After rounding up all the supplies and making contact with my assistant, we jumped in her car and headed west from my fortified compound on the Mason-Dixon Line to the Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI). During the two hour drive to the city of my beloved Orioles (sell the team Peter Angelos) the spirits real, imagined, and in liquid form led me to break in my new assistant with behavior some people would call erratic, but mostly non-violent. She proved her worth and her tough Irish heritage was on display as the saucy young lass somehow reigned me in and kept me on an even keel during the most grueling part of our trip (when the songs on the radio sucked). Finally, arriving at BWI, I was able to get past the take-your-shoes-off, your-hat-too-sir crack squad of post 9/11 security. Somehow my captive bead ring Prince Albert did not set off the medal detector so a good solid groping and stern looks by Baltimore’s finest was not in the cards.

With the joy of a young drunk (think Dave Lewis) I sprung onto the metal tube of a 737. My ultimate destination was New Orleans, Louisiana, but first Continental airline decided that I had to stop off in Houston, Texas. I had never been to either and the idea of going to two new places in one short trip was very appealing.

The flight itself was what flights always are, a small sampling of Americana. I saw the corrupt banker. The twenty-something lovers, taking their first swing at love, trying to keep some sense of dignity while fighting off the nearly overwhelming passion of each other’s touch. A smelly overweight high school computer nerd with glasses too big, pimples too plentiful, and hair too frizzy to make much of a dent in the homecoming king vote. A few American would-be “princesses” with daddy’s credit card and an intolerable streak of egoism and unreality that would make Paris “sex tape” Hilton blush. A bead-counting accountant all dressed up in what he would consider a nice suit and his equally socially conservative wife, working on some sort of plan for a church fundraiser. A few college hipsters that probably weren’t trust fund kids judging by their poor choice in footwear. A Goth kid, cruelly struggling to swim upstream and be unique in a river that has been well tread upon. Finally, the obligatory mother with small child whose vocal chords and lungs should be studied for vocal projection. It wasn’t Chaucer’s merry crew, but it was what it was. Somehow we made it through the gauntlet of smells, sounds, and sights normally only enjoyed the night of the Republican National Convention or waiting in line at the department of motor vehicles. To say the flight was a time in my life that should be described as ugly would be as right on as calling our President the most vanilla man in the country. But enough about bad missionary sex, coming down onto the Houston tarmac I was filled with simultaneous pleasure and dread at the prospect of being a ramble rousing, left leaning, possibly inebriated journalist in this foul political campaign season of 2006. The terror of heading to Texas where they fry as many people as Ray Kroc did cows (see former owner of McDonalds) was becoming very real and cognizant as I handed all my carry on luggage to my assistant and made my way to the front of the plane.

My timing was perfect. I disembarked and strolled into the airport with my assistant laboring to carry my laptop, two bags, and whatever survival kit she brought. The first thing that hit me was the smell of frying flesh. A nasty head cold combined with intense cabin pressure changes had done a number on my sense of taste, smell, and limited my hearing to about twenty five percent. This was used to my advantage while on the flight, but once I disembarked I missed my senses. So when I tell you that the Houston airport smells like charred meat that is about as specific as I can be. It could have been bacon, beef brisket, Anthony Bourdain’s lovely foie gras, or a victim of former Governor George W Bush’s last execution and I wouldn’t have known the difference. It smelled like something dead being carved up for consumption and immediately it made me think of New Orleans and how fitting it was that this was my first impression of Texas.

I sauntered through this small part of Houston like a child with wide eyes, taking in all the would-be passengers and airport workers had to offer. I found a few boutiques with the much anticipated “Don’t Mess With Texas” t-shirts, but somehow the joke ran as dry as their former governor’s oil career and I just couldn’t pull the trigger on paying $20 for one. Marketing is alive and well in Houston as was evident by the “DMWT” (Don’t Mess With Texas) t-shirts. I’m not sure if they were mocking the “WWJD” (What would Jesus do?) line of clothing, complimenting it, or just coldly exploiting the form for filthy lucre. In any case, the shirt was just as annoying and remained unsold when I left the cheap shack of bullshit souvenirs. Our layover was only an hour and thus our dance around the place was short lived and we made our way back to our gate for departure to New Orleans.

Fortunately, most of the people that joined us on the first plane seemed to have caught flights elsewhere. This flight did introduce me to one of my favorite single serving friends EVER (see “Fight Club” reference). He went by the moniker of “The Professor” and I never spoke one word to him. His hair was neatly coiffed and his dress business casual. He rattled off a Bogey-like order for two shots of Jack Daniels whisky, but the plane only had one Jim Beam and one Royal Crown. He acquiesced and took them with some coke, then merrily hummed away while sipping. When the stewardess first passed by looking for trash she rudely demanded that he finish his second shot, he took it like a gentleman, but I complained.

“The man plunked down $10 for his shots, let him drink his alcohol!” I demanded back at her. She looked at me coldly and walked on.

He easily bested me in grace and had a joie de vivre that was palpable, but the best part of his arsenal of charm was his voice. It laid somewhere between foghorn leghorn and the guys working for the Texas Rangers in a “Seinfeld” episode when George Castanza is working for The New York Yankees and is negotiating with the Texas Rangers. Hilarity ensues as the Rangers representatives say “you bastards” to everyone they talk to in a non-offensive way. The Professor likewise called every one of the people he spoke with on the cell phone a bastard in a kind and disarmingly charming way. “Hey Roy! It’s The Professor. Yea, I’m coming into New Orleans. I want to see you- you old bastard!” He said it with a smile proving the way you say something is at least as important if not more important than what you actually say (see Don King). After a short flight eavesdropping on the jovial old bastard, we finally arrived in New Orleans.