Don’t let gas cost, hurricane hits kill travel

A few days after Hurricane Katrina, I started digging around the basement for a box that hadn’t been opened for a dozen years. It was bulging with memories of other lives, from other places.

Then came a hunt for the photo album. The pages used to tell sweet stories; today there are pockets of empty spaces from one page to the next, gaping and yellowing reminders of how few guarantees exist on this planet.

I remember New Orleans, the bawdiness and the beauty, the rich music and mystery, the daring and the demure characters. It is a part of America that is irreplaceable.

Anybody can mix rums with juices and call it a Hurricane, but there is nothing like nursing one as dueling piano players work at Pat O’Brien’s in the French Quarter.

Good, live jazz is everywhere, but nothing compares to hearing octogenarians blowin’ and strummin’ and drummin’ inside of Preservation Hall. The old men made their living in the dim and dank space as visitors stood. No A/C, fancy décor or hype.

It is easy to find a tarot card reading in just about any city of size, but there has been only one Marie Laveau House of Voodoo. Sternwheelers carry tourists along much of the Mississippi, but it’s hard to associate the Natchez with anything but The Big Easy.

These memories have outlasted a marriage, but I refuse to believe that they also will outlast the city.

This is where I honeymooned in the 1980s, spending almost $50 on breakfast at Brennan’s, a decadent and multi-course tradition at the restaurant for more than one-half century. The finale? The flaming Bananas Foster, with a caramelized sauce rich in alcohol.

There are so many cities whose character is overshadowed by big box enterprises and fast food chains. It would be a shame if New Orleans turned into one of them.

The official word changes daily, but apparently the city’s touristy and architecturally distinct French Quarter will survive because it is on high ground. Does that mean you eventually will visit or revisit?

I have a smart and compassionate friend who, as a reaction to rocketing gasoline prices, sent a harsh e-mail to friends and family.

She wanted to do something constructive with her anger, and most of her ideas are exactly that. She plans to take the bus to work, instead of driving, and will combine shopping with errands so she makes fewer auto trips.

But she also canceled a Labor Day weekend vacation and will suggest that her family not visit for Thanksgiving. This is where we part company, in opinion.

The travel industry is a huge economic force that is both fragile and dependent. It has been four years since terror kept Americans off of planes and close to their families. Now a natural force has dwarfed the horror of 9/11, and there is potential for anger to both alienate and segregate.

I’d rather see a push for more fuel-efficient vehicles and travel options than a declaration to stay home or self-absorbed. For New Orleans and other Gulf Coast cities to regain their strength, residents will need work as well as homes.

Much of that work, historically, has been in tourism.

The Society of American Travel Writers has a button that urges, “Let’s keep traveling.” Yes, a part of that is for selfish reasons, because we make a living from writing about travel.

But it’s also an acknowledgement that travel is one wheel that allows our cities, nation and world to thrive economically – as well as better appreciate each other’s cultural gifts and differences.

Disable it, and there will be other consequences to compound the challenges that already exist.

Want to get better mileage? This advice comes from Yahoo! Autos.

Park in the shade. Use air conditioning sparingly. “Operating the air conditioner on ‘max’ can reduce the miles per gallon roughly 5 to 25 percent compared to not using it.”

Drive at 55 mph. It will save 15 to 51 cents per gallon. “A vehicle loses about 1 percent in fuel economy for each 1 mile per hour driven above 55.”

Check tire pressure and alignment. “You can improve your gas mileage by around 3.3 percent by keeping your tires inflated to the proper pressure.”

Don’t gun it or hit the brakes for fun. “Accelerating and decelerating slowly can save you 11 to 73 cents per gallon.”

Keep idling to a minimum. “Keeping your car idle while stopped for a long period of time burns more gas than required to restart the car.”

Planning to head east? The Inn at Cedar Falls, in southeast Ohio, will discount its room rates by the cost of a tank of gas purchased at any Hocking County gas station.

The offer applies to Sunday through Thursday night stays, Nov. 1 to March 1, 2006. The property, between Cleveland and Cincinnati, is surrounded by state parks on three sides. There are cabins, cottages, bed/breakfast rooms and a restaurant in an 1840s log cabin.

To learn more, go to www.innatcedarfalls.com or call (800) 653-2557.