Too excited for this New Orleans getaway to wait until the next morning, we said goodbye to the farm after dinnertime on Sunday. We armed ourselves with a giant French vanilla cappuccino, an even bigger Dr. Pepper slushie, and a bag of cheesy Bugles then did justice to some excellent road trip music by singing along and performing for each one like American Idol hopefuls. Sort of. We drove all night, stopping once for food and fuel and twice for quick if cramped naps. The tethers of daily life and recent stressors gradually loosened their grip, but the brutality of a marathon road trip was unkind to our tired bodies.
Very early Monday morning, just as I was really waking up in the passenger seat, stretching and yawning and noticing my need for a good face scrubbing and swig of mouthwash, the beauty of Louisiana unfolded around our rental car. Handsome was still focused on efficiency, still driving and battling the aging GPS machine. Still distracting me with his good looks. The early morning fog was clearing in small efforts as the sun rose. Magnolia trees bigger than most houses, cypress trees old and elegant around every bend, and thick ivy covering hard surfaces as if they were secrets in need of protection. Everything was familiar and exciting. Such a strange thing to feel like you are coming home to a place you have never lived.
Then rural scenery gave way to a small town where Handsome had apparently found us a breakfast surprise. We both had been craving donuts for about two weeks and had agreed that at some point we would indulge for our anniversary. What better place than Louisiana, on our way to our favorite city?
He wordlessly pulled our rental car into the parking lot of “Shipley’s Famous Donuts,” where the great flavor debate was already firing away in my head. You can have any flavor you want, but not every flavor you want, I was hating myself for telling myself. My husband has a way of providing surprises, both big and small, in a way that proves he listens and wants desperately to show his love but also does not want to talk about it. So I only gushed over the thrill of early morning donuts for approximately eight and a half minutes. Then I let it go. Because I am nothing if not in control of myself.
Inside the low, glass front building a woman behind the counter was laughing with a small group of customers, probably regulars, and making the sweet donut air even sweeter with her southern accent. She greeted us brightly with that perfect, cozy drawl and stood sideways so we could feast our eyes on the library of colorful pastries behind her. I remember noticing that the whole place was fully unadorned, not so much as a silk flower or scrap of fabric or framed photo was anywhere to be seen, but that was perfect. The east facing glass building must be almost always flooded with sunlight and a view of nearby gardens, and that wall of color and texture behind the counter is all anyone could really look at anyway.
We struggled with our donut selections, filled our hands with either coffee or chocolate milk, and sat down at a scrupulously clean formica table for two. The whole place was scrubbed to shining, actually. I ate my monstrous apple fritter witout any runner’s guilt whatsoever. That thing was as heavy as a grapefruit, you guys. It was rich and buttery, overflowing with apple pieces, and had such a glaze on it that it literally crunched then oozed when I sank my teeth in. In seconds all ten of my greedy fingers were crusted with the sticky evidence of the indulgence.
As Handsome and I ate and flirted with each other, the table of regulars maintainted their laughing, amiable pocket of the room. Huddled around their gleaming formica table as if it provided heat on a cold night, they smiled at each other and made a slow breakfast of friendsip. The woman behind the counter tended to drive-through customers and seemed to love every one of them with equal sincerity.
Then an impeccably dressed elderly black man entered the shop and was greeted magnificently by the woman, “Mornin Reverend!” He responded with a grand bow and warm, booming salutation back to her. The table of regulars also nodded or waved at him affectionately. The gentleman collected his steaming coffee in a porcelain mug instad of a styrofoam cup, and he took that and a small stack of glazed donuts and sat down at a corner table near us. From this table, for the next fifteen minutes that we stayed and probably much longer, he held court.
One by one, men came in off the street and made a beeline to the gentleman, hats removed and clutched in their hands, sometimes patronizing the donut shop but not always, every time gracious and hushed in their approach. Part of me wanted very much to hear their conversations, but most of me was satisfied just to witness the ritual.
We polished off our sugary breakfasts, thrilled to be so near the end of a long drive and so near the beginning of another New Orleans adventure. As Handsome pulled our rental car out of that clean, crescent shaped little parking lot, huge droplets of condensation rolled down the windshield and allowed sunlight to blind me. I relished the warm morning and tried to memorize every detail of the neighboring houses and gardens. We left that small town and climbed back onto the Interstate, driving south between forests and farmlands. Trading Oklahoma for Louisiana and hopefully gaining some lushness of spirit in the process.
And then, just like that, the long, raw night of travel and undercover escape was forgotten. My left hand on is right thigh, we were refreshed and singing love songs again.