Grand Masquerade Trip Report, Part Two of Two

Day the Sixth (Saturday September 3):
Another dull day at the booth. Booth time was interrupted by a keynote address at noon. Since they closed the registration room and that’s where the Onyx Path table was located, I was sprung to go listen. Big plans ahead for the World of Darkness, folks.
After we closed the booth for the day, Matthew Dawkins and I went in search of authentic Creole food, and man did we find some! RF’s had delicious Po’ Boys, Jambalaya, and Gator Bites, and we both ate more than we should have. At first we were concerned, as the restaurant was nearly empty and we’d had to pass by numerous places closer to Bourbon Street that were absolutely packed. Instead, we had a quiet, delicious dinner away from the “WOO!” crowd, and were much pleased.

Afterwards, we set out in search of a voodoo shop that Matt M McElroy and I found on Wednesday morning. Couldn’t find it, and wading through the growing crowds became tiresome, but we DID come across a group from the Westboro Baptist Church protesting the Southern Decadence Festival with religious signs making half-assed assertions about the GLBTQ community. Their little cluster of hate was parked in the middle of Bourbon Street, which I was surprised to discover is not much wider than two cars. Matthew and I took pictures of the fanatics, then wandered off. We went back to the hotel and crashed one of the main LARPs, staying just long enough for someone to come over and try to involve us in the game — which for me, was just a bit too long to stay.

I must admit I’m always impressed when people put real effort in on their costumes, be it a cosplay, a LARP, or a costume party. Many lovely outfits and some fine make-up work was dimly seen by me in the low-light conditions. Given this experience, am now pondering whether I should go to the Succubus Club tomorrow night — it’s the closing party for Grand Masquerade, and is held off-site.

Frankly, this is not the place to start LARPing if you’re a newbie, so getting some sleep for the next day’s drive seems vastly more sensible. Oh, did I mention the party doesn’t start until MIDNIGHT? Yeah, not so much with the late nights any more, especially not with many miles to drive (and a complicated hotel checkout to wrangle) the next day. McElroy could pull it off ’cause he never sleeps, but Lord knows I need all the beauty rest I can get.

Tomorrow we hopefully take a haunted New Orleans walking tour to compliment Wednesday night’s fun escape room escapade. Still a few hours of booth tending to manage tomorrow, but only four, and then packing it all up to load back into the car Monday morning for the long drive home. I’m looking forward to getting back: I miss my Tracy, I miss my cat, and I miss sleeping in my own bed and not living out of a suitcase.

Day the Seventh (Sunday September 4):
Started off the day by seeking out sustenance, along with my roommate and frequent companion Matthew Dawkins. We ate at the Cafe Beignets, and were suitably impressed by the quality of their fare and the bravery of their wildlife. Next, we found the voodoo shop! Had we gone a block further the previous night, we would have found Reverend Zombie’s right where I’d left it.

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Rev. Zombie’s on Peter Street, across from Pat O’Brien’s and (not pictured) Preservation Hall

Back to the hotel. A quick shower to freshen up (walking in New Orleans is more like swimming) and I spent a mere four hours managing the booth. Inventoried remaining stock, packed up, and arranged and loaded a bell cart to make the transfer to my car tomorrow much easier.

A group began to gather for dinner, so Matt, Matthew, Liz, Jimmy, Dawn and I made another foray to RF’s. The food was again decent, though the service was slow. So slow, in fact, that we missed the start time of the last Haunted New Orleans tour of the day, and my last chance at the tour. I was crushed. Attempted good cheer anyway, and found a couple of things my niece India might enjoy for Xmas. Ended the day by helping steer people the right way for the end-of-con party, The Succubus Club, held at a nearby movie palace. Went to bed without having attended the Big Party, and while I’m sure it would have been a satisfying specatcle, I appreciated the extra sleep.

Day the Eighth (Monday September 5):
Up at a reasonable hour. Matthew Dawkins, having prided himself on swimming in the hotel’s pool several times, comes back after only a few minutes to dejectedly report that someone vomited in the pool overnight, and it is now closed for a major cleaning. Ah, the subtle charms of New Orleans.

We meet up with Matt M McElroy and Matthew Burke for a return engagement breakfast at Cafe Beignets, and again we are not disappointed. Our breakfast party consisted of three Matts and a Bill, which sounds like the lead-in for a pretty good joke. The day is partly sunny and growing warm; I am optimistic for our departure. McElroy feeds the birds breadcrumbs to entice them to attack Dawkin’s legs, but they are too sly by far to fall for such a cheap gag without us handing them more money than we’ve got. Even the birds are hustling in New Orleans.

