Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Odyssey Complete? Not Yet.

 The next day came, ready or not. Again, I did not travel half way across the country to lie around complaining about my back. So after more pain killers and a hot shower, Josh showed up to show us all that Waco has to offer.

Since that didn't take long and we had the rest of the day to kill we decided to visit the home of the one, the only, the original Dr.Pepper.

 As much as I hate this photo of me, I'm including it because Josh and I just don't have any photos of us together. I was in so much pain and I think it shows. But I was very happy to be there.
We spent a good deal of time at the museum of Dr.Pepper and then headed over to Baylor University where their museum has a display of artifacts from the discovery of a woolly mammoth just outside of Waco.

In an outdoor area they had set up a village of how Texas life would have been 150 years ago.
That's where I was able to get this shot of Josh. Standing at the lectern in the front of the church, he looks like he's about to deliver the sermon of a lifetime.

We'd intended on going out to the actual site of the mammoth discovery, but we killed too much time playing around at the museums. So we headed back to the suite and hung out on the patio talking about anything and everything. Three years of catching up, squeezed into two nights and one day. It was so difficult to leave. But we had a mission to accomplish up in Dallas.

 From Waco to Dallas only took a few hours. Probably the shortest distance that we'd traveled the whole trip. We got into town and went right to Stephanie's house before checking into the hotel.  My back was feeling better after the car ride, relaxing as much as I could.  The occasional  ibuprofen*  kept me going the rest of the trip. My doctor here at home tells me that the extended period sitting in the car immobilized and the position  and stretching that I did to get the bags out is what caused the problem. I am happy to report that I am healing nicely. Slowly, but nicely.

We spent the evening with Stephanie, her husband Doug and of course Spencer. Talking like no time had passed at all since we'd last seen them. We made plans to meet the next day.
 They were taking us to get our Texas on at the Fort Worth Stock Yards.

 It was a drizzly day, but that didn't stop us from having a good time. Spencer showed us how to ride a bull.....
 This Long Horn stud was drooling more than Spencer at the Pride parade.
A tribute to Annie Oakley on the streets of Fort Worth.

 Later that day as the sun went down over the city, we met up with a psychic medium for a ghost hunting adventure in the oldest cemetery in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Ed had purchased a full spectrum camera specifically for this night. We stayed well past sun down searching for spirits roaming the grounds. After reviewing the footage from both our standard video and the full spectrum cameras, we didn't find anything more than a few spots like you see here. We would have done a evp (electronic voice phenomenon) session but there was a high school football game going on just a few blocks away. I think the ghost were all scared away with all the raucous. Stephanie got a couple of odd things on her camera. One of them is at the bottom of this post.

When daylight came we found ourselves in downtown Dallas. There is a statue installation of a cattle drive there and Spencer had to show us again, how to ride a long horn bull.

Stephanie was kind enough to do a photo shoot for us in the cemetery downtown. Perhaps in the future when she's had a chance to edit them, I 'll let you see what kind of magic that she does.

For now, this is all you get to see....
 Sunday was the day we were waiting for. Spencer's first Pride! As these Lite beer guys were working the crowd before the parade started, we got them to have their picture taken with our newest member of the gay family.
He was so embarrassed and he will hate me for putting this on the blog.

As promised, here is one of the photos that Stephanie was able to get at the cemetery. A random shot in the dark with no flash 
and a long exposure time and there you have it.....

* Did you know that Ibuprofen was invented by Dr. Stewart Adams in 1962. It hit drug store shelves, the year I graduated High School, 1984.

The Reason for the Odyssey

Odyssey; noun...a long series of wanderings or adventures, especially when filled with notable experiences.

Why am I calling this vacation an odyssey?
Since our return, I have worked two funerals. The first was a forty one year old man that was tragically killed in an automobile accident. His fiancee was definitely not the only one there mourning his death. In fact, it was standing room only. Every chair in the place had been used and there were still people filing in the doorway. Our supply of tissue boxes was dwindling rapidly. The air conditioners were running full power and it was still over 80 degrees in the service because of all the body heat. His death came as a shock to the whole town and everyone wanted a chance to say good bye.
The second funeral was much smaller. The daughter did not even want her father's death notice to be placed in the obituaries or on the funeral home website. It was a private affair attended by only her and her husband. She requested that everything be kept private.

