Beads, baby, beads!
Music in my ears. A smile from cheek to cheek. A clattering rhythm beneath my seat. I’m on the road! Four states in one day! Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana.
The rustic northern Gulf coast looks and feels so different than the sandy west coast of Florida. The water looks similar and just as foreboding given the right storm. But the houses are quite modest in comparison. They are tiny and sparse — large enough for the necessities, held high above the water by tall columns, and far enough apart from each other that this truly feels like “the country.”
White sand beach turns to dark mucky marsh. Palm trees to cypress. And the ritzy tourism scene that seems to stretch from the Everglades all the way to Pensacola vanishes between metropolitan areas, replaced by lowland pine forest, and signs warning of bear. And by the look of my windscreen, the bugs are big and numerous!
In Destin, Florida I pull into a Waffle House with what feels like the very last calorie to my name. Yesterday’s footlong deli sandwich is a distant memory, and the leftover cold coffee was just enough to get me this far on an empty stomach.
I have just the energy to utter an order for a boat load of grits and butter. It comes with a hot cup of coffee and a waffle drizzled in corn sugar. Now we’re talking!
I tell the man to my right that this Waffle House experience is a first for me. I looked longingly for a Denny’s before giving up and landing here. I guess by the name this place serves breakfast, but how glad I am I didn’t order a pancake! With the unique combined kitchen and breakfast bar — not to mention the name — I bet this place is just teaming with pancake haters. Waffle and grits it is.
For four hundred miles, the bike burns through gallons of fuel while fat and sugar course through my veins. I stop briefly in Mobile, Alabama — in search of a Mobil station for novelty’s sake — only to end up supporting BP instead.
Mississippi comes and goes just as swiftly. By the end of the day, I’m riding through a desolate quarter of New Orleans on my way to Canal Street. The very heartbeat of Mardi Gras booms from the surrounding people and traffic. Police officers pelt the partiers with their facade of force. I know better. The crowd does too. The lights and sirens go unanswered, and the party goes on. The debauchery of last weekend’s Super Bowl was the literal pre game for this weekend’s Mardi Gras.
And I’m in the middle of it, dressed head to toe in neon green body armor and armed with sobriety. I park in the street gutter behind an outhouse on a trailer. It’s BYOB, food, tent, chair, ladder, and apparently, bring your own toilet, too. At least riding a motorbike comes with endless parking opportunities.
Float after float drives past. The crowd is meters deep on either side, and everyone screams incessantly for beads. Anonymous throwers answer with a shower of brightly colored plastic jewelry. Purple beads and gold beads. Green beads and white. Some are smartly wrapped in aerodynamic bags to reach the farthest in the crowd. All wisp through the air with the precision of a missile into the not-so-coordinated hands of a partier who may just be standing precariously atop a shaking ladder.
I’m looking forward to this visit. If there is any time to see New Orleans, Mardi Gras is it. Several friends agree and are quick to add this: it’s a great, once in a lifetime experience.