Class-action Cajun

I didn’t claim to be Cajun until I went to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. I didn’t realize the fascinating tale of my heritage. I also didn’t gather there was a distinction between Cajun or Creole or that there was actually a vast difference between all parts of my state: New Orleans is completely different from Baton Rouge; Lafayette/Acadiana is distinguished from the current and former state capitals; there are actually Prairie Cajuns and Bayou Cajuns; and north Louisiana is almost a different state completely.

Once I had this cultural epiphany, I realized  the equation that perpetuates the problem: media + advertising + corrupt politics = misinformed perception.

Louisiana has always had a colorful history with a flare for fun. After all, we are the toe-tapping boot and the mouth of the Mississippi. We literally are the shit – the excess of the entire right half of the country flows from tributaries through us to the Gulf of Mexico.

With the surge of technology over the past 10 years, the Cajun image has been contorted to a nearly unrecognizable spin-off of a New Orleans step-brother. People from across the nation assume we are one in the same, but that could not be farther from the truth. But how would they know? They see commercials for multiple chain restaurants that say, “Try our Cajun style ________, straight from New Orleans.” Or they watch new popular shows like “Swamp People” and think that we all say, “Choot ’em.”

Should we embrace the fact that people know who we are even though they don’t understand that we do not cook like New Orleans or possess the same colloquial vernacular?

In the past two weeks I have joked that we should create a class action lawsuit as Cajuns against restaurants who misuse our name for their recipes. Shouldn’t it be Cajun approved before it goes national? Anyone who has eaten food in both New Orleans and Lafayette knows that the food is vastly different. Not even all Louisianians understand this concept, so how can anyone who has never visited our homestead?

I’m sure that many denizens from other states have similar issues with how their lives are portrayed on television. For example, the first time I flew to New York City to visit a friend, I was terribly nervous to hale a taxi cab and travel solo at night. My friend commented that life in NYC is not like NYPD Blue and he assured me that I would be fine – and he was right.

This morning I saw a status on Facebook that announced a casting call for a new show, “Party Down South.” The concept is similar to that of Jersey Shore. My qualm with the announcement was this line: “The search is on for the next big television personalities who are ragin’ Cajuns and appreciate all that the Southern Gulf cities have to offer.” This may not seem like a big deal, but a sentence later it listed that casting calls will be in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama (NOT JUST REAL CAJUNS).

I feel like yelling, “ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!”. All Americans should be outraged. We are allowing pop-culture society to ruin our roots. It doesn’t matter if you are Cajun or not. We should not sit by and let D-listed entertainment further cripple the minds of today’s ignorance and tomorrow’s youth. How long will we let rich culture deteriorate – everywhere?

A lawsuit may seem extreme. But sometimes an extreme measure is the only thing that makes it into the sensational mainstream media.

Here’s the full Casting Call invitation. Think for yourself:

Media Alert: Party Down South Casting

Submitted by doron on June 27, 2011 – 3:09pm

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Doron Ofir Casting June 27, 2011

DORON OFIR CASTING & 495 PRODUCTIONS ARE CURRENTLY CASTING LOUD & PROUD GULF SOUTHERNERS AND CAJUNS

LOS ANGELES, CA (June 27, 2011) – Doron Ofir Casting in conjunction with 495 Productions is proud to announce the summer 2011 casting tour in search of the hottest, proudest Gulf Southerners, Bayou residents and Cajuns to star in PARTY DOWN SOUTH (working title) by the legendary Casting Company and Production Company of MTV’s smash hit series, JERSEY SHORE . . . the search is on for the next big television personalities who are ragin’ Cajuns and appreciate all that the Southern Gulf cities have to offer.

“American is the greatest melting pot of cultures, dialects, lifestyles and hometown pride! I am excited at the prospect of presenting a cast that’s rich with personalities, that capture the world’s attention by showcasing the unique flavor of this slice of the South” – Doron Ofir Executive Casting Director.

