This is roadside billboard country. Coming from a state that prohibits billboards, it’s amazing to see people advertising vasectomy services, sinkhole fixes and divorce lawyers along the highway. Mostly there is a preponderance of religious billboards equally balanced by lawyer billboards promising sweet revenge on whomever may have wronged you. To an outside observer, it seems that people in this part of the country may be the most religious but are also the most litigious.
This is roadside billboard country. Coming from a state that prohibits billboards, it’s amazing to see people advertising vasectomy services, sinkhole fixes and divorce lawyers along the highway. Mostly there is a preponderance of religious billboards equally balanced by lawyer billboards promising sweet revenge on whomever may have wronged you. To an outside observer, it seems that people in this part of the country may be the most religious but are also the most litigious.
Day 11, Tuesday, February 10, 2015

On our continuing quest to rediscover Maine's lost party heritage, we took aim at New Orleans when we began the day at Cape Coral and shot up the coast - but didn't make it out of Florida. Almost made it to Tallahassee, and tomorrow we plan to almost make it to Louisiana. Turns out that Florida is a longer state than it looks like on most maps. I suspect this is because mapmakers change the scale of Florida so it doesn't look like a long ugly tongue stretching out toward Cuba.

Really made an effort to stay on the interstate, but even when we pulled off for gas we got distracted by the gas station convenience store and looking at the different kind of pines that grow in the South. Spent almost an hour trying to help this guy from New Jersey who locked his cell phone and keys in his U-haul rental truck; we left before he got back in, but we did manage to learn a good number of New Jersey colloquialisms and vulgar oaths.

Day 12, Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Got going after a great Egg McMuffin and coffee we got at the Lamont, Florida, McDonald's location. It's amazing how identical the breakfast sandwich is to the one you can get in Maine, or Ohio or Hawaii, for that matter. It's a tribute to the corporate homogenization of America. Had to get going early because we have a room we reserved weeks ago in Biloxi, Mississippi.

Experienced an abrupt time-zone change in the panhandle of Florida, where it was 11:05 a.m. one second and 10:05 a.m. the next. Although I was happy for the extra hour, Central Standard Time didn't seem all that different. You would expect some bending of light and maybe a moment of elongation or at least some kind of "shweennnn" sound that permeates the vehicle, but it was nothing like that. All that happened is that my wife pointed out a small sign and said, "Hey, we're on Central Time now." The cell phone and the GPS units all adjust automatically, but it was still a chore to adjust all the clocks that haven't a clue as to their location. This includes trying to remember how to adjust the car clock and digital cameras and laptops.

Passed my first Google Car. Good thing I didn't see it coming in the opposite direction on the far side of Interstate 10 or I might have gone off the road. It could have happened because of my excitement or because I needed to make a scene so that I could find the image later in Google Maps Street View. There were absolutely no landmarks, but I did manage to grab our coordinates off of the GPS unit as my wife employed some of our newfound New Jersey vernacular to keep my concentration on the road.

This is roadside billboard country. Coming from a state that prohibits billboards, it's amazing to see people advertising vasectomy services, sinkhole fixes and divorce lawyers along the highway. Mostly there is a preponderance of religious billboards equally balanced by lawyer billboards promising sweet revenge on whomever may have wronged you. To an outside observer, it seems that people in this part of the country may be the most religious but are also the most litigious.

Got to Pensacola, Florida, in the early afternoon, where we just had to check out the famous Pensacola Lighthouse, as it is painted black and white but mostly black. After a long visit, we began heading for our reserved hotel in Biloxi, when my wife pointed out that if I had indeed made a reservation for the night of the 12th, then we were a day early. Immediately I began looking for an avenue to shift the blame, but I was hemmed in by logic and damaging evidence on all sides. Ended up staying the night in Pensacola, which afforded us a chance to explore the nighttime party scene in that city.

Turns out Mardi Gras preparations were already under way in Pensacola, and crowds were beginning to swell, but mostly at a bar called "Beer World." My wife "suggested" we eat at another establishment that can legally hike the price of a glass of wine by 100% simply because they call themselves a "wine bar." I found it pricey, but the brick walls were nice to look at.
Day 13, Thursday, February 12, 2015

There is this enormous antique mall in Pensacola that we just had to visit. Turns out the people of Alabama have junk they want to get rid of that is very similar to the junk that the people of Maine try to sell. But being so close to Mardi Gras and New Orleans, the vendors have brought out all of their old Mardi Gras paraphernalia, which you just don't see in Maine. There was a ton of Mardi Gras detritus - including beads, masks, feathers and glittery things. On the other hand, no one was selling any used lobster traps or crafts made from empty Allen's Coffee Brandy bottles.

Took Interstate 10 into Alabama. We had to stop at the Welcome to Alabama rest stop because there is always a ton of literature and fliers you can pick up in case something happens and instead of speeding the 66 miles through to the state to Mississippi, you end up spending the rest of your life around Mobile or Tuscaloosa. After loading up on Alabama literature that we couldn't possibly digest in 66 miles, my wife expressed admiration for some posters they had there on the walls and as a result of true Southern hospitality she walked out with a handful of those, too.

Continued on Interstate 10 into Mississippi. We had to stop at the Welcome to Mississippi rest stop, but there were no posters to be had. We did notice, however, that the Mardi Gras displays were getting bigger and bigger. This is where we saw our first Mardi Gras Christmas tree - I mean a Mardi Gras tree - well, it was an evergreen, decorated in Mardi Gras regalia in a Christmas-tree stand.

Drove to Biloxi and checked into a casino hotel. I booked this hotel weeks ago when my Yankee thrift overcame my sensibilities. I booked it because it was the cheapest, and yet the nicest, accommodation being offered. The fact that it is the cheapest and nicest might make it contradictory, but the real paradox lies in the fact that although it's the cheapest, a casino hotel is the most expensive.

Took in dinner at the Half Shell Oyster House, where I consented to sit across from my wife as she ate what she described as the freshest and largest oysters she has had in memory. She is a true oyster fan and I am not. I mean, they're uncooked oysters. They pull them out of the ocean, open them up and serve them up on a white plate. I was happy for her that they were so big and so fresh and so juicy. We have learned to tolerate each other on this point.

Day 14, Friday, February 13, 2015

Biloxi has a small breakfast restaurant in the shadow of the big casinos where we got a great pecan waffle breakfast in a great American diner-style atmosphere. The wait staff shouts their orders at the cooks and everyone yells hello when you walk in. When I pleaded ignorance as to what "grits" are, our waitress brought me a sample bowl to try. Turns out that true grits are a corn product, a real comfort food, and they are not a pig processing by-product, as I was led to believe by a bully who taunted me in fourth grade.

Because we were on a mission now to get to New Orleans, we spent hardly any time at all checking out downtown Biloxi and the famous Biloxi lighthouse - or the Biloxi pier - or those other places.

Continued on Interstate 10 into Louisiana. We had to stop at the Welcome to Louisiana rest stop for all the usual reasons and to get photos so that we could later prove to ourselves that we had, indeed, arrived. Of course, there were all kinds of signs urging us to "Fall in love with Louisiana" but I really knew we had made it when I saw a sewer cover with "State of Louisiana" cast in steel.

Drove nonstop to New Orleans until we came to a standstill in New Orleans traffic.

Up to this point there was a lot of eating and snacking both in the car and out. Although I didn't lick anything, there was a lot of touching things at rest stops and lighthouses and gas stations and, apparently, there was not enough hand sanitizing. It was in New Orleans traffic that I first noticed it. Trouble was brewing, and the brewing was going on inside of me.

Next week: New Orleans, the Big Easy while you're queasy.