After our adventures on this past trip, the contrast in these two funerals seems especially pronounced. You see, this trip was not about getting away to an exotic location. It wasn't about staying in a nice hotel. It wasn't about escaping the dropping temperatures in Michigan. This trip was about reconnecting with old friends. It was about staying in contact with people that we love. Everyone mourns in their own way. If I died today, I'd like the packed house with standing room only.

How many times do we say that we will call someone and put it off until later? How many times do we say that we are going to visit someone someday and never do? It would be easy for me to say that I have been in the same house for 18 years and it wasn't me that moved away, they should come see me! But that's not how it works here on the Brighter Side.
Sorry guys! But you knew this photo would end up here.

We've had several friends move away in the past several years. Most of them to Texas. So a year and a half ago, when one of those friends (Stephanie) called us in the middle of the night, worried for her son (who was 12 years old at the time) because he just came out to her as being gay, we told her that we'd be there for her, no matter what. We would be that support team that everyone needs to get through this tough time for a mother. The fears of her child being beat up or made fun of. The worry that he might not be able to fulfill all his dreams. And for her son and all the questions that he is bound to have as he grows and experiences this wonderful life. As things progressed and she found that junior high kids are not as harsh to gay kids as they used to be and that Spencer would be OK after all, we made a promise to her that we would go to Texas and take him to his first gay pride parade. We took the long way around to get there. But we made it. It rained on our parade all day. As you can see, we were all soaked through and through by the end of it. But the important thing is that both Spencer and his mom got to see that it's not as bad as the news and churches make it out to be. Our friend wins Mom of the Year in our book for taking her son to such an event. And Spencer couldn't have been happier. He's a smart kid and knows to be careful. He has an amazing support system with his family, friends and even his Guncles Ed and Stew. After a rain soaked day at Dallas Pride, as the sun set in the West as it usually does, the clouds broke and a huge double rainbow was cast across the whole city of Dallas. Perhaps God's way of saying that it's OK to be gay?

Double Rainbow as seen from our suite on the North side of the city.
But they are not the only reason that we went to Texas. And we certainly learned how BIG Texas really is. Since we had several destinations, we decided that driving was the way to go. To buy a dozen plane tickets would have been a fortune and with the new car, our total cost for gas for our 3200 mile trip was only $380! I do love to drive anyway, so it just made sense.

Do you ever need an excuse to go see a friend? No!
But our reasons to go to Texas were stacking up. About five years ago or so, my best friend Jon and his wife packed up everything they owned and moved to a small town near Beaumont in search of work. And three years ago a young man, Josh, that was first a friend from my retail job and then a roommate for a while, decided to move to Waco to be with his family, who had moved to Texas in search of work as well.

We try to keep in touch with everyone, but time and distance is no one's friend. We left New Orleans headed for that small Texas town that Jon now calls home. Traveling across Southern Louisiana was an experience like no other travel that either of us had done before. If the seventeen hours to New Orleans wasn't a test enough on the new car, these series of bridges that seem to go on forever certainly were. There's no place to stop for miles and did you see how much rubber is on those over-sized rims on that car. I swear, if I get a flat tire, I just have to go to an office supply store and pick up some rubber bands and I'll be fine for a couple hundred miles. Every bump is felt in that car.

But we made it to town in one piece (so I thought). Since they are in the process of moving house again, the tour of the place wasn't long. But dinner out was amazing. Made even more so by the company. It reminded me of why he's my best friend. And gave us the chance to get to know his wife, Stephanie better. It turns out that she's not just the mean lady that stole my best friend from me. She's got quite a personality on her and I can totally see why Jon married her. It was a Monday night when we got there and they both had to work the next day. But we stayed up talking well into the night. Come morning light, we did not want to say good-bye again. Our visits are way too short. We miss them both already.

Should I get a pair for my new car?
We left for Waco that morning. Another six hours in the car. This time, across the back highways of Texas. Ranch after ranch with fences that went on forever and big iron gates at the entrance to each and every one of them. Cows to left, cows to right, cows up ahead! They certainly like their cattle out there.

We had booked a suite in Waco and were looking forward to relaxing with Josh, catching up on new things and reminiscing about old. We had taken some things in from the car and as Ed was settling in, I ran out to get some more things. I ducked my head into the back seat area and picked up a bag. As I stood back up, it felt as though someone had stabbed me from behind. I quickly fell to the cement next to the car where a black grackle bird was enjoying some of the trail mix that had spilled out of the container and I had tossed it out of the car. I couldn't move. I looked around for help or to see who had done this to me. I only saw the bird. Who by now is looking at me like I'm his next meal.