In an effort to find the most outrageous and best characters in the South, casting events and interviews will be held throughout the month of July in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

Doron Ofir Casting is seeking Gulf-Coast Southerners who are at least 21 years old and looking to prove that the party down South will rise again. If you call ‘gators your neighbors, reckon Mardi Gras should be a national holiday, your daisy dukes fit just right and are ready to make your Maw Maw and Paw Paw proud, we are looking for you!

The official casting and digital application to be considered and invited to audition can be found atwww.partydownsouth.com

The difficulties of dinner

I love food. What Cajun doesn’t? More importantly, I love GOOD food. Not just good tasting, but good for me. There are multiple concerns to decipher given these conditions.

#1. COST. Why does healthier eating cost so much more? Probably because there are more human working hours tending to the care of my nourishing food, whereas a machine can PROCESS more in less time. That’s a rant for another time. Given my latest challenge of extreme frugality, I could not afford to be choosy.

#2. LOCATION. There aren’t many options in Rayne. It’s like the choice between red or brown gravy. No health food stores. Limited produce. This was an adjustment after living in Lafayette for 9 years, and I still found that selection to be slim. However, given the hurdle of low funds, it was still too expensive to jump to Fresh Market or Fresh Pickens.

#3 COMPROMISE. I’ve had to adjust to finding meals that both Jon and I enjoy. He doesn’t understand how I can eat a bag of veggies with hummus as a dish. While I can’t seem to fathom how chili dogs and ice cream equals a substantial means of nutrition.

The new job in Lafayette has already helped with the circumstances. After I clocked off yesterday afternoon, I went to Sam’s. The goal was to find fresh fish and veggies for dinner. It’s difficult to find tasty fish, especially when the boyfriend is from the coast of Oregon and is accustomed to the freshest salmon possible.

I fell in love with his favorite dish when we visited his home state back in March. His wonderful mother, whose birthday is actually tomorrow (HAPPY BIRTHDAY SUSAN!!), cooked it for us the first night we were there: baked salmon, broccoli, and rice pilaf.

The last time we wanted salmon, we had to settle for trout – and that was delightfully delicious. To my surprise, Sam’s had one huge fillet…for $18.41. It had been a while since we cooked together, so I figured it was worth the splurge. While I was there, I strolled through the produce section.

My mother was the first to tell me about the wonderful selection there.  A huge bag of broccoli florets was only $4. When I say huge, I mean there’s enough to eat a serving at both lunch and dinner for a week. I also added spinach (box for $3), Fugi apples (bag $6), strawberries (3 quarts $4), and 6 bell peppers ($4) to my basket.

Jon stopped at the Pig (Piggly Wiggly) in Rayne to buy lemons, a white onion, and the rice. Unfortunately there is no pilaf, so we had Zatarain’s broccoli and cheese rice instead.

His masterpiece is the salmon. He melts butter and tops the fillet with its liquid yumminess, sliced lemon and onion, cracked sea salt, cayenne pepper, and a few other seasonings.

I invited my mother for dinner because; a) she has heard me rave about Jon’s cooking for a while now and b) my father was out of town and I didn’t think she should have to eat alone.

The meal was enough for all three of us to have seconds–and we did. After I cleaned the kitchen, I tallied up the cost. Given the amount of broccoli used, two boxes of rice, and condiments I would say we spent $25. Plus, there were leftovers for both of us today.

I’ll give you something to ponder. If you are what you eat, it’s no wonder I’m a big ole’ chicken. Salmon are very intriguing creatures. They are born into freshwater and after a few years venture to sea. If they survive predators, they return to the exact spot of their freshwater birth to lay their spawn and spend the remainder of their life.

Gee, I’m back at home. If the above statement were in fact true, then the next step would be soon.

Uummmm…

Can someone give me new favorite dish to try? One that won’t involve spawn?

Fort Collins

I woke up right as we made it to Fort Collins, Colorado. I was going to stay with my friend Lauren and her family: Aran, Shea, and Liam. Rick was going to stay with our mutual friends, Doug and Katherine.

