Saturday, April 29, 2006

Every good thing must come to an end

Tomorrow (Sunday) is my last day as an LSU Tiger football season ticket holder.

For the last 13 years I've watched nearly every LSU home game from the same seats in Tiger Stadium - Section 17, Row P, Seats 11 and 12. I'm so accustomed to seeing plays unfold from the upper left corner of the south end zone that watching football from any other position doesn't seem right.

Like many other Louisiana natives, I grew up dreaming of having season tickets in Tiger Stadium. To many, having seats in "Deaf Valley" is a point of pride and a mark of success.

I first bought my tickets when the Tigers were in a slump. I was making peanuts at the time and really couldn't afford them, but I managed to find ways to pay for them anyway.

I was sitting in those seats for some amazing moments. Perhaps the most memorable was in 1997 when I rushed the field with 85,000 other fans after the Tigers beat the No. 1 ranked defending national champion (and arch rival) Florida Gators.

There also have been poignant non-football moments that brought me to tears, like when the crowd sang the national anthem for the first time after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and when the chancellor of Appalachian State University made an on-field presentation of $20,000 raised by his students for LSU Katrina victims.

Having season tickets also gave me great opportunities to do one of my favorite things with important people in my life, such as my parents and niece and nephew.

Over the years, I've come to know the people who sat near me like family. At the first game of each season, we'd catch up on each other's lives, like cousins gathering at a family reunion. I watched the two boys who sat behind me grow up.

Me in my seat in Tiger Stadium for the first LSU home football game after Hurricane Katrina.

On Monday, my claim to seats 11 and 12 expires. Luckily, I have several great ticket connections, so I won't have any problem landing seats for the one or two home games I will manage to attend each season in the future.

I hope the next occupants of seats 11 and 12 appreciate them as much as I did. It's the next best thing to a spot in heaven.


Sunday, April 23, 2006

I love LA . . .

Well, that might be overstating things. But I certainly have warmed to the megalopolis during my first visit to the nation's second-biggest city.

For years, I've presumed L.A. was just a bigger West Coast version of Houston - sprawling generic superficial neighborhoods, a giant souless mass of highways and strip shopping centers.

I was wrong.

L.A. certainly has its down sides, but it also has fascinating neighborhoods, beautiful architecture, amazing topography and surprising depth.

My brief weekend visit, surely the first of many, included drives and walks through Hollywood, WeHo, Beverly Hills, downtown, Malibu and Rodeo Drive (see pic below).

We stopped in Santa Monica where we walked along the beach and the city's famed amusement park pier.

We also stopped at Will Rogers Memorial Park, a small green space along Sunset Boulevard across from the Beverly Hills Hotel that made headlines in 1998 when pop singer George Michael was arrested for performing a "lewd act" in front of an undercover cop in the park's tiny loo. (Sorry, no pics)

Just as they have elsewhere, gasoline prices are skyrocketing in California.

And an outdoor smoking ban along the Santa Monica beach offered yet another reminder that life in the Golden State is way different from life in Louisiana.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Was that shaking first-day nerves?

I spent my first day on my new job in San Diego undergoing orientation with several other newbies.

During one presentation, the company's head safety guy reviewed what we should do in case of an earthquake - move away from windows; stay in the building (which was constructed to withstand magnitude 5 shakes); and hide under a desk if you really feel such a precaution is necessary (though it probably won't be).

People here keep telling me that the city is relatively safe from the big quakes that could wreck L.A. or San Francisco because the really nasty fault lines run well east of San Diego in the desert.

I'm hoping the theory is never tested.

Meanwhile, a new report says that I won't have to spend days fretting over the approach of a big quake the same way I used to brood over approaching hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico. That's a relief.

Monday, April 17, 2006

T.P. wins Pulitzers

The Times-Picayune staff was awarded two Pulitzer prizes today in the Public Service and Breaking News Reporting categories for the newspaper's coverage of Hurricane Katrina and the storm's aftermath.

Here are reports about the awards by The Times-Picayune and the New York Times.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

A day at the zoo

Went to the world famous San Diego Zoo for the first time today. It easily lives up to its billing. We spent most of our time in the primate area watching primates do, well, just about everything imaginable.

