Kermit’s Treme Mother-in-Law Lounge

In 1994, New Orleans R&B legend Ernie K-Doe and his wife, Antoinette, opened the Mother-in-Law Lounge (named after the singer’s 1961 hit single). Located at 1500 N. Claiborne Avenue, in the city’s Treme neighborhood, they hoped the lounge would infuse new life into the singer’s career. It did just that, and the bar and music spot soon became a cultural hub of the community.

Kermit's Treme Mother-in-Law Lounge
Kermit’s Treme Mother-in-Law Lounge

Following her husband’s death in 2001, Antoinette K-Doe continued to own and operate the Mother-in-Law Lounge (which was badly damaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005) until her own death in 2009. The club closed the following year.

But in January 2014, the Mother-in-Law found new life when it reopened on Martin Luther King Day under the stewardship of New Orleans jazzman and native son Kermit Ruffins. Today, with its vibrant exterior murals and predominantly local clientele (as well as a smattering of tourists), the Mother-in-Law is reaffirming its place in Treme, providing a venue and gathering point for a variety of area musicians.

Kermit's Treme Mother-in-Law Lounge
Kermit’s Treme Mother-in-Law Lounge

The renowned Treme Brass Band’s weekly Sunday gig happily coincided with my first night in town. So at the encouragement of Andy Rubin, a Baltimore-based friend and the Treme Brass Band’s General Manager, I set out on the mile-and-a-half walk from our digs at the French Market Inn on Decatur Street.

Kermit's Treme Mother-in-Law Lounge
Kermit’s Treme Mother-in-Law Lounge

The residential streets surrounding Esplanade Avenue, in Faubourg Marigny, are quieter, more empty, and within a few blocks of the Mother-in-Law it becomes evident that you’re no longer in the tourist-driven combine of the Quarter. The words “I told u who hold the fuckin power!” are hand-scrawled in black Sharpie across the warped clapboards of a nearby house. And then, farther up the street, the visages of Ernie and Antoinette manifest in the form of a colorfully loud mural. A bronze plaque beside the door commemorates the previous owners.

Kermit's Treme Mother-in-Law Lounge
Kermit’s Treme Mother-in-Law Lounge

Inside, the Lounge is comparatively nondescript (save for a flamboyant life-size statue of Ernie K-Doe), comprised mainly of two utilitarian rooms – the bar side and the stage side – separated by a cinderblock wall, patrons in the former dancing to the brassy strains emanating from the latter. Benny Jones, Sr., the Treme Brass Band’s leader since the 2012 passing of Uncle Lionel Batiste, and five or six other band members generate their signature sound with little, if any, amplification from the tiny stage, which is little more than a raised platform. Five or six patrons stand watching the band, their backs to the dividing wall; unlike the bar side, no one facing the music is dancing. Not in the corporeal sense, anyway.

For once, I don’t feel badly for sweating through my pressed, button-down shirt; in this climate, everyone does, especially in late June. I found the staff to be very friendly, and I downed a couple of reasonably priced beers during the roughly 45 minutes of the Treme Brass Band’s set that I caught. Despite its simplicity, the place exudes an identity, a sense of history and atmosphere, much more on par with the classic juke joints and gin mills of old than their more modern, sanitized corporate counterparts.

Kermit's Treme Mother-in-Law Lounge
Kermit’s Treme Mother-in-Law Lounge

The band wrapped up their set, and I dropped a few bills in the metal urn in front of the stage that serves as a tip jar. I bought a copy of their 2008 album, New Orleans Music, which the band members graciously signed to the attention of my 8-year-old son. From hard rock to hip-hop to traditional folk, he loves live music – the enthusiasm and energy – in all its forms. And the CD, by proxy, will hopefully tide him over until the day I can bring him with me back to see and hear and appreciate for himself the singular city of New Orleans, and the resilient, unvarnished character that appears nightly in places like Kermit’s Treme Mother-in-Law Lounge.