Lauren was my little sis during our sorority days of Sigma Sigma Sigma. She had moved to Colorado a few years ago and met Aran while they were working for Whole Foods in Boulder. They spent a summer in a tent while Aran studied bird migration. Nine months later, they had Shea–an adorable, smart little boy who now has the curliest, blond hair. They recently added Liam to their bunch and after spending a few days with him, I feel like I have met one of the happiest babies alive.

Doug and Katherine recently moved to Fort Collins in order for Katherine to attend graduate school at CSU to study Physics.  I had originally met Katherine in high school because we were both from the same small town. I re-met her with Doug a few years ago at the Rok Haus. They were avid climbers. Needless to say, they love the outdoor activities that Colorado has to offer.

When Rick lived in Lafayette, he climbed with both of them, but also had many classes with Katherine. The trio were extremely close before their ways parted. It was interesting to witness such an intimate reunion again for Rick.

We parked at Lauren’s house in order to change before heading to breakfast with Doug and Katherine at the Rainbow restaurant. The name immediately made me think of the Rainbow’s End in Flagstaff.

I loved the little connections I made from city to city. Certain moments reminded me of a previous town, which added to the feeling that I was on the right track.

I had an organic omelet at the Rainbow with lots of coffee to chase the egg. We decided to head to the lake in order for the crew to go rock climbing .

I was too exhausted to climb, so I found a rock to lay on as I read some of Charles Bukowski’s, “Slouching towards Nirvana.” I maybe read three poems before I passed out.

I woke up to three touristy-looking people scoping out the view of the lake, while also pointing at this girl who is sleeping on a rock. I checked my watch and knew I had been out for at least an hour. I scanned the shoreline and eventually saw Nick attempting a huge boulder.

I threw my books in the back of Doug’s truck and meandered down a thin path to meet up with the climbers. Nick had his camera, so I took a few shots while I tried to wake up.

It wasn’t too long before they were ready to make an exit. We piled into the truck and drove down the mountain. There was an authentic drive-in movie range at the bottom of the hill. Katherine told us they do double features sometimes and even have recent movies.

The sunny sky was so beautiful that day. Maybe I was still reeling from the sunrise I had witnessed eight hours prior. I daydreamed about the crystal blue water I had just seen. It was June, but I knew it would have been too cold to swim. It made me want to go to the beach in Florida with my family. We had gone two summers in a row and the waves were calling my name.

I was ready for another nap, so Nick and I went to Whole Foods to pick up some grub and then went back to Lauren’s for showers and naps.

I pretty much slept the whole night through. I needed to recover from the drive. My body needed to piece itself back together after all of the internal explosions.

Epic in Eugene

We arrived in Eugene at 3 p.m. I knew we had a few hours to spare before Rick was through with his final. Our first stop was at a Jiffy Lube for an oil change. This was the most superior service I had ever received: the staff was friendly, the work was reliable and quick, and the waiting area was immaculate.

There was a young early-college-aged girl there who had gone over 9,000 miles since her last oil change. She said her grandfather normally took care of everything for her. I guess it made me feel a little more responsible.

Louis got a free car wash and we set out in the pollen-filled Eugene. One of the things I love about the Oregon scenery is the fir and pine tree-lined cities and roads. Everywhere is green. The trees are tall, too, unlike the short, grand oaks I am used to in South Louisiana. Unless you want a tour of the swamp for the gigantic Cypress trees, short and stout trees are what you get on a daily basis.

We drove near the University of Oregon campus and watched as students unpacked their dorm rooms. We decided to grab some grub and beer at McMenamins, a northwest brewpub, while we waited.

I felt like the atmosphere was authentically original, however when Rick called to see where we were, he relayed the info that it was a chain. This reminded me of “Mellow Mushroom” chains. Rick told us he and a few classmates were at a beer shop not too far away. Nick and I finished a game of pool and headed that way.

While we were on the road, we contacted Sal, a colleague from Baton Rouge who worked for the same company we did many years ago. He had just graduated from LSU and was on a solo road trip through the west as well. Turns out, he was near Eugene and wanted to partake in the festivities.