Matt M McElroy and I shuffle our collective luggage downstairs to check out. As I am waiting, the sky opens up outside, and rain comes down in sheets. It pauses long enough for us to load our luggage and a hundred-ish pounds of books into the car, then opens up again just as we are trying to read street signs to find our way out of town. Gah.

The rain lets up briefly again once we clear the causeway, but continues on and off nearly all the way through Mississippi — the remnants of that hurricane I mentioned earlier in the weekend. I agree with Matt that traipsing through the Vicksburg battlefield park in the rain — or in the very wet grass — is woe we do not need, so again my hopes for Bill-specific touristy experiences are dashed. Towards the end of my tether as driver, we find ourselves enticed by numerous signs advertising the relative sexiness of Sikeston, Missouri, only to discover that, in fact, they’d been having us on all along.

Finally found gas that would not cause the rental car to self-destruct, and ate a barely passable meal at a Ruby Tuesday’s, followed by a fine and inexpensive night’s sleep at a Pear Tree Inn. Just over half way home — back on the road in the morning.

Day the Ninth (Tuesday September 6):
We left the quiet horror that was Sikeston, Missouri after finding a local place to eat breakfast. Featuring generous portions of salt with every meal, Bo’s Breakfast and BAR-B-Q, while offering tasty, standard breakfast fare, was filling in the way that a brick would be. We headed out, determined to visit a place we’d seen advertised called “Boomland”, plus make a stop in Carbondale, IL at Castle Perilous Games. We drove back to I-55 just long enough to turn off onto I-57, headed north-ish through Illinois.

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Boomland in all its glory

Boomland turned out to be mesmerizing. What no doubt started as a fireworks factory and outlet store had by now morphed into a vast network of connected buildings offering, in addition to fine explodables, a selection of religious iconography (in both vanilla and chocolate), cigarettes, fuel, beer, heavily processed foodstuffs, tasteless wall plaques and bumper stickers, and some genuinely interesting items. Most things at Boomland bore the unmistakable stamp of Country Kitsch, and while I escaped its gravitational pull with my wallet unscathed, McElroy was not so lucky. We were both tempted to purchase some extravagant firework with which to summon alien spacecraft from near-Earth orbit, but decided the jail time for setting it off within city limits simply wasn’t worth the small pleasure of an Alien Encounter.
Within minutes of leaving Boomland, we found ourselves crossing the Mighty Mississippi into Illinois. We opted for a more scenic route to get to Carbondale, and there is at least one other motorist who will be telling her grandchildren about nearly being pasted by an SUV passing a slow-moving truck at the edge of a safe passing zone.
Carbondale is a quaint little town, home of a U of Illinois college whose team mascot is the Salukis, a breed of dog decidedly non-Midwestern in origin. Deriving a positive influence from the university, Carbondale seemed more cosmopoliltan than I had any right to expect, with an interesting variety of ethnic restaurants on display as a potential clue. We found Castle Perilous Games with little trouble, and chatted a bit with Scott Thorne, the owner, before buying a few things and heading out. After a harrowing view of a truck fire that denied us further progress on I-57 toward Champaign, Matt found us a decent detour and we reacquired I-57 after about half an hour of driving on Illinois Highway 121.
Illinois is a surprisingly long state. As the miles rolled by, I kept wondering to myself about my own personal breaking point: how long before I refused to go any further and wrapped the rental car around a tree trunk to put me out of my misery. Turns out I’m made of sterner stuff than I imagined; we made the right connections to get to I-39 northbound, and passed Rockford a little after 7 PM. Home was only an hour farther away at that point, and as we drove the last fifty or so miles, we were entertained by a spectacular lightning display in the sky to the north of Madison. The rainstorms that accompanied it did not arrive until we were both safely returned to our homes. We put nearly 2,200 miles on the rental car, and that was in only four days.
It was a delightful trip; there were many personal disappointments, but also a fair number of new friends and acquaintances made, which for an introvert like me is always a win. Much food was consumed, and most of that was good or better. Some alcohol was also consumed, but given the bacchanal that is the French Quarter of New Orleans, I feel safe in stating that I was remarkably restrained. I would love to visit New Orleans again; I would definitely consider attending Grand Masquerade again, too. Maybe next time I’ll plan to do some LARPing while I”m there.

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