Kermit’s Treme Mother-in-Law Lounge
1500 North Claiborne Avenue, New Orleans, LA 70116
P: (504) 975-3955

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Kermits-Treme-Motherinlaw-Lounge/674959599217170

Lake Union and the Center for Wooden Boats

 

The Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle, WA
The Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle, WA

My hotel was near Lake Union and the path near the lake was perfect for early morning walks. I also explored the Center for Wooden Boats which is located on the lake. I would have gone to the Museum of History and Industry, but ran out of time.

The Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle, WA
The Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle, WA

The Center for Wooden Boats is like a museum for boats, but they also believe in teaching through direct experience which I think is pretty awesome. They offer boat rentals – sailboat, canoe, rowboats, and pedal boats – by the hour. If I lived in the area I would love to take woodworking, sailing, and boat making classes. They also offer free boat rides on Sundays. Viewing the boats along the docks at Lake Union was a perfect rainy morning excursion.

The Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle, WA
The Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle, WA
The Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle, WA
The Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle, WA
Boathouse, The Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle, WA
Boathouse, The Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle, WA
The Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle, WA
The Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle, WA
The Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle, WA
The Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle, WA

The Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle, WA

The Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle, WA
The Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle, WA
The Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle, WA
The Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle, WA
The Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle, WA
The Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle, WA
The Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle, WA
The Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle, WA
Along Lake Union, Seattle, WA
Along Lake Union, Seattle, WA
Along Lake Union, Seattle, WA
Along Lake Union, Seattle, WA

Seattle: Food, Bags, Books, and Wasabi Toothpaste

This was a work trip, but I was able to squeeze out exploration time by embracing the extra three hours Pacific Time offers and waking in the wee hours.

Seattle
Seattle

We here at Next Exit Travel have absolutely no corporate sponsorship, but one of us would sell-out to Timbuk2 in a heartbeat. I’m not sure when my obsession with their bags began, but it started with an innocent yard sale purchase some years ago. For the longest time they only had one retail store (in SF) and I made that pilgrimage in 2012. They now have a store in Seattle and I wanted to take a look (yearn longingly) at some of their new luggage. Their bags are waterproof and have lots of compartments. I’ve used one as my camera bag for years. I fondled just about every bag in the store and decided on my future suitcase (it has wheels and works as a backpack) and bought two bags on clearance.

Veggie Grill, Mac & Cheese and Corn
Veggie Grill, Mac & Cheese and Corn

Seattle is home to several locations of Veggie Grill, an all-vegan West Coast fast-food chain. I have spent the last year yearning for their creamy gluten-free mac and cheese and tempeh “fish” tacos. During my time in Seattle I had the mac and cheese, tempeh “fish” tacos, asparagus soup, and grilled corn on the cob. I wish we had these on the East Coast.

Seattle Mystery Bookstore
Seattle Mystery Bookstore

Near the Underground Tour (which will be covered in its own post) is Seattle Mystery Bookshop, which offers the mystery and thriller reader a convenient place to go bankrupt. New books, old books, imports, signed books, first editions, they have it all. The store is well-organized and the gentleman I spoke with was helpful and friendly. I left with some Icelandic mysteries and a signed James Lee Burke. I was almost afraid to keep looking because I knew I would find more and more. Great store, great staff, great selection.

Archie McPhee
Archie McPhee

Another great place to drop some cash is the Archie McPhee headquarters. I remember mail ordering ridiculous things items in the epoch before .com. Who needs wasabi toothpaste? I thought of two people, actually. Horror movie victims? A perfect gift. Hula coasters, schadenfreude mints, a patron saint of dogs, and other items all made it into my basket. I was tempted by the Bigfoot luggage tag, but somehow showed restraint. I would have bought the coffee can urn, but I already have one friends gave me years ago.

Gluten-Free Vegan Pancakes at Portage Cafe
Gluten-Free Vegan Pancakes at Portage Cafe

I had a breakfast meeting at Portage Café one morning and the coffee and “farmer’s hash” (vegetables, potatoes, tofu) was quite good, but I was curious about their pancakes. I was up early on my last day and went for a walk that took me past another location. They make gluten-free, vegan banana pancakes. Normally I am anti-banana, but in this case they were absolutely perfect. A lot of gluten-free foods taste like particleboard and despair, but these were moist and somehow light (I mean, aside from the fresh maple syrup I drowned them in). The breakfast bar offers all sorts of toppings, including coconut shreds and berries. The home fries were every bit as good as the pancakes. This meal will haunt me.