Beer Stein, a former fresh pasta shop, has the most extensive bottled beer selection I have yet to see. I was weeks away from home, so I chose an Abita Amber to cure what little homesickness I possessed. I walked up to a table of men from around the world and knew it was going to be an interesting night.

The gentleman asked how Rick and I knew one another and we kind of looked at one another like, “We don’t really know, yet we trust one another enough to ride half-way across the country together.” We all shook hands as Sal arrived, sporting an LSU visor and polo shirt.

The crew decided it was time to move to the party house, which was to be held at a pair of co-ed’s apartment.

The night started slowly,  mixing intelligent conversation with stout beer and wine. I’ve never felt more sophisticated in a tiny apartment. I exchanged tales from the road while they exchanged knowledge of physics.

I could tell Nick and Sal were bringing the Louisiana out of one another, especially when they disappeared giggling. I was mid-conversation with Erik, a student from Connecticut, when the duo arrived with Nattie-lite proclaiming it was time for beer pong.

They were a little too tipsy to notice the looks of disdain, but regardless they edged their way into the seemingly microscopic kitchen. The kitchen table was brought to center, cups were set up, and then the geniuses discovered they had no pong for the beer. Undiscouraged, they huddled for a quick game-time decision and voted on the use of a quarter due to the lack of a ball.

Rick and a buddy reluctantly played the first round. However, it wasn’t too long before Nick and Sal’s contagious energy spread to a few party-seekers. Once a few girls challenged the testosterone in the room, the hype of the game soared.

I stood in the hallway and held random conversations with strangers, while the sounds of fraternity hoo-rahs filled my background soundtrack.

At one point I counted and there were 12 different countries represented in the apartment: India, Germany, Poland, Sweden, Denmark, USA, etc. I felt like I was drinking with some of the smartest kids in the world. I literally could have toasted with someone who will make a remarkable scientific discovery. The moment still gives me chills.

As the party escalated to rambunctious, there was a phone call made to the hostesses from upset neighbors. We needed to move to a new location.

At this point, I could’ve gone to sleep– and it was not even midnight. The girls allowed Nick and Sal to pass out there, but I decided to push forward and walk to a bar with the physics crew.

I just kind of hung back and watched the rest of the evening progress. Erik was now talking to a girl from class. Rick was talking to….well everyone because that’s what Rick does.

Rick flirts with anyone. He isn’t gender specific either, although he is straight as a nail. He just likes for people to like him. He’ll tell you that directly if asked.

Anyways, the goal was an 80’s theme party, but that bar was too packed, so we stopped at an uppity type place. I felt sorry for the only couple in the bar that seemed to long for a romantic outing together. We were loud.

People were pulling cans of Schlitz from their jacket pockets, while others were crying. The night took a very emotional turn once we started walking through the streets of Eugene. For some, it was the last time they were going to see one another. Many of the International students were going home for good. Some of the American students were choosing not to return to the program.

People were saying their good-byes.

It was now around 3 a.m. Not counting the one hour nap, I had been awake for 18 hours straight….only on three hours of sleep. I was entering the delirious state.

The bar closed and we decided to walk to Hilary’s. I would label Rick and Hilary the co-leaders of this pack. They both exude strong male presences that cause people to gravitate toward their auras. This was proven correct when the hordes of after-party-seekers showed up at the apartment for hookah and beer.

For the first time ever, I just sat in the corner and watched the party ensue. I didn’t tell stories. I didn’t try to meet anyone. I didn’t become a part of the entertainment. I just watched.

I watched friends exchange stories. I watched them hug their possible last physical meeting. I watched first kisses that had obviously been desired for quite sometime, but the courage wasn’t mustered at previous occasions.

It was beautiful.

The clock was creeping to 5 a.m. and the crowd started to dwindle. I finally struck up a conversation once my fourth wind emerged. There were a group of Germans who had just made it in town to meet one of their comrades in the program. Their plan was to set out through the west on a road trip to see the Grand Canyon.

One of the guys, Karl, lived in New York City. I started to tell him about this quirky little Polish neighborhood in Brooklyn that was my favorite place because of the authentic eateries and people. He stared at me in disbelief and said that was where he lived with his grandmother.

