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On the road to New Orleans, Irma in my rear-view mirror

Written By | Sep 9, 2017

WASHINGTON, September 9, 2017 — “Listen to the motor. Listen to the wheels. Listen with your ears and with your hands on the steering wheel; listen with the palm of your hand and the gear-shift lever; listen with your feet on the floor boards. Listen to the pounding old jalopy with all your senses, for the change of tone, a variation of rhythm… Cars limping along… wounded things, panting and struggling. Too hot, loose connections, loose bearings, rattling bodies.”

So wrote John Steinbeck in his 1939 book “The Grapes of Wrath.”

I thought of the Joad family fleeing the Depression-era Dust-Bowl of Oklahoma in an old truck bound for the promise of California as I joined fellow Floridians evacuating the Sunshine State ahead of Hurricane Irma’s arrival, a Category 4 storm, on Sunday.

Having lived in Los Angeles for much of my life, it was more than a little disconcerting to drive 349 miles from my home near Fort Lauderdale to Interstate 10 in the north, in a 20-hour bumper-to-bumper, L.A. traffic jam; adding an additional 489 miles to the odometer as my wife and I drove west to the relative safety of New Orleans.

With my shuttered home thus left to the vagaries of Mother Nature’s wrath, I got busy celebrating my continued existence by recalling a blessing appropriate for an Irish wake:

“May the sun always shine on your windowpane; may a rainbow be certain to follow each rain; may the hand of a friend always be near you; may God fill your heart with gladness to cheer you.”

The Oceana Grill in the French Quarter of New Orleans.

Seeking comfort in the Crescent City’s French Quarter, I wandered into the Oceana Grill, where Conti and Bourbon streets meet, for some comfort food: ½ dozen freshly-shucked Louisiana oysters on a half shell, followed by that spicy Cajun stew: crawfish etouffee.

Having satisfied my taste buds, I strolled three short blocks to Decatur Street and The Cigar Factory for an after-dinner smoke. Walking past two friendly and industrious Cuban cigar rollers busily stuffing their creations into molds for shaping, I was led into their walk-in humidor by the establishment’s friendly cigar peddler Zeke.

Their private reserve Maduro “Gordito” robusto (60 x 5 ¼”), its Honduran tobacco filler swathed in a dark Brazilian wrapper, provided a stout and peppery finish to an evening undampened by the stormy winds of Hurricane Irma.

Hanging out with the cigar rollers at The Cigar Factory in New Orleans.

And with my wife and dear friend’s hand in mine, my heart was filled with enough gladness to cheer me.

Steven M. Lopez

Originally from Los Angeles, Steven M. Lopez has been in the news business for more than thirty years. He made his way around the country: Arizona, the Bay Area and now resides in South Florida.