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How's Bayou?: A frugal journey

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Don't discount us seniors; we can handle the discounts ourselves.

Senior discounts are different from coupons or Groupons. They're earned through trial and tribulation, though often spurned by sexagenarians who don't want to reveal their age. I, however, always am pleased when the person behind the cash register inquires, "And how are we doing today, young man?"

Cha-ching: discount ahead!

It was in this frame of mind that I tucked my reloadable plastic Atlanta MARTA transit card into my wallet before our recent trip to North Carolina; I didn't want to pay $1 for a new one before adding the $2.50 fare to travel from the outskirts of the city to the airport on my solo trip home.

Nor did I fancy the price of an Atlanta airport sandwich, especially with Whole Foods olive bread and Smithfield ham beckoning from our refrigerator in Highlands. So a handy Langenstein's bag filled up quickly with a homemade sandwich, plus a sliced tomato, Manchego cheese, a duo of individually-wrapped Mrs. Field's cookies and an apple. It reminded me of our childhood family road trips out West, when Mother would pull out cellophane-wrapped packets of Lance's peanut-butter crackers and, yes, Tang, to calm grumbling tummies along the way.

But a leisurely lunch was not to be. With a monitor flashing "7:06 minutes until departure," I tore down the Jetway and fell into my center-of-the-plane bulkhead seat, blessedly located just inside the entrance to tourist class.

As the plane taxied for takeoff, Delta Airlines' newest entry in the "We Can Be Cuter Than You" safety video category proved a viable contender against standard-bearer Southwest.

Accompanying the audio, "Certain electronic devices are never allowed in flight," a visual of a woman pulling a hand mixer and bowl of batter out of her carry-on flashed briefly. My companions to either side chuckled.

They're laughing now, I thought, but they have no idea what's in my bag.

The compact Oceania cruise line tote bag -- navy, with tan, faux-leather straps and an oversize Oceania Club medallion -- looked supremely Uptown and gave no indication of the sandwich-waiting-to-be-made inside.

I felt for the young man to my left, an attorney who was regaling the perky young attendant with fishing stories, and the woman to my right, engrossed in a novel with type as large as the "Occupied" sign on the nearby lavatory.

It had dawned on me that I was going to need a small kitchen to assemble the components of this sandwich, not the diminutive tray table that I struggled to extricate from the armrest on this 55-minute flight home.

The basics of the sandwich were there, ham between two pieces of bread. But then the fun began. I should have removed the seeds and juice from the tomato slices. Sorry, ma'am, I'll ask the attendant for some water to clean that up.

The cheese was, in these circumstances, a mitzvah, as only small crumbles fell on pants legs left and right. A plastic knife and Diet Coke from the attendant smoothed things along. The cookies, delicious, the apple crisp; and before I knew it, I was storing the tiny table for landing.

Just outside the terminal, I noticed the E2 Jefferson Parish transit bus.

At the airport information counter, Miss Marion, who took one look at me and declared, "Son, you need to get yourself a senior pass -- yes, sir, get you anywhere you want to go for 40 cents. And a free transfer. Now you go see Mr. Tony, right over there by where the bus stops. He'll set you straight."

Lacking the senior pass, I still was able to get from the airport to the corner of Tulane and Carrollton for just $1.50. Walking under I-10, I marched into Costco and picked up a rotisserie chicken, milk and a salad pack, all of which fit conveniently in the crumpled Langenstein's bag.

Outside, chilled and emboldened by COSTCO's icy mocha/latte frappe drink, I set off across the parking lot to the #39 Tulane bus stop, just across the canal. Metal screens filtered the sunlight that penetrated the shade of the oak trees, keeping the spot comfortable.

It was a friendly little bus stop, with a cross section of New Orleanians waiting for the air-conditioned comfort of a bus to arrive. A man my age approached, wielding his walker like a battering ram -- three Walmart shopping bags stretched over the frame, swaying in the gentle breeze. His white T-shirt, back brace, blue-checked cotton shorts and white socks lent him an Ignatius J. Reilly air. I noticed, with dismay, that the leather sandals he wore were identical to the Walmart pair I'd just left in my closet in Highlands.

An additional $1.25 got me to Palmer Park, the transfer point to the St, Charles Avenue streetcar line. As passengers waited, the conductor strode from one end of the car, flipping the seat backs on one side, then reversing direction and flipping those on the other side, her rhinestone bracelet glistening with each flip of the wrist.

A hunched, gray-haired Uptown man in green shorts, carrying a Robert's Fresh Market bag, approached a Jamaican woman who'd been speaking French loudly into her cell phone. "So, you're here again today," he addressed her with a slight bow as the doors to the streetcar folded open.

Inside, the highly-varnished wood of the antique car gleamed in the sunlight, reminding me of the polished wood in an Orient Express carriage. Another $1.25, and I heard the gentle rumble of the electric motor starting up, then the coach gliding silently ahead through the tunnel of overarching oaks along Carrollton Avenue.

Along the way, there was Rock 'n Bowl, Ye Olde College Inn, 8-foot tall sunflowers in a community garden and Peter Ricca's red brick Prairie-style mansion. Under the tall arch of a Palladian-columned raised house, a man swung slowly on a broad wooden swing, ceiling fan turning slowly overhead.

As the streetcar paused in front of Audubon Place (in homage, I suppose), I caught a whiff of the rotisserie chicken in the Langenstein's bag -- and waved to a few young men outside Loyola, where I'd be swimming the following morning.

Before I knew it, it was time to alight at our stop, home for $4 instead of a $40 taxi ride. With a senior pass, I thought, it would have been less than $2.

So, after the next morning's swim, I headed to the Regional Transit Authority's Canal Street headquarters to claim my senior pass.

"Have you ever had one of these before?" the young woman behind the desk asked.

"No, I've never been this old before," I replied.

"Then let's get you started, young man."

How’s Bayou? the secrets of remaining sane while running an upscale B&B on Bayou Lafourche, is written weekly for NolaVie by Keith Marshall, a former Rhodes Scholar and graduate of Yale and Oxford universities who now runs Madewood Plantation House in Napoleonville.