Val McDermid and Lauren Henderson... on the Road...

At the end of April, Val McDermid emailed me to ask if I'd like to ride shotgun with her on a road trip she was taking down from New York to New Orleans, where she was one of the guests at Saints and Sinners, the gay and lesbian book festival held there every May. I replied that I had just got back from Cuba, which was EXTORTIONATELY EXPENSIVE, and couldn't afford it, much as I'd love to come. McDermid, bless her heart, fired back an email telling me that she would pick up the costs of car and hotel and just to bring 'drink money'. So of course I said yes, threw lots of bikinis and pairs of sandals into a suitcase, and got ready to party. Here's the photographic and diary evidence of what a good time we had...

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SAT 1 MAY (Mayday! Mayday!)

Infinite quantity of Sea Breezes (Val), 2 margaritas (moi), infinite quantity of Marlboro Lights (Val), ditto Marlboro Ultra Lights (moi, McDermid is a very bad smoking influence. Bloody Scots).

Pick McDermid up at her posh hotel in midtown. Hot young doorman in grey t-shirt and black trousers loads her luggage into the cab (of course I have brought as much luggage for a week as McDermid has for a 2-week stay in the US. Later, comments will be passed about the amount of shoes I have packed. Frankly, I think 6 pairs for a week's road trip was, if anything, so minimal that I was forced to buy another pair in Charleston (of which more later).) I leer at hot young doorman. Little do I know that he's the last hot black-clad young man I will see for a week - the South is not big on wearing dark colours.

Cab to LaGuardia where we pick up hire car. It's a Montecarlo Chevrolet!!! I am v excited as one of my favourite songs, by the Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash, an alt-country band (thank you Bill Fitzhugh for introducing me to them) is entitled 1970 Montecarlo Chevrolet. Sample lyrics:

"I ain't bragging, but that old gal can really roll
Never left me busted flat or standing in the cold..."

"Headliner ripped and torn
Yeah, just like me she's a little worn
But she can always take me home again."

This is a great omen. I take the shotgun seat, aka Navigator Bitch seat, and start looking at the Reed McNally printouts Val has made. Over the course of this week I will not just be Navigator Bitch: I will also be Mint Bitch, Fag-Lighting Bitch (no, of course we didn't drive down south setting unsuspecting gay men on fire, this refers, Americans, to cigarettes, OK?) Diet-Coke-Opening Bitch and Massage Bitch, among other things. McDermid has a rather old-fashioned view of women-on-women relationships.

Navigating back across Manhattan and onto the New Jersey Turnpike is, natch, the hardest part of my entire job. Nothing in the future will ever be that difficult (sample later navigating instructions: "Um, drive for 500 miles and then turn right at Jacksonville). We hit the NJT and my phone rings. It is the gentleman who picked me up at the Black Orchid party last week and whisked me off to Starbucks to give me a foot massage (lovely. Thank God I was wearing capris, as he had my feet up on his lap and otherwise it would have been rather rude. or rude-r). He offered to give me one (as it were) on the steps of BO but I thought my reputation was probably shot to hell already and I shouldn't make it worse (Rhys Bowen had already that evening recited a poem to me of which the punchline was my bosoms (thanks Rhys) so I thought that discretion was the better part of valour). Anyway, Foot Massage Guy was ringing to say have a safe trip and see you when you get back. I am v smug, as I had a ROCKING first date last night with a really, really nice guy (of which more later), and am feeling like the hottest thing in the universe right now. My friend Johanna says this is because Mercury is out of retrograde and Jupiter is in Libra, or something, but I prefer to think it's because I have been doing gymnastics like a madwoman and watching my carbs. I have to get SOME reward for all that suffering...

Val and I are so happy to see each other - it's been ages, and we missed each other at the Edgars bashes (she didn't do the parties before, I skipped the dinner). I was hoping to see her and Ian and Ken Bruin and various other drunken sots after the dinner, as I was at an olde-worlde Little Italy bar with some mates singing karaoke and would pay money to see Val and Ian duetting on something, but apparently they all got drunk and lost in the Hilton and couldn't make it. Pah.

