strong>Editor’s Note: This is the fifth of eight automotive fantasies from our November 2013 print issue. We’ll be publishing the fantasies over the next few weeks on automobilemag.com. Look for the issue on newsstands now or download our iPad issue to read them all.
The best po’ boy I ever had came from Casamento’s Restaurant in New Orleans. My favorite Aston Martin is the Rapide S. Under normal circumstances, those facts are mutually exclusive. Fantasy realization, in my view, is all about combining your enthusiasms. Some people take cooking classes while biking across Italy. Some people go golfing and white-water rafting on the same day. And some people snag the rectangular crystal key to a 550-hp Aston Martin and head to the Big Easy to get a sandwich.
The Rapide S, while technically possessing four doors, is about as far from practical as a sedan can get. The rear-seat passengers sit in thin little buckets separated by a towering console — from above, a full Rapide S probably looks like a pair of two-man bobsled teams preparing to race. The plunging rear deck scythes into the trunk space, and you need a drone plane to see over the rear haunches. I imagine a design meeting where one poor, pragmatic fellow might’ve chimed in now and then to say, “Chaps, perhaps we should raise the roofline just a bit to gain a little more rear headroom and visibility.” And then everyone else yelled, “Shut up, Smythe!” gave him noogies, and resumed designing the most outrageous sedan on the road. Poor Smythe.
Since this is, ostensibly, a family supercar, I aim to test its people-moving abilities en route from Atlanta to my fried-oyster rendezvous at Casamento’s. My friend Elliot and my brother-in-law Rick both sign on for the 500-mile drive, along with photographer Wes Allison. The hatch barely squeezes shut over our soft luggage. Right about now, Elliot and Rick probably wish my sandwich-fetching fantasy involved a Bentley Flying Spur.
We’ve got twenty-four hours to reach New Orleans, which means an overnight stop. True to the spirit of a good road trip, I have no route planned until minutes before our departure. I’ve noticed that my friend Neil has been posting a lot of Facebook photos from the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, so I shoot him an e-mail to ask if there’s anything down that way that I need to see. He tells me to head to Ocean Springs, just outside of Biloxi, and get barbecue at a place called The Shed. And just like that, we have our layover.
South of Montgomery, Alabama, we exit the highway and get on Route 31, which meanders through farmland all the way down to the Gulf Coast. Even though it’s a two-lane, everyone seems to agree that highway speeds are appropriate — I’m bummed to see an eighteen-wheeler up ahead until I realize, a few miles later, that I’m doing 65 mph and not catching up to him. With the Rapide S in sport mode, driving in third and fourth gear to indulge the V-12’s muffler-bypass yowl, we burn down to a quarter tank of fuel in short order.
I pull over at a gas station called Mosley’s. The sign out front reads, “Hotdogs, wine, chainsaws, jewelry, all in one stop.” If they had scratch tickets, I’d have my Christmas shopping out of the way. One thing Mosley’s does not offer, however, is premium fuel from its analog-dial pumps. We keep driving.
When we crossed into Alabama, I regaled the crew with a tale of a mythical highway I once drove in this state, a place where there was no practical way for cops to enforce a speed limit without airplanes. Soon enough, the road opens up before us and I delightedly realize that I’ve once again stumbled onto this wormhole to the autobahn. With a clear sky and no traffic ahead or behind us, I let the big Rapide live up to its name for a few miles. When I catch up with traffic, I see that my fellow motorists also perceive the opportunity here. A Toyota Prius is buzzing along at nearly 100 mph. I’ll bet this road inspired Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird.” And maybe “Sweet Home Alabama,” too.
We reach Ocean Springs in time to catch dinner at The Shed. I park near a pickup truck with a license plate that reads “GUNS” while a wiry old guy wearing a hard hat wanders out to inspect the Aston. It turns out that Neil, a TV producer, has been shooting a Food Network reality series at The Shed. The guy with the hard hat is nicknamed Coal Miner and is a prominent character on the show. If you happen to have seen the show and thought, “That guy doesn’t really wear a hard hat all the time,” I’m here to tell you that, yes, he does — and that smoky, fall-off-the-bone barbecue chicken wings are an excellent prelude to the briny breaded prize that awaits tomorrow in the Garden District of New Orleans.
