March 3 2011 by Jason Fogelson
I've spent the last week watching the weather. I don't mind cold; I don't mind rain. I've got good gear, and I can stay warm and dry. But combine cold and rain, and it spells trouble for a motorcycle trip.
I have installed a couple of weather apps on my iPhone - WeatherBug and the Weather Channel. I check them obsessively over the past few days, and it appears that the cold front that has been moving through the South is on its way out. Hope it keeps moving.
I packed carefully, as always. I've got my Harley-Davidson FXRG Gear - leather jacket, leather and textile overpants and boots. Add some long underwear, a fleece jacket and some good gloves, and I'll be warm and dry.
My direct flight departs on time from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) to Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY). It was 66 degrees in LA when I left at 11:03 am, and 37 degrees in New Orleans when I arrive at 4:28 pm.
I arrive at the BEST WESTERN St. Christopher Hotel a little after 5:00 pm. Located just across Canal Street from the French Quarter, the BEST WESTERN St. Christopher Hotel is the first BEST WESTERN PLUS hotel that I've experienced. The hotel was built in the late 1800's by the architects Sully and Teledano, and it is classic New Orleans. The elegant lobby is warm and inviting, and my ninth floor room features exposed brick walls and a great view of the Mississippi River a few blocks away. Score!
Renada at the front desk suggests a nearby seafood restaurant in the French Quarter, Oceana Grill. She says that the food is excellent, and even better, inexpensive. She even gives me a coupon for 10% discount on dinner.
I grab my camera and stroll out into the brisk evening air. I decide to walk down Canal Street a few blocks, snapping photos of the iconic streetcars and converted gas lamps before taking a right down Bourbon Street.
Bourbon Street is an experience, night or day. The sun is going down, and live music streams from bar doorways and windows. Souvenir shops feature beads, feathered masks and novelty t-shirts galore. "Gentlemen's clubs" sit comfortably next to ice cream stores, and street performers vie for attention on every corner. Even in near-freezing temperatures, there's a vibrant energy to the street. Bourbon Street is definitely an adult playground, and not for the faint of heart. I find myself walking slowly, marveling at the excess. Not my scene, but strangely compelling nonetheless.
Oceana is on Conti Street in the heart of the French Quarter, and true to Renada's recommendation, it is a casual, friendly place. I devour an entree of blackened tuna stuffed with crab meat, and top it off with bread pudding for dessert. The bill is very reasonable, made even more so with the 10% discount coupon that I got from the hotel.
When I emerge from the restaurant, the temperature seems to have dropped another 10 degrees as the sun has disappeared and night takes over. The streets are even more crowded with people now, but I'm eager to get someplace warm. As I approach my hotel, I notice a haven on Canal Street - Don Leoncio Cigars. Nothing tops off a good meal like a nice cigar, so I duck in to take a look.
The vibe in Don Leoncio's is great. Leather sofas and chairs sit in the spacious front room. A group of men sit at a card table, playing dominoes. At the back of the shop is a full bar with a suitably comfortable ambiance. I select a nice Honduran maduro from the well-stocked walk-in humidor, and sink into one of the couches to relax with my cigar. I have brought my Amazon Kindle with me on this trip, loaded with James Kaplan's new biography of Frank Sinatra, The Voice. I spend a very pleasant hour reading, while Cuban music plays over Don Leoncio's speakers and a basketball game plays silently on the big screen on the wall. If the weather takes a turn for the worse tomorrow, at least I've found a place to weather the storm.
Tomorrow morning I pick up my Harley-Davidson Electra Glide and depart for Jackson, Mississippi. Tonight, I look forward to a good night's sleep at the BEST WESTERN PLUS St. Christopher Hotel.