Stage Three of Le Tour de South was New Orleans, Louisiana, the capital of gumbo, jambalaya, and beignets (French style doughnuts).
Having sampled the first two already, we planned on stopping by the famous Café Du Monde for beignets and coffee on our way out of town. The café is located on Decatur Street next to a beautiful park called Jackson Square. I was looking forward to sitting quietly under the awning, sipping on a rich brew of French roast, sampling the sugary French treat, and watching the tourists pass by. It was going to be a leisurely start to the day before our drive to Natchez, Mississippi.
A quick note: I realize beignets are not exactly a sanctioned food on the In8 plan, but I was going to splurge. You know, because I’m on vacation. (There's that bad vacation self-talk. The kind that leads to overeating and poor food choices. I know, I know!)
Anyway, the day got off to an ominous start. At 6:00 am a siren blasted through the hotel. Michael bolted out of bed.
“What the hell is that?” I said groggily, laying in bed and reaching for a pillow to cover my head and drown out the noise.
Michael was already upright and pulling on his shorts. “It’s the fire alarm,” was his anxious response.
“Attention,” a female voice screeched from the ceiling, “this is…” The voice stopped abruptly without completing the sentence. The alarm ceased as well and I thought, eh, it’s probably nothing. I’ll just roll back over and get some sleep.
But oh no, Fire Marshall Michael would have none of that.
“Everyone up,” he commanded. “Let’s get downstairs, just to be safe.”
Crap, I thought. There goes my plan for a leisurely morning.
Amanda was up first and appeared slightly panicked. “Is there a real fire?” she asked.
“It’s probably nothing,” I reassured her. “Let’s get downstairs and see what’s going on.”
Exiting the hotel room we headed for the stairwell. Amanda, utilizing her fire safety skills, felt the door of the stairwell for heat. Stepping back she said, “I’m too afraid to push it open. It doesn’t feel hot, but I don’t know.”
Since it was just past dawn and I hadn’t had any coffee, I was more fearful of going through caffeine withdrawal than a fire, so I stepped in front of her, barged through the door and entered the stairwell.
“It’s okay,” I called back.
The five of us proceeded down the stairs. Amanda raced ahead followed closely by Janelle carrying her pink and white blankie and Pootie Cat, her stuffed animal. Fire Marshall Micheal, Grant and I descended quietly behind them. Only one other woman joined us on the stairs.
Eventually we arrived at the ground floor and exited the building. Glancing up at the hotel, we looked for gray billowing smoke, but saw nothing. Reentering the building, we overheard the front desk clerk addressing a guest on the phone, “Everything’s fine,” she stated, “there’s no fire.”
Well, isn’t that just great, I thought. It was 6:10 am.
Fire Marshall Michael congratulated himself on running a successful safety drill and suggested we reward ourselves with the free breakfast buffet. I quickly poured myself a cup of weak hotel coffee and sat down. All was right again in the world.
An hour later, after checking out of our hotel, we parked opposite Jackson Square and headed toward Café du Monde. Finally, I thought, my perfect cup of coffee and a little sugary treat.
The square was slowly waking up. Local artists began unwrapping their canvases, setting the colorful images against the wrought iron fence. Tourists slowly meandered down the street, stopping to photograph the St. Louis Cathedral, the centerpiece of the square. A horse drawn carriage pulled up in front of the park, waiting patiently for its first patron.
Approaching the corner of Ann and Decatur Streets we noticed two fire trucks with their lights flashing. Not again, I thought. One of the trucks had extended its ladder onto the roof of a building. Unbelievably, Café Du Monde was on fire.
Luckily it was a small kitchen blaze. No five alarm fire. No giant hoses dousing the building. Just a couple of firemen on the roof. The staff of the café mingled outside as the fire fighters worked inside the building.
Realizing our ideal beignet experience was foiled, we asked a waitress for another option. “We have another location,” she said, “There’s a Café Du Monde at Riverwalk. Go there.”
Thankful no one was hurt in the blaze but disappointed that my perfect morning was ruined, I sighed as we walked back to the car.
Off to Riverwalk we went, in search of the illusive beignets, and for me, the perfect cup of coffee.
Twenty minutes later, after a frustrating drive around the French Quarter trying to find parking, Michael begged a valet at Harrah’s to let us park at the casino. He was determined to eat a beignet and two fires were not going to thwart his plans.
The valet relented and with the car finally parked, we walked across the street to enter the Riverwalk Mall. We wandered the empty corridors in search of the café. Michael raced ahead, doing his I’m-pissed-off-and-walking-like-a-maniac stride. I’ve learned it’s best to keep my distance when he gets like that.
Fifty feet in front of me and the children, I saw both his arms rise toward the sky in exasperation. “It’s closed,” he screamed back at me. “Unbelievable! The cafe's closed.” I think he was close to having an aneurysm. “I hate this town!” he exclaimed. “Let’s just get out of here!”
The kids and I struggled to keep pace with an angry, half-walking, half-running Daddy as he made his way back through the mall toward the car. Ferociously punching his iPhone, Michael finally raised it in triumph. “I found a Starbucks,” he stated proudly. “It’s right next to the car in Harrah’s Casino.”
Good old Starbucks. It was open and it wasn’t on fire. Perfect.
Gleefully sipping my Nonfat Venti One Splenda Iced Latte, we pointed the car west toward Mississippi.
I guess the In8 gods were telling me beignets aren’t worth a dietary splurge. Okay. Got it. And next time In8 gods, could you let me sleep in?