With no one in sight, and dinner planned with Josh and his dad, I forced myself through the pain and rolled over. I eventually was able to upright myself and managed to drag the last bag into the hotel. Every step was causing me so much pain that I could barely stand. I entered the room where Ed was waiting and explained what happened. He helped me to the bed and got me some left over pain killers from a previous injury. I took two! Within minutes, Josh and his dad were there. I did not drive 1500 miles to lay in a hotel room or visit a hospital. So I pulled myself up and we went to dinner over at Buzzard Billy's.(Jokingly pronounced boozard Billy's)
Yes, I drove! The road in front of the restaurant was under construction and every bump sent pain shooting through my back again. But despite the pain, dinner was quite good and again, the company even better.

They have a deck that overhangs the river and the turtles and ducks know where to go to be fed. So we hung out enjoying the sunset and decided that I should get some rest if we wanted to do anything the next day.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Lafayette Odyssey 2012

It is the history and the architecture that brought me to Lafayette Cemetery#1 in the Garden District of New Orleans. 
I am strangely drawn to this unique form of burial. My parents taught me from a young age to recycle and this is the ultimate way of doing that. To read more about the way these operate, you can CLICK HERE and be magically transported to last year when we visited the St.Louis Cemetery#1.

 Lafayette Cemetery is one of the oldest cemeteries in the city.  The cemetery is bounded by Washington Avenue, Prytania Street, Sixth Street and Coliseum Street. The history of the cemetery goes back to the beginning of the 19th century, before it was part of New Orleans.
History and the Yellow Fever:
Built in what was once the City of Lafayette, the cemetery was officially established in 1833. The area was formerly part of the Livaudais plantation, and that square had been used for burials since 1824. The cemetery was laid out by Benjamin Buisson, and consisted of two intersecting roads that divide the property into four quadrants. In 1852, New Orleans annexed the City of Lafayette, and the graveyard became the city cemetery, the first planned cemetery in New Orleans.
Yes, these ones are below ground!
The first available burial records are dated from August 3, 1843, although the cemetery had been in use prior to that date. In 1841, there were 241 burials in Lafayette of victims of yellow fever. In 1847, approximately 3000 people died of yellow fever, and Lafayette holds about 613 of those. By 1853, the worst outbreak ever caused more than 8000 deaths, and bodies were often left at the gates of Lafayette. Many of these victims were immigrants and flatboatman, who worked in the area on the Mississippi.
The cemetery fell on hard times, and many of the tombs were vandalized, or fell into ruin. Thanks to the hard work of the organization "Save Our Cemeteries," there have been extensive restoration and preservation efforts, and Lafayette is open for tours.

Wall vaults, or "ovens" line the perimeter of the cemetery here, as in St. Roch and the St. Louis properties. Notable tombs here are the Smith & Dumestre family tomb, in Section 2, with 37 names carved on it, with dates ranging from 1861 to 1997. Many tombs list such various causes of death as yellow fever, apoplexy, and being struck by lightning. Also depicted are veterans of various wars, including the Civil War and a member of the French Foreign Legion. Eight tombs list ladies as "consorts."
Several distinctive monuments are for the deceased of "Woodman of the World," an insurance company still in existence which offered a "monument benefit." Brigadier General Harry T. Hays of the Confederate Army is buried here, in an area featuring a broken column. The Brunies family, of jazz fame, has a tomb here. The Lafayette Hook and Ladder Co. No. 1, the Chalmette Fire Co. No. 32, and the Jefferson Fire Company No. 22, all have group tombs here. The "Secret Garden" is a square of four tombs built by friends, "the Quarto," who wished to be buried together. According to Save Our Cemeteries, the Quarto held secret meetings, but the last member destroyed their book of notes. The only evidence of their existence are two keys from their minutes, which have been made into broaches and belong to their descendants.

 I am drawn to the symbolism on each of the graves and could spend hours wandering around, lost in the history.

 If you are a movie buff, parts may seem familiar to you, as this is a favorite scene in many movies made in New Orleans. Movies such as "Double Jeopardy" and "Interview with a Vampire" are just two of the most popular.

 This cemetery is the only one that is run by the city of New Orleans and not the Catholic Church.
A while ago there was some trouble with a little movie called Easy Rider. With my strict up-bringing, I have never seen the movie. But I guess there were some pretty unholy things happening at the St.Louis Cemetery in that movie. The church had a fit and proclaimed that no more filming would take place in church owned cemeteries.