Hammering Man
Hammering Man

Before I make Seattle sound too sunshiny, the city has a weird vibe and crazy amounts of construction and these are connected. I was mostly in the downtown area this time and the demographics seem to have changed in the last few years. This is a major tech job/internet commerce area and because of that you see huge flocks of young, awkward, stressed out people. Amazon, Microsoft, and others are bringing thousands of jobs to the area and building new facilities left and right. Cranes fill the skyline. In a way, it looks like Seattle is having another boomtown period, only this time the frontier is the internet. This means that more and more people are being squeezed out due to rents increasing and the disparity between the entitled and the vulnerable is evident walking around downtown. It made me wonder what things were like outside of the downtown areas.

Downtown Seattle
Downtown Seattle

In line at security at Sea-Tac Airport my co-worker and I were fortunate enough to witness one of those travel moments where you wonder if you are watching a some form of performance art. These two middle-aged women were enacting a version of the airport security scene from High Anxiety, but with a personal shopping cart and unspecified large display. I started hoping they were genius terrorists.

Sunset over Olympic National Forest, Seattle
Sunset over Olympic National Forest, Seattle

Also at the airport is Metskers, a map store that offers travel books, maps, prints, ephemera, compasses. It you are passing through the airport, check it out at the end of concourse B. Should you need Bigfoot memorabilia, Sea-Tac Airport also has you covered.

For all your bigfoot needs
All your bigfoot needs

 

More scenes from Seattle:

Archie McPhee
Archie McPhee
Archie McPhee
Archie McPhee
Archie McPhee
Archie McPhee
Archie McPhee
Archie McPhee
Car Wash, Seattle
Car Wash, Seattle
Manhole Cover, Seattle
Manhole Cover, Seattle
Coneflowers and the Space Needle
Coneflowers and the Space Needle
 Asparagales
Asparagales
Ferris Wheel, Seattle
Ferris Wheel, Seattle
Ferris Wheel
Ferris Wheel
Sunset over Olympic National Forest, Seattle
Sunset over Olympic National Forest, Seattle
Tim's Cascade Style Potato Chips, Salt and Vinegar
Tim’s Cascade Style Potato Chips, Salt and Vinegar

Musee Mecanique

Musee Mecanique
Musee Mecanique

The priest waves his crucifix through the air, administering last rites, as the guillotine lops off the head of the condemned and the curtain falls on the “French Execution”, one of more than 200 antique coin-operated amusements that comprise Musee Mecanique, tucked away amidst the touristy bustle of San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf.

Musee Mecanique, Laffing Sal
Musee Mecanique, Laffing Sal

The French aren’t the only ones in the Musee’s phantasmagorical collection that show Grand Theft Auto how it’s done; there’s also an “English Execution”. Indeed, violent and nefarious scenes pervade these machines, some of which date back to the 19th century. One could easily picture a young Thomas De Quincey dropping coins in the “Opium Den”. Elsewhere, the shifty-eyed “Flasher” earns his moniker while “Laffing Sal” and “Jolly Jack” manically yuk it up against the strains of a century-old Wurlitzer Orchestrion.

Musee Mecanique
Musee Mecanique

Musee Mecanique’s founder, the late Edward Zelinsky, began collecting his automatons and amusements in the early 1930s. Today, Zelinsky’s family maintains his legacy in both form and function. Incredibly, all of the arcade’s machines are kept in their original working condition, so bring your pocket change; prices range from one cent to one dollar (most fall in the 25 and 50-cent brackets). Admission to Musee Mecanique is free.

Musee Mecanique
Musee Mecanique

Musee Mecanique
Taylor Street at Fisherman’s Wharf (Pier 45)
San Francisco, CA 94133
P: (415) 346-2000
Website: http://www.museemecaniquesf.com

HOURS:
Monday – Friday: 10:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.
Saturday – Sunday: 10:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Holidays: 10:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m.

