So while we were passing through Louisiana, with Texas only a vague foreboding on the horizon, we hit New Orleans in the mid-afternoon.
"Hey!" I said. "New Orleans! I've never been here before!"
"Let's stop and have lunch!" said Carlota.
We drove on, along the freeway, looking for signs. Finally I saw something that said "French Quarter," which was at least a familiar name.
"Shall we go to the French Quarter?" I asked, having a vague memory of hearing about the French Quarter, although for some reason my brain kept trying to insert the word "notorious" in front, in much the same way it kept trying to bring up the word "capacitor" that time I tried to fix my laser myself. As usual, I ignored this.
"Sounds good!" said Carlota, who was born with a defective sense of fear and, it must be said, would dine cheerfully in Hell if someone offered.
I jerked the car across three lanes of traffic, slithered down on an off-ramp, and turned randomly onto a side street.
"I think I see a sign for--"
"LOOK!" I said, excitedly, turning again, "a bird!" and went careening off in pursuit of a large seagull.
"Is my Sibley guide anywhere?" We pulled up to a light and I craned my neck. "Partial hood, dark splotch..." I muttered. "Oh, well, I'll find it later."
The light changed. I pulled away reluctantly. "Damn....oh, well. I think that's a lifer!"
Carlota put her head in her hands.
A few moments passed. I looked away from the sky and down at my surroundings, which was not unlike waking up from a beautiful dream and discovering a severed horse head on the pillow next to you. "Um," I said, gripping the wheel a little more tightly than absolutely neccessary.
"Yeah," Carlota said.
"We seem to have wandered into a bit of a ghetto..."
Actually, we had apparently driven into a Third World country, and not one of the nice ones. It had a look I had previously only seen in downtown Detroit (although at least this time I wasn't on foot.) You looked at the broken out buildings and wondered vaguely which one held the cockfighting pit.
"Is this the French Quarter?"
"I don't see any signs..."
We kept driving.
The ghetto turned a number of beautiful colors--the houses were painted in a charming rainbow of shades and hung with rusted wrought iron--but it retained a less than savory character, in much the same way that Vlad the Impaler used to retain the bodies of his enemies around the house.
Carlota called our friend Deb, a native of the area, and had a conversation that apparently started with "You're WHERE?" and ended with "For the love of god, be careful!"
We kept driving. The architecture was beautiful, like a leper with fantastic bone structure. I began looking for a street to turn around on, found something called "Ursuline St," and took it as an omen. The street dead-ended. I decided maybe it shouldn't be an omen.
"I think," said Carlota slowly, "that there is no place around here that I'd like to leave the car."
I considered the North Carolina plates, which were probably the local equivalent of "TOURIST -- PLEASE EAT ME" and was inclined to agree. "This might be a good place to come back to on vacation sometime, when we have time and a map."
"And very large boyfriends."