from Baton Rouge. Under normal circumstances, it would have been an easy 2.5 hour drive, round trip. But Mardi Gras is not a normal circumstance. The traffic in down town New Orleans was so intense, it ended up taking about 5 hours, round trip.

On the way back, I stopped for some gas. As I flipped through the channels on the radio, I happened across an old BBC recording of A Midsummer Night's Dream, complete with psychedelic sound effects any time a fairy entered or exited. There I was, driving through the Southern Louisiana Bayou, listening to Shakespeare.

Prophetic, no?

Baton Rouge: The Aftermath

This blog post brought to you by:

Boudin Balls
My Red Moleskin Notebook
The Winter Olympics
Megan's Awesome Wedding


Lira said...

Kinda makes me want to shove a plastic baby jesus into every baked good i make. how awesome would it be to find a baby jesus in a chocolate chip banana bread?
and don't feel bad. i can do makeup on myself okay, but i can't put makeup on other girls at all. seriously. my sister forbids it. and i suck with power tools.
excellent post!

H said...

First of all...
Congratulations to Megan and John!

I thoroughly enjoyed reading your account of the trip! What fun! I love all of the whimsical elements too ( flamingos...feather boas...crazy sunglasses...etc.)!

jennifer from pittsburgh said...

Sounds like a great trip!

Phoenix said...

Sounds lovely, hon. Good to know that I don't have to take my shirt off to get any beads when I end up doing Mardi Gras in New Orleans...pretty sure that with my little mosquito bites, people would start taking the beads I already have away should I go topless.

Enterprise blows. It's the Debit Card charge of "We're gonna make sure you can pay for this," right? I think they did that to my aunt once and she FLIPPED out. What dicks.

You look lovely, with or without makeup. I can't put on makeup very well but my power tool usage is okay due to years in the tech shop...but when you calculate in my spaz factor, nobody really wants me near a circular saw anyways.

QueenFee said...

WOW! Feel like I was there, and now know everybody in the tale. Congrats to your lovely friends. What great fun. Wanna go to New Orleans NOW! You look amaz in in your pink shirt, crazy sunnies and piles of beads! Just the kind of Fiona-maximilism that I can get behind. I liked the whole make-up discussion... Me, I only really excel at drag queen make-up. But at least I know my talent! xx

Kristin Quinn said...

Haha!! You look cute in your flamingo glasses and array of beads! Every great trip always seems to start with a rough beginning. Glad you pushed through it and had a wonderful time :)