Today I rode the St. Bernard Parish bus "Down da Road" from Arabi to Poydras, passing through Chalmette, Meraux and Violet, shopping and snacking along the way. I caught up on my thrifting and even got to eat at a nationally-loved restaurant that's only been in Louisiana for two months.
Since I was a little girl, I've been unusually taken by St. Bernard Parish. Maybe it was Pancho's Mexican Buffet and Luther's Bar-B-Q, the fancy green street signs or the fact that everything looked like it hadn't been changed since the '70s, but I remember always begging to go there for something. After all, I'm old people's children and as a kid that meant Metairie was too far and the Westbank didn't even exist. To my grandparents and mom, getting to St. Bernard Parish was doable since we could just ride down St. Claude or N. Robertson and not have to deal with those newfangled freeways.
Last time I rode the St. Bernard Parish bus, I was disgusted when a guy sitting behind me threw up, some of the chunks hitting my leg. "I'm on my way to Charity now 'cause I'm sick," he said. He never even told the poor bus driver what he'd done! I figured after a year, the vomit smell should be gone and it'd be safe to ride again.
With cushy seats, shoulder-level windows and Magic 101.9 playing, riding the St. Bernard Parish bus was as fun for me as the actual parish exploration! Also, there are seat belts and a wheelchair ramp.
Speaking of wheelchair ramps, I'm only blogging buses equipped with them. That means I'm not blogging the St. Charles streetcar. As posted on the RTA website, "The green streetcars that travel the St. Charles Avenue line are not accessible to disabled riders. Modification of these historic streetcars is limited and requires consultation with and the prior approval of the State Historic Preservation Office." Mobility-impaired patrons are encouraged to substitute the Freret, Leonidas and Magazine buses for the St. Charles streetcar, but they don't run as frequently and—with the exception of a few stops on the Leonidas—don't stop at any of the St. Charles streetcar stops. Paratransit service is available, but only for differently-abled passengers who, even with wheelchair ramps, can't ride the bus without assistance.
(off my soapbox and back onto the bus)
"Where ya goin', bae?" the driver asks each passenger. "I'm goin' all the way down da road," says one. Another to C & C Drugs, a very popular stop on the route. There's a sense of community on the bus as well as in the parish. When the bus driver told one lady where to stand to catch the bus going back, she said, "Oh you probably won't see me goin' back, I know everybody 'round there and I'm sure someone will see me and pick me up." The only downsides of riding the St. Bernard Parish bus as opposed to RTA buses are that you need exact change and that you can't buy a day pass.
Last Tuesday, I was excited about the green space and rocket in Da East, but this Tuesday I'm excited about the farm animals and ships in Da Parish! I saw cows and horses and barns at Dockville Farm and boats at Violet Dock Port! And I saw the A-Frame houses in Violet that my mom used to covet.
I also spotted a few interesting places that I would've stopped by, had I been able to get a day pass: Bello Gente Salon, The Penny Pantry convenience store, Screamin' Meanies Snowballs and More, Tag's Meat Market and Deli and Daiquiri Paradise.
Another thing I noticed was that there was no blight at all. None. St. Bernard Parish should be proud of itself for dusting off after the storm and rebuilding. There were plenty grocery stores and places to eat—a lot of Chinese and sushi places.
My first stop was to Your Place Thrift & Antique Shop (3101 E. Judge Perez Dr., Meraux, (985)-502-9142), which has only been open for a month. It's full of reasonably priced clothes and jewelry, has a huge kids and baby section and a separate room full of housewares, unusual bottles and man cave decor. The young lady working the counter is expecting, so there will soon be a nice stash of maternity clothes there too.
(back on the bus)
After that, I went to Bridget's Second Time Around Thrift Store (7608 W. Judge Perez Dr., Arabi, 265-0317), a combination thrift and discount retail store. In addition to items commonly found at thrift stores, this store specializes in party supplies and gifts. There's also a dressing room and a nice selection of toys, formal wear and shoes. While shopping, Bridget and her daughters let me know about two of their favorite restaurants in the parish: MeMe's Bar & Grille (712 W. Judge Perez Dr., Chalmette, 644-49922; www.memesbarandgrille.com) and Armond's Eatery (808 E. Judge Perez Dr., Chalmette, 271-2009). Before I left, her husband gave me an inspirational tidbit of local weather information: "It rains way more up here than it does down the road."
In keeping with the thrifting theme, I walked across the road to The Bargain Barn (7617 W. Judge Perez Dr., Arabi, 278-7535), an enormous thrift store with an in-house computer repair service. For 16 years (14 in Picayune, Miss. the most recent two in the Arabi location) Walter and Debbie Dardar have proudly run this thrift-junky paradise. They pride themselves on providing quality clothes with no tears or stains, books, collectibles, media and housewares. Debbie says, "If I wouldn't buy it, I wouldn't put it in here." The Dardars also donate three truckloads of clothes to charities weekly. When asked if they accept credit cards, Walter replied, "We take everything except ex-husbands and ex-wives, 'cause nobody seems to want them!"
Finally, it was time to eat. MeMe's was closed until dinner and I was feeling the pinch from spending all that money going back and forth on the bus, so I decided to go to the first Taco del Mar in Louisiana. In addition to Taco del Mar, I noticed two other new-to-the-Greater-New-Orleans-area restaurants: Marco's Pizza and Stonewall's BBQ. To deflect the flack before it starts, I love local restaurants as much as the next guy, but I think it's pretty neat to not have to take a road trip to visit all the places my friends from college used to tell me about. Then again, I make a point of stopping at convenience stores while traveling to get their local goodies, so I might just be weird. Taco del Mar is a surf-themed Mexican restaurant that's famous for its burritos and fish tacos—though the employees said none of their guests really like the fish. This particular Taco del Mar is spotlessly clean and has only been open for two months. I liked the pork carnitas and ground beef tacos, but wasn't too keen on the chicken one.
(back on the bus)
While waiting on the RTA's St. Bernard bus, a gentleman and I started talking about how frustrating the Loyola Ave. streetcar expansion reroutes are and which buses take the longest. I noticed he was wearing a Villalobos Rescue Center hoodie, so I mentioned that I work for Gambit and that fellow Gambiteer Alex Woodward changed my opinion of Pit Bulls (In my defense, I've always lived in the 'hood and had an ingrained fear of all trendy gangsta dog breeds: rottweilers, Dobermans, German Shepards, etc.). Ramell "Randy" Walker, originally of South Jamaica Queens, N.Y., says of his current position at Villalobos Rescue Center (4525 N. Claiborne Ave., 948-4505; www.vrcpitbull.net) "It's the best job I've ever had. It changed my life. Tia Torres [founder] is a beautiful woman. She's about the animals, but also the people. I'd rather help a kid out on a personal level, that's why the dogs love me, and Tia saw that in me—a real guy, a real parolee." Walker was not originally selected to work at Villalobos because he wasn't camera-friendly enough for the casting director of Pit Bulls & Parolees. However, Torres liked his audition video and hired him personally. There are currently 30 puppies (not for long, as they're growing constantly) and 40 parolees, with open to the public, family-friendly volunteer days each Saturday which include barbecue, swimming and fun with the adoptables. As far as adopting puppies of his own, Walker is "waiting for the dollars to make sense" so he can move to a pet-friendly place and adopt Crunch, Junior and Lonnie, a fierce-looking, zebra-striped sweetheart of a dog who was formerly used in a puppy mill.
I hope you enjoyed our bus adventure! Let's do it again next Tuesday! Here are some outtakes from this bus adventure.