Next-Exit-Musee-Mecanique-16
Musee Mecanique
Next-Exit-Musee-Mecanique-15
Musee Mecanique
Next-Exit-Musee-Mecanique-12
Musee Mecanique
Next-Exit-Musee-Mecanique-13
Musee Mecanique
Next-Exit-Musee-Mecanique-11
Musee Mecanique
Next-Exit-Musee-Mecanique-10
Musee Mecanique
Next-Exit-Musee-Mecanique-8
Musee Mecanique
Next-Exit-Musee-Mecanique-6
Musee Mecanique
Next-Exit-Musee-Mecanique-5
Musee Mecanique
Next-Exit-Musee-Mecanique-4
Musee Mecanique
Musee Mecanique
Musee Mecanique
Musee Mecanique
Musee Mecanique

Stalking Fictional Characters: James Lee Burke’s New Iberia

“The air smelled like Bayou Teche when it’s spring and the fish are spawning among the water hyacinths and the frogs are throbbing in the cattails and the flooded cypress.” ― James Lee Burke, Creole Belle

James Lee Burke Sign on Main Street in New Iberia
James Lee Burke Sign on Main Street in New Iberia

The minute I heard of an upcoming work conference in New Orleans, my first thought was not of Bourbon Street and sanctioned drunken revelry, but the small southwestern Louisiana town of New Iberia. As a fan of writer James Lee Burke, I have been reading about New Iberia for more than a decade. Burke writes for the senses. His lyrical descriptions of place make New Iberia itself a character in his novels — every bit as much as the recurring Dave Robicheaux and Clete Purcell. For a book person, this was something of a pilgrimage. I wanted to feel the morning dew on my arms, to smell the rain, to hear the birds, to taste a cup of coffee at Victor’s, and to watch storm clouds build in the distance.

I did all that and more.

In Burke’s books, Dave, Clete, or both, often make the two-hour-plus drive from New Orleans along US-90. His words came alive as we passed swamps, broken down trailers, agricultural fields, and rusty looking bars. We drove through Morgan City, and before we reached New Iberia a storm gathered and the clouds seemed full-to-bursting. The rain finally came, and I was in heaven.

U.S. 90
U.S. 90

Pulling off of the highway, I was initially disappointed by the strip malls and fast food joints in New Iberia. I was expecting something untouched and idyllic. We found that just ahead, once we reached Main Street. While “progress” has reached the area, much of it remains intact. We turned onto Main Street and found Teche Street just to our right.

Bayou Teche Guest Cottage
Bayou Teche Guest Cottage

At the end of the road we found our accommodations for the next three nights – Bayou Teche Guest Cottage. When I started planning the trip I was thrilled to find this place. I had figured on a shady motor court just off the highway, like where Clete might stay, but instead I found a cottage nestled along the Bayou Teche

Bayou Teche Guest Cottage
Bayou Teche Guest Cottage

When I called to make reservations I spoke with the owner, Ms. Gayle, who told me to just bring a check – no credit cards and no pre-payment required. This somehow spoke to the New Iberia I had read about. We arrived and met Ms. Gayle. She lives in the house on the property. When I fessed up that the whole reason we were there was James Lee Burke she told me that his grandfather used to own the property and that the film crew for In the Electric Mist had rented out her house and the cottage. We then conspiratorially agreed there had never been a truly successful film adaptation of his books. When she said she had a pirogue for us to use I may have gone all giddy. May have. Definitely did. Might have squealed.

The storm was moving out, leaving sun showers in its wake, and we walked into town on the Main Street that James Lee Burke has described as the most beautiful in the country. I had reviewed a map provided by the town that highlights spots to check out.

New Iberia Sheriffs Dept
New Iberia Sheriffs Dept

We walked past the Burke House, the sheriff’s station, Books Along the Teche, the local library, Evangeline Theater, and Victor’s Cafeteria. As we turned around there was a rainbow over the town. Are you fucking kidding me? Well done, New Iberia Chamber of Commerce!