As we chatted about some of our favorite Polish food (the burgers!), his friend Pascale passed out on me. We all laughed and they agreed it was time for them to head out.

It was now almost 6 a.m. and Erik and I decided to walk back to the original party house to get our vehicles. Our hope was to see the sun rise, but as we walked, we realized the overcast wouldn’t allow our dream to come to fruition.

My sinuses were starting to act up due to the allergens in the Eugene air. My immunity system was probably just reminding me that I had abused it with lack of sleep and excess beer.

Erik and I hugged before we got to our vehicles. It was then I noticed his face resembled that of Elijah Wood, or the kid from Harry Potter. At this state of delirium, the night felt like a magic spell had been cast over the snow globe-dom of downtown Eugene.

I drove back to Hilary’s and fell onto the couch that had been made up for me with blankets and pillows.

Sleep.

Portland, day two

I woke up early again and hit the cafe to write. Once Nick made it downstairs, we tried to go walk, but I still wasn’t feeling too well. We parted ways for lunch. I ended up back at the cafe and once we reconvened, I wanted to check out a music store. The baristas had been jammin to TV on the Radio and I was in the mood for some local tunes.

We journeyed a few blocks over to Everyday Music. Picture Empire Records without the chicks. I ended up buying Kasbian, Mika Miko, two albums of local artists, and several singles all for only $35.

Excited with my finds, I went back to the cafe to import music. I was on Facebook for a second chatting with my friend Val. She told me she had a college friend who lived in Portland that I should call. We exchanged information and decided to meet for a drink later that evening.

We decided dinner at Whole Foods would help us regain our health. We were going to rest before we met up with Kate for drinks, but the bar next to the Ace seemed to lull us to its spirits.

There was a whiskey menu that would have impressed Janis Joplin. I tried an Old Fashion, another house specialty and then a mixture which contained Absinthe. I thought I was about to see the green fairy, when Kate finally called to meet up.

She and her friend Becca joined us at the bar. Nick was hammered and began to hit on Becca. I think had he had one less drink, he might have stood a chance.

He wasn’t really much for bar hopping, so I left with Kate.

We had been in the Southwest part of Portland. The city is kind of divided into four quadrants, like D.C. Kate lived in the Northwest part, so we walked there.

I love meeting people from South Louisiana in other parts of the country. It’s like you’ve known them for years. We never skipped a beat and Kate was more than hospitable. After a beer, she hailed a cab for me and we planned to meet up for lunch the next day before we were to leave for Eugene.

I had a life-encouraging talk with my cab driver on the way back to the Ace, which I will write about next because it deserves its own entry.

I was starting to fall in love with Portland. I loved myself there. I didn’t care for my allergies, but it was a place I could see myself as a dweller, a liver.

Portland, Oregon

I awoke from my sleep at around 10a.m. I was so psyched to check out the neighborhood during sunlit hours, that I didn’t want to wait. Ben had told me I had to grab some coffee at Stumptown, which is connected to the Ace. Nick was still dead to the world, so I dressed and headed downstairs.

The whole lounge was buzzing with twenty-somethings. They were dressed funky and reading books and newspapers while sipping on coffee or tea.

I rounded the corner into the brew house and I felt alive from the aroma alone. The baristas were all male and all very good looking. All hail the Pacific Northwest! Literate, attractive people.

I sipped my dark roast while read parts of Hitchhiker’s Guide of the Galaxy. I hadn’t read but a page before a gentleman to my right told me that was one of his favorite books. We chatted for a few minutes then Nick texted me to see where I was.

I walked upstairs to meet him while I thought about how amazing it was to meet someone over a book. At that point I knew I didn’t want to return home and leave this kind of lifestyle behind…and it had only been a few hours.

We ended up walking past a Northface outdoors store on our way to find some grub. I spotted a pair of shoes that I had been coveting since Flagstaff. I tried them on and was about to pass, but the clerk tells me that there is no sales tax in Oregon.

What?

I love Oregon. You don’t have touch gas spouts or pay sales tax. And the coffee is amazing.

