Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Road to Red Stick

The Union Passenger Terminal in New Orleans houses both the Amtrak depot and Greyhound station. I arrived to buy a ticket for my chosen mode of transit, only to come to the earth-shattering realization that the train to Lafayette runs only on alternating days. I had considered the probability that eventually on this trip I might have to take some form of transit other than the train- you all remember my near-Megabus experience in D.C. I am sure- but I wanted to put it off as long as possible, especially when the alternative was the dreaded Greyhound.* But, Lo! A bus was soon leaving for Baton Rouge, a city which I was interested in visiting but had ruled out due to its inaccessibility via train. A ride was just under two hours, I was sure that I could survive that.** So I bought a ticket, heaven help me.

The bus was over an hour late arriving, and weary, confused passengers sat in line on the cold linoleum floor. Apparently Greyhound oversells as many buses as possible so if you are not early in line you may not get a seat even if you have a ticket. Once we boarded I found that each seat was approximately half the size it should have been to support the girth of the average passenger, resulting in a depressing and uncomfortable spilling of all sorts of human body parts into the tiny aisle. The driver gave a rather violent speech outlining the codes of conduct and the terrible things that would befall us if we were not to comply, locked himself into a plastic cage feasibly built to protect him from the passengers, and we hit the road.

I tried to read but got a bit sick, so watched billboards fly by. My favorite was a public service announcement about how sagging pants will ruin your life. It had a very specific illustration and a caption that read, "Low pants, no chance." This was the highlight of the uncomfortable but at least uneventful ride, which ended with my disembarking in the worst possible neighborhood of Baton Rouge. Luckily a fellow passenger took pity on me and gave me a ride to my couch surfing destination, by Louisiana State University. That night, I experienced for the first time ever the glories of The Sound of Music, and I will never be the same again.

Baton Rouge is not exactly a famous tourist destination, but it is an interesting and quirky little place. I explored by bike, riding along the Mississippi to the downtown area, which is home to the nation's tallest Capitol Building! It is a terrifying art deco skyscraper that looks like the Hollywood Tower of Terror. The Old Capitol Building competes in weirdness, as it is an enormous, pink trimmed Gothic Revival style castle.

It started raining while I was pedaling along, so I ducked into Strands Cafe, which turned out fabulously because the adorable family-run cafe and patisserie was not only lined wall to wall in pictures of Austrian castles, but also housed an unbelievable assortment of homemade chocolate confections. I finally decided on a whole fig stuffed with marzipan and dipped in dark chocolate, painted with edible gold.*** The sight of the whole family working together in a fairytale land of candy, warm beverages, and royal Alpine dwellings was almost too much to believe. I will not say that you have to go to Baton Rouge just for Strands, but if I find out that you were in the area and did not visit them, I will disown you.

I also found an amazing old steam locomotive at the Louisiana State Museum, and later at a bookstore, I found two train-themed children's boardgames, one of which was apparently Germany's bestselling game in 2004!

That night I participated in my first drum circle at a party in the welcoming home of four lovely couch surfing ladies, playing a wooden frog and finger cymbals.**** It was a fantastic night overall, though the low point was, in response to describing my train travel project, receiving the earnest question of, "Do we really have trains?"

I have my work cut out for me.


*For those of you unfamiliar, horror stories about Greyhound experiences in the United States are akin to the bedtime stories about goat-eating trolls and ghosts that roam the streets weeping and stealing children in other cultures. Almost too shocking to believe but then again... What if? So you avoid going out after dark and playing under bridges and ever reserving a ticket on that insane asylum on wheels that is the Greyhound.
**Obviously I still suffer from an acute case of that teenager and 20-something immortality complex.
***All that glitters can be gold?
****Like a pro, if I do not say so myself, which obviously I do, so this footnote is officially without any purpose whatsoever.

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