I bung on a CD made for me by my deeply cool 18-year old niece. Yes, I am in touch with the Young People - though that sounds a little creepy. Anyway, we listen to Ben Folds taking the piss out of whiny white-boy bands as we cruise down the NJT, smoking up a storm, and catch up on the state of our love-lives (I really did have the best first date ever last night, so am rather psyched). We gabble away and end up 8 hours later in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, for the night. Apparently Rocky Mount is very pretty, but you couldn't prove it by us, as we are knackered and settle for the generic US Travellers' Complex, which comprises a Days Inn, a Holiday Inn, a Comfort Suites, a Marriott, etc etc. We pick Comfort Suites cos it's a nice name. When we check in, I spot a sign saying "Pets $100 Extra Fee" and me and Val start giggling immoderately at the thought of her having to pay a hundred bucks extra for me (I should say right now that, as I am skint after a v expensive trip to Cuba - I know, I don't expect anyone to have any sympathy - lovely generous McD is coughing up for the hotels, car and gas. She pointed out that she was doing this road trip anyway - she's heading down to New Orleans for the Saints and Sinners lesbo/gay literary festival, which she's speaking at - and she'd be grateful for the company. That's what she said. "Company". She did not say "Straight Bitch Services". I found that out later. Anyway, cool friend, right? Though of course I have to say that, being her straight bitch).

Woman behind the desk is really, really unsure whether to find the whole pet thing funny or not. I say I can just curl up on a blanket on the floor, I don't need an extra bed, and we giggle even more. We're pretty tired. I turn out to be on the sofabed. We hit the Outback Steakhouse next door for dinner - it's really good! anyone been to an Outback Steakhouse? They even asked Val what vodka she wanted in her Sea Breezes. Every item on the menu was described as "bonzer". Hilarious. Val is Atkins-ing and I am Eat-Right-For-Your-Blood-Type-ing, and we quickly discover that doing both down South is very easy - there's Surf n'Turf everywhere. I do not put on a POUND the entire trip, which is fab, having boys to go back to in NYC and not wanting to return a waddling porker. We ask the waitress if we can smoke, and she says: "Honey, this is Carolina, you can do anything you damn well please". We like it here.

Sun 2 May

Infinite quantity of Sea Breezes (Val), - in fact, I'm just going to write IQSB - Val, from now on, you can take it as read that's what she's drinking - 3 Freixenet splits (moi, v sophisticated, n'est-ce pas?), infinite quantity of Marlboro Lights (Val), ditto Marlboro Ultra Lights (moi). In fact you can take the fag consumption as read too, OK?

Plough on down to Charleston. Lovely Val is doing all the driving, which is cool as I hate freeway driving, I like narrow Italian hilly roads with lots of curves, to stop me nodding off. I am CD Changer Bitch. Here, in fact, is what I brought music-wise:

  • Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash - Distance Between
  • Push Stars - After the Party (great Boston pop/rock band, strongly recommended)
  • Bon Jovi - Slippery When Wet (Val wouldn't let me put that on)
  • Garbage - 1st album + Beautiful Garbage
  • Mixed Ladies CD made by Adrian Muller
  • 2 CDs by my niece Ilana - ROCKING!
  • Aztec Camera - High Land, Hard Rain
  • TLC - Crazy Sexy Cool
  • Mary J Blige - No More Drama
  • Bruce Springsteen - Best Of (we sang along to the whole thing)
  • Scott Miller & The Commonwealth - Thus Always To Tyrants (another alt-country Bill Fitzhugh recommendation)
  • Kirsty McColl - Best Of
  • Counting Crows - August and Everything After
  • Lucinda Williams - Car Wheels on a Gravel Road
  • Everything But the Girl - Like the Deserts Miss the Rain (Val turned out to be a massive EBTG fan, I should have brought more)
  • Evanescence album (love it, love it, love it, I'm such a Goth chick)
  • Kylie - Confide in Me
  • Best of Tart Noir CD, made by Richard Thomas for the TN book launch
  • Dido - Life For Rent
  • Pink - Missundaztood (sic)
  • Dire Straits - Making Movies
  • Nek - Lei, Gli Amici e Tutto il Resto

and two Thelma and Louise CDs I made especially for the trip, lots of Italian pop/rock on them, I translated all the Italian ones for Val, who speaks a little Italian. She LOVED Vasco Rossi and Luca Carboni. Also Depeche Mode and Matchbox 20.