I walked out of the store with my yellow shoes and we found a local brew restaurant called Rogue’s.

It was now Nick’s turn to revel. He ordered beer-battered mahi-mahi fish and chips while he sipped an emperial stout. I hadn’t seen him that happy since Kimber without the “ly”-our Hooter’s waitress on Memorial Day.

We were about to head back to the hotel when we spotted Powell’s, a bookstore. We knew it was huge, but we didn’t realize its magnitude.

It conquers an entire city block and rests at 160,000 square feet, with four stories and hundreds of shelves to open the mind.

I lost my breath. We meandered through Philosophy, local authors, Religion, Psychology, and Tarot cards. After two hours we knew we had to leave otherwise we would have spent the next few days there.

We showered (separately, of course) and then left to find some fresh seafood for dinner. Someone suggested we go to Jake’s Crawfish. At first we snubbed our noses at the name, but then we figured we had nothing to lose.

We sat at the back bar and had our own personal bartender. We sipped wine, I had clam chowder for the first time-both New England and Manhattan. Nick and I then split the seafood platter and then I had a chocolate martini for dessert.

We tried to walk around for a bit, but my allergies kicked into high gear. We retired to the hotel early. We heard the livliness of the bar next door for hours, but decided saving our energy was a smarter plan.

Surprise in Sonoma Valley

Driving through California for the first time is a venture just in itself. You could probably ride through the coast and be satisfied with just the view.

We stopped for a restroom/sandwich break and realized we were in the Sonoma Valley. We checked our iPhone’s for local vineyards and saw a handful within a one mile radius. We figured it wouldn’t time wasted to taste some wine.

We tried to follow the maps on the iPhone, but it was of no use. However, we ended up on this highway stretch and out of nowhere vineyard after vineyard appeared like little grape surprises.

It was just about 4:45 p.m. and we prayed the little wooden taste rooms didn’t close.

We made it in the Family Vineyards as the official last tasters of the day. Evidently those winos like to be out by five so they can enjoy the rest of their beautiful afternoons (I can hardly blame them).

We tried a Sirah, Cabernet, and Pinot Noir. I’m a red girl. All of the bottles were way more expensive than I thought. The women behind  counter were very helpful. I wish I could remember her name because she really was a doll. She didn’t charge us for any of the tasting and didn’t force us to buy anything.

What they did do, however, was talk us into staying in Santa Rosa. They told us it wasn’t too far from the Redwoods or the coast. Plus, the vineyards opened relatively early, so we our taste buds could scope out the selection in the morning.

We drove through the quaint downtown and fell in love with its appeal. This was definitely our stop for the night.

We tried to search for reasonable hotels and found a deal on hotels.com for Fountaingrove Inn. It was $99 for a night, but once we walked into the lobby, we knew why.

The structure was built with large stone, so it almost seemed like you were in a castle. The lobby had two long red couches facing one another and the accents had a modern appeal. While we checked in, we noted there was a sale on wine bottles in the adjacent restaurant.

Why not indulge?

We lugged the luggage to our second floor room and were both quite impressed with the style. This was by far the nicest place we stayed the entire trip. It felt like we were little kids that were about to get in trouble for sneaking in or something.

We were ready to drink, so we skipped changing to go to the restaurant. We both felt super underdressed as soon as we walked through the doors. I really thought the music was going to stop.

Eventually we were served, not with the best service because I think this woman thought we were going to stiff her or something. One of the things I learned working in the restaurant business is to never underestimate who you are waiting on. Some people who rarely eat out will tip extra if you give them impeccable service because they are splurging. The ritzier people normally wine and dine often so they keep a standard 18%. And as for young people…you never know who is or has been a server and can empathize with your position, so they tip a lot.

Life moral story? Never underestimate anyone, because you rarely know a stranger’s background story.

We ended up drinking a bottle and a half of cabernet and decided a trip to the hot tub would be the best compliment. (After we had a chocolate dessert that we shared with the hostess and another server)

We hung out and chatted with people in the hot tub and pool until around 10p.m. There was a young guy who was backpacking his way through all of the National Parks. He worked for Chevron in Baton Rouge, LA for  a while before deciding to go back for medical school in the Caribbean.

