Wednesday, November 30, 2005

A Can Opener, Bay Leaves, and a Corkscrew

About a month ago, I decided to take a road trip to Baton Rouge to acquire a can opener. My old can opener, along with many other things, rusted in the flood, and even if I could have turned the gears, I didn’t really think I wanted to eat anything coming even close to touching toxic flood rust. Besides, can openers are cheap and easy to come by. Weeks later, every trip to the grocery store ended the same – no can opener, no bay leaves, no corkscrew. All sold out. I’m not sure why bay leaves were the only thing in the spice aisle that was impossible to come by (they don’t come out of New Orleans, do they?), but after three weeks of only twist-off beer and wine, I’d had enough.

How ironic, by the way, that all those canned food drives wouldn’t have done me any good for lack of a simple, straight-forward, everyone owns at least two or three, can opener. What had cost a couple of bucks was now apparently worth its weight in gold. Not that I lined up for the free food handed out by the Red Cross, Salvation Army, and the hippies camping out in the park, passing out lentils to all comers because I can still afford my own food and there’s undoubtedly someone who could use it more.

So I drove the hour to Baton Rouge in quest of a can opener, bay leaves, and a corkscrew. When driving west from New Orleans, shortly after the airport, you will find yourself in the midst of a swamp. Normally, this means you drive down the unending low bridge cutting a lonely straight line through an impenetrable curtain of trees hung with Spanish moss. This time, however, it meant driving through bare sticks as far as could be seen. All the trees had been stripped of foliage and most of their branches by the winds of Katrina until nothing was left but nearly bare trunks with a few broken-off branches vainly trying to stretch out.

The I-10 is also generally a pretty busy stretch of road, since it is the only highway heading west from New Orleans. It still was busy and is also now a stretch of road without speed limits. Obviously, the state troopers have better things to do than hand out speeding tickets, and so, while I tooled along at a completely rational 85, people blew right past me, doing at least 100. The only thing that slowed us down slightly was the incredibly thick fog that engulfed me about halfway through and rendered the water and trees off the highway nearly invisible and trucks in front of my car unspottable save for their rear lights. While searching our way through that, we kept to an average velocity that somewhat resembled the speed limit. If you ever wanted to drive the Autobahn without the trouble of leaving the country, hit the I-10 between N’awlins and Red Stick.

Thanks to a combination of my “Dukes of Hazzard”-like driving skills and pure, miraculous dumb luck, I arrived alive in Baton Rouge in something slightly over 30 minutes. I took the opportunity to see “Serenity” (movie theaters have only just started opening in N.O.) which was really good and since I know you didn’t see it in the theater, rent it. Character-driven, action-packed, funny sci-fi western makes for a good movie – whoda thunk it?

Traffic in Baton Rouge these days is awful, no doubt because the number of New Orleanians now living in Baton Rouge at least equals but probably exceeds the number of New Orleanians living in New Orleans. Despite this, I persevered and eventually found a grocery store. I made my way straight for the utensil aisle, only to be met with empty pegs, lines after lines of them, a whole aisle of empty pegs, their useless labels declaring “blk cn opnr $7.99” or “rd crkscw $5.99.” The spice aisle had no more love for me. I did, however, secure the last available corkscrew in all of Louisiana by venturing to the wine aisle and grabbing the last one hanging there, which, all-in-all, made for a pretty successful 5 or 6 hours in current New Orleans time. Nothing’s easy in the Big Easy these days.
My mom dug up a can opener, and after hearing of my plight, Brooke assembled a box of emergency supplies and FedExed them to me. After said supplies spent two weeks languishing in a warehouse outside of town, I finally tracked them down and spent 3 hours driving around, talking to FedEx on the phone, and waiting in line. My patience was rewarded, though, and I got my excited little hands on the box. Now, I am proud to say that after 59 days back in New Orleans, I have a can opener, bay leaves, and a corkscrew.


Kate said...

This is my favorite post of yours so far, and Serenity was awesome, wasn't it? Dominic and I've been DVR'ing episodes of Firefly off the Sci-fi.

Dale said...

Thanks, Kate. Serenity was awesome. Did I mention the resonance of the government that wants to control how people think? Currenty writing from a friend's computer as my access has crapped out, because nothing's easy in the Big Easy. See ya in a week.

dean said...

here are some questions for me, having read this: can openers, cork screws and bay leaves -- missing from shelves owing to a) high demand, meaning that everything stocked immediately sold out, b)scarcity, meaning that the stores never did re-stock. The answer would say a lot to me about N.O. frontier-resettler state of mind.