 The city is not as strict. But does keep an eye on the film companies when they are around people's graves.

And just to be clear, the scene in the cemetery in Double Jeopardy was filmed here. But the interior of the crypt was a set. No one's loved one was desecrated in the making of the movie.

I could have filled up a memory card with this stuff.
 And what a beautiful day for pictures.
 The patina of this fence is unbeatable. I found so much beauty in the smooth iron spires.
Signs of life at the City of the Dead

 Many think that these cemeteries exist because of the water table here. Yes, it is high and you can't dig very far. But the real reason is that after a devastating tragedy, the city went to the government for funding of the cemetery and they were told by the ruling Spanish Government that they would have to do it the way they did it if they want any money. And the New Orleans Cemeteries were born. It's quite a system. A system that works, for them.
I hope that some day, we can all get together and tour a cemetery like this.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Garden District Odyssey 2012

After spending the night in our haunted hotel room. We were anxious to finally get our tour of the Garden District. Many have asked what our unfinished business was in New Orleans from last year. Well, this is it.
The tour, of course,
 started in the Lafayette Cemetery, in the heart of the Garden District.
 I will share more gratuitous shots of the cemetery and the ornamentation there tomorrow though, since this post is already filled with many photos.

Ed had been a huge Ann Rice fan when she was writing all her vampire novels. And has followed her son Christopher Rice through his writing career as well. Many of their novels are based in the New Orleans area and they lived in the Garden District.
This was the home of Ann Rice during her vampire phase and where Cristopher grew up.
I love architecture and thought the tour of the district would be a good addition to my knowledge of the building traditions around the country.

As I've learned, most people think that New Orleans is mostly influenced by the French. Since Creole is a derivative of French. And it was founded by the French and they do have the French Quarter, that is an easy assumption to make.

However, since the area was traded back and forth between the French and the Spanish and then purchased by the Americans in a little something called the Louisiana Purchase, there is a mix of all sorts of architecture.

 The Garden District was settled by the Americans after the purchase and therefore has a strong "American" influence. And if you know anything about America, it is a melting pot of all people. Thus the homes that you see in this post are a mixture of styles as well.
 This home for example was built as a typical Georgian style home and later the round rooms with the windows on the corner were added on to it. (True American's can't leave anything alone)

 I know that it's called the Garden District and you would think in the garden, you'd see more flowers. Well, we did visit the area only six days after a major Hurricane blew through and unfortunately, the flowers all blew away.
 That didn't stop us from enjoying the fine architecture of these gorgeous homes.
 Each one has a beauty all it's own.
 A little known fact about the Garden District is that it was one of the first places in the South to give Black Slaves rights. You could still have them, but had to pay them and give them respectable places to live.

The loophole that was found was that those rules did not apply to the Irish. When the potato famine was driving Irishmen to the new world, they were drawn to New Orleans with the promise of 3 meals and a roof over their heads if they would work for free. Well, the roof wasn't anything more than a shed in the backyard most of the time the meals might have been some scraps left over from the family that had brought them there.

With that in mind walking around the district, you couldn't help but think that most  of it was built by those poor Irish immigrants.

 You can't tell from these photos just how devastated the area was from the hurricane. But trust me, there were trees down, power lines down, garbage piled up at the curbs and of all things, the flowers were all gone!
 Behind these beautiful Crepe Mertles is the home of John Goodman.
The Garden District is a nice place for people who love the ambiance of New Orleans but don't want to live in the busy French Quarter.

 Here's a great answer to the flooding problem. As my Dad always said, they built it "up stairs over and empty lot". Well, this one is enclosed at the bottom, it's not an empty lot.

But really, the Garden District and the French Quarter are the two areas that have not flooded with either Hurricane Katrina or the more recent Hurricane Isaac. The founders of the city never intended for people to live outside of those areas. How could they have known back then how many people would inhabit the world today. And how many people would love New Orleans so much that they'd want to call it home.

I'll leave you with this last home that is owned by Sandra Bullock. It was purchased right before her divorce from Jessy James and is currently being rented out to Leonardo DiCaprio while he is filming a movie in the New Orleans area.

I hope you have enjoyed this tour as much as we did.
 Tomorrow, Lafayette Cemetery#1, the only city of the dead where Hollywood is allowed to film anymore and thus, I'm sure you might recognize something there.