Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Jazz, Biloxi and the Blues

I've got the blues. The no-good, winter airline travel is miserable, blues.

This past weekend, my friend Kendra and I went down to run the Mississippi Blues Marathon, which was to be her first and my 22nd state. We had an early morning flight out of Boston Friday so that we could make it to the expo, have an early dinner and a good night's sleep before the Saturday morning race. Or at least that was the plan.

United Airlines had other plans however.

After boarding the plan at 9am, we proceeded to wait over an hour because catering had not been brought onto the plane(not that we got any free food or anything). By this time the weather had gotten a little colder so then they had to de-ice the plane. Which meant that we didn't take off for over 1 1/2 hours after our original departure time(on a blue bird day!). This then resulted in us missing our connecting flight by 5 minutes(couldn't hold it???), and the next one not leaving until 10 that night. Yikes!

I, being proactive(or so I thought), figured we'd be better off flying into New Orleans at 5 and then driving the 2 hours up to Jackson, MS. However, the logistical nightmare which is Chicago O'Hare had other plans. Due to a late inboard plane, and the maintenance, our flight to New Orleans kept on getting delayed. In 15 minute increments. We finally took off around 7pm arriving in New Orleans around 9:15, renting a car and driving up. Pretty bad, but wait the story isn't over yet!
Because Alamo Rent-A-Car wouldn't let me consolidate my two reservations, I had to drive to Jackson Airport, return the car I got from New Orleans and then pick up another.

Only issue: the people at Alamo decided to leave early. So now I was without a car at 12:30 the night of the marathon. Luckily, Budget representatives were still there and with only an appropriate amount of price-gouging, they were able to rent me a car for the night.

So an amazingly hectic and long travel day before the marathon. Compounding that was the reports that the marathon course was very hilly and the pavement was in poor condition. Didn't sound like the makings of a good first marathon.

And then it happened: the gun went off and everything changed. After taking the first few miles slow to ensure that she didn't let the excitement of the marathon bring us out to fast, we settled into 8:10-8:15 minute/mile pace. Which we held for the first 20 miles. The course, while having probably the worst road conditions I've seen, was beautiful taking us through what I suspect, is the nicest parts of Jackson. And the volunteers were amazing! The energy and support was great throughout the whole course and everyone was so friendly. The hills did come late in the race and we did end up slowly by the last few miles, but when another woman tried passing her at mile 25, Kendra ran a 7:57 to finish strong. Clearly still had some left over. She ended up finishing with a time of 3:46:34 which was good enough for 103rd overall and 17th female. Being 11 minutes off of qualifying for Boston, she's already taking about another marathon. Looks like she got bitten by the marathon bug!

After heading back to the airport to exchange our rental car once again, we had lunch then went out for the Blues Pub Crawl. That's right. After the marathon, there was a shuttle that brought us from one Blues bar to another. We saw the guitarist of the Allman brothers and some local artists who were awesome.

And in the course of 24 hours we saw pretty much all there is to see in Jackson. So the next morning we decided to make our way down to Biloxi Mississippi, which, despite too many casinos, is really gorgeous. The whole coast line of Mississippi is beautiful white sand beaches.
The reconstructed Biloxi Lighthouse which Katrina destroyed in 2005.
After walking on the beach and having lunch there, we decided to head into New Orleans for the night.
View of the Park from the Mississippi River

Kendra having never been to New Orleans before, had to have a beignet at Cafe Dumond and drink on Bourbon St. Also had some local Creole food like gumbo and jambalaya. And after being asked what the difference between Cajun and Creole I learned an interesting fact. The word “Cajun” was originally used to describe French colonists who settled in the Acadia region of Canada (New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia). When the British took over in the early 1700s, the Acadians were forcibly removed from their homes and moved down to Louisiana. Typically, Cajun food involves the "Holy Trinity" which onion, bell peppers and celery, but most of the foods attributed as Cajun such as jambalaya was originally Creole food and then the Cajuns modified it(usually making it simpler and often without things like butter). Supposedly another way to differentiate the two is that Creole food is "city food" while Cajun is more "country". Either way, it is delicious.
So foggy you can't even see the River.

After gorging on food, drink and beignets and touring the French Quarter and the Mississippi River, we headed back up to Jackson where the next day we took a trip to the Natural Science Museum which honestly is probably the highlight of Jackson besides the music.

The place is fun, with a terrarium, aquarium and a few miles of trails, the place is a great way to understand Mississippi's geological and ecological place in the world.

These stairs weren't terribly enjoyable the day after a marathon

This is a two headed snake! Apparently twins that didn't fully split. Both heads were functional and ate food.

Lazy Little Lizard

 After the trip to the museum, we had our final meal in Mississippi which included fried green tomatoes and crayfish rice. We didn't have a single bad meal while in Mississippi/Louisiana.

So our time in the south was fun and productive. Kendra's marathon really does suggest that she's got some good potential and likely a Boston Marathon qualifier.

End of story?

Not so fast! United had more fun in store for us. We did finally make it home but not before an unusually long layover thanks to a flight cancellation and more maintenance issues. Yawn... I am tuckered out from vacation.



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