Then there was a couple around the age of 30 from California who were touring wine country after a friend’s wedding. We talked for a while about how young people get married these days. That’s one thing I’ve loved about the west and the bigger cities I’ve visited. People my age aren’t married and it’s not because they aren’t ready to stop partying. They are actually working on their life goals and want to have things aligned before they commit to someone else. It is so refreshing to feel young-because I am!

I started to get a little queazy from the mixture of red wine and extreme heat, so I headed back to the room and watched t.v. in my comfy hotel bed.

Ahh the life.

Randomness at Stanford University

We drove through the California Hills with the intention of  sleeping in Fresno to wake in the morning to visit Yosemite National Park. I’m not sure if it was the natural high from the djembe experience, but when we arrived to Fresno, I was still too charged to stop.

We knew we had a few hours before the sun set and Yosemite was only an hour away. If we just drove through it, we could drive until late night and make it near San Francisco, which would allow us more time to see the Redwoods.

The golden hills illuminated the road as we wound up mountains and inched closer and closer to Yosemite. The speed limits dropped and time trudged on. We were determined.

We passed campsites and called, praying for a miracle that possibly someone did not show up for their reservation and then we could fulfill our Yosemitic-destiny. No such luck. You normally have to reserve spots at least six months in advance and the hotels are ridiculously expensive.

The sun was falling just as fast our spirits.

We found our selves in the Sierra National Forest…a few miles before Yosemite’s entrance. There were a few empty camp spots that were submerged under water, mud and muck. Louis off-roaded well, and we contemplated if we should risk getting caught. The fines are normally $500 and neither of us had that kind of money left at this juncture in the trip.

We decided to turn around and head to Palo Alto to sleep at Nick’s childhood friend’s place at Stanford University.

I was disappointed. Yosemite had been calling my name for a while. But at that moment I realized maybe the yearning was to spark Derek to have his own adventure. When I go to Yosemite, I want to spend at least a week there. I can’t just pass through.

We stopped at a gas station and ended up getting my favorite beef jerky on the journey so far. It was $15, but DELICIOUS. It was made from local cows and was somewhat organic. I’m a fan of softer jerky. This had the texture and thickness of fruit roll-ups. Perfect.

So I drove on for hours under a full moon, which lulled a harmonious vibe through me.

I called my former Rok Haus co-worker Kristin, who had biked the Pacific coast last summer. We talked about all of the outdoor things we will do when I return. It was quite motivating.

We made it to Stanford around 1a.m. Although the campus was dark, it was still gorgeous.

Andrew lived in a co-ed house (they don’t really call them dorms there). He was a kitchen manager and had a private room. We double-checked before we got there to make sure it was cool if a female could sleep over. That was no problem whatsoever.

The scene reminded me of the old Pauly Shore movie, Son-In-Law, where there are both guys and girls walking throughout the halls in towels. Except, these intellectual students were studying for finals, instead of partying their tails off.

We didn’t want to keep Andrew up long, since he had so much studying to do, so we crashed and planned to leave early.

We woke the next morning for breakfast in the downstairs kitchen. On Sundays, there is a gourmet chef who prepares brunch. This was unlike any school cafeteria I visited. The food was exquisite and fresh. The homemade waffles even had a Stanford label grilled into it.

Stanford is a pretty progressive campus and used many green products, such as Tater ware–utensils made from potatoes. I discovered at some point in Portland later on that Whole Foods uses these as well.

Andrew gave us a tour before we left. The first thing I smelt were Eucalyptus trees in the dorm parking lot. I would assume these kids need all of the natural relaxing herbs they can get due to the high-pressure nature of the institution.

I was really taken aback by the structures, monuments and sheer epic feeling of the whole environment. There is a church on campus that was dedicated to the Stanford’s son who had passed away. For a moment I felt I was in Rome. That feeling was intensified too when you saw the statues in front of the university art museum.