Biloxi, where we spend the night, is nothing like I’d imagined. I’d always thought of Biloxi as sort of a swampy backwater where alligator farmers cackle deep into the night over jugs of moonshine and the mosquitoes grow big enough to show up on FAA radar. Instead, it’s got miles of pristine white-sand beaches anchored by a cluster of huge casinos — something like Atlantic City without the miasma of despair. I’d love to explore it, but the sun is up and we’ve got a date with New Orleans. Although we don’t have too many miles to cover, I’ve vowed to avoid the highway to the utmost extent possible. Our navigation system is the Gulf of Mexico — keep that on the left, and we know we’re heading in the proper direction.
As we climb into the car to resume our journey west, Rick is already wearing several strings of Mardi Gras beads. I ask if he brought those in his luggage in preparation for Bourbon Street. “No,” he replies. “I found them on the beach this morning.” I notice that there are clumps of dirty sand stuck to some of them. Rick is definitely getting into the right frame of mind for New Orleans.
We pick our way along Route 90, endless miles of deserted white beach stretching ahead of us. Houses occasionally dot the higher ground to our right. It’s kind of eerie, this juxtaposition of coastal paradise with human indifference. A beach like this anywhere on the East Coast wouldn’t have an empty lot along the shore. So what’s the problem here? Hurricanes? Deepwater Horizon? Or maybe it’s simply economics — with so much beach, maybe it doesn’t seem as special to the locals as it does to a wide-eyed outsider like me.
Eventually, we’re forced back to the highway for the final leg to New Orleans. With 550 horses, the Rapide S is quicker than most other cars on the road. But when a particularly sinister black Corvette creeps up in the rearview mirror, I’m reminded that no matter how much power you’ve got under the hood, there is always someone else who has more. The Vette pulls alongside and I see that it’s not just a ZR1, but a Lingenfelter ZR1. “That car’s got 840 horsepower,” I tell Rick. “How do you know?” he asks, and I gesture to the license plate, which reads, “840 HP.” After swimming alongside for a minute, the Vette blasts off in search of more worthy prey.
We arrive in New Orleans too early for dinner, so we take a cruise down Bourbon Street to see what the town has to offer. Chatting up a few passersby reveals that major happenings this weekend include the “Naughty in N’awlins” swingers convention and a Pamplona-style running of the bulls, except instead of bulls there are Roller Derby girls chasing the runners with Wiffle Ball bats. So, a pretty normal weekend, except that there aren’t any parades.
I’m already hungry, so I pull over in front of Court Tavern, which bears a sign bragging of its famous po’ boys. I think I’ll have a po’ boy to whet my appetite for a po’ boy. Inside, I ask for an oyster iteration of New Orleans’ signature sandwich. “We don’t have that,” says the guy behind the counter. How about catfish? “We don’t have that. We don’t have a fryer.” I ask, perhaps a little indignantly, how a joint without a fryer can claim to offer po’ boys. The guy, looking like he’s faced this question a few times before, launches into a po’ boy history lesson. “Back in 1929 there was a streetcar strike, and the Martin brothers saw the striking workers and said, ‘We’ve got to feed those po’ boys.’ So they started making sandwiches with scraps of whatever they had.” A po’ boy, then, isn’t necessarily fried. It’s more like any sandwich on a sub roll that has a dash of improvisational quality to it. While I accept this story of the po’ boy’s origin — and the sausage version that I wolf down beside the Aston is exceptional — my definition of a po’ boy requires oysters. I bid farewell to the guy holding the sign boasting of “Huge Ass Beers” and steer away from Bourbon Street and toward the Garden District.
If it’s inherently silly to take a $220,000 car on a pilgrimage to buy a sandwich, it’s even sillier not to call ahead and make sure that the object of your obsession is actually open for business. Which it’s not. When we pull up, my mouth fairly watering in anticipation, the ramparts are raised and the lights are off, in defiance of the hours posted on the window. The guy in the store next door informs us that this time of year, it’s too hot for the oysters to be really top-notch, so Casamento’s closes down for a while. Curse you, Casamento’s, and your damnable high standards!
The guys suggest that there are plenty of other places to get an oyster po’ boy, but I’m done. Casamento’s isn’t compromising and neither am I. The V-12 fires up with an angry bark and I’m out of there, not feeling like such a po’ boy after all.