We drove considerably past dark, reaching the tiny town of Balmorhea Springs,
Texas in the pitch of night, having turned off too soon onto the far end of a loop road, piloting only with headlights and starlight. The only motel in town was still open as was the only restaurant, the Oso Flojo, recommended by our Santa Cruz friends Susie and Stan, who are transmogrified Texans. We checked in to the motel and walked right over to the Oso Flojo for our first Texas meal. I'm a chili relleno afficionado, and thought theirs were darn good, though they were deliciously eclipsed by the dish I was served the very next night in Austin! Upon our return to Santa Cruz, Stan was horrified that we hadn't actually swam in the 72 to 76 degree constant temperature natural spring waters. On reflection, so were we. Instead however, we threw ourselves headlong across the Texas flatland, scrambling to make the hill country of Austin and a great downtown hotel room just before dark. We had two more days before the start of Mardi Gras, and needed to put a couple of 500-plus mile days together back to back.
That night in Austin, I had the best chili rellenos ever at the Moonshine Patio Bar and Grill. The poblano chilies tasted like they were mesquite singed, then delicately fried (there's about a 20 second window between perfection and overdone) and served immediately. The almost crispy chilies held their own against a cornmeal batter and a great mix of italian and mexican cheeses. I began conjuring up ways to justify further research. After dinner we were too pooped to go on the River Walk, and settled for a view of it from our 16th story picture window. We really liked Austin - just scratching the surface it reminded us of Santa Cruz (with a grown-up downtown). We deadheaded east in the morning, connecting up with I-10 west of Houston and made some serious time through East Texas into Louisiana. You could feel the gain in humidity on your skin as we passed the first bayou just before Lake Charles. Here the highway floats on pylons high above endless ranks of barren cypress trees that jut up out of the black water like regiments of stick soldiers caught in a flood.
From Baton Rouge on into New Orleans we cruised in rush hour traffic that somehow kept moving until it spit us out onto crowded streets a half mile north of the French Quarter right in the middle of our first Mardi Gras float parade. Traffic here was totally stalled out, so we called Paul who jumped in his car and came over to run interference. As a longtime New Orleanian, Paul not only knew the back streets, but had the saavy to work the cops who were everywhere flashing their red and blue roof racks. We whipped in behind him and hung on hard as he jammed along, every so often hopping out of his car in the middle of the street and shouting something to the cops who backed up to let us through. It was amazing to wend our way over to their neighborhood through this utter pandemonium. Throughout the five days of Mardi Gras, we were continually struck by the good-naturedness of everyone, whether cops, marchers, throngs of onlookers. We thought the whole event was a full embodiment of joyful community-wide celebration.