As we made our way back to the parking lot, we saw a sidewalk that was chalked with silly faces and flowers. I guess some students were releasing their finals-frustration. We decided Stanford needed to know that some Cajuns were there, so we chalked UL Lafayette with a fleur-de-lis. It was classy.

We wished Andrew well on his finals and thanked him for the hospitality. We set our eyes on driving to the Redwoods and hit the highway.

Claremont, California

We had made plans to get up early and run, but that plan ended before it started.

Instead, I struggled to the coffee pot, showered and then we headed to Claremont with Aunt Linda and Uncle Steve.

There’s a spot called The Village where four colleges meet that is absolutely gorgeous. It is filled with lush greenery and landscape that is almost stereotypical California.

We went to Rhino records, a used vinyl shop. We scrolled through used and new CDs and books for over an hour. I bought The Ultimate Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (a collection of five novels), a book of new poems by Charles Bukowski, a Coldwar Kids album, and a happy little Buddha hood ornament that Nick and I now call Sid (short for Siddhartha).

The guy behind the register turned out to be originally from Texas. We made the association after he checked my id. Reference: businesses have checked my id almost every time I have used my credit card. It’s kind of reassuring to know they take this identity theft thing kind of seriously.

Back to the guy. He asked how long it had been since I left Louisiana, because he didn’t find I had an accent. I have gotten this quite a few times on this trip from people who have checked my id. To which I normally reply, “You haven’t heard me once I’ve had a few drinks.” But seriously, I know my accent comes out every time I cross the Acadia Parish border to go home or when I’m on the phone with my Mom.

We then walked a few doors over to Legend’s American Grill. The food was great, but the portions were epicly unnecessary. I guess if we were to stereotype the cause of American obesity, this place puts Supersize Me to shame. I think all four of us could have split one burger and the gigantic potato-fries and been just fine. I’m glad I stuck with a Caesar salad, which could have fed Shrek.

We walked through a few more shops: a Tibetan import store where we got incense and a Folk music store where we almost bought djembes.

I realized while we walked past these adorable boutiques that I have never really window shopped, where you walk on sidewalks and looked at store displays. We don’t really have that at home in Lafayette or Rayne. We were mall shoppers. You drive your car to a place and then go into a store. If there was nothing at the mall, you got back in your car and drove to another store.

I like walking outside. You get to breathe fresh air.

We did end up getting back into the car to go to a strip mall. But this was a mall that was built for you to stroll outside instead of inside. Like an inside out mall.

We went to the Bass Pro Shop first and I bought my very first tent. It was on sale for $30, so I couldn’t pass it up. I bought a$25 pair of jeans and a Northface fleece too. I didn’t realize how chilly it was this time of year in the Northwest. (Yet again, should have done more research).

We had another relaxing night of dinner and a movie–Forgetting Sarah Marshall. The next day were to wake and drive to Yosemite. Or at least that’s what we thought before we went to sleep.

California here we come…

The drive from Vegas to L.A. is quite miserable. The Mojave desert is not very enticing. The best part about the drive was the pit stop in Baker at Mad Greek, a terrific little authentic restaurant.

I got a gyro salad that could have fed the cast of my Big Fat Greek Wedding. In fact, the whole place had the appeal of Dancing Zorbas, equipped with statues. It almost felt like I was in a dream mirage. The tastiness felt real to me though.

We arrived in Rancho Cucamungo, a suburb south of L.A., mid-afternoon. Nick’s aunt Linda and uncle Steve agreed to take us in for a few days. We chatted a bit about Vegas and the drive and before I knew it, I passed out in a chair for almost two hours.

I couldn’t believe how tired I was. Aunt Linda explained to me that she is the same way after Vegas. You don’t realize how much it zaps you…and then the dismal drive doesn’t help either.

Aunt Linda and I talked a lot that night. She and her husband have traveled all over the western part of the U.S. So far, the one city I wish we would have stopped to see was Sedona, AZ. If you would hear how she explained it, you would know why. It seems more magical than Santa Fe.

We ate dinner–a homemade Greek schmorgizborg–then watched Catch and Release. It was a perfect follow-up after Vegas. Relaxing.