Main Street, New Iberia, Louisiana
Main Street, New Iberia, Louisiana

We stopped at a local bar, but the smoke and dead-animal heads were a buzzkill after the rainbow, so we took our “go-cups” of scotch and soda and strolled around town. They are amazingly lax about imbibing in Louisiana.

Along the Teche
Along the Teche

I loved the cottage. Each morning, I enjoyed my coffee on the porch and then drifted down to the dock along the Bayou Teche. I was surrounded by cypress knees and dripping trees, and on the second morning I saw a nutria swimming near the bank. We took the pirogue out for a little while one morning, as Dave often does in the books. I wanted to go out again that afternoon, and we managed to experience both a leech in the boat and a torrential downpour. Both of these were amazing, each in their very different ways. The leech explained why we hadn’t seen anyone swimming.

On the Bayou Teche in a pirogue
On the Bayou Teche in a pirogue

 

Leech in the pirogue
Leech in the pirogue

The afternoon of our last full day we stopped by the drive-thru daiquiri trailer (again, something mentioned in the books). I should note that I am not enough of a devotee to either go completely dry or on a bender; Dave’s drinking problems are his own. I learned that daiquiris are legal and do not violate open container laws because there is tape on the cup and paper on the straw. Tape and paper = totally legal. Did you know you can get ticketed for jaywalking in Washington, D.C.?

Drive Thru Daiquiris
Drive Thru Daiquiris
Totally legal
Totally legal

We also stopped by Books on the Teche. We browsed, and while paying for our books, I found out that the store offered signed first editions of “Jim’s books.” The proprietors knew him from way back, and he only does this for Books on the Teche and a bookstore near his current home in Montana. “Jim.” Giddy alert level 7. I pre-ordered his latest book, Wayfaring Stranger, despite the fact I was in the middle of reading an advance copy that a friend acquired for me.

Books Along the Teche
Books Along the Teche
Books Along the Teche
Books Along the Teche
Signed Copy of Wayfaring Stranger
Signed Copy of Wayfaring Stranger

We got up early on our last day in Louisiana so we could go to Victor’s Cafeteria before heading back to New Orleans for our flight home. They are open for early breakfast (6 a.m. – 10 a.m.) and lunch and we arrived a little after 6 a.m. The coffee was good. Watching the locals have breakfast before heading to work, I had no trouble imaging Dave amongst them. They even have a mock bait shop in the restaurant as homage to the character that has made the place famous.

Victor's Cafeteria
Victor’s Cafeteria
Victor's Cafeteria
Victor’s Cafeteria

Louisiana felt very alive – something I had to experience to truly appreciate. There is something about the air, water, and rain that are tangibly vibrant. The people there also helped make the trip – from the woman at the Goodwill with an accent so thick I had to translate for Patrick to the young cashier at Simoneaud’s Grocery & Market who carded me (yes!) and seemed pleased to hear how much we liked the area.

New Iberia was everything I hoped for and more. I traveled there because I wanted to experience a Louisiana that I knew I might not find. I was basically stalking a fictional character and written descriptions of a place. James Lee Burke’s power as a writer made every day feel like it was imbued with the magic of fiction. The place was real. So yes, the trip was about writer James Lee Burke, Dave Robicheaux, and Clete Purcell, but I loved southwest Louisiana well past those literary connections. And now I understand why Burke writes about it with such love, respect, and concern.

New Iberia, Louisiana
New Iberia, Louisiana

The only thing that could have made it better was if Budget had had an old convertible Cadillac to rent.

Urns of Justice, John M. Shaw U.S. Courthouse, Lafayette, Louisiana

The Urns of Justice, by sculptor Diana Moore, sit outside of the John M. Shaw U.S. Courthouse,  in Lafayette, Louisiana. While they are meant to evoke decorative, anthropomorphic urns of the South and antiquity, one is instead struck by the thought that justice is both blind and brainless.

Urns of Justice

 

Urns of JusticeMore information.