I bought a membership, so you'll likely see pictures of more animals here in the future.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Eating green on Holy Thursday

In years past, Holy Thursday meant lunching on gumbo z'herbes, a rarely served green variation of the Louisiana staple, at Dookey Chase restaurant in New Orleans with my good friend Charles, a professionally-trained cook.

It was one of those special traditions - thick with history and culture - that only New Orleans seems to have. The dish, which is really a stew of greens and herbs rather than a roux-based gumbo, originated with African slaves.

Charles always had a table for the occasion at the restaurant run by his friend Leah Chase, as did others who knew the famed New Orleans chef. It was a social event as much as a dining experience. By noon, the room was filled with politicians, socialites, foodies, regular customers and a few tourists lucky enough to hear about the tradition and land a seat in the restaurant, located across the street from one of the city's big public housing projects on Orleans Avenue.

The restaurant was badly flooded after Hurricane Katrina, and Chase hasn't reopened it.

I spent this Holy Thursday in San Diego, my new home, eating at Souplantation, an all-you-can-eat soup and salad chain. The food was as good as one might expect in a high-traffic, strip-mall shopping environment.

Back in New Orleans, Chase was serving gumbo z'herbes in a French Quarter restaurant as part of a fund raiser to help reopen her business. Tickets for the lunch ranged from $75 to $500.
The event was covered by National Public Radio during the network's "All Things Considered" broadcast. The NPR report includes Chase's recipe for the dish.

Times-Picayune writer and Dookey Chase Holy Thursday regular John Pope covered the fundraiser for the New Orleans newspaper. See his story here.

My friend Charles, now living in Dallas while he decides what to do with his flooded and all-but-destroyed Lakeview home, also was missing Chase's gumbo z'herbes on Thursday. But when I talked to him later in the evening, he glibly noted that he fixed couscous for lunch.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Tiger spotting

Thirteen days.

That's how long it took me to encounter something from the LSU nation in my new home of San Diego.

We headed downtown to the Gaslamp Quarter Monday night, a week and a day after arriving from our cross-country drive from New Orleans.

The Gaslamp is sort of San Diego's version of where the New Orleans Warehouse District meets the French Quarter and Canal Street. It's a wide swath of the downtown area encompassing some of the city's oldest and most attractive commercial architecture and running into the huge convention center and the new professional baseball stadium.

The area is filled with high-priced restaurants, specialty bars, chic clothing stores and the occasional tourist trap.

We drove around looking for parking for about 10 minutes before finding a spot - right behind a car with a Louisiana license plate set in a purple and gold LSU Tigers frame.

It wasn't my first encounter with signs of south Louisiana in Southern California. I found a beverage supplier located near my new neighborhood that sells Abita Brewery Amber, Purple Haze and Turbo Dog beers. The local Trader Joe's, a hip yet reasonably priced grocery store, sells an in-house andoulle sausage. And there are at least three Louisiana cuisine restaurants in the city, including New Orleans Creole Cafe in the city's Old Town area that offers authentic po-boys, muffalatas, bread pudding and a chicken gumbo that rivals any version of the Cajun dish that I ever had in New Orleans. One of the owner/cooks, Mark Bihm, is a Metairie native who has lived in California for the last 20 years and opened the restaurant just 17 months ago.

Back in the Gaslamp, I couldn't help wondering about the owner the LSU car. Was he or she like me, a new arrival? Or maybe part of the Katrina diaspora? Or a conventioneer or tourist here for a short trip?

As we walked back to the car, I was hoping to bump into the other Tiger fan if, for nothing else, to exchange a friendly Geaux Tigers! - that knowing code we share when we encounter one another away from Louisiana.

The car was still there, but the driver wasn't. I'll save my cheers for May 9, when we attend the 18th annual San Diego LSU Alumni Chapter's crawfish boil.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Courageous effort

The Times-Picayune staff has won the Medal for Courage in Journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

"I have observed or been directly involved in coverage of several hurricanes. What The Times-Picayune staff endured was beyond my imagination until I saw it happen," Ellen Soeteber, former editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and one of the judges of the Medill Medal, told the school's online news outlet. "They not only persevered but kept up a high level of work, despite enormous personal and professional hardships -- such as loss of homes or loved ones, and the potential loss of their city and livelihoods -- that the out-of-town media largely did not face."

Read the entire article about the award here.

Times-Picayune vs. Sun Herald

An article in The New York Times this week took a look at the challenges facing hurricane-strained newspapers in New Orleans and along the Mississippi Gulf Coast . . . and at the controversy swirling around their prospects for Pulitzer prizes, journalism's top honors.

The final judging in this year's Pulitzer competition takes place later this week. Winners will be announced Monday morning (April 17).

Monday, April 10, 2006

T.P.'s darkest-proudest days recalled by senior editor

Jim Amoss writes yet another riveting account of the trials faced by the staff of The Times-Picayune during and after Hurricane Katrina.

Read it here in the online edition of Quill, the magazine of the Society of Professional Journalists.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

San Diego immigration law demonstration

As many as 50,000 people took part in a march and demonstration in downtown San Diego, the latest in a series of public responses across the country to pending immigration legislation in Washington.

Most of the marchers were Latino, and many participated as families.

U.S. and Mexican flags were carried side by side, and a large number of the marchers wore white shirts to symbolize their peaceful effort.

The march took more than 75 minutes to pass us.

The march ended in front of the San Diego County Administration Center where the crowd spilled in every direction along approaching streets.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

April showers in sunny California

It rained today in San Diego . . . for the second day in a row.

Traffic snarled to a crawl. A professional baseball game was delayed. Headlines were made.

Don't believe me? Here's the latest from the S.D. Union-Tribune's Web page:

"A blustery Pacific storm unleashed more cloudbursts and mountain snow Wednesday, replenishing reservoirs, creating icy highland conditions and compounding harried commuters' freeway frustrations.
Between daybreak and early afternoon, a number of San Diego-area communities received more than one-third of an inch of precipitation, according to the National Weather Service."

Or try this report from KFMB News 8's Web site:

"The heavy rains flooded Camino De La Reina and Avenida Del Rio in Mission Valley, prompting city crews to close the roadways, officials said.
Part of Country Club Drive in Escondido was also closed due to flooding, according to the San Diego County Department of Public Works.
As of midmorning Tuesday, some mountain regions had recorded over two inches of rain. Coastal and valley areas received between a half and one-and-a-half inches, the National Weather Service said."

What would they think of a June thunderstorm in New Orleans? I never knew two inchs could make such a difference.

California dreamin'

Southern California life seems to agree with Nero. He's taking full advantage of the sunshine and comfortable temps. And he's bonded with Piper, a slightly off-center yet lovable mutt that lives in the house where we are temporarily squatting.

Apartment hunting is proving a challenge, as I had been warned it would be. Most apartment owners ban dogs, but often allow cats. Clearly, felines saturating everything in smelly piss and shredding anything within reach is far more desirable to landlords than sweet puppies who spend their days playing with their toys and cuddling with their overly attentive owners.

So much for West Coast tolerance. Meow!

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Are we there yet?

Arrived safe and sound in San Diego after nine days; 2,300 miles; five states; three national parks; and five motel rooms.

Not long after crossing the California state line from Arizona, we encountered these huge dunes which are popular with off-road-vehicle enthusiasts.

Going home

We've reached the end of our Great American Road Trip, nine days after leaving New Orleans and heading off to a new life in San Diego.

The trip has been fantastic - cheap (but clean) motels, long drives through an amazing diversity of landscapes, hikes through some of the country's more obscure national parks and monuments. It has been fun, but it's time to settle down again.

Along the way, I began my transition from Louisiana Cajun to Southern Californian. In fact, I'm thinking UCLA's victory over LSU in the men's semifinal Final Four basketball game last night might have been some omen from the gods.

Don't worry. My allegiances aren't likely to change. I wore my favorite Tiger T-shirt today for our drive through California. After all, the most important time to be an LSU fan is when it's hardest to do so.

Stay tuned.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Chiricahua National Monument, AZ

Once again, we took a detour on our trek west to pass through a little known national park. And once again, the detour was well worth the effort.

The rock formations at Chiricahua - remnants of an ancient volcanic lava field - are similar to the dramatic rock spires at Bryce Canyon in south central Utah but far less colorful.