We hit Charleston in good time for finding our hotel. Yes, I am on a sofabed again. We have a two-floor room with a little balcony, v nice. Val is gagging for her Sea Breezes, so we go to the restaurant across the road and start in on the drinking. More Surf and Turf, very nice. Apart from the fact that there's a cod-Irish twosome playing. The music is good but their banter is really crap, and it begins to get sexist - when the singer says that they're about to do a song about a woman who dresses up as a man to follow her fiance to the war, and adds "Personally, I think that's pretty fucking twisted, a woman dressing up as a man - I mean, what kind of chick would do that?" I get cross and we move tables into the back. Halfway through, a massive thunderstorm starts. I mean MASSIVE. Bolts of rain coming down like stairrods. Unfortunately, I have just remembered that Val and I promised to do an edit on Stella (Duffy's) latest Saz book, which I printed out and brought with me, and I have to nip back to the hotel to get it. I take my shoes off and run barefoot through the puddles. V romantic... In fact, Val and I will bitch this whole trip about it being romantic and us not being with someone to be romantic with. Ah well. Get back to hotel and discover that bloke I went out with on Fri (henceforth to be referred to as FNB, for Fab New Bloke) has sent me a lovely text referring to me and Val as French and Saunders. yes - he's American, but he knows how to text, and he knows about French and Saunders! I text back pointing out that we are actually Thelma and Louise and he sends me back such a lovely text that I come over all fluffy and jump up & down on the bed. Val's comment: "You really are in pretty good shape - your bum barely wobbled when you were jumping". Nice to get some appreciation for all the working-out I've been doing...

Mon 3 May

IQSB (Val), two Cosmos (me), IQML/IQMUL (work it out)

We do a guided tour round Charleston in a bus. It's pretty, there are some lovely houses, and we particularly like the 'single-front' houses (I think that's what they're called) which have their frontage on the side and a sort of extra front door on the street which leads onto the loggia. Still, we're not blown away by Charleston as much as we will be by Savannah. Also, it's raining still. We do some shopping - Val gets loads of t-shirts for Cameron, her son, and her nephew & niece, Jack and Roisin. I LOVE Jack, an adorable little redhead I met when they were all holidaying in Italy near me. Apparently he also speaks of me fondly. Can't wait till he gets legal (God, did I just WRITE that??) Val also buys some beautiful glass pieces for her new house in Northumberland, and I get some fantastic kitten-heel flipflops in mauve, which manage to be both sexy and comfy. Val says they are very me, and they also match my new mauve jelly-kelly bag which I got on the street in NYC for $25 for the trip.

We leave Charleston and have an easy cruise 2 1/2 hours to Savannah. We are in a Days Inn, with a ground-floor room overlooking... the parking lot. But I finally have my own bed, and we are here for two days, so I can finally unpack properly! hooray! my shoes are EVERYWHERE. We look through all the tourist brochures & decide to do a cemetery cruise tonight in a converted hearse (very Tim Cockey) and tomorrow a carriage ride and a trip on a paddle steamer. We are so touristy! I also find a water-front restaurant in a brochure, and since it's just across the street, we charge off there for dinner. The restaurant is called the Chart House and it's EXCELLENT, you HAVE to go there if you hit Savannah. The best food we eat the entire holiday, and wonderful polite Southern service - if you got this kind of attention in NYC, you would know it was just because they wanted big tips, but down here you really feel that it's just because they have such good manners. We sit on the balcony overlooking the Savannah River and gawk at the beautiful bridge and the gigantic container ships, big as cruise ships, slipping down the river. Fried green tomatoes with shrimp on top - we are big fans of FGT - and wonderful crab-stuffed shrimp (me) and tenderloin (Val). Then we retire to the cosy bar to do more work on Stella's book. The waiters treat us like princesses.

And then... the cemetery tour, leaving at 10:30. This is fucking hilarious. The driver seems nice in the beginning, and flirts with me, but as soon as he gets into the hearse and we set off, he starts with a commentary that's awful (cod olde-English language) and disappointingly vague (I lost count of every time he said: "They say..." rather than giving us a true story). Val & I agree that there must be loads of real ghost stories in Savannah, but this is very lazy. He sounds stoned. Finally we get to the cemetery, which we do in fact drive through - that's very atmospheric, but we keep expecting there to be some surprise, ie a confederate of the driver jumping out dressed like a ghost to scare us. And there isn't. At one point we see something flapping in the night breeze and everyone goes "Ooh!" thinking it's a bloke dressed up as a ghost, but it just turns out to be a flag on a catafalque. (Not sure if it really was a catafalque or indeed what that is, just wanted to write that word.) Finally the driver stops to check the tyres (the path is v bumpy) and gets out. Then he sneaks up on us and bumps the side of the hearse, yelling: "OOOOOOOHHHH!" very loudly. Val and I giggle, having seen this coming a mile off, but the lady closest to the side he bumped gets really cross and starts talking about lawsuits and heart attacks. The driver gets back in, grumping about people who pay to drive through cemeteries and get scared and then complain when they actually do get scared. The atmosphere is Not Good. We have a hairraising drive back through the 'wrong part of town', where according to him people may be lying in wait to shoot us with semi-automatics. Hmmn. I must say that if I wanted to mug us, lying in wait in the cemetery with balaclavas and a gun or two would be perfect. But nobody does. We get back to the 'safer' part of town and the driver drops us off, taking so long to give me and Val our receipt that we suspect him of trying to drag things out so he can ask us for a drink and we slope off without one, trying not to giggle too hard about the shambles that was that trip. God. Back at the room, FNG has sent me another sweet text. I go to bed feeling all fluffy and happy.

Tue 4 May

IQSB (Val), wine at lunch and on boat, plus two Cosmos at dinner (me. And I think I might have had an after-dinner drink but I can't remember, OK)? And lots of fags of course...

Savannah by day is so, so beautiful. Don't understand why it was considered Charleston's little sister before The Book, as they call it here - ie, Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil. We see posters everywhere for the drag queen in the book, The Lady Chablis. Love that name. Meet Val for lunch and the carriage ride, which is as good as the hearse was bad - a really friendly young driver who gives lots of interesting info and answers all our questions. Val is fantasising about renting a house here one winter and I must say I can see the attraction, it's gorgeous, and everyone is so friendly - you would make lots of interesting acquaintances. The day is sunny and lovely and after the carriage we potter down to the docks to meet sailors, um, no, actually to do the paddle-steamer, which is BEAUTIFUL. There's not a lot to actually see- shipyards, modern hotels, and the captain's commentary would probably be interesting if we'd actually managed to hear it over the speakers. Still, there's a bar on board, McD manages to get a Sea Breeze, which makes her very happy, and the sunlight is glinting on the waves, fresh river air, etc etc, we are blissful. McD gets us a tourist photo standing in front of the boat and I snap away happily. We don't find any good shopping but we have dinner again at the lovely Chart House, I make Val get the tenderloin so I can have some and have shrimp myself which are wonderful. More editing of Stell's book - we finish it and plan the notes we'll send her. Stagger off to bed. A perfect touristy day.

Wed 5 May

IQSB (Val), frozen margarita, 2 Cosmos (me: is that all? I am slipping). And the fags. The fags.

McDermid is on fire today. On Fire. We have a 12-hour drive ahead of us, basically pushing down through Florida and Alabama and hoping to hit Mississippi by the time we are ready to crash. She is a relentless driving machine. I have practically no navigation to do ('um, drive for 500 miles down this road then turn right") so I read one of her latest books, "The Distant Echo", on her laptop which being posh actually has good batteries. I race through it, and cunningly when we have a 10-minute loo break at a reststop charge it up from a plug under the water fountain so I can finish it. Everyone stares at me strangely but they probably would anyway - this is Alabama. Or maybe Florida. Fucked if I know. We find a place to stop for lunch that does the most enormous frozen margaritas I have ever seen and I slurp down a pint. Really. The glass was HUGE. FNB has sent me a lovely text this morning, saying NYC misses me, so I am beaming and boring onto Val about him. She has someone to bore on about too, so we have one of those great solipsistic conversations where each one waits for the other one to finish (barely) and then rambles on about the charms of their inamorato/a. We have been doing a lot of that. Also we analyse our entire love lives to date, mistakes we made, things we're Never Going To Do Again, What We're Now looking For In A Healthy Relationship etc etc. Very girl talk. Fab. Back on the road. My bum is getting amazingly sore. I must say, one of the disadvantages of having lost a bit of weight is that I have less padding on the old arse, and with all the yoga and hill-running I've done it's solid muscle anyway, so it just doesn't seem to be cushioning me like it used to, I have to fold up a towel and shove it under my bum so I don't wince in pain.

We hit Mississippi in loads of time - McD has torn up the tarmac. And we're not starving, because we stopped to get gas in Alabama and McD bought lots of beef jerky, most of which I can't get my jaws around. McD howls with laughter and says lesbians have stronger jaws. Considering the rubber-like consistency of this jerky - you literally have to get your teeth into it and worry it like a dog, like those old 1980s health-food bars made out of coconut matting - I am a bit worried about what happens to lesbians' private parts over time. Whatever the reason, however, McD clearly has stronger jaw muscles than me. I give up the jerky and eat Starbursts instead.

We end up in Biloxi. Fabulous name. We drive up and down the main street and then McD extremely generously says that she'll treat me to a posh night at the best-looking hotel (we are a little burned out by the Days Inn). It's a casino and madly chic. The bathroom has the deepest tub I ever saw in my life - my feet barely touch the end. Sheer bliss. I talk McD into getting a massage, as her back is playing up with the driving. I've been giving her foot-on-back massages for the last few days on various hotel room floors (no, no photos, sorry chaps and chapesses) but I feel that she should get a proper one. I hit the pool, which is outdoors, by the beach, and lovely, but oddly closes very early and the bar is already shut - and it's only 7pm. I don't understand this till we get all tarted up and wander round the place looking for somewhere to eat, and of course, it's a casino, which means that instead of lovely outdoor restaurants on terraces overlooking the sea, everything is inside, forcing you to walk past 500 slot machines and tempt you to gamble. Sigh. Bit farking ironic the hotel being called Beau Rivage, which I believe means Beautiful Waterside or something in Frog, when you can't farking enjoy the water properly. Ah well. We are not gambling gals, so temptation doesn't exist, and we do find a nice Thai place to eat. The service is initially not good, and then Val finds (or says she finds, hah!) a piece of red plastic in her main course which looks like it came from a soy sauce bottle. Horror, The manager is called, a lovely Irish expat bloke who apologises profusely, comps the entire meal, and ends up sitting down with us for some good crack. He is HILARIOUS, and hints at being exiled from Eire because of something really dodgy - clearly he will be kneecapped if he ever goes home. Mind you, he doesn't seem to care - he's in Mississippi with a fab job, wife and kids, and a gorgeous house apparently. It's a lovely end to the evening and I thriftily get the rest of the food to go. That's me - taking the leftovers of a free meal up to my posh hotel room. Oh yeah, and I paint McD's toenails dark coral as she wants to look all spiffy for tomorrow and her hordes of screaming groupies. I am now Toenail Bitch too. I can sink no lower.

Thur 6 May

Giving up on listing drink, there was just too much of it. Determine to detox when I get back to NYC. Ditto fags.

The nice doorman at the hotel tells us that we'll make NO in two hours or less, so no stress for getting there by 12 to turn in the hire car. We hit the long spectacular bridge over Lake Pontchartrain, a beautiful sunny day, the water glittering, and Pat Benatar's We Belong is playing on the CD - Val and I sing the whole song really loudly together and actually are so happy to be together, at the end of our road trip, in such fantastic surroundings, that we clasp hands and sing along waving our joint fist at the windscreen as redneck truckers stare at us bemusedly as we pass. Blissful blissful. New Orleans, baby! I am so excited to be back. It has mixed memories for me, as my ex used to live there running the Coyote Ugly bar, and the breakup was pretty painful. So I see this trip as a way to exorcise the bad memories and remember the good times. Also, FNG is still sending me wonderful funny sweet texts, so it's great to be coming back with a possible new romance to cheer me up.

We drop off the car and Jean Redmann, a writer/friend of Val and one of the organisers of the festival Val is here to do, picks us up. She gives Val a big hug, then looks down at Val's feet.

"Oh my God," she exclaims, "you have nail polish on!"

"Yeah," Val says, "Lauren did them for me last night."

"Hi," I say, "I'm Toenail Bitch."

Jean looks at me for the first time. "You know, a real butch would knock you across the room for even coming close to her with a bottle of nail polish in your hand," she says.

Is this an insult to me? Or to Val? Or is it just cheerful gay girl banter? Stella and Val never talk about knocking femmes across the room, but maybe they're not 'real butches'. Most confusing. I am scared to ask, so I let it go as Jean is a lot bigger than me. I do make a mental note not to offer to do anyone else's toenails while I'm here, though. I like my face the way it is.

Jean drives us to the hotel. OH MY GOD. It's in the heart of the Quarter, a rambling building with lovely ironwork balconies, and they originally give us our choice of rooms - I prefer the one where Val is upstairs in the bed and me downstairs on the sofa, because of snoring issues I will not specify further about, but just as we're thrashing out the decision they say: "Oh, and there's the cottage just come free as well." Somehow this sounds so good that we look at each other, grab our bags and tumble back down the three winding flights of stairs to investigate. It is an ENTIRE COTTAGE with huge sofabed for me, its own kitchen, huge living room area, and a bathroom all carpeted with steps up to the bath in peach, v 1970s. But the best part is that it has its OWN PRIVATE PATIO WITH TABLE AND CHAIRS AND A LITTLE DOOR IN THE WALL LEADING TO THE SWIMMING POOL. We would cry tears of happiness if we weren't such hardened calloused bitches. Instead we yodel in pleasure and I immediately put on a bikini and dive into the tiny pool.

There are loads of people in the hotel going to the convention, and we start making friends, which process is aided by a bottle of spumante I brought with us. We crack it and sit around on our patio chatting with Lorabeth, a fan we've just met (well, a fan of Val's, really). She says she has a huge bar in her room - she brought vast quantities of alcohol with her. We immediately plan to pop round to hers later and help her drink it.

Off to a party for the festival at a gay bookstore. It's a bit offish, this, because it's practically all men and they're not very friendly, which is a shame. I have very, very rarely encountered the 'we're gay men and we don't talk to girls' attitude in my life, I have loads of very girl-friendly male gay friends, and I don't appreciate it when it happens. McD feels the same, only even more so. We slope off for another party instead with a crew of girls, dinner, and then back to the hotel and Lorabeth's awesome huge romantic room with a wraparound balcony and her awesome huge bar. She wasn't exaggerating - she even brought malt whisky for McD. I leave Val, Jean and Lorabeth drinking on the balcony and head off to the Ugly to see if anyone I know is there. As it turns out, they're running a talent search for new bartenders, and it's packed and throbbing. I see Lil, the diminutive but deeply tough main owner, Tara, an old mate looking even more Catherine Zeta-Jones than usual, Chantelle, the gorgeous manager, and Leigh-Ann, a lovely girl I used to hang out with a lot. Shout a lot, drink a lot, catch up, watch the girls dancing on the bar - there's one blondie who's wearing pigtails, a kilt and boots, looking just like a pervy schoolgirl, who I KNOW Lil is going to hire - and stagger back a few hours later feeling very happy to have reconnected. And also flattered to have been remembered after an absence of two years. I always hung out there before as the Owner's Girlfriend and it felt lovely to be coming back as Just Lauren and have people be nice to me despite the fact that they now didn't have to be, if you see what I mean. Val is on our patio, having a nightcap. We toast how happy we are in N.O. and roll into our respective beds, plastered. FNG has texted me again (this has been going on pretty consistently, I just haven't bored you with all of them) and it feels fantastic to be back here, single and happy but with a rocking possibility of two hot guys to date when I get back to NYC! Life is great right now and I'm so glad I have Val to share it with.

Fri 7 May

McD is busy all day with her v important panels, readings and general Star Guest-ness. So I do what I always used to do when on my own for the day in the Big Easy - go to the Betsey Johnson shop at the Canal Place mall. I buy a plaid miniskirt on sale - and the best thing is that IT IS A SIZE 4. Sorry to boast but I have been working out and eating so carefully and it was so exciting!! It's a bit tight, but bugger it, I managed to get a size 4 zip up and closed over my arse, so I am jolly happy. Wander round Jackson Square in the sunshine, window-shopping happily, hit the supermarket for large quantities of drink (us) more beef jerky (McD) and some fruit (us!! We must try to eat something healthy!) and lug it home to find McD entertaining Kelly, a lovely publisher from Birmingham (Alabama), Lorabeth, and various other lowlifes on our patio. Sorry girls if I can't remember everyone's names, I was pissed the entire time, OK? We pop some fizz, hit the pool and chill out BLISSFULLY. In the early evening there's a fundraising party for an AIDS charity - great atmosphere and lots of friendly gay blokes, which redeems the bookstore experience last night. Hello, Patrick and Brian! I loved flirting with you two! Then me, Kelly, Val, Marianne Martin, and various others go off to dinner which we have across the street from the hotel, It's hilarious. The food isn't great, the waiter is drunk and keeps forgetting things (he greets us all by saying loudly: 'It's Mother's Day, so here's to all you muthas!'). We bitch about the lousy meal and service all through dinner. Then the bill comes. It's ludicrously cheap. "It's ludicrously cheap!" I say loudly. Val kicks me and everyone else goes "Sssssh!" I am baffled but too drunk to understand. As we stagger out, someone whispers that the waiter was too pissed to realize he'd forgotten to put the drinks on the bill. and we had loads..

Now, I'm not going to make any excuse for what we did next. Well, OK, I am. A bit. We were drunk and merry and Lorabeth had invited us to stop by

(a) to see her new room, as she had moved that day into the Garden Suite which apparently featured a gorgeous fountain in the sitting room, and we were dying to see it
(b) to help her drain her vastly-stocked bar.

Now, she had, admittedly, said that she had a date that evening and might not be back. So when me, Val, Marianna and Kelly tried the door, and then banged on it, and then yelled: "Lorabeth! Let us in!!" without getting an answer, we thought she was out, um, dating (it was nearly midnight) and were very disappointed.

And then someone said: "Well, if we could get in, we could just take some of the bottles back to your and Val's patio and leave a note to Lorabeth telling her to come join us when she gets back."

And someone else said, "I'm sure she wouldn't mind, she kept on telling us her suite was our suite, as it were."

And someone else said: "What a shame we can't get in! Can anyone pick locks?"

And then I said: "Does anyone have a credit card they don't mind getting
all bent?"

And then someone handed me a library card and I went to work picking the lock while Kelly (v sensibly) sheltered me with her back from view of the courtyard while Val and Marianne (v cravenly) giggled a lot and pretended they didn't know what was going on.

And then I finally got the latch caught and the door open and we all whooped with satisfaction.

Until the door hit the security chain and we realized Lorabeth was inside with the chain on and we heard her calling: "Who's that?" and we pulled the door to and ran back to our patio giggling like schoolgirls and trampling each other in an attempt to get out of there before poor Lorabeth came out and busted us.

And then we drank a lot on the patio and tried to justify our actions to ourselves while laughing immoderately.

Sat 8 May

Wake up, feel I did something very bad last night but can't remember what. Remember what. Cringe. Try to hide under covers. Eventually get out of bed and stagger outside to see Val on the patio. As soon as she spots me she says:

"I can't believe we did that last night."

"I did it," I say crossly, wanting some praise for my lock-picking skills. "You all were just accomplices."

We decide that all we did was broke and entered. Not even entered actually because the chain was on. Which in New York would not be a big deal, but maybe in Louisiana they cut your hands off or something. And they are all just as guilty as me because it was a joint conspiracy. Whoops. We go out for brunch/hair of the dog and I take Val to one of my favourite places in N.O., on the corner of Jackson Square, and we eat even more fried green tomatoes and crab cakes and rehash last night's near-felony with amazement that we were that insane and RUDE and tried to STEAL DRINK and sob over the fact that this is our last day together. because I am leaving today sob sob for New York. I am very sad to be leaving but since I have two blokes waiting for me in New York, this is to some degree sweetening the pill. and this way I give Val two extra nights in N.O. by herself (she leaves on Monday) in case she meets anyone she likes and needs the privacy of our large and lavish Garden Room to express that liking in a full and meaningful way. I push off to the Ugly after brunch to say my goodbyes, towing Val. She refuses to let me buy her a body shot, the prude. I feel very pimp-like, going "Which girl do you like? I'll buy her for you!" (I had had two bloody marys) but she absolutely won't. Probably because she knows I have my camera with me. Leigh-Ann is there and she very sweetly offers to drive me to the airport, the love. So we head back to the hotel, I show off our fabulous room, throw my 300 frocks and pairs of shoes in lots and lots of suitcases, kiss Val goodbye with much weeping and gnashing of teeth, and head off to the airport with my lovely chauffeuse.

Follow-up:

Foot massage guy turned out to be a dopehead wanker.

FNG is now my boyfriend and even more fabulous than he promised to be.

One out of two ain't bad, eh?
New Orleans